Santiam Pass to Timberline Lodge: a 100-Mile Section Hike on the PCT

The High Cascades in Oregon are beautiful. While much of this chiseled landscape can be viewed at a distance by zipping around in a car, it is best experienced moving at the speed of human – on foot. By hiking, you can appreciate this terrain using all your senses and see it not as entertainment, but as a necessity. Below is an eight day account of a 100-mile northbound section hike on the PCT from the dry Santiam Pass to the windswept Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. This hike was powered by a whole-food plant-based (vegan) diet.

Day 1: Santiam Pass to Wasco Lake (10 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-01A view of the Santiam Pass trailhead, mile number 2006.9 on the PCT. As my wife and I gathered our gear, we met two sixty-something ladies that started at Crater Lake for a section hike several weeks earlier. These women had already hiked about 175 miles.

blog-2016-08-25-02The weather was beautiful – if a bit warm – that morning. We were joined by two friends, Jack and Cindy, who drove us to the trailhead and then hiked with us for the first five miles of our journey.

blog-2016-08-25-03A view of the north side of Three Fingered Jack, a jagged and rugged mountain in the High Cascades that has banded stripes. A PCT thru-hiker stands in the foreground. He was one of about 25 who passed us that day; the oldest being somewhere in her 60s, the youngest about 18, and about half of the thru-hikers were female.

Near the end of our first day, we took a steep side-trail from Minto Pass to Wasco Lake and set up camp. As dusk fell, the sky was pink from a far-away fire. That night elk, frogs, and ducks made noises around our campsite.

Day 2: Wasco Lake to Shale Lake (12 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-04A view of Wasco Lake the following morning at about 7am.

blog-2016-08-25-05We enjoyed a mid-morning break on the shores of Rockpile Lake. Several thru-hikers can be seen on the trail at the left. The two women we met a day earlier enjoyed their lunch and a quick swim on the opposite side of the lake.

blog-2016-08-25-06Much of our day was spent walking through woods that had been burned several years earlier and were now recovering. In the distance, the peak of Mount Jefferson made frequent and teasing appearances.

blog-2016-08-25-07That evening we camped at Shale Lake and enjoyed an amazing view of the south side of Mount Jefferson. We ate our dinner and watched the evening light blanket the slopes of this iconic High Cascades peak.

Day 3: Shale Lake to Jefferson Park (12 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-08Looking upon a picturesque view of Pamelia Lake from the PCT. This area is a limited entry zone requiring a permit to camp. Our hike that morning was in the forest where we encountered some sizeable old growth trees, and at one point we rounded a corner and surprised a grouse.

blog-2016-08-25-09Milk Creek has cut a 100-foot deep gorge into the slopes of Mount Jefferson. Several backpackers are seen crossing the creek below us.

blog-2016-08-25-10Overgrown and green, this is what the trail looked like for the rest of the afternoon. It was also humid and hot, making our progress slower than expected. Occasionally, we would see glimpses of Mount Jefferson through the trees.

blog-2016-08-25-11Russell Creek pours off the mountainside where it meets a “flat” area for about 100 feet before dropping into a deep gorge; this more level area is where the trail crosses. Earlier in the season the flow can be very strong and this can be a dangerous crossing. Today, though, it just brought about some wet shoes. In this image, a hiker approaches the crossing area. We spoke with her later to find out that she was 18 and was hiking 250 miles of the PCT by herself.

In 2016, the Forest Service implemented a new permit system to camp in the stunningly beautiful Jefferson Park area. We did not have a permit and spent a good two hours looking for a walk-up site. The foresters had done an efficient job of decommissioning non-reserved sites; eventually we found a single site near Russell Lake just as the sun was setting. We were asleep at 9pm, which is considered “hiker’s midnight.”

Day 4: Jefferson Park to Ollalie Lake (12 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-12We enjoyed breakfast under this stunning skyline.

blog-2016-08-25-13The next morning we climbed 1,200 feet out of Jefferson Park. The views were magnificent: wildflowers were in bloom along the trail, and at times it was hard to hear because of the abundance of buzzing coming off nearby flowers.

blog-2016-08-25-14We reached the trail’s summit and could see Mount Hood in the distance. Descending the slope, we passed several snowfields. For several hours our progress was slow going because of the loose rocks, though the trail soon became forested and we passed a number of beautiful mountain lakes.

blog-2016-08-25-15Late in the afternoon, we reached Ollalie Lake. Here is a view looking south across the area we just hiked, and in the distance is Mount Jefferson. About two dozen thru-hikers were staying at Ollalie Lake to rest.

We met some new friends at Ollalie Lake:

Darren and Sandy had hiked continuously for 4 months. They were also world travelers that raised geography education awareness by sharing information with students about the places they visit. Their travels can be seen at their site: trekkingtheplanet.net.

Franziska and her family had hiked for 2+ weeks and 100 miles on the PCT, the youngest of her group being her eight year-old brother! Franziska is the founder of hikeoregon.net.

blog-2016-08-25-16Ollalie Lake has a small store where my wife and I eagerly purchased a bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips and promptly devoured the entire bag. At one point there were a whopping total of eight stinky hikers in that little store – ah, the aroma of humanity!

Day 5: Ollalie Lake to the Warm Springs Area (14 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-17The trail on day five was mostly flat and in the shade of tall trees, making trekking much easier. The forest was drier in this region and water was less abundant than before. When the opportunity presented itself, we filled up our bottles at a small, tranquil trailside spring. The temperature that day was especially warm.

blog-2016-08-25-18We arrived at Trooper Springs near the Lemiti Marsh area. This was our last water for about twelve miles. The spring was a welcome site although a small and precarious platform needed repair. We were attacked by horseflies; they were numerous, aggressive, and very persistent. Needless to say, we did not stay long.

blog-2016-08-25-19Taking care of some much needed laundry at the spring using the “Ziplock spin cycle” washing method.

blog-2016-08-25-20Walking through a clearcut was a stark contrast to the lush forest we had seen all day. Near this area we found the strangest price of trash on the trip: a Howard Johnson’s hotel key card lying next to the trail. We picked it up.

blog-2016-08-25-21We located a bare spot at the edge of the trail and camped for the night. Trailside camping can look messy, but everything goes back into the pack and we always leave the site cleaner than we found it.

Day 6: Warm Springs Area to Timothy Lake (18 Miles)

We were up early that morning to hike six miles to the next water at the Warm Springs River.

blog-2016-08-25-22Shown is an old style PCT trail marker that we found, one of the few older versions that we saw on the entire trip.

blog-2016-08-25-23Crossing the Warm Springs River. It was more a small creek at this point, but the water the clean and cold – a welcome site.

blog-2016-08-25-24As I took off my shoes I realized just how dusty the trail was that day.

blog-2016-08-25-25That evening we stealth camped near the trail close to Timothy Lake. During the night we unzipped the tent for a “nature break” – only to be scolded by an owl that repeatedly whoo’d at us until we went back to bed.

Day 7: Timothy Lake to Frog Lake (11 Miles)

The next morning was slow; we woke up late, and it seemed to take forever to get moving. We found a quiet site on the shoreline of Timothy Lake to we rest, take care of some laundry, and enjoy the sun for a couple of hours before continuing.

blog-2016-08-25-26Several miles down the trail was Crater Creek, a beautiful riparian area with some astonishingly cold water: a welcome find on a hot day. We soaked our feet, took a twenty-second dip (the water was that frigid), then soaked our shirts and put them on as a natural air-conditioner. We made a stop at Little Crater Lake, the source of the creek. Little Crater Lake is astonishingly blue, like it’s larger cousin, but this was not volcanic in origin. Rather, this was a large artesian well. Continuing down the trail, we passed a gravel forest service road and found a bag hanging on PCT post. Inside were some small apples or Asian pears – some unexpected trail magic in the middle of nowhere.

blog-2016-08-25-27This was our first view of Mount Hood after about 40 miles of hiking – what a fantastic sight.

blog-2016-08-25-28We took a side trail to Frog Lake for the some water where there was a hand pump that drew water from a well. As we entered the campground we were momentary celebrities answering questions like: “Where did you hike from?” “How many days have you been out?” “Tell me about your gear?” etc. It was an odd but welcome feeling. That night, we camped just outside the campground on a forest road.

Day 8: Frog Lake to Timberline Lodge (11 Miles)

The next morning, we stopped back in at the campground for some water and said goodbye to our new fans. A girl pulled up on her bike. “Good luck!” she exclaimed, and there was a “Thanks for being so inspiring” from an adult. It felt good to hear, but the truly inspirational folks were the PCT thru-hikers who had hiked 2,663 miles and spent six months on the trail.

We made good time that day ascending Mount Hood: 5.5 miles in two hours with a significant elevation gain; we were getting our hiking legs.

blog-2016-08-25-29Finally, the green of the trees turned to open space and vistas as we passed the timberline. It was windy with twenty to thirty mile an hour gusts that kicked up sand and dust. We wore our sunglasses to keep volcanic grit out of our eyes.

blog-2016-08-25-30There was an abundance of mountain flowers on the trail.

blog-2016-08-25-31Close to the Timberline Lodge, the views were fantastic! We could see much of the route that we had spent the past week traversing.

blog-2016-08-25-32We arrived at the Timberline Lodge, mile 2107.3 on the PCT, and 100 miles from our starting point at Santiam Pass. Inside the lodge, scores of thru-hikers had taken refuge in the common areas. There was access to food and good company, with couches for sleeping and a warm fire to enjoy in the evening. We met some new friends here: Shepherd, Snow, Lonestar, and Patch, all thru-hikers who started at the Mexican border and were resting before their final push into Washington State and Canada.

blog-2016-08-25-33Looking through the door at the Timberline Lodge onto the Roosevelt Terrace: in the distance Jefferson Peak, and behind it, Three Fingered Jack and Santiam Pass. From the lodge, we were able to take public transit back home.

A Crater Lake Extended Weekend Group Trip

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Trip Report:
Date: June 12, 2016
Duration: 3 Days
Participants: 10
Group: Obsidians
Hiking 5 miles (1,000-foot elevation loss/gain)
Type: Day Hike and Camping

On this trip, Mother Nature reminded our group of nine that she is always in control, and she reminded two members of our group to remember the tent!

Our original itinerary had to be re-worked because of a late July storm, but the unusually cold weather added an extra element of adventure and excitement.

Everyone arrived in great spirits on Saturday, though we knew that rain was on the horizon. Unfortunately, two members of the group had – in their enthusiasm – unexpectedly left their tent at home. Undeterred by the unfortunate error they purchased a tent at the campground store – for a good deal of course! The skies that afternoon were clear and we made good use of the sun by hiking to Garfield Peak.

thumb_IMG_5138_1024On the way we encountered several snowfields, one of which was very steep, but the stunning views from the top were well worth the extra effort in getting there. In the distance Mount Scott was enticingly clear of snow, though we later learned it was impossible to reach because several miles of the eastern rim highway was closed for repairs. Returning down the mountainside we visited the small loop trail of Godfrey Glen where we collected trash that uncaring visitors had left. We collected enough garbage to fill a large bag! That evening we sat around the campfire and commented on the number of stars that were visible, where was the rain? All was calm until 2am when the rain arrived and temperatures lowered to just above freezing. Our two members in their “good deal” tent had a cold and wet night.

Sunday morning I looked out my tent and was excited to see full-bodied snowflakes quietly falling but they only lasted for a minute. Several early risers made a trip to the rim where 3-4 inches of snow had fallen the night before. All of us were off to a slow start that morning. The “good deal” tent had not fared well in the rain and when the drops were shaken off the outer cover a support bar snapped making the tent almost useless. For the entire day temperatures never ventured past the mid-thirties and at times the drippy rain became unrelenting torrents.

_thumb_IMG_5158_1024We explored the Visitor’s Center, the Sinnott Memorial Overlook (featuring an indoor exhibit room) and the gift shop to escape the fog, wind, rain, and occasional snow flurries. The fog was so thick we could not see the lake or a few hundred feet in front of us. In the afternoon we moved below the cloud line to hike the picturesque Annie Creek trail. Although a short hike it was very picturesque. Laurie and Brad had reservations at the Crater Lake Lodge for dinner, they generously increased their table size to include all of us so we could get out of the rain and have some warm food. About 8pm that evening the sky cleared and at first the temperatures seemed warm. The group campfire that evening had just half of the group, the remainder had gone to bed early. The two members in the “good deal” tent had another cold and memorable night. In the middle of the night I awoke and was stunned by the visibility of the night sky – there were thousands of stars! My tent thermometer showed that temperatures had dropped into the upper twenties.

On Monday the sun returned and the group broke camp, but before we did we waited anxiously for two members to return their “good deal” tent. The two walked stoically into the store and presented their ale of woe to a staff person, when the person said “no refunds” the disheveled and muddy remains of the tent was plopped like a large wet sponge onto the counter for all to see. The act proved its point about the product’s poor quality. Their money was returned. Victorious that two of our members had saved their money (and dignity) we traveled to the rim where we hiked for several hours sightseeing and enjoying the views of Wizard Island. We tried to visit Watchman Peak but the trail was still heavy with snow and the area was closed. Although the sun was shining the temperatures remained in the mid 50s and the wind had a nippy bite, the group tabled Cleetwood Cove for another time, jumping in Crater Lake would be for another trip.

What’s Up with Oregon’s Elliott State Forest?

blog-2015-10-10-img-05Along Oregon’s southern coast is a massive 130-square mile chunk of land that is basically unknown to the larger public. The area is known as the Elliot State Forest Lands, or “Elliott” for short. It is located near Reedsport. I wanted to know more about this place so I joined a group of curious folks for a weekend visit. What I found is a land that is ground zero for contentious issues surrounding aerial spraying, clearcutting, and conservation efforts.

blog-2015-10-10-img-14Our group camped at a BLM campground on the northern shore of Loon Lake (shown with the red dot). The lake is 7 miles south of Hwy 38. We made day trips into the Elliott.

blog-2015-10-10-img-07This Google map shows the 1.5-mile long Loon Lake (the campground location is also displayed with a red dot) and the general region where we explored. The patches of dark green, light green, and tan shades are sections of forests, tree plantations and clearcuts.

blog-2015-10-10-img-08To visit, it’s helpful to have a local navigate the spaghetti works of logging roads, accessible parcels, and trails that crisscross the region. Our guides were from the Coast Range Forest Watch, a grassroots group concerned about the health of forests and watersheds in the Pacific Northwest.

We made a caravan into the forest on the Elliott’s extensive and well-maintained system of roads; we drove over ridges, into valleys, through deep forests, and along barren mountainsides.

After a 45-minute drive we parked near a creek and unpacked ourselves from our cars. I was stunned by the crispness of the air in the forest. Looking up, the trees were long and straight – up to 180-feet tall – like giant infantry pikes lancing the sky.

blog-2015-10-10-img-13We visited a Grandmother Tree, an immense giant with a width at breast height of 7-feet. The tree was well over 200-feet tall! The naturalist in the group thought it was between 300-400 years old. Seen another way, this tree is 15-20 human generations old!

elliott_01Around the Grandmother tree the air was moist, the ground spongy, and the forest floor vibrant with moss and plants. There were signs of elk and bear scat nearby. The temperature was a cool 65 degrees. Sadly though, even this far into the woods, there were signs of discarded beer cans hidden in the bushes.

We visited a large clearcut that had been harvested about 5-6 years earlier. Here the open mountainside was dry, the temperature was in the low-80’s and the ground was hard. It was not a pleasant place.
elliott-04

Here is a panoramic view of the clearcut, Robin from Cascadia Wildlands is shown.
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The Elliott is being turned into a giant patchwork of tree plantations, where sections of forest are clearcut, replanted, and then harvested again roughly 40 years later. After a harvest the forest industry wants to protect desired tree species and prevent other species from growing. To do this a toxic cocktail of insecticides and herbicides are sprayed. This happens generally with a helicopter. The mixture is so potent that often only several applications are needed. Current state law states that a 60-foot buffer be maintained, but the law is vague and spraying has been attributed to water quality issues downstream, degradation of salmon habitat, and human health issues.

blog-2015-10-10-img-09The left photo shows the composition of the forest floor near the old growth Grandmother Tree; while the right shows the composition of the ground in a clearcut.

blog-2015-10-10-img-15Sometime we had to bushwhack and cross ravines.

I was glad to return to Loon Lake where the air was cool, moist, and the forest was vibrant. Also, there was lots of food! The image shows part of our campsite.

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We had visited Loon Lake at the end of the season and the campground was still very full. I talked to a ranger who said the area is very busy during the summer, which underscores a point – a lot of people like to visit this region, but only a small percentage of land is targeted for recreation. Recreation could be really big as a revenue generator, but are people open to the idea?

I had an opportunity to measure this during one of the outings. Coming down the path were 2 camouflaged men, they had been bow hunting and looked like they just stepped out of a Cabelas advertisement. Everyone said hello as people do when they see someone on the trail. The hunters were returning empty-handed and they were a bit perplexed by our presence. Our guide quickly explained that he wants to keep the lands in the public domain so that he and the hunters could keep returning. The men raised an eyebrow when “public” was mentioned; however, they wanted to keep the Elliott a place where they could also visit, hunt, and spend time with their families. The encounter was an interesting exchange and hinted at a grand relationship that might just keep this land protected in such a way that allows multiple parties to profit, not just one industry.

Why is the Elliott a hot zone for so many interests? It’s complicated. Back in the early 1970s Oregon passed the “Oregon Forest Practices Act,” a law that provided protection for soil, air, water, fish, wildlife and forest resources. The law has changed little in 40 years, yet the scientific understanding and economics of timber have evolved. Surrounding states have enacted laws that provide for a longer-term vision of forests, the idea being that forests should provide jobs, resources, and recreation for today, and for our children. In the meantime, Oregon’s private companies have fought hard to prevent any changes to this outdated law, including working hard to affect public perceptions about logging. Further complicating matters are taxation dollars, received from timber harvests, which are tied to the general education fund.

Timber businesses in the Elliott (and their investors) see clearcuts as an effective method to maximize the return on a business model. They don’t want government interference because it can be slow, costly, and a headache – I get that. But, timber companies are not being their Brother’s Keeper. When neighbors are unable to make a living because of water pollution, when salmon habitat that supports the local fishing industry is significantly diminished by sediment runoff, and when communities are impacted because of spraying, something is wrong.

The issue in the Elliott is not about harvesting trees; our society needs trees to build homes and schools, and to use in trade. The issue is not about loggers; loggers are hard-working people putting food on the table for their families. It’s not just about hunters who hunt on the land, or anglers that fish in the streams, or those who want to conserve old growth and this amazing ecosystem. On the contrary, it’s about all of these things working together. The Elliott is a vibrant location with a rich natural heritage that should be honored with protection while allowing businesses with a long-term vision to both profit and support local communities.

As someone who advocates for the outdoors I would love to revisit the Elliott for camping, hiking, even backpacking. The Elliott is home to some giant-sized trees, some much larger than the Grandmother tree shown in this article. I would love to see those trees, and would be happy to spend my recreation dollars in this region.

Find Out More:

Visit-
If you’re interested in visiting the Elliott with your group, or want additional information, contact the Coast Range Forest Watch for more information.
CoastRangeForestWatch.org

Audiocast-
City Club of Eugene. “What Fate For The Elliott State Forest” (1 hour)
http://klcc.org/post/what-fate-elliott-state-forest-city-club-eugene

Background on the Issue:
Cascadia Wildlands
https://www.cascwild.org/campaigns/protecting-forests-and-wild-places/save-the-elliot-rainforest/

Movie Preview-
Pacific Rivers. “Behind the Emerald Curtain”
See what’s happening on Oregon’s private timberlands, and how it’s harming our rivers, water, air, and communities.

Old-growth map-
An Oregon Wild map showing the old-growth forests in the Elliott:
http://www.oregonwild.org/sites/default/files/pdf-files/ElliotStateForest10.22.14.pdf

Aerial spraying issues-
The Oregonian. “How average Oregonians challenged the timber industry – and lost”
http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/04/how_average_oregonians_challen.html

Different viewpoints on aerial spraying-
http://www.beyondtoxics.org/wp-content/uploads/AerialSprayingArticle_1859-OregonsMag_Sept-Oct2015_BEST.pdf

Map source-
Lawsuit Launched to Protect Threatened Marbled Murrelets From Clearcutting in Oregon State Forests

One last view of the Grandmother Tree-
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Backpacking to Camp Lake – Three Sisters Wilderness

blog-2015-09-01-img-00The Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon is breathtakingly beautiful. This diverse landscape of volcanoes, snow, forests, creeks, lava fields, and lakes gives hikers the opportunity to explore a vibrant topography. The wilderness encompasses 281,190-acres and is dominated by three volcanic peaks: North, Middle and South, that each exceeds 10,000-feet in height! Several paved roads around the perimeter of the wilderness allow visitors to see vistas with just a car ride, but to really appreciate the immensity of this setting some footwork is required. Here are some pictures of a 34-mile, 4-day trip along the north and eastern portions of the wilderness ending between Middle and South Sister at a subalpine area known as Camp Lake.

blog-2015-09-01-img-01My wife and I began our first day with a late start; we hiked 3 miles south from the Lava Camp trailhead and spent the night at South Matthieu Lake. Smoke from forest fires in the region made everything, even a view of North Sister and the moon, opaque. That night, an anticipated cool breeze was replaced by a warm wind that blew in from high plains of Oregon where a large ground fire was burning. In the middle of the night the smoke became extremely thick and breathing for several hours was difficult. By morning the winds had shifted and the air was clearer.

blog-2015-09-01-img-02The next day we hiked 14 miles; 7 of which reminded us just how destructive forest fires can be, constantly around us were the stark and charcoaled remains of incinerated trees. This conflagration was called the Pole Creek Fire and occurred just 3 years ago in 2012.

blog-2015-09-01-img-03Several small creeks crossed our path, most were dry, but Alder Creek’s water was cold and clear even though the flow was very low. The creek offered a respite from a temperature of 85 degrees and a hot sun that was beating down. We welcomed the opportunity for a rest and refill our water bottles at this little pool.

blog-2015-09-01-img-04The North Sister towers in the distance. Continuing south the trail crossed several areas where the fire had not reached; these were often pumice expanses where vegetation was dispersed.

blog-2015-09-01-img-05As we crossed Soap Creek we saw a number Bumble Bees buzzing from one flower to another. Soap Creek gets its name from the soapy color of the water; this is because of the sediment that gets carried down in the glacial melt water.

blog-2015-09-01-img-06The trail turned to the west and the terrain gradually increased in elevation. After about an hour and a half we crossed the North Fork of Whychus Creek, which had to be traversed via several logs that served as a makeshift bridge, below us the grey and auburn glacial melt water loudly churned. Its source was about 2 miles upstream at the Hayden and Diller Glaciers. After crossing the views opened up.

blog-2015-09-01-img-06aA photo of Christiane hiking through a pumice area on our way to Camp Lake; walking on this material is akin to walking on dry sand.

blog-2015-09-01-img-06bWhat a beautiful landscape!

blog-2015-09-01-img-07A view of South Sister on the horizon; this dramatic peak is 10,358-feet in elevation!

blog-2015-09-01-img-08Our destination for the night, Camp Lake at 6,952-feet. The wind here can be unrelenting, this is because the lake’s location is sandwiched in a pass between Middle and South Sister. The wind was strong that afternoon so we found sanctuary behind a glacial moraine and setup camp.

blog-2015-09-01-img-09Our original plan was to stay the night at Camp Lake then in the morning continue over the pass. This would have included: hiking up a climber’s trail for an hour and up several hundred feet in elevation, crossing over a snow field then down the western side of the mountain and to several remote lakes then overland another 3 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail. But, uncertain weather changed our plans. The forecast had called for a rainstorm along with high winds within the next 24 hours and we were hoping to make it over the pass before the rain. That evening dark clouds marched across the sky. As the sun disappeared under the horizon the temperature dropped well into the 40s and that night we heard several deep and rumbling crashes of thunder. The wind howled into the morning and for several hours we heard rain outside and at times our tent was pelted by ice.

blog-2015-09-01-img-10When we woke, the sky was grey in color but appeared mostly calm, though as I stepped out from behind the shelter of the moraine the wind almost knocked me over. I collected water at the lake and was surprised at how chilled I had become in just a few minutes; the wind was deceptively cold. Partially frozen rain drops fell sporadically. My wife and I made the decision to hold off crossing over the pass during this trip. We would return by the route we came.

blog-2015-09-01-img-11The area’s starkness was beautiful. Several tents were dotted around the area, all of them, like the tent shown in the photo, were strategically placed behind natural wind brakes.

blog-2015-09-01-img-12Our hike off the mountain was cold and occasionally it rained on us. At about noon the sun briefly came out, but this did not last long for the sky again turned dark and overcast. We hiked out of the burn zone and returned to the Matthieu Lakes area about dinnertime. That evening, the weather was peaceable, but about 7pm the wind started up, by 8pm it roared through camp with gusts reaching 40-50 miles an hour, by 9pm the rain started. This continued into dawn. We slept comfortably in our tent.

blog-2015-09-01-img-13The next morning was drippy and low clouds blew over the tree tops. Later that morning we hiked out the last 3 miles. As we approached the Lava Camp trailhead the sky offered us some brief patches of blue. We ended our day with each other clinking together mugs of trail coffee in honor of a good trip.

Backpacking around Oregon’s Waldo Lake

blog-2015-07-11-image-01Waldo Lake is one of Oregon’s largest bodies of water, though its lack of amenities such as convenience stores, resorts, and ban of motorized motors upon the water makes this destination easily overlooked. If you’re interested in a great overnight backpacking trip try the Jim Weaver Loop, a 20.2-mile trail around Waldo lake, here are some photos taken in early July.

We parked the car and started from Shadow Bay near the southeastern edge of the lake. Our hike around the lake was in a clockwise direction. We were quickly out of sight from the parking lot and headed along the trail.

blog-2015-07-11-image-02Near Mile 2. Our first stop was at the South Waldo shelter, it was fully equipped with wood and a stove; this is a popular destination in the winter. We continued on.

blog-2015-07-11-image-03The south shore had some great views of the South and Middle Sisters. The trail now meandered up the western side of the lake.

blog-2015-07-11-image-04Cascades Blueberry

blog-2015-07-11-image-06Close to Mile 5. Overlooking the picturesque Klovdahl Bay. Overhead, the clouds began building into thunderheads; in the distance we could hear the rumbling crescendo of thunder as though gigantic timpani drums were being struck.

blog-2015-07-11-image-07The western trail has a number of places where the forest looks like it had a close encounter with a forest fire; note the scoring on the tree at the right.

blog-2015-07-11-image-08Mile 10. Continuing north. Seen in the right on the image, about 2-miles away, is a scarred hilltop within the burn zone.

blog-2015-07-11-image-09We spied several campsites peppered along the western shore of the lake, but as we reached the northern shore we discovered a favorite spot was vacant. As evening approached we appreciated a gentle breeze that chased most of the mosquitoes away.

blog-2015-07-11-image-10Enjoying a gorgeous sunset. The sky was clear that night, when the stars came out they were so bright you could almost touch them.

blog-2015-07-11-image-11A very small toad had made its home just outside our tent during the night. It was discovered in the morning hiding next to one of our shoes.

blog-2015-07-11-image-12Roughly Mile 12. Heading east, the trail meanders through the burn zone along the north shore. This day was going to be hot so we tried to cross before the sun rose too high in the sky. Several weeks earlier, during a scamper through the burn zone, we crossed this section and encountered numerous trees that had fallen across the trail, these had since been removed – thank you Forest Service!

blog-2015-07-11-image-13Mile 13-ish. Standing on the north shore looking across to the southern shore. The morning was calm, it was difficult to tell where the sky ended and the lake began. Determining the depth of the logs seen the water was difficult, but if the terrain continued its steep angle into the water, these logs were at least 40 feet deep in the foreground and 60+ feet deep further out.

blog-2015-07-11-image-14A Couple Selfie taken on the trail within the burn zone.

blog-2015-07-11-image-15We’re out of the burn zone and heading south along the eastern edge of the lake. Half of the trail around Waldo Lake is in the woods, with only brief glimpses of the water. Be prepared to see lots of trees.

blog-2015-07-11-image-16Just as were neared the south shore a massive toad was seen at the edge of the trail eating mosquitoes. During the entire trip mosquitoes were not a big issue, though the last several miles of the trail we were devoured by these little flying beasts! I was glad to see this toad!

blog-2015-07-11-image-17Mile 20.2. The best part of finishing the loop trail around Waldo Lake is that you can dip your feet into the lake’s cold and clean water.

We arrived back at the car the next day. Except for people we saw in the campgrounds, we only saw 6 people on the trail.

Visiting Crater Lake’s Wizard Island

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Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is spectacular to behold, but the park’s centerpiece, Wizard Island, truly enchants visitors.

Wizard Island is striking because it appears unreal, as though it was pulled from the pages of a fantasy novel, here’s how I might [poorly] describe such a mystical setting-

Seeing the island for the first time I could only describe this place as the dominion of a sorcerer, a fortress where he/she can perform incantations in solitude. The isle looks as though it was inspired by a familiar clothing item, something mundane and convenient – the magi’s hat; the island gently rises from all sides to a center point, the top appears mischievous as though the fabric has deliberately toppled to the far side. Surrounding the castle is a beguiling blue-colored lake, a gigantic moat that is miles across and terrifyingly deep! The island is fortified too; soldiers of green trees stand guard, expecting an attack from the water they are numerous near the shore, only to have their numbers fray at the ramparts. In the distance, immense cliffs stab into the sky creating an impenetrable wall of stone. The scene is inspiring, beautiful…serene. A cool wind gently blows past and whispers about the power of a hellish phantasm that was once unleashed and devoured a mountain, possibly of a battle between Gods. The island captivates the soul; its beauty too alluring, this grandeur too inspiring, the enchantment…too intoxicating. The wind’s gentle whisper beckons to visit, to explore this place – to walk in its magic.

The best part about Wizard Island is that it is not a fictional destination, this spellbinding place really can be explored, though your time on the island is limited to just a couple of hours.

Like most adventures, be flexible on your journey; while camping at the park I tried, for several days, to obtain tickets for the boat ride to Wizard Island. Unfortunately weather concerns and mechanical problems caused delays. On the third day, the stars aligned and tickets were quickly in hand. After a quick scramble for gear, my family and some friends drove to the opposite side of the massive crater to the Cleetwood Cove parking lot.

The hike to Cleetwood Cove is a 1-mile long, 700-foot decent down the side of the crater.

At the water’s edge was our boat to Wizard Island, about 25 or so people boarded, then we were off.

What is most fascinating about the boat ride is the perspective – a view not fully appreciated from seeing Crater Lake from the rim. Being at the lake’s surface you feel like a small toy boat in a gigantic bath tub, it is an awe-inspiring method to better appreciate just how immense Crater Lake is-

  • The lake stretched beyond our boat in all directions, the crater’s oval shape is a massive 5-miles by 6-miles wide.
  • Below our boat, at the deepest point, was 1,943 feet of water – that’s equal to a 180-story building below us!
  • Around us the rim towered overhead, it ranged in height from 700 feet to 1,800 feet.

Most fascinating, this entire place literally went to hell about 7,700 years ago when the 12,000-foot Mount Mazama erupted – the eruption was 42 times greater than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980*. Riding over the waves it is hard to imagine that the original mountain once stood 1 mile above us and a quarter mile below our tiny boat, and within the course of 2 violent days…completely disappeared in one eruption.

The eruption was recorded in Klamath Native American oral traditions; it tells of two Gods, Skell and Llao who fought. It was their battle that caused the eruption of Mount Mazama and left many of the geographic features seen today.

Over time the volcano eventually settled down, though in the process left behind several gigantic cones, which rise from the crater, several are underwater, the one above the water’s surface is Wizard Island.

The water of Crater Lake is entirely of snowmelt – it is clear, pure, and cold! Its clarity allows light to penetrate to great depths, which absorbs longer rays of light (like red) while scattering and reflecting shorter rays (like blue). When we peer into the water we see these scattered/reflected blue shorter rays.

blog_2013_07_13_img02Approaching Wizard Island, even several miles away, is very impressive.

blog_2013_07_13_img03As the boat approaches Wizard Island the size and grandeur of this volcanic cone becomes apparent.

blog_2013_07_13_img04Hiking to the top of Wizard Island the trail climbs 760 feet, but this is nothing compared to the eastern rim of the crater which towers above me. In the photo the Watchman scrapes the sky at 1840 feet above the lake’s surface. Seen between the trees, on the water (crossing Skell Channel) is a small white line, this is one of the boats that transports passengers to the island.

blog_2013_07_13_img05The views hiking to the top of Wizard Island are jaw dropping.

blog_2013_07_13_img06Think of Wizard Island as a small volcano, and it has a crater; this picture shows several people hiking out. The rim of Crater Lake looms on the horizon.

blog_2013_07_13_img07This Ground Squirrel is a resident of Wizard Island. He was demanding a food tithe from me for visiting his island retreat.

blog_2013_07_13_img08A view from atop Wizard Island looking across Crater Lake to the opposite rim which is about 5 miles away. The blue color is just magnificent.

blog_2013_07_13_img09Hiking down the cinder cone we enjoy a rich tapestry of colors – a masterpiece painted by nature!

blog_2013_07_13_img10This is one of the few boats allowed on Crater Lake. It is seen here delivering visitors; this boat will take us on our return trip around the lake’s perimeter in a counter clockwise direction. Our next stop was the southern shore to see a slide area and the Phantom Ship.

blog_2013_07_13_img11The spires of the Phantom Ship, an island in the lake, which under low-light conditions resembles a ghost ship.

blog_2013_07_13_img12Looking into the water from the edge of the boat we saw this dramatic difference in color. The interpreter on the boat said the contrast was because we were passing over an underwater ledge, to the left the water depth was about 900 feet, to the right the depths plunged to 1,600 feet!

blog_2013_07_13_img13Crater Lake’s legendary “blue” water.

*Wikipedia reference “Mount Mazama.”

» Find out more about boat rides to Wizard Island
» Find out more about Crater Lake National Park

A Scamper through the Burn Zone at Oregon’s Waldo Lake

In 1996 a forest fire decimated an area in central Oregon that was roughly 5 miles wide by 3 miles long. Much of the fire’s southern advance was stopped by the immense shoreline of Waldo Lake – a glacially carved body of water that is 10-square miles in size!

The titanic forces of fire and ice have affected this magnificent landscape in dramatic and beautiful ways; all of which are best experienced from the trail.

Here are some photos from a two-day, 8-mile backpacking trip along Waldo Lake’s north shore and deep into the burn zone of the Ringdon Lakes area.

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Hiking along Waldo Lake’s north shore. Waldo Lake is considered to have some of the purest water in the world. The lake was named after Judge John Breckenridge Waldo, who is considered to be the “John Muir of Oregon” for his work helping to conserve large tracks of forests in the Cascades.

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Scampering over and under the “blowdown;” these are trees that have been blown down by the wind. In this case, the blowdown are the trees that burned in the 1996 fire.

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Passing one of the many ponds that dot the northern shore of Waldo Lake.

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We exited the burn zone and made camp. Shown are several youthful members of the group seen enjoying the shallow and cool waters nearby.

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If you think you’re too old for backpacking? Just look at Jack, at 70 years old he celebrates life by getting outside.

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A view of the evening sky as seen from our campsite. That night we heard only nature’s sounds…which included the buzz of mosquitoes.

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The night sky was dark on this moonless night. Note the prominent stars of the Big Dipper, in the right of the image is Polaris (the North Star) and the Little Dipper. To locate Polaris, all you have to do is to find the Big Dipper pointer stars, which are located at the outer part of the Big Dipper’s bowl (seen at the bottom on the image). Draw a line from these and go about 5 times the distance to Polaris.

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In the morning, the trail led us north, deep into the burn zone of the Waldo Lake Wilderness. The devastation from the fire continued for miles, but new growth was all around us as we hiked. Also observed were several types of bees, a wasp, woodpeckers, and a small toad.

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Lake Kiwa is shown in the background. The trail junction (not shown) was partially hidden by a fallen tree that also served as the post for the trail sign. The path returning us to Waldo Lake was heavy with blowdown; this two-mile trail required twice the time because of the quantity of downed trees we had to climb over – more scampering!

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Lower Rigdon Lake offered us the visual treat of a deep blue and some much needed shade for a short break. Near the top of the hill is Upper Ringdon Lake.

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Coming down from the Ringdon Lakes; in the distance is Waldo Lake. Note shown, but interesting; there were areas on this section of trail that frequently crossed flat rocky areas where glacial scouring makes could be seen.

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Returning to the shoreline trail we enjoy the sights of Waldo Lake’s varied and picturesque scenery.

Hiking the Lookout Creek Old-Growth Trail

Walking in a forest with 500 year-old trees is always a delight. Finding such places – a rare treasure. Fortunately, the Lookout Creek Old-Growth Trail is such a gem, and for the price of a moderate drive from Eugene, Oregon, hikers can enjoy this richness.

The trail is located within the Willamette National Forest, more specifically the research area known as the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. The experimental forest exists so scientists can conduct long-term studies of the Pacific Northwest’s complex forest and stream ecosystems.

A trail brochure states the Lookout Creek Old-Growth Trail is 2.6 miles long, though a sign at the upper trailhead states the trail is approximately 3.5 miles in length – both of these are incorrect. I believe Bill Sullivan’s book, “100 Hikes in Central Oregon Cascades” that states the trail was 6.3 miles with a 1400 elevation gain. Expect the hike (one-way uphill) to take 3 hours with breaks; the return hike down the service road to the lower trailhead adds 1 more hour, so plan for a minimum 4 hours to complete the round trip.

The route is rugged with steep inclines, downed trees, log scampers and a couple of creek jumps that are not shown on the map. The beginning and end of the trail provides footbridges for crossing Lookout Creek, the remaining trail is in the deep forest with lots of big and really old trees.

Help the forest; always bring a trash bag. My family did not find any trash on the trail, but on the service road we found spent shotgun shells, beer cans, soda cans and other trash.

The nearest populated area is the town of Blue River. Driving to the trail takes about an hour-an-a-half from Eugene. The last seven miles of driving will be on packed dirt roads.

These pictures were taken in late January. This entire area should be covered in snow, but an unusually warm winter with temperatures in the mid-forties offered the chance to see the majesty of an old-growth forest at an usual time of year.

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This photo gives an idea about how large these trees can become.

 

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The bridge crossing at Lookout Creek, near the lower trailhead.

 

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A lush landscape.

 

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The trail meanders beneath a fallen giant.

 

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One of several fallen trees across the trail.

 

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What stories could this tree tell?

 

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Scrambling across a creek.

 

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One of many “nurse logs” seen on the trail.

 

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A view of Lookout Creek, near the upper trailhead.

 

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An area where one ancient tree fell and caused a cascade of destruction. While terrible, this ending allows new life to thrive.

 

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By my rough calculations the trail is actually about 4.5 – 5 miles in length (one-way).

 

Hiking in the Diamond Peak Wilderness

Oregon’s Diamond Peak Wilderness is frequently overlooked for more picturesque settings like the Three Sisters, but this wild place is no less a treasured gem; the Wilderness includes the 8,629-foot Diamond Peak, 14-miles of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), the highest point on the the PCT in Oregon, and over 50,000 acres to explore!

blog-2014-08-20-img-01A glorious view from Diamond View Lake. The clouds at the left of the image produced some amazing lightning and thunder that afternoon.

blog-2014-08-20-img-02The trail got a little hard to follow at one point and we had to bushwhack.

blog-2014-08-20-img-03A little lake where we stopped for a rest, only to stay for the night. Water was scare in the area and the lake provided a great location for watching wildlife and hearing even more wildlife during the nighttime.

blog-2014-08-20-img-04A very dusty path. This trail was well worn because of the number of PCT hikers that we met, many had been side-tracked to a lower elevation because of the lack of water on the main PCT.

blog-2014-08-20-img-06Wow! You find lots of cool things on the trail.

blog-2014-08-20-img-07Standing at the outflow of Yoran Lake looking south to Diamond Peak. After a break we bushwhacked about half a mile to the PCT to loop back.

blog-2014-08-20-img-08A small island on Yoran Lake.

blog-2014-08-20-img-09Enjoying some lunch while scouting out a great campsite.

Beach Hiking in Oregon on a Warm January Day

January in Oregon is historically cold and wet, but this year we experienced an unusual warm spell with lots of sunny skies. The coast offered the warmest weather so we packed up the car and headed out for a 8.5-mile hike along the beach, the hike was from Yachats (pronounced YAH-hahts) to Waldport. Here are some photos-

blog-2014-01-22-img01The day before our hike we enjoyed a night’s stay in one of coastal yurts at an Oregon State Park.

blog-2014-01-22-img02Playing on the beach that evening at sunset.

blog-2014-01-22-img03The next day we began hiking from Yachats up the beach to Waldport. We crossed a number of streams that flowed across the sand and into the ocean. These little streams are wonderful for observing the dynamic power of water as it flows over and through the sand.

blog-2014-01-22-img04The beach was littered with driftwood, including this huge tree that had washed up.

blog-2014-01-22-img05Enjoying a fabulous walk on the beach.

Trail of Ten Falls, Silver Falls State Park

Imagine a child’s crayon drawing. The picture is populated with waterfalls, the iconic kind; horizontal on top, descending from great heights and sleek. The crayon water pours into white and blue rounded pools. The water streams from the pool to waterfall from pool to waterfall, repeating over and over again. Between the falls exists an immense green forest. Lines of color that streak in multiple directions as though a hand rapidly drew across the paper filling in all the blank areas. Woven around the falls and through the forest is a tan zig-zag trail. Here a stick-figure human explores the colorful world created for it. Now, imagine the young artist pointing to the stick figure, and with a toothy grin exclaiming, “That’s me by the waterfalls!”

If you thought such a world only existed within the mind of a child, look no further than the Trail of Ten Falls at Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park. Within a five-hour hike, your inner child can see ten fantastic and majestic waterfalls in under a 9-mile loop.

The most popular waterfall is South Falls. It begins as a gentle stream then suddenly plummets 177 feet into a misty pool. The scene is dramatic. Visitors can easily walk a loop trail behind the falls or enjoy views from a footbridge.

Located about a mile downstream is the Lower South Falls. Here the trail descends abruptly – by more than 180 steps – then sneaks behind the roaring 93-foot torrent allowing the visitor to see the world from behind a shimmering curtain of water.

The trail turns up Silver Creek revealing dozens of tiny waterfalls gushing from the side of the hill. In some areas, a hand gently placed on a moss-lined wall of green carpet disgorges water as a sponge when squeezed.

The 30-foot Lower North Falls gush into an azure basin. A nearby trail spur guides visitors to see Double Falls, a double drop, with a combined height of 178 feet, the tallest in the park.

A short distance upstream is Drake Falls. This is the smallest in the park, but at 27 feet they this grand cascade is a beauty. The falls were named after June Drake, whose early photographic work brought attention to the area and ultimately helped with the areas protection.

The North Middle Falls roar as water drops 106 feet over the top then crashes onto rocks underneath. Visitors can take a short side trail that allows them to walk behind this liquid veil – the water rumbles past just a few feet away.

Next, we take a side trail to the graceful looking Winter Falls. Standing at the base a visitor looks up 134 feet to the top. As the name implies Winter Falls is best viewed during the winter and spring seasons.

Twin Falls, at 31 feet, received its name from rocks in the streambed that splits the water forming two cascades.

The North Falls is powerful and thunderous. The water channels through a notch in the creek bed then is jetted into a canyon 136 feet below. Behind the waterfall is an impressive cavernous cutout that is almost like entering a different realm; water drips over the upper canyon wall forming a curtain of water across the path. Inside the cavernous area, ferns grow upside down on the ceiling. But, what really grabs you is the thunderous sound of water, which is a loud as a freight train when it passes frightfully close.

A short distance upstream is the Upper North Falls, a beautiful 65-foot cascade that plunges into a picturesque and deep pool. Often overlooked by visitors these falls are not to be missed.

The trail returns through the forest to the parking area near South Falls. Winter is a great time to visit; the park is less crowded, the falls are at maximum flow, and everything in the forest is green.

Silver Falls State Park is located less than an hours drive east of Salem, Oregon.

Learn more:
http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_211.php

Lassen’s Phantasmagoric Bumpass Hell

Within Lassen Volcanic National Park, at a chilly 8,000 feet in elevation, is a phantasmagoric location known as Bumpass Hell.

Bumpass Hell is the park’s largest hydrothermal area, but to many visitors, it appears unnatural, like a scene created by the imagination. Just hiking to the location suggests this is an irregular place. First, the pungent odor of rotten eggs rudely greets the nose. Then the landscape changes appearance; friendly greens and browns retreat to display barren, mineral stained soils of tan, orange, and yellow. Finally, looking into the active basin the ground’s surface is reminiscent of another world, it is etched, pocked and corroded; ghostly apparitions of steam hiss into the air while numerous mudpots pop and gurgle, and aquamarine pools roll with superheated water. It is harsh looking and very beautiful.

blog-20120929-img2A wooden boardwalk allows for a more safe exploration of the area. Posted signs stress the importance of staying on designated paths for safety reasons. Bumpass Hell was named after an early visitor who severely burned his leg upon falling through the surface’s thin crust and into boiling water.

Upon leaving, the crude odor of Bumpass Hell diminishes with distance, but it haunts the nose for a long time afterward.

The hydrothermal area is accessible by two trails. The popular three-mile hike begins at the Bumpass Hell parking lot, on Hwy 89, and requires several hours for a round trip. The elevation gain is about 300 feet. Be prepared for a crowded parking area and a busy trail in the summer. If you seek a less explored route the trail leading from the Kings Creek trailhead is very rewarding. This five-mile trail passes through majestic forests, crosses gentle brooks, and meanders through an area of volcanic formations that are layered and twisted. Plan for a hike that covers roughly 800 feet of elevation gain. In the summer, look for retreated snow banks that are hidden in the woods just off the trail.

Learn more about Lassen Lassen Volcanic National Park:
http://www.nps.gov/lavo/index.htm

A Grand Morning at Lassen Volcanic National Park’s Summit Lake

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a great location to start one’s day.

I woke early in the morning. My family slept silently next to me in their warm sleeping bags. I was careful not to wake them as I left the tent. The sky was a mixture of pastel blues, soft pinks and warm yellows as the sun was starting to rise. No one in the campground was awake; if they were they treaded quietly.

The morning was very cool and I was glad to have my jacket as I walked through the campground. The shadows were quietly retreating and shades of gray were slowly being chased away by the morning’s gaining light. The tips of the hundred-foot trees surrounding the campsite were brightly dolloped with sunlight.

Adjacent to the campground was the beautiful Summit Lake. It was spangled with wisps of moisture that danced off the water’s surface into the morning air.

blog-20120922-img3Everything was amazingly still. The only sounds were my soft footsteps on the earthen path that follows the lake’s gentle perimeter. At the lake’s edge, in some places, the water granted peaks into the stillness and you could gaze for many feet along the trunk of a fallen tree.

Breaking the morning’s quiet was a squirrel. It barked at me, while upside-down, from the side of a nearby tree. I had offended his solitary morning. I took leave and walked further down the trail, enjoying the newness of the day.
The sun had crested the trees on the east side of the lake and now fully illuminated the trees on the opposite shore, revealing a curtained wall of greens, browns and tans.

In the distance, the great dome shaped volcano of Mt Lassen commanded the horizon. The impressive scene was mirrored on the still lake before me. A great heavenly painting was being created and I was witnessing the Creator’s casual brush strokes. I felt almost prideful to be only witness of this beauty.

A mother duck and seven babies glided across the majestic natural painting. Their tiny wakes slowly moved across the colorful canvas, blurring the stillness and bending the reflections into a shimmering pallet of colors on the water.

It was a grand morning.

Lassen’s Subway Cave

Subway Cave in northern California is an easy, affordable and fun way to discover the area’s volcanic past.

Subway Cave is a lava tube that lies just under the rough surface of Lassen National Forest. Visitors can easily park and walk a short distance to the cave’s opening where stairs descend about twenty-five feet down into the darkness.

The cave walk is only 1,300 feet in distance but is otherworldly compared to the bright surface and hot summertime temperatures. The visibility inside the lava tube quickly becomes zero, so flashlights are required. Also, bring a light jacket, as the temperature inside the cave is an autumn-like 46 degrees. The cave has several chambers to explore and signs are marked to help guide you to the exit.

At the exit notice the large ‘hills’ that rise several hundred feet to the east, these are the edges of ancient lava flows. Also, look for the magnificent Lassen Peak to the south. The walk back to the car is about ten minutes. Subway Cave can easily be explored by family members of all ages.

A Quick Explore of the Tule Elk Reserve at Point Reyes

The Point Reyes National Seashore in northern California is a dramatic landscape sculpted by powerful tectonic forces, fierce winds, and the constant bombardment of ocean waves. It is also a gentle place with rolling hills, drifting fog and tranquil bays. This is a great geography for families to explore and enjoy a weekend away from the hustle and bustle. It is also a great place to discover a success story, the return of the majestic tule elk.

California was once home to large populations of elk, but after the 1849 Gold Rush these populations were decimated and within ten years the elk had disappeared from the land. Fortunately, a very small population (possibly fewer than 10 individuals at the lowest level) survived in a remote area of central California. Eventually, a rancher in the area protected the elk with a refuge on his ranch and later land management groups relocated small bands of elk to other areas of the state, but with limited success. In 1978 a handful of elk were relocated to the Tomales Point region of the Point Reyes National Seashore. Today, the elk at Point Reyes number over 400 and enjoy over 2,600 acres of land to roam.

During my family’s visit, we started on a weekend day in January. The temperature was a chilly 48 degrees and the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean was heralding a storm that would roll in that night. We wore multiple layers of clothing and some heavy knit hats to cover our ears to shield us from the cool air. Some might be uncomfortable here; but the experience of breathing clean air, seeing the open sea and the expansive land uncluttered by structures provided ample warmth for something deep and primal within our souls.

We walked up the great peninsula; along with a trail that is roughly 5 miles from our starting point to lands end. Tomales Point is surrounded by the mighty Pacific Ocean to the north and west while the tranquil Tomales Bay is visible to the east. It is a curious geography formed by the San Andreas Fault. Here we were witness to the results of two gigantic tectonic plates of the earth grinding together; the peninsula where we walked was part of the Pacific plate while across the mile-wide bay lay the plate of North America.

After thirty minutes we saw them, a small band of elk. Several sentinels watched us while the majority munched upon shoots of grass. Further beyond we saw more elk and over the next rise even more. On our return walk we saw another band, but this time we saw the bulls with their noticeable and very intimidating antlers. As with all the elk, we gave them plenty of room. For the rest of the day, we spotted the elk along various rises on the trail or as dots on the sides of the hills.

We were glad to have seen these creatures upon such an inspiring marriage of land and sea. We are wealthier because of the experience. As we left we said a ‘thank you’ to the people who over the decades worked hard so others could enjoy such a majestic sight and appreciate a success story.

To explore more:
http://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm
http://www.nps.gov/pore/naturescience/tule_elk.htm

A Quick Explore of the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a diamond of natural beauty along California’s central coast.

This beautiful place offers a treasure of colors, dramatic landscapes, green forests, rugged coves, weathered trees, and grey fog to brilliant sunlight. It can be easy to see birds of prey overhead, flittering butterflies, quiet deer grazing, or the heads of sea lions and harbor seals popping up from the surf.

The air is clean here and provides the visitor a measure of restoration.

This wonderful place does have a strict limit on the number of visitors at any one time, limiting visitors to 450 people, so not to cause unacceptable damage to this great setting.

The summertime can be very busy here and in the neighboring town of Carmel, sometimes causing traffic to become bottlenecked on the Coast Highway 1. Plan to arrive early for the best opportunities to see animals and avoid any late afternoon crowds.

If you can visit in the wintertime or spring when rains have restored the landscape.

The images in this short video were taken on the Winter Solstice when just a handful of visitors were on the trails and the low-angled light from the sun offered the grandest views and colors.

To learn more visit:
The Point Lobos Foundation
http://www.pointlobos.org
California State Parks
http://parks.ca.gov/?page_id=571

Hiking in the Lüsenstal

The Lüsenstal, a valley in Tirol, Austria, is one of the most majestic places I have ever beheld. For comparison, it is as elegant as two locations in America’s National Parks: the inspiring Yosemite Valley and the grand Kings Canyon.

The ride into the valley treated everyone in the car to vistas of mountains wrapped in green forests, streams that danced downhill and the occasional cow that munched on the abundant green grass.

The Lüsenstal is a great depression in the earth; like a child at the beach who scoops out a long channel of sand with her hand the Lüsenstal has a similar pattern, but on an immense scale like a great hand has dug into the Alps and pulled back the terrain creating a u-shaped channel that rises nearly a thousand meters on either side.

One feels small in this place, yet part of something more.

We arrived at a farm and guest house located on the valley floor and parked the car. We looked around a few minutes and were awed by the scale of the valley.

Several kilometers away, at the ‘back’ of the valley, the flat land ends and becomes almost perpendicular, climbing hundreds of meters high. At the lip of this wall, the rock appears to be slick with water. Looking through binoculars you can see channels of water emerging from the bright white surface at the very edge of the mountain. This is a glacier. The local Tirolean on our hike remarked that when she was a girl the glacier ice was visible a quarter of the way down the mountain. Several interpretive displays (written in German and English) along with a section of the trailing document the retreat of the glacier over the past century.

Our hike was steep but relaxing. We crossed streams, past open fields and woodlands. Wild blueberries grew along the trail and we ate our fill.

At the top of a distant mountain, I saw microscopic dots of snow that appeared to be moving! I looked closer, the dots jumped and moved in all directions along the edge. These tiny dots were actually sheep.

The trail meandered into the Lüsenstal and gently curved up a side valley allowing us glorious views of the valley below and we could see a little more of the glacier in the distance. More dots moved slowly on the valley floor, the more colorful dots were people and the slighter larger brown dots were grazing cows.

The view into the side valley was a jumble of boulders and stones. No trees grew in this place. The trail snaked jaggedly among the boulders and along the hillside to a building in the distance. This was another all, it did not look far, but it was still an hour or more away.

Instead, we meandered along the trail to a stream and crossed several footbridges.

Just beyond was a seasonal cabin. A gang of yearling cows stood nearby and deemed it important to search any and all hikers who passed. One cow was especially gentle and let us scratch behind her ears and pet her soft fur. This cow liked to lick people, hands, and backpacks.

The cow followed us to the cabin. Outside the cabin was a family of German hikers eating lunch. The cow took an immediate interest. A woman in the group thought the cow joining their picnic was great fun until the yearling, with bullet-like speed, stepped into the middle of their food and licked her sandwich. The woman squawked at the intrusion. The cow licked again. This time a man in the group clapped his hands and pushed the cow back a short way. The cow’s tongue, like an uncoiling rope, now reached for the morsel, but it was not able to reach the sandwich a third time. By now two others had joined the man and the invading cow was pushed out of the picnic.

It was great entertainment to see.

We walked down the rough mountainside and into the trees again. The sun now illuminated the opposite of the valley and I was astounded to see a great waterfall tumbling forth. It was hidden from view in the shade. It was still several kilometers away.

Stepping off the steep mountain and onto the green flat land of the valley I could appreciate just how deep the valley was and how high the glacier was above me. If I was the size of an ant looking up at a house, the edge of the glacier would be at the roof line.

We found a good spot to rest in an open field, next to a stream and enjoyed our sandwiches. We even soaked our feet in the stream, but only for a minute for the water was not just mountain water, it was glacial meltwater – and frigid!

Afterwards, we walked quietly back to the car and enjoyed the complex simplicity of the valley. We even spied another tall waterfall in the distance.

The valley was intensely beautiful and worthy of our last day – on this trip – to Tirol. But, this a great place to explore, I will be back.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-Hütte

After a beautiful 45 minutes drive from Innsbruck our car turned off the highway and down a paved road marked with potholes and washboarded asphalt. This was a very unusual sight, for the public roads in Austria are superb, but then I learned this was a private drive and shared by several farms. A short distance later we approached a sign with instructions for visitors to pay a €3 Euro toll. We stuffed some money in the box and continued on. Slowly the rough asphalt ended and became packed dirt interspaced with gravel.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteI would have enjoyed walking in this area for the mountain stream waltzed with the country road, allowing us to witness a dazzling display of brisk cascades, glassy waterfalls and blue pools all framed against a thickly wooded forest.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteOur car stopped at a farm, we parked and gathered our backpacks. The trail was a continuation of the road, but here it was just hardened tire tracks that created a line that curved across the pasture and up the valley.

At one point a number of honey bees buzzed past and smoke could be smelled in the air. Ahead of us, at the side of the road, were scores of bees hives. Some people were tending to the hives using smoke to calm the bees.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteThe trail ascended up the valley for the next hour and then became very steep. For some reason several cows had started to follow us up the hill. After a few heart pumping minutes of walking a steep section we arrived at the Adolf-Pichler-Hütte. The Hütte is named in honor of Adolf Pichler, an Austrian writer and scientist who lived in the 1800’s.

The cows were not far behind us as we arrived at the solidly constructed Hütte.

Those who traveled to this location had the most bejeweled natural spectacle to enjoy; in this Alpine valley the mountains, named Kalkkögel, soared perpendicular into the sky like enormous, jagged, stone knife blades rising several thousand feet higher over us.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteHiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteAs afternoon approached – the clouds momentarily broke – allowing the sun’s light to gallop down the sheer rock face and instantly conquered the majority of the shadows on the mountain, only in the farthest of recesses did the darkness prevail. The interplay of light on the mountain face was magical, momentary and fleeting – the spectacle made one’s heart race – it was a moment of being alive.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteEveryone played in a small stream and explored some side trails. Several cows moo’d in the distance then others, not far way, started to run, they disappeared over a hill. …Several minutes later we heard a clamor, the same cows crested the hill close to us and ran down in our direction, we gave them plenty of room, they ran passed and onto some unseen green pasture.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteIt was late in the afternoon and we passed by the hut on our return visit. Other hikers had gathered to enjoy the some late lunch. A table opened up on the small open courtyard and we enjoyed some drinks and soup. All the time enjoying the vistas that the valley offered.

A black faced cat, his grimaced expression formed from having a slightly recessed nose, indignantly walked around the tables and on the countertop before being shooed away.

In a side barn was an oven, loaves of fresh baked bread sat on the top of the stove, ready to be devoured. We had some with our lunch, it was good bread.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteAs we left I saw, in a garden pot, a the most curious looking white flower – it was Edelweiss. The flower was soft and gentle on the fingers. When you travel to Tirol you will see a multi-pointed flower drawn sometimes on signage, restaurant menus and embroidered onto clothes. This is that flower.

Hiking to the Adolf-Pichler-HütteReturning to the car I saw a classic looking motorbike parked nearby. The bike, the farm setting, the mountains in the distance, the jacket laid casually across the seat…it was just cool. I had to snap a photo.

A Visit to Kalvarienberg

Sometimes when you travel a place just catches your eye – you want to see more of it. A small church named Kalvarienberg that overlooks Arzl and the city of Innsbruck, Austria, caught my eye fifteen years ago. It was a tiny, white building perched atop a small hill. For some reason this hill just beckoned to me – I had to visit. During that first trip I never got to see it up close, even after visiting Innsbruck multiple times the opportunity slipped away….until recently.

A Visit to KalvarienbergThe church is about a forty-five minutes walk from the Youth Hostel in Innsbruck. Wear some comfortable walking shoes as the ascent is greater than it first appears. Part of the enjoyment of the walk is you get to explore the small town of Arzl, which is quiet and relaxing.

Arriving at the base of the hill where the church stands you will pass several shrines along the worn footpath. The area is covered with green grass and sheep are grazing in a fenced area on one side of the hill. Reaching the top allows for fantastic views of the city and mountains beyond. The church is old, has a white exterior and is smaller than I expected, but uniquely designed for the small hill; it does not detract from the natural beauty of the area, rather the hill is beautified by this structure.

A Visit to KalvarienbergArtifacts from Roman times and even stone age peoples have been found on this hill. It was easy to see why, this is a great location to defend and to see who might be coming down or up the river. But, today this hill offered peaceful personal reflection and a platform for drinking in intoxicating views of the majestic Inn Valley. Bring a snack and some water for the hike, or even a small picnic to enjoy at the top.

I returned from the hill and back to my starting point, I looked back. The church quietly stood on the hill as it had before my visit.

Hiking the Zirbenweg Trail

A lifelong resident of Innsbruck, Austria, recommended the Zirbenweg Trail for a pleasant and active day hike.

The morning started in Innsbruck. My wife and I caught a bus that quickly shuttled us to the nearby town of Igls, where we walked a few minutes up a hill to the Patscherkofel Talstation (valley station) and purchased the aerial cable car tickets, which included our tickets on a lift down the mountain and a bus ride back to Innsbruck.

Fifteen people boarded a colorfully painted and well used looking cable car. The attendant asked us to stand back as he closed the door. The door failed to latch so he returned with a large wrench and gave the latch a solid whap, the door locked. He looked at us with a sly smile. The tram started to rise and glide over the treetops and up the mountain. We were treated to a birds-eye view of trails, fields, woods and of the serpentine curves of Innsbruck’s Olympic Bobsled run. Twenty minutes later, and one kilometer higher in elevation, we arrived at the Bergstation (mountain station) and enjoyed a gorgeous view of the valley below. The temperature was a chilly 6 degrees C (43F).

The Zirbenweg Trail was well marked with signs. The hike would take just about 3 hours and follow an elevation of approximately 2000m (6000 feet). This popular trail offered a visual bounty; our eyes were always being fed with intoxicating Alpine scenery or pleasant vistas of the Inn Valley below.

After about an hour of hiking, we saw several red and white banners appearing over a small hill. These marked the quaint Boscheben Alm. The wind was beginning to blow strongly and the sky was darkening with clouds. We questioned the intent of the weather and thought it best to observe it for a little while longer. The Alm provided shelter, and after looking at the menu, we thought it prudent to supply our bellies with a warm meal. Inside the Alm were walls and tables made of heavy wood. Decorating the walls were pelts of animals that had supposedly been collected from the mountain: there were foxes, marmots, birds and a giant wild swine that in U.S. we would call a Razorback.

The soup of the day was a Knödelsuppe. We ordered one bowl between us; ten minutes later a bowl was delivered with a large knödel – a baseball-sized orb made with dried bread, milk, eggs, speck (smoked meat), onions, parsley, flour and salt that had been boiled in beef broth – that sat like an island in a sea of it’s own broth. It was delicious.

Afterwards, we looked outside, the weather was less intimidating so we continued on the hike. The trail was densely forested in this area but was quickly replaced with giant boulders and jagged rocks. As the trail curved we were greeted face-to-face with three Brown Swiss cows. They had kind faces and did not seem to mind our company. Their fur was some of the softest I had ever touched and we took several photos with them. One cow appeared to have stepped in a hole and had a skinned knee. The injury did not appear to be life-threatening but it must have hurt. As we left, a family rounded the corner on the trail, and the cows enjoyed a repeat of human affection.

The trail crossed several streams and passed a number of interpretive signs that further introduced the hiker to the natural features along the trail. The most curious, or pleasant, items were some ‘reflection’ benches that had been placed on the trail for the enjoyment of hikers. Each reflection bench was placed along the trail at a most enjoyable vista.

Now, we could see several buildings in the distance, they appeared like dots. A stream briefly blocked our path but a well placed wooden plank allowed us safe passage. The clouds overhead had been disappearing and the sunny, blue sky was now unimpeded, making for an absolutely gorgeous day.

One of the reflection benches sat in front of a great boulder. As I sat down I noticed that embedded in the stone was a marker dedicated to the man who helped create this trail.

A newly built and modern building was close by, this was a small chapel. Several hikers, older men with gray beards, were sitting near the front door and enjoying the vista of the green cultivated valley far below. They were sitting in a human-made chapel within a larger natural chapel of mountains and valleys. We nodded at each other from a distance as we passed.

The next building, the Tulfeinalm, was still a good twenty minutes walk away. We crossed another stream that poured and danced down the steep mountain that blocked our path. Several cows watched us pass the area. The Tulfeinalm provided another opportunity to replenish our stomachs. The waiter plunked down a tall half liter of golden wheat beer and a desert in front of us; he informed us that if we did not clean our plates it would be such a disappointment to the cook that she would be emotionally devastated and not want to cook again. We did not disappoint the cook and finished our meals.

Our return trip down the hill was via a ski lift, though when I saw this bouncy single-chair lift, I questioned the logic of this route.

An attendant directed me to place my shoes on some painted feet outlines that were on the pavement. I moved my backpack to my front and turned my head – a levitating chair moving rapidly in my direction. The chair quickly arrived – and I sat – making firm contact on the seat but the floating chair was not stable, it bounced and rocked as I wrestled with an arm handle – to turn, rotate and turn back the contraption which then allowed a footrest to appear by my feet. I rested my feet and the chair steadied. For the next 20 minutes, I was floating thirty feet above the ground enjoying million dollar views.

Near the end of the ride, the cable stopped moving. Silence. My chair was suspended in mid-air. The sounds of the mountain started to be heard: a cowbell in the trees below, a bird chirping, with the wind gently whooshing through the branches of the trees. The view of the valley below – one immense and a grand display of nature of mountains, sunlight, snow, forests, streams, and rivers. Those four minutes were some of the most pleasant moments of my day.

The lift station arrived, or rather I arrived at the lift station and jumped off my chair. I watched it for a minute make the return journey up the hill, I really wanted to return with it.

A second lift, this time a two-seater was close by and would take us down the remaining half of the mountain. My wife and I took this lift and in 15 or so minutes arrived in the village of Tulfes. We had only a minute to make the bus stop or have to wait an hour – which would have been pleasant for we were in a lovely village, but we had promised to return by an early time. We ran like youthful deer to make our bus connection and did – just barely.

The thirty-minute ride back to Innsbruck was pleasant. We passed through several villages, past farms, and fields of corn and wheat.

Our hike had taken about 7 hours with the tram rides, eating, enjoying the views and petting cows. What a fantastic day.