Table Mountain, Jul 27th

When Val and I don’t have a hike planned for the weekend we tend to just pick one of the classic ones that will give us some good exercise and a fair amount of rewards. With weather being almost on the crappy side, that’s pretty much what we did. We packed our day gear and headed out to the Gorge to hike Table Mountain once again. We did get descent views from the top which included MT Hood, Mt Adams and Mt St Helens. We also got our first glimpse at fall colors… yes, fall colors in July. Weird.



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Marble Mountain Wilderness, Jul 3rd to Jul 6th

Looking for places to backpack during holyday weekends can be a bit of a challenge if you want to find a somewhat secluded area. It does get a bit more challenging if you start considering the weather in early July. Here in Oregon it can be a complete gamble so you could end up having spectacular days or pouring rain. The forecast for the weekend was not looking very promising so I started looking south, like in Central Oregon south. Same thing, farther south it was still the same so in the end, I started looking into Northern California. While doing that, I found a bit of information about the Marble Mountain Wilderness, a small area within the Klamath National Forest. From the description and a couple of pictures, it looked promising. Within the wilderness, there’s a very popular area, the Sky High Lakes which tends to be crowded even on non-holiday weekends. With maps and guides, I created a loop that touched on the highlights while still trying to avoid the crowds. And so we took off Friday night on long drive to Lover’s Camp where we would meet the rest of the group and start our loop

Day 1 – Lover’s Camp to Rainy Lake

Lately Val and I have gotten into the habit of driving the night before to the trailhead and sleeping in the car. That way, we can get a fresh and early start. It seems some other people got the same idea as we got to the trailhead at around midnight and just when we were about to fall asleep, two other parties got there.
Clouds over the ridge
The next morning we met with the rest of the group and soon were on the trail. For the first 4 miles, the trail travels somewhat close to Canyon Creek. You don’t really see the creek but you can hear it below you. There are several spots where smaller creeks cross the trail and continue down. As you climb, there are a handful of openings that will give you views of the Canyon Valley and some unnamed peaks on the other side.
Just when you start needing a break, you get to Marble Valley and the Forest Service Station. The spot is easy to recognize, not only because there’s a cabin in the middle of the forest but also because the views in front of you open up to Marble Mountain. This spot is also where the PCT crosses.
Forest Service Station
Originally I thought that by this point we would be close to the tree line and that most of our trip was going to be alpine. The wilderness is actually a bit lower in elevation than what I thought. Most of it is subalpine. We took a short break at the cabin and then continue on our intended route following the PCT north just until the next junction. From that junction we veered off to the west and started climbing towards Marble Gap, the small saddle in the middle of Marble Mountain. In that area vegetation is not too big so views extend south to the Canyon creek valley and to the north to Black Marble Mountain. As you approach the gap you can only imagine the views you’ll get but once there, you realize you were far from it. From the gap, the views extend to the west looking straight to Elk Peak, but the most amazing thing is to see what is known as the Marble Rim. The ridge is a semi-circle with sheer drops to a deep valley over 1000ft below.
South view of Marble Rim
From that point, the trail descends on the other side following the ridge and then turning and descending to the lowest point very abruptly. Differently to the trail on the other side, we found this trail to be brushier and less maintained. It seemed not too many people had gone this route in a while. Once we got to the Rainy Valley Creek junction, we turned south to follow the trail until we reached the last junction and short trail to Rainy Lake, our destination for the first night. We expected to find an open meadow with the lake so you could walk around it and set camp anywhere. What we found instead was a large site right before the lake and a foot path to a very muddy opening. The rest of the lake was forested and faint trail indicated that maybe you could go half way around but not too far.

Day 2 – Rainy Lake to Cold Springs

The plan for the day was a bit easier than the previous day. Only the first part was a steep climb back to the west end of the Marble Rim and then continue mostly o the ridge until reaching the PCT at Four Corners to then descend towards our destination. But son after we started, it seemed we were on an abandoned trail. If the previous day had been brushy the uphill from Rainy Lake was just crazy. In some section it was even difficult to see the trail in front of your feet. Luckily, after huffing and puffing and burning all of our breakfast calories, we reached the junction with the rim trail. From that point on, the trail was again well maintained and easy to follow. As we started traveling on the ridge, we passed by two saddles that opened the view to the rest of the rim that gave us a hint of what we would see later. But before that, we went back into the forest and traversed for a while on the side on the south most peak of the rim. There was not much to see for a while until the trail circles and comes on the other side where it opens to the east looking towards the Big Elk Fork. From that point, you see a small hill to the left and nothing more. As you walk and get closer to the next saddle you can’t avoid to salivate on the views you’re about to get and the saddle does not disappoint.
Marble rim from the saddle
There’s a small section of the trail that you literally stand a foot or two away from a sheer drop that must be well over 100ft. If that’s not enough, to the side you get the best view of the west side of Marble Mountain. We stopped there for a while to take pictures and pose in front of those views for a while. Then, after cleaning our drool, we continued crossing Marble Mountain again to the east side where we reached Four Corners, a trail junction with the PCT. We took the PCT south as it traveled on the ridge with ample views of Canyon Creek first and then the Sky High Lakes Basin. From the ridge you can’t see all the lakes, only
Frying Pan Lake
Frying Pan is full visible, but from there we could see and hear people below. It was indeed a busy weekend. Finally we found the junction to Shadow Lake. A short portion of the trail seemed that it was going nowhere even though you seem to get closer to a large black/green rock. Once you go around the last turn, the lake appears below with its intense blue color. As you get closer, the views get better and once you get there, you realize the lake sits in a shelf just above the Sky High Lakes.
Shadow Lake
From the side it almost looks like an infinity pool where the edge of the water just merges with the sky. From the information I had I thought we would find places to camp for the night but we found two things. The first is that there’s absolutely no shade in Shadow Lake. The other is that there are only three or four campsites so not enough space for all of us. Being early afternoon it didn’t make a lot sense for us to stay there. We did get in the water and ate lunch but staying any longer would have meant being fried alive. Being that he case, we had to think about an alternative and I thought about just continuing on the intended route to see what we would find. In a sense it was a pity we didn’t get to stay there as I think the views of the valley and Marble Mountain early in the morning must be spectacular. So after a while, we packed and continued on first climbing out of the shelf to a connector trail that would take us back to the PCT. Shortly after that, we found the junction to the Red Rock Valley, our intended route out. Right across from the junction, was another less used trail signed to Cold Springs. The map shows two tiny streams that don’t go anywhere but is market as campsite. We decided that it was worth checking it out so we took that detour and descended to a small meadow packed with wildflowers, and just like that, in the middle of the meadow, a small hole with water running out of it. The first hole looked a bit dirty but still usable. We noticed the trail continuing to a wooded area where we found not only a huge campsite with enough space for about 10 tents but also another hole and small stream with the cleanest, coolest and freshest water we had seen so far. Needless to say, we dropped our packs and stayed there.

Day 3 – Cold Springs to Lover’s Camp

Last day was the day out and we had a short hike so after eating our last breakfast we departed from our not so secret hideout. Once we got to the junction, we took the Red Rock Valley trail down. We passed a small meadow with trees and a small pond that I had seen in the map and thought it would be a potential stop if we hadn’t found Cold Springs. After going around this lakelet, we came to the biggest meadow I’ve seen.
Big Meadows on Red Rock Valley
It was big enough for you to get lost within the bushes and grasses. The first to disappear in it was Max, the four leg companion that came with us. In the meadow, the only thing you could see was some bushes moving and a black tail wagging. We thought it was only that section but soon realized the entire trail would pass from one meadow to another as we traveled fairly close to the creek. The other side of the creek was adorned with huge rock walls that had a reddish hue. I think in the afternoon, when the sun is in the other side these walls turn bright red offering a real spectacle. Finally we got some cows, one stream crossing and the junction with the Valley trail that took us back to the trailhead with plenty of time for that long drive back home.

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Silver Star grand loop, Jun 22nd

Ok, this is not the official name for this almost loop hike but since this is the second time around it, I guess I get to name it right? Silver Star is still one of my favorite spots for a day hike. There are multiple approaches from easy to hard and a couple that can be combined into a larger loop. This route combines the Starway Trail with the Bluff Mountain Trail completing an almost loop with a car shuttle. The first time I did this loop, several years ago, we got some snow that forced us to add a bit of distance to get to the car and some route finding. This time we were lucky to have perfect weather and conditions for a fantastic hike. Getting to the entry point for the Starway trail is not as hard as getting to Ed’s trail but still requires a high clearance car and being ok with one or two scratches on the paint. Once you’re there, the adventure starts by crossing Cooper Creek over a bridge and starting to climb. Most of the elevation gain happens very quickly as you gain about 2500’ in 2.5 miles. At this point, when you’re also ready to pass out, you reach a summit that can be a bit deceiving. The first time I did the Starway trail, this is a far as I got. It’s still worth the effort nonetheless as the views of surrounding peaks is spectacular. It truly makes you think you are at the Silver Star summit but that’s not the case. Around you there are multiple canyons and the highest peak, across from the canyon looking southwest is Silver Star. Coming to that realization makes you ask yourself what you are doing. Well, that’s part of the adventure. From there the trail is faint in places but the overall direction is simple to follow. As you travel south, the trail descends quickly to a saddle in the forest and then starts gaining elevation again. As long as you keep going in that general direction, you’ll eventually hit the Bluff Mountain Trail. Along this section, the views are dominated by the Star Creek Canyon and some waterfalls you can clearly see. One in particular falls into a slot canyon sideways. I’ve yet to find a route to it but that’s a future project. As you continue, if you’re lucky, or have good navigation skills, you’ll get to the clearly marked junction with the Bluff Mountain trail. Another sign that will tell you you’re there is the drop off in front of you and Mt Hood in the distance; this is just a teaser though, views still get better. From that point on it gets easier. Just follow the trail until it joins with Ed’s trail and get to the summit. You’ll notice that I don’t have a lot of pictures from the actual summit. The reason is we got welcomed by a horde of very hungry mosquitoes that quickly made certain to get a taste of us. I don’t think we stayed there over 3 or 4 minutes. We hiked back down to the saddle where a little breeze kept the hungry bastards at bay enough for us to have lunch. After that we retraced our steps to the Starway – Bluff Mountain junction but instead of turning left on the way we came, we continued straight. The trail is pretty easy to fallow and has some gentle ups and downs as it navigates the ridge. Passing on front of Little Baldy is always interesting as you hike on a trail in the middle of a rock pile. I always wonder what makes the mountain and the rock pile stay in place. Then the trail turns north and passes on the South side of Bluff Mountain. A faint trail seems to indicate you can get to the top of Bluff but I’ve never done that. Scenery changes a bit but you still continue following a ridgeline while descending. After going around two or three smaller peak, you finally get to the Bluff Mountain trailhead. It’s at higher elevation so you don’t descend as much as you climbed which is a welcomed note to your knees before the drive home.



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Dry Ridge to Grouse Point, May 31st

I guess I could call this hike the “Finally getting to Grouse Point” hike. A couple of years ago I lead this hike with the group and once we got to the end of the Dry Ridge trail we found snow on the ground. My navigation skills back then were not as good and my shoe pick for the day wasn’t the right one either. To make the long story short, I had to change socks and head back down with wet feet. This time we got a much nicer day and with the lack of snow, I was in serious doubt we would find any snow on the ridge. So we started up and I have to say I had forgotten how nice this trail is. Even though it’s a serious workout as it climbs quite a bit, the forest views are amazing. One particular place I like is the grouse Creek crossing. The creek at this point comes down over multiple mossy rocks and fallen trees and it divides leaving space in the middle for a little island with a tree. Crossing is a bit tricky sometimes as everything is slippery. Farther up we finally reached the Grouse Point trail and took a right turn to head to it. I expected the forest to part and at some point see an outcrop or a trail going to a view point. That never happened. There were multiple animal trails but nothing that seemed it would go to the top. After a bit of walking and knowing we had passed the point, we looked for an opening to have lunch. After that we came back down the same way and I again looked for trails to the top. Didn’t find any, weird.



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Mill Creek Wilderness, May 24th to 26th

Memorial Day usually marks the start of the backpacking season. That doesn’t mean you can’t go earlier, it only means you should plan something and go. Depending on the year though, you may still have some lingering sucky weather up north and some areas might still be inaccessible due to snow. So it’s a great time to look south. In a report I read, I found about the Twin Pillars in the Mill Creek Wilderness in Central Oregon. This T-bone steak shaped wilderness is part of the Ochoco National Forest which has been on my radar for some time now so after a bit of research Val and I packed our stuff, dropped the cats and left Friday night. The drive was quick an easy and we got to the trail head in the middle of the night. As we were setting up our beds in the Subaru, we had a visit from the ranger just checking everything was ok. It was a bit scary at first but reassuring that they are there.

Day 1: Twin Pillars South to Whistler Spring via Wildcat

Very early on Saturday we woke up to a beautiful crisp day and after a quick breakfast and much stretching we hit the trail. The first portion of it, all the way to the fork with the Belknap Trail is pretty level as it follows the East Fork Mill Creek crossing it several times – we counted seven. Some of those are so close together that you could bushwhack from one to the next and save a couple of crossings. We did manage to do all crossings except the last one without taking our shoes off. The last one was a bit deeper and there was no big log nearby. The area as certainly a different kind of forest to what we’re used to though. Instead of the lush green, the forest in the area was very open with lots of gigantic Ponderosa Pines. The red bark with the green grasses and the blue sky made for some pretty interesting contrast.
We got to the Belknap Junction pretty quick and made the turn to start climbing. As you do, the Ponderosa forest is left behind and you get to a higher more exposed area where it’s easy to see the remnants of the 2000 fire that devastated most of the area. The other thing you find is more signs of cattle farming. Once the trail reaches the Wildcat Trail and turn on it, you follow a quasi-ridge with views of the Ochoco Mountains to the East and Desolation Canyon to the west. This trail can get pretty exposed and dusty in areas. At some point, with the heat and exposure we started running out of water but soon enough we reached the East Fork Mill Creek were we replenished and cooled down. From there, a short walk brought us to the upper end of the Wildcat trail at Whistler Springs. Kind of unexpecting it, this end if actually an unimproved campground just at the boundary of the wilderness. Certainly the big truck, camper and ATVs were a bit out of place. We followed the campground road to the end where we found a fence and a good water source. Further from there, we found a flat area where we decided to pitch our tent.
Since it was still early for dinner and we had some energy left in us, we decided to go exploring a bit. One of things I had found in my research was a picture from Whistler Point, a small rock outcrop pretty close by. We followed very faint paths as much as we could but in the end, we bushwhacked our way to the top were I found the exact same picture. It was very well worth it. The top itself is covered with red rocks and some dried trees with white barks. All that beauty in the foreground has the Mill Creek Wilderness as a backdrop. From up there you can see the wildcat trail and the ridge it follows and Desolation Canyon.
We spent there enough time to suck all that scenery in before heading back down to camp and a well-deserved diner.

Day 2: Whistler Spring to Belknap Junction via Twin Pillars

We usually wake up and go for a walk before breakfast, that’s or thing when we’re backpacking. Unfortunately, here, there wasn’t anywhere to walk or go check out in the morning (unless we went back up to Whistler point). So after checking the area around us, we had breakfast, packed and left. We knew we had to backtrack a bit to get back on the road as you need to hike on Rd27 to close this loop. Before we got all the way up though, we found what looked to be the road to take. We followed it for a bit until it pretty much disappeared under brushes and fallen trees. By then we knew we were not on the right track. One option was to backtrack again and the other, was to just bushwhack north to find the road. We opted for option two which took us right back and eventually showed that there was a road at some point.
Once on the road we followed it pass Moccasin Prairie to Bingham Springs were we turn to an unimproved campground where the Twin Pillars north trailhead is.
The campground was king of eerie as we found nobody there but a fire ring was still smoking. While putting it off with some water is when we noticed the fire extinguisher on the tree full of bullet holes and the leg of some animal hanging from it. Luckily we didn’t hear banjos. We crossed the campground and pretty soon were back on the trail.
We passed a planted forest full of smaller trees growing around fallen logs that looked like a giant game of sticks. A bit further scenery changed again when we reached the top end of desolation canyon.
Some of the old trees block part of the view but thru them you can see the rock formations that limit this canyon. It was quite impressive. After that, the trail started slowly going down and being around noon; we started looking for a place to stop for lunch. Back in a more forested area, we saw to the side what looked to be a clearing so we went off trail to find where we thought it was but noticed an outcrop to the side so we hiked up there and found a perfect spot. We had lunch sitting on red rocks overlooking the valley below us. Then I made the mistake to try a different way back to avoid a very dense part we passed on the way up. The problem was that we missed the trail. Not only that, we got in the fire zone so everything around us was burned and dead. We walked for a while in this very dusty and blackened soil towards the pillars which we could clearly see in the distance and knew it was our destination until we realized we were back on the trail. What used to be a forest is now charred logs shining under the sun and coper branches. Then we got to the Twin Pillars that, from this approach, doesn’t look too impressive and it’s hard to tell why the call them Twins. We continued down on the trail which pretty much goes around the pillars and once you get on the west side is when you really get the picture.

From the side you can see that there 3 or 4 outcrops but two of them are higher and more prominent that the others. Together whit Whistler Point these are the highlights of this area.
Once you go around the pillars, the trail continued on a little ridge on the south side before it starts climbing down into the oven. As you loose elevation, you get deeper into the canyon with very little vegetation and still remnants of the fire. It’s hot and dusty but eventually you hear a creek, make a turn a quick downhill and you are back next to the South Fork of the Mill Creek. It didn’t take us long to find a good spot for our second night. After setting up camp, we spent some time refreshing ourselves in the creek and exploring around.

Day 3: Belknap Junction to Twin Pillars south trailhead

Last day we wanted to back in the car at a reasonable time for the drive home. Being about 3 miles and 7 creek crossings, we were able to do it pretty quickly while still enjoying, one more time, passing thru the Ponderosa Pine forest. Once out and on the road we got an extra bonus as we were able to admire the scenery that we didn’t see on the drive in including the Steins Pillar.

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