Pihea trail, May 11th

Having done the most known trail in the island, we wanted to explore the other side, which doesn’t necessarily means opposite side of the island. If you look up a map of Kauai, you’ll notice a single road that circles most of the island. On one end you are at the eastern side of the Napali Coast. On the other side, you get to Waimea. This leaves a section of the island that has no roads. From Waimea, the Kokee road takes all the way up to the top of the Kaunuohua Ridge where one side falls abruptly to the Napali coast and the other towards the Alaka’i Swamp and Waimea Canyon. In that area there are numerous trails but interestingly enough, not as much information unless you get a detailed Kauai hiking book or stop at the Kokee lodge and ask in the museum. From there we got the recommendation of not to miss this trail and the canyon trail (story coming up). We’re glad we did as this hike, although short, has some of the best views you can get in the island and take the pictures that define hiking in Kauai. The trail starts from the viewpoint at the end of the road which, for most people is sufficient. From that point, and most of the trail, just turning your head to the left gives you a complete view of the Kalalau Valley surrounded by the impressive Kaaalahina Ridge on the east side and the Kalepa Ridge on the west.
This makes hiking this trail a bit difficult though. As this place get a lot of rain through the year, the trail itself is muddy and slippery. If you are focusing only on the incredible scenery, there’s a big chance you’ll roll down the hill in red dirt. The first section of the trail is very wide and descend to a saddle that only slightly changes your perspective of the canyon. After that, it gets more interesting. The trail narrows and gets more difficult with numerous sections where you have to grab on to branches and roots to continue. It’s almost impossible to come out of this trail clean so the best course of action is just to accept it and get dirty. After the saddle, the trail ascend to the Pihea Viewpoint which only offers limited views of the canyon that are not as good as the ones you get along the trail. Generally this is a good point to turn around but the recommended us taking the trail down to the Alaka’i swamp. According to the description, is one of the wettest spots on earth. We didn’t see much of that although, while we were at the Pihea viewpoint, we saw a huge cloud cover the entire ridge and block all views for about 30 seconds just to disappear as quickly. Most of the trail from that point on, travels on wood planks that are elevated from the forest ground. There are a couple of sections that are tricky to negotiate as the trail steeply descends without good handholds or uses stairs with missing steps. Once you are in the swamp area, the vegetation gets very dense with big leafy plants and ferns. It’s certainly a beautiful place. We continued on this trail up to a four way junction where you can continue on the Pihea trail to Sugi Grove Camp or take the Alaka’i trail going either way to Kilohana on the east or the Alaka’i picninc area on the west.



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Hanakapi’ai Falls, May 10th

Last month, Val and I went to Kauai for a short relaxing vacation. Being the island that has the best hiking opportunities of the Hawaiian Islands, we couldn’t let pass the opportunity to explore a bit so we started with the Hanakapi’ai Falls hike which shares the first 2+ miles of the famous Kalalau trail. The Kalalau trail is an 11 miles stretch on the Napali coast on northwest side of the island that is inaccessible by any other means. The waterfall is a 2 miles hike from the Kalalau trail and the only destination you can reach with the need of a backpacking permit for the Kalalau trail. Needless to say, this trail is very popular so solitude is nonexistent. In fact, when we drove to the trailhead, located at the end of the road, we were not able to find a parking spot so we had to backtrack on the road for about a mile until we found a spot to park. This seems to be quite common unless you get to the trailhead early in the morning. The extra walk was not bad either as we passed the Haena Dry Cave and the mouth of the Waikanaloa Wet Cave. But once you hit the trail you soon start going up on well stumped trail that is muddy pretty much all year long. Soon after you start though, the trail comes to a turn that opens up to the ocean and you get the view that you’ll most of the hike. Blue ocean, Kee Beach on the corner behind you, and the Napali Coast line in front with all its cliffs and ridges. It’s a pretty dramatic sight. For the most part, the trail is pretty easy to follow and pretty wide. There are a couple of sections where it goes steeply down that can be tricky. With all the mud, is difficult to get a secure footing so it can be east to slip and fall. For a bit over an hour, we walked this undulating trail as it came out to the ocean and went back in passing one or two small streams until we got to a steep descent down into the Hanakapi’ai Stream. That’s when we got to the first challenge.
To continue on, you have to cross this stream with running water up to your mid-thigh. On the other side there’s a small campground that I wouldn’t think a lot of people use, but if you make a turn towards the coast, a short path takes you to Hanakapi’ai Beach. This small white sand beach is half covered in river rocks that tourist and visitors have piled into hundreds of cairns. It’s quite the spectacle to see. And certainly something not to miss. Continuing on, we found the fork between the Kalalau Trail and the fall trail so we made the turn and started climbing. For all the people we saw trying to cross the stream, we thought we would see more people heading up to the waterfall but that was not the case. The trail head south leaving the ocean behind pretty quick as it enters a tropical bamboo forest. We knew from the hike description that we would be crossing the stream pretty soon, what we didn’t know is that you cross it several times. So at first we thought about taking our shoes off but then we decided it was better to just continue on with our shoes and dry them afterwards. Not only it was going to make it easier to cross but also safer. I literally lost count how many times we crossed the creek and all of them had their share of challenge. At some point we got a small clearing where we saw the big rock wall the encircles the canyon we were in and right in the middle our destination. With all the waterfalls we have in Oregon, our expectations were not too high and I think it was a good thing because the waterfall was actually pretty spectacular. Getting to it was a bit of challenge but just after you pass the last trees and meet the pond where it lands, you’re welcomed with the entire view and a good shower. I couldn’t say there’s a spot where you can stand without getting pretty drenched so taking pictures is not an easy task. After enjoying the falls for a while, we returned the way we went in retracing our steps as the sun was quickly traveling to the horizon. It’s certainly a worthwhile hike despite the extra mud in your shoes and legs.



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Plains of Abraham, May 2nd – 3rd

Backpacking season is among us so we might get started right? This is a trip that Zach planned with the group that I decided to join. The idea was a laid back easy hike to the Plains of Abraham and then some free time to explore the area. I remember hiking up Ape Canyon to the Plains and exploring a bit so the idea of spending the night up there sounded pretty good as a starter. So we met early on Saturday for a quick drive to Mt St Helens. The sun was blasting already when we got there so it was clearly going to be a very hot day. The first part of the hike, up Ape Canyon follows a path right next to the Muddy River. This gives the advantage of being partially shaded while still providing some very spectacular views of the mountain. The trees started thinning out as we got closer to the unction with the Loowit trail, the trail that circumnavigates the mountain. That also indicated we were getting closer to the mouth of Ape Canyon that gives its name to the trail. Once the trail came out of the forest, it did a couple of switch backs. Then we got to a knob were you can see a crack and steep drop off.
We dropped our packs at that spot to go check it out. There are certainly good views from safer angles than this but we still went for it. From the edge you can see the chasm below you as it travels south. It almost gives you the impression of a cataclysmic event were all the rocks were holding something and suddenly they let go thru this passage. We picked our stuff and continued up as the trail circled around the end of the canyon. The trail has seen some damage from the past season so there are some yellow flags indicating caution. From that angle the views of the canyon are even better as it seems to run away from you into the distance with Mt Hood in the Horizon. Then, the scenery changed. All the trees were left behind and we entered an area that could be easily described as a moonscape. Rocks, rolling flat terrain and views as far as the eye can see. The trail circles Pumice Butte which, depending on time of day or sun orientation seems to change colors. Continuing from there is kind of eerie though. The trail meanders thru this vast place without a noticeable destination.
On one side the huge Mt St Helens salutes you while on the other you can see Mt Hood. There’s a spot along the trail, right after a small creek that offers a perfect stop for pictures and lunch. Usually this is the stopping point for hikers that come up the Ape Canyon trail and don’t want to continue to the Plains. We passed that and then veered of trail heading west towards the mountain. The idea was to look for potential campsites along a shallow gully that could offer some wind protection but we didn’t find any. The ground was too sandy and rocky to pitch a tent and there was no place to be out of the wind. On top of that, the sun was just beating on us so there was no easy way to think about being out of it. I was lucky that I had my umbrella with me so I was able to get some lunch under the small protection it provided. Then we continued looking for potential campsites and noticed, at the other side of the Loowit trail an area a bit higher that was surrounded on three sides by hills. From the distance it looked doable and pretty flat so we headed that way. We found the area to be pretty nice so we dropped our pack and set up camp. At this point it was still pretty early so everyone picked a direction to go explore a bit. With Neil we continued on the Loowit trail heading north without a clear destination in mind. Shortly after passing the hill that was giving us some wind protection we noticed a tall pole with marks. WE think it was a snow depth gauge that can be checked from the air. We went of trail to check that out and continued east to the edge of a ridge line. Looking in both direction we noticed there were foot paths or animal paths. We veered right and started traveling south, at first climbing towards the ridge that was going to put us right on top of our campsite but then, we found a split trail that went behind the mountain. We decided to take that path even though it involved some bushwhacking.
Part of the choice was because we noticed it was the only path that was shaded and we were already pretty tired of the beating sun. The path got harder as we went and at a certain point we got to a gully that didn’t look passable. Neil figured a way to climb up but the path he took was not very stable. I retraced my steps a bit and then climb straight up on another smaller gully but that put me on the ridge pretty quickly. The view pf the mountain and our campsite from up there were magnificent. By then Neil wanted to go back to camp so he followed a ridgeline that pointed directly toward the Loowit trail on the south side of our campsite while I continued on the ridge all the way to the water source. After filtering some water, I hiked back to camp in time for a well-deserved diner.
On Sunday we woke up to a crisp and almost cold day. The wind was blowing steady and it was going to take some time for us to get sun at our camp. Lie everyone else in the group, I had breakfast sitting in my tent with a nice view of Mt St Helens. After that, I pre-packed my gear but left the tent standing as the plan was to leisurely hike in the morning and come back to camp at noon to have lunch and then head out. Most of us started hiking in the same direction towards Windy Pass but the group thinned out as we went. Towards the northern end of the Plains we turned left to continue on the Loowit trail towards windy pass, our plan was to loop around and come back via Windy Ridge. At first the trail was easy follow but then we got closer to a gully were you could see the trail and destination far ahead but there was no clear indication on how to get there. A hiker coming the other way told us the trail was gone so the path was very sketchy and slippery. We took different approaches and after sliding and getting our shoes full of dirt we made it up to the trail and continued on to Windy Pass. Despite the beating sun, temperature started dropping and wind picking up.
Right before getting to the pass, I dropped my pack and put a wind breaker as I could hear the wind whistling thru the pass. I guess that’s where it got the name from. The views form there were fantastic. On one side and in your face, the side of the mountain. On the other, part of the blast zone extending to Spirit Lake and Mt Margaret. On the other side, the trail descended quite fast over several switchbacks to a gully. Half of the group decided at that point to turn around and head back to camp rather than continue. Don and I decided to do the entire loop and we were pretty confident we had plenty of time so we pushed on. The trail continued circling the mountain and at times it seemed it was getting us farther than what we needed to be. We started questioning ourselves if we had miss the turn but we continued and eventually found the fork with the Windy Ridge trail. That trail connected with the Truman trail as it crossed another creek valley. There was no water running but it’s easy to see that it can carry a lot. On the other side we started climbing until we reached the original Truman trailhead that was only accessed from a Forest Road. To continue, the only way was to hike on the road for a while until we reached the junction with the Abraham trail that would take us back to camp. And that’s when the hard part started.
That trail just goes up and up and up. There are a couple of sections with stairs to make it easier to get traction. Sun was beating on us which made it even more difficult to continue. The only good thing were the views. From this trail you get a vantage view of the lava dome I the crater. It’s the weirdest thing as it can look really big and really small at the same time. Finally we reached the high point of the trail were numerous canyons flow down to join in the Smith River below. We saw a couple of waterfall in the distance that looked pretty spectacular. We meandered for a while until we were back in the Plains and then the campsite. We had lunch while we packed and then started our hike down retracing our step from the first day. It was leisurely walk down enjoying he views again from the different perspective.



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Chinidere and Tomlike mountains, Apr 18th

Two destinations of my list. Both Chinidere and Tomlike have been in my radar for quite some time but I kept postponing it because the drive is quite long so it makes for a long day. It’s also rare you can go this early in the season as the snow lingers in the area until mid-June. What made me change my mind was a couple of reports I read that the road to Wahtum Lake was open and that the weather was looking very good for the weekend. Getting there was as long as predicted. We also found some snow on the ground at the trailhead. Being so early in the season though, we didn’t see a lot of people (Wahtum Lake can be quite the circus in the summer months). The hike started with a quick downhill towards the lake where the air felt cold and crisp. From there we had a couple of options. One is the “shorter” route that covers the southwest side of the lake crosses the outlet creek. I knew there wasn’t a bridge so I opted for the longer route that follows the PCT around the lake on the eastern side. From the map it appeared that we would travel much closer to the lake but in reality you’re far enough that you rarely see water. Only a few open spots along the trail give you hints of far below. The trail climbs gradually on the side of the hill and a short distance after the unction with the “shortcut” trail, a sign points to the top of Chinidere Mountain and the start of several switchbacks. About half way up, we noticed a foot path from one switchback out to an open area that gave us the first amazing views of Mt Hood behind us and the Eagle Creek drainage.
One of the hikers in the group noticed a faint path up from the outside which we decided to take instead of following the trail. Being in the open, the views stayed with us as we went thru a rocky slope with some really nice formations. As we climbed, the views behind us were getting better and better as we could now see the lake and more of Mt Hood behind mountain ridges. Reaching the summit was an incredible treat as that opened views beyond the Columbia River Gorge to Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier and Mt Adams. The day was clear enough that we could make other prominent areas in the north like Goat Rocks and Mt Margaret. We stayed there for a while snapping pictures and enjoying the views and the sun. After a while, we circled the top and got on the trail to head back down to the PCT retracing the last part of the hike to a junction with the Herman Creek trail. At that point, we were walking on a couple of inches of snow which made pour pace a bit slower. One step forward half a step sliding back. We found this section to be very peaceful and with a very “clean” view. The little snow that was on the ground looked like a soft blanket making the forest looked very organized and neat. We were not sure where or how the junction to Tomlike Mountain was going to be as that is not an actual trail but a foot path. Actually it was very easy to find. Just after passing the junction with the Anthill trail, the trail we would take to return to the trailhead, there was a clear hairpin turn where the Herman creek trail starts descending on the other side of the ridge. At that same place, two small cairns on either side of a very clear path indicate the route to Tomlike. The first section of this path was somewhat forested but we could easily notice we were following a ridgeline. The trees got shorter to the point that we felt like giants walking thru a conifer forest. Then the forest opened up and we saw our destination up ahead. There were a couple more forested path before climbing up a hill that only took us to another interesting part of this path. At certain point, the trail came out of the trees to a trail that followed a knife edge ridge.
On one side we could see Mud Lake and the East Fork Herman Creek drainage and on the other, the Herman Creek valley. At this point, our destination was still covering the rest of the views we already knew we would get from the top. Finally we reached the ridge top and once again got the full views of the northern cascades and Mt Hood behind us. We explored and walked for a bit on the ridge. The trail itself doesn’t have a defined end, it just continued and it would seem you can follow the ridge and eventually reconnect with the Herman Creek trail but I will leave that for another day exploration. We found a clear spot to sit and have lunch while enjoying the weather and views. On our way down, we retraced our steps back to the Herman Creek trail and the Anthill trail junction were we made a left turn. Being a higher trail I thought we would get better views of the lake and maybe more but as we circled the lake we only got one or two spots with limited views. Besides, the trail faces west most of the way so you get a front facing sun most of the way. Finally we started descending and the trailhead appeared in front of us.



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Bald Butte, Apr 12th

Wildflowers are blooming, or so we thought. With the unseasonably warm weather and very mild winter we had spring has been a bit out of control. We’ve seen reports of flowers in full bloom in several places yet others still have a bit of snow. IN one report we saw that we were pretty close to the full bloom in Dog Mountain, one of the must-go places in the Gorge this time of year as the entire mountain gets covered with yellow flowers. The problem in that trail is that it has gotten so popular that is hard to find a parking spot in the huge parking area the trailhead has. When flowers bloom, everyone plus their aunts go there. Still, Val and I wanted to see some wildflowers but avoid the crowds so we opted for a hike we found a couple of years ago. Bald Butte, located in the Surveyors Ridge on the eastern side of Mt Hood, can get as many flowers as Dog Mountain but not the crowds. Usually flowers bloom there before they do on Dog, or so we thought. Still we made it there for a really nice hike on a partially cloudy day. Since the clouds were covering Mt hood, I was not able to take a lot of pictures of that so I spent most of the time taking pictures of small things. Besides the clouds, we found ourselves hiking on rather cold day. It was a bit weird because the sun felt nice and warm but the air, and the little wind there was, was cold. We even had a section of the trail all dusted white which seemed a bit earie and out of place. So all the yellow flowers are not out yet but it was still a beautiful hike



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