Dog Mountain is one of those places that gets more popular every day. Part of it is because it’s so easy to get to and the other because, if you time it well, you get the most beautiful wildflower display you can find in the Gorge. The problem with popularity though is that it has become harder and harder to find a parking space at the trailhead along Hwy 14. Recently Washington authorities, realizing the problem, decided to limit the number of cars that can park in the parking area in an attempt to have people park at nearby Carson and take public transportation to the trailhead (which I believe doesn’t exist yet)> Knowing all that, Val and I decided to go there to check he flowers as reports where indicating they were spectacular. Getting there was easy but very quickly we realized the parking issue. Not only the parking area was full but there were cars parked at every single little pull out along Hwy 14 for about a mile before and after the trailhead. It was a freaking circus! We ended up finding a spot about three quarters of a mile from the trail head which, for us, is not much of an issue other than having to walk along the highway to the trailhead. Talk about a dangerous proposition when you have kids, dogs and everybody plus their grandparents walking along a highway. Once at the trailhead, we wanted to use the bathroom… a 20-minute wait to get there. After all, that ordeal, we though “well, at least we can know start hiking and get up there” well, with so many people going there, the trail is packed so you have to stick behind someone at some point in the hopes they might let you pass. A circus. Luckily for us though, we went with the intention of hiking the back route to complete the loop. Most people don’t do that route and prefer to do and out and back instead. That gave us a bit of relief and even solitude on the way down to then finish with a hot walk on the highway back to the car. The good thig though is that we did luck out with the flower display. Not only the mountain was covered in the seasonal yellow, it had multiple pockets of purple, pink and red that made it almost magical.
With Val traveling over the weekend, I decided to join Steve on his hike with the group to Ramona Falls. Not only it had been a long time but also, the previous time we went, the logs were still icy and not very safe from crossing over the Sandy River. Once at the trailhead, Steve decided to do the hike in reverse. Part of it was because he wanted to see if we could find a guard station that is supposed to be near the PCT after it leaves from the Ramon Falls trail. The hike ion the shady side of this loop was delightful as it always is. AS you hike and meander thru the forest, you are welcomed with multiple forest displays that include small creeks and waterfalls, mushrooms, rock walls. A little bit of everything. One of the unexpected things was that, as we got closer to the waterfall, temperature started dropping quite fast to the point of requiring an extra layer to keep warm. The waterfall was, as expected, magical. So we stayed there for a while grabbing a quick bite and taking multiple pictures. At some point I was taking pictures from a small slope on the side of the creek just under a bridge when I felt the peering eyes of something behind me. When I turned around I was surprised to see a raven standing over some logs watching me. I can say it was probably 3 or 4 feet away so it did look gigantic. I tried to get closer for a better picture but it took off. Thinking I had missed the opportunity, I started walking back when I heard the raven come back and land on the same spot. So I turned around and quietly turn the camera on and approached sideways as without interest. I was able to get to just a couple of feet away and take a picture before it left again. It was quite an imposing creature. After that, we grabbed our gear and started walking fast to regain some warmth until we got to the fork with the PCT. We hiked up the PCT for a while looking for signs that would indicate a foot path towards the guard station but didn’t find anything. We got as far as to the point where the PCT crosses the Sandy River before heading back down and resuming our loop towards he parking lot. ON the way back we found tons of people near the crossing area trying to get to the other side and further down, in the parking lot it looked like a circus. I guess it’s becoming common to find so many people on the trail these days
Warm and sunny weather is here and the wildflowers are starting to show up everywhere. Along the Columbia River Gorge, this happens almost as a sequence. Flowers start to show up on the eastern side and, as day pass, they move towards the west. One of the first places to get a wildflower display is Coyote Wall as it gets full sun on most days. Haven’t done Catherine Creek in quite a while, we decided to make a loop starting from Catherine Creek and traversing to Coyote Wall to then go back closing a loop. The problem in this area, aside from poison oak, is that there are numerous trails that are not clearly marked or on maps. Going with a plan doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up doing what you expected and this hike was a proof of that particular point. We started from the Catherine Creek trailhead heading south and going uphill. It didn’t take a lot of time to find beautiful flowers as we gained elevation to the upper trail. Once there, it was and easy stroll with ups and downs traversing open meadows and forested areas. Along that path the views are impressive as you get most of the eastern side of the Columbia Gorge, Mt Hood in the distance and the multiple trails ahead. The original plan, and this is where things change in this area, we were supposed to veer slightly left and follow a more direct route to Cote Wall. That didn’t happen. Instead, we ended up doing a bit longer path that gained some extra elevation to then traverse and come down to a higher view point in Coyote Wall. At that point we decided to stop for lunch enjoying the views. From there we had the option to return the same way or go downhill to do a loop. We knew the loops was longer but were not completely sure what was ahead of us. Still we opted for loop (maybe because we were heading downhill). The first part was pretty much a straight line near the Coyote Wall edge. At all times we had to keep an eye for mountain bikers that fly down the trail. About half way down the trail splits in three but any of those will take you to the same place. So we took a trail that, after several switchbacks brought us all the way down to a trail that travels parallel to hwy 14. We followed that path to the next trailhead that goes up to the labyrinth and took it. Most of the trail was easy to follow until it splits and the left side goes back towards Coyote Wall while the other, head east towards Catherine Creek. Here’s wee things started to get complicated. We had more vegetation along the trail and most of it was poison oak (unfortunately I didn’t realize until it was already too late). The trail gained far more elevation than what I had expected and it was not showing signs of turning around and heading back down. At some point we realized it was going to be too long and tiring to continue up and come back down on one of the alternate trail starting from Catherine Creek. IN the map we saw a trail that went almost straight back down to the Old Highway 8 so we decided to take that instead even though we would end up about half a mile from our cars. The going went fast and soon enough we were back on the road where we split in two groups. Some of us went back to the parking area to get the cars while the rest waited at this second trailhead. It was a very long and tiring day… oh, and did I mention Poison Oak?
This year, as well as last, has been very low on the snow level so we were already putting our snowshoes away for the season when we finally got a bit of new snow. With that, our plans quickly change to go stump on the powder (if there was any) so we headed north towards the Marble Mountain trailhead where you can pick and choose from several routes. WE found a lot of people there, most of them riding louds and smelly snowmobiles though. Not a pretty sight. So we got out gear and almost without even trying our shoes we headed up towards Chocolate Falls. Luckily that route leaves the snowmobiles behind pretty quickly. AS we hiked, we noticed that snow level was actually pretty low and the snow was like peanut butter. Probably the little snow that fell didn’t reach the area as the trail was clearly marked and easy to follow. Along the route we found groups of people that spent the night there to summit Helens as well as others that were training for longer trips. It didn’t take much to get to Chocolate Falls which, as it happens I the winter, there’s nothing to see other than the canyon it falls in. The fall itself wasn’t there. After enjoying the views from the fall and a bit higher, we retraced our steps to the connector trail to head down to June Lake. The snow looked like it was melting fast which we proved while traversing the slope and sinking on every other step. It was very wet and slushy. WE actually had to take extra caution descending the ravine right before the lake as to avoid post holing around big boulders. Once down by the lake, we made a quick stop for a lunch and then took the trail down towards road 83. Along the way we saw several families going up to the lake with their kids. It’s always nice and refreshing when you see parents taking their kids on this kind of trips. How could you not fall in love with nature and respect it more when you are introduced to it at a very young age? Once down by the road, we followed the trail next to it back to the parking lot. It was a bit annoying with snowmobiles flying by but what can you do. Even though we did snowshoe the entire route, the snow wasn’t that inviting. We miss the white fluffy stuff!
Rainy weather, again. It seems that his time of year the weather gods like to play games with us hikers. During the weekdays we’re getting clear and mild days but comes the weekend and we get the heavy clouds and rainy forecast. With an impending shower, Val and I picked again a close hike so, even if we got drenched, we would be back home to a hot shower in reasonable time. Haven’t had visited Hamilton Mountain for a while, we decided to head there and do the long loop. AS we hiked up towards Hardy falls we kept an eye on the dark clouds above us. Just before the falls we took the little detour to the viewpoint deck that offer views of the creek bellow. For some reason it was not impressive as we have seen it before. The waterfall on the other hand was pretty as always. We didn’t have all the shiny reflections or small rainbows as there was no light getting to the falls so after the bridge, we just pushed up on the trail. Soon we reached the first clearing where the trail goes out to a rock outcrop. In past visits I remember scrambling around to get on the very edge of these rock formations but with the impending rain and very dark clouds, we decided to continue up. Just as we were getting back on the main trail, we got some pretty strong gusts of wind and some rain drops. Luckily it didn’t let go. From the ridge we could clearly see the Columbia Gorge below us and pockets of rain on the other side of the Gorge. Pretty much every valley was getting a good soak. From there we pushed all the way to the summit where we stopped momentarily to grab a bite trying not to get too cold. Our plan from there was to continue on the loop so we followed the ridge north until we got to the Equestrian trail. Normally we take this trail all the way down, but at the very first switchback, we have always notice a small sign that reads “Don’s Cutoff” and a small trail that seems to drop of the side. Since we were doing good time and so far were still dry, we opted for taking this trail and explore it. The trail travels north as it descends thru the forest towards Hardy Creek. The cutoff itself is not too long and adds bit less than a mile to the entire loop. Once down, the cutoff gets to the Upper Hardy trail that goes down back to the equestrian trail to close the loop or goes up along the creek. Being dark and almost rainy, I didn’t take pictures on this section of the trail but the trail is really forested and nice. Finally, we got back on the Hamilton Mountain trail to descent the last portion to the waterfall and then down to the parking lot. Contrary to the forecast though, we got at this point a bit of blue sky and even some sun filtering thru the trees. Despite the pending dump, we got lucky and walked out dry and happy.