Hiking & Backpacking

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-
https://nestcascadia.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/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

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

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

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

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

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.

Hiking the Rosengartenschlucht (Rose Garden Gorge)

Hiking the Rosengartenschlucht (Gorge)

Imst is a beautiful town in Western Tirol. Here visitors will find a wonderful gorge that gushes with cascades and roars with waterfalls. The hike begins in the middle of town near a centuries-old church, within minutes a visitor is traversing a series of catwalks and footbridges while exploring this rugged landscape. Steps along the trail are often carved from the rock itself, and if wet, can be slippery so wear decent hiking shoes. In fact, my local guide would not go on the trail for several days after a rain as she believed the steps to be too slippery.

The actual hike is not difficult, but there are several areas where the trail is very steep while other sections have low overhangs. Expect a 250 m (820 ft) elevation gain while exploring the 1.5 km (.9 mile) long gorge.

This is a beautiful place but be prepared for a good number of people in the summertime. Consider going on the early side to lessen the number of people on the trail with you. Be prepared for an unexpected rain shower; during my visit, a sudden and very unexpected rain shower poured from the sky on us for about ten minutes, then as quickly as it started, the rain ceased and the sky was clear again.

The sound of water is always around you in the gorge.

Near the top of the falls is a recreation area with opportunities for playing and dining. Plan for several hours to fully explore the gorge at a leisurely pace.

A Day Hike to the Snow in Kühtai, Tirol, Austria

A Day Hike to the Snow

The scenery on the drive to the mountain village of Kühtai, located in the Tirolean Alps, was splendidly delicious. The town was located less than an hour’s drive from Innsbruck but passed all manner of natural delights: mountains helmeted with snow, cascading streams of water, thick carpets of forests and open expanses of glacial carved valleys. Tan colored cows were commonly seen walking on the roads and signs warning drivers of their presence were common.

two good looking blondes approached our group, horses of course, a mare and a yearling greeted usOur goal that warm summer day was to locate and touch snow.

The village was basically closed when we arrived. It was a winter ski town and sat snuggly within a mountain pass, far above the trees.

The empty town had a number of buildings but it was not uninhabited; two good-looking blondes approached our group, horses, of course, a mare and a yearling greeted us. They were soft to the touch and were curious about our backpacks. At that moment a tourist bus drove past. Everyone inside looked longingly as we pet the horses and they nuzzled our hands in return, but the bus did not stop, it just continued down the road.

We started the hikeWe started the hike. The unseen trail was at a 45-degree angle and hard to navigate. Fortunately, we located the real trail and the ascent was lessened but we still gained elevation. For some time we walked on this thin ribbon of trail that spiraled around the side of the mountain. The terrain was barren, only small plants and grasses grew at this elevation above the tree line. The metallic clank of bells informed us that cows A friendly cowwere just ahead – one was very friendly. As we walked out of an indented section of the trail we came to an open area where we could see a great distance, a number of cows and horses were grazing. A guard horse stood at attention and watched us closely, the wind blowing wild streams of blond and tan colored hair across his face. In this open area, when the wind was just right, we could hear bells from several kilometers away being worn by cows on the opposite side of the great valley.

Mountain cows and horsesGentle trickles of water rippled down the mountainside offering opportunities to hop and skip over streams, rocks and sometimes slip to find a quagmire of mud. The wind was cool on the mountain, we placed warm knitted hats over our ears to protect us from the nippy chill.

A lake appeared before us. It was difficult to see from afar as its mirrored surface reflected all that shown upon it – it was a perfect camouflage, that is until the stillness was disturbed by a thrown stone. Then, as the rolling ripples raced away from the disturbance, in perfect circles, the colors and tones of blues and greens revealed themselves. The lake revealed that it hid some deep water. A lake appeared before us

The trail grew steep again. Several cows watched us from nearby. One even let us pet it – it was surprisingly soft. Ahead of us was lettering etched on the side of the mountain, they were large capitals, possibly as large as a man is tall, the letters spelled M-E-I-N. In English, this translates to ‘mine.’ Such a statement gave a person pause to contemplate the meaning.

Our small troop was still well below the snow line and there was concern that maybe our hopes to touch snow would be dashed. We crested a rise in the trail. A stream with a respectable flow of water was disgorging itself from the ground. Beyond lay a marshy area, more appropriately the ‘ground’ was mossy, spongy and acted like a trampoline as we walked, astronaut-like, across this green moonscape.

A hole, about the size of a large grapefruit, was in the ground near some rocks – there were tracks around it. This was a Marmot’s home. A Marmot is a furry creature that looks like a giant Guinea Pig – but tougher, more independent…rugged. Just beyond lay another hole, possibly several Marmots lived here, but more likely this was just a back entrance.

The spongy area now turned to grass, but it was littered with the candy-sized droppings from mountain sheep. We skipped on rocks to avoid the abundant sweetness on the ground. With our eyes patrolling where we stepped none noticed the rubble field that lay before us.

The snow was just up aheadWe stood at the base of a great alluvial fan of shattered, shocked and shards of granite that had fallen from the face of the mountain. The source of this stone projected itself skyward into the blue many hundred of meters. Part way across this expanse of gray rubble and dark boulders were two tiny dots of white snow. We carefully hop-scotched and danced across stones; some as voluminous as autos, others the size of a phone book. After fifteen minutes of trudging the white dots were now the size of a small room. We had found the snow! Those who arrived at the snow ahead of us slower, more careful and diligent hikers, took inventory of their resources and seeing an abundant supply of not just snow, but icy-cold-slushy snow, decided to pelt their comrades.

The snow was just up ahead, sortaThe Snowballs rained down! The icy artillery slammed into the rocks with a ‘splud’ releasing spray and ice. Most of the snowballs were tossed in amusement and humor, but on occasion, I felt the sting of a good joke as the spray from a snowball made contact – or worse found an opening in my jacket and felt like frigid fingernails down the back of my shirt!

Finally, everyone arrived at the island of snow in this ocean of stone. We built a small “Schneemann” (snowman). We devoured our small lunches and contemplated the beauty around us, though my thoughts kept returning to my lunch, rather the lack of it, and that We finally made it to the snownext time I would pack edible provisions with significantly greater mass.

An arctic type chill descended on the valley. The vagrant white clouds that had lazily wafted overhead all day had quickly gathered into a sizable gray mob on the horizon. The Grandpa in the group informed us to pack up, it was time to leave the mountain.

We departed the snow patch, over the jagged stones and through the spongy marsh area, and over the mountainside but on a downward path. We passed another lake. It was beautiful but oddly warm to the touch – it lacked the expected chill. A large boulder in the lake appeared to rise from the temperate still waters.

It started to rain. We donned our rain gear and continued down the mountain. After twenty minutes the rain let up and the sun briefly illuminated the valley. After a few additional minutes the warm sun was replaced with overcast clouds.

Ahead of us was a herd of horses that was very pleasing to the sight. They were tan, muscular, healthy and dined on an abundance of the green mountain grass.

One of 'The Nibblers'We called them ‘the nibblers’ at first, as their nibbling was cute. A mother horse nibbled on a jacket, a shirt then a backpack. Something about the backpack was intriguing so she informed her yearling, who bounded over to engage in a taste test. Then other horses arrived. These majestic creatures must have thought of us as walking food bins as they too nibbled on us and everything on us: our shoes, pants, backpacks, jackets, rain jackets, shirts, hands, arms – even my daughter’s head! This behavior had quickly passed from cute to annoying and was starting to border on fear. In the midst of this nibbling chaos, a horse appeared to slowly glance this way, then that as though he was looking to make sure no one else was around before we, the humans, would be devoured. That same horse then looked squarely at me – and it is not a stretch of the truth to say this – the horse licked its lips as though anticipating wolfing down a decadent meal! Now I was genuinely concerned for my safety. These were not gentle Alpine horses, but mountain piranhas! We took our leave of them and scurried down the hill and to the village. As we moved away one horse stepped from the hungry pack to look longingly our direction, possibly out of curiosity, but more likely with a pang of hunger! Other hikers were in the distance and would soon pass the horses; sensing a second chance the horses re-staged themselves for their next performance and returned to their melancholy grazing. They would be having visitors for lunch…

The buildings of the village now appeared before us, but in miniature, like toys in a child’s room. In our bid to escape the horse-piranhas we had lost the trail, and instead invented our own, which was now 45 degrees in decent. We moved down a small crease in the side of the mountain, occasionally scaring up a frog. Some of the frogs were of good proportion and we joked that we were always seeing the same frog who was trying to escape us. My daughter collected wildflowers on the way and made a beautiful bouquet.a beautiful bouquet

Back in the village, it was quiet. We looked for a place to grab a coffee and relax, but none was to be found in this Alpine ghost town of modern buildings. A chilled wind blew around us so we gave up on coffee and headed back to the car. At the vehicle, everyone gladly unleashed their barking feet from the restraints of the hiking boots. We then slid our feet into squishy, roomy and comfortable sandals.

Our feet were sore, our knees ached, our faces were slightly windburned, we had too much sun, we were thirsty, hungry and tired. But, it was a good tired!

Everyone had a fun, eventful and meaningful day being outside, with good company in these beautiful Alpine mountains.

I breathed in a deep breath of cool mountain air and held it in my lungs, savoring the ‘deliciousness’ and not wanting to breath out.

Another tour bus blared past. Eager faces were pressed near the tinted glass, they appeared to be anxious and wanting of an active experience.

Exploring the Achensee of Tirol by Train, Trail, and Ship

Visiting the Achensee

The Achensee (ah-khen-say) is a beautiful natural lake nestled in the mountains of Tirol, Austria. The lake is sizable being 1 km wide and 9.5 km in length. It was to this lake that we traveled for a day trip.

The Austrian countryside sped past our window as the modern, aerodynamic train shot down rails of seamless steel. After a quiet, thirty minutes ride from Innsbruck, we departed at the Jenbach Bahnhof (Jenbach Train station) and proceeded only a few steps to the waiting Achenseebahn (Achensee train).

AchenseebahnHere stood a mechanized anachronism; an old-time, coal-burning, steam engine. It traveled on a narrow gauge rail, yet the engine was surprisingly large. The engine was oily, smelled of grease and belched and hissed steam. Inside the engineer’s cockpit, a messy pile of coal was sprawled across the metal floor. Along the sides of the machine were giant metallic wheels which supported the steam engine’s carriage. Underneath and between the wheels was a giant gear – a third rail – this was used by the train for traversing steep gradients.

We boarded one of two open-sided passenger cars. An antiquated latch locked a mini-door and kept several of us pinned in our row. A plaque on the wall stated the car was built in 1889 for Kaiser und König (Emperor and King).

The steam engine’s whistle was activated and a long high-pitched wail announced the start of the journey, with a small chug the behemoth came to life. The chugs grew with intensity and the entire train lurched forward as the engine pushed the cars uphill. Just one minute into the trip the tracks became steep and the third rail was activated, a clank-clank-clank of the greased metal gear could be heard.

AchenseebahnGeysers of dark smoke belched from the engine’s stack, the plumes repeated faster and faster as the machine’s power came to full strength. An engineer or an assistant shoveled coal into the engine’s furnace to feed the fiery beast. The burning coal boiled water and produced steam, this in-turn powered gears that moved the locomotive ever further up the hill.

The cars were pushed by the engine about as fast as a person could jog; through forests, past houses, small villages, and fields. Cars would stop at crossing signals and patiently wait for the train to pass, the people inside the autos were smiling just from seeing this historic train. On occasion tourists would run to a fence and start snapping photos, people in the train would wave back. The engineer would blast the whistle to add some zest to the excitement.

Sitting in the passenger car with my arm on the railing, I noticed my outside arm was suddenly covered in ash! The great billow of dark smoke had risen over the cars and the heavier ash particles were softly raining down.

AchenseeAfter the train crossed the highest point the engine was detached from the cars, it then traveled on a parallel track to the front of the train and was re-attached. Now the engine pulled the train. We resumed our trip. After a few minutes the track curved and in the distance was a sheet of blue hidden among the trees – this was the Achensee, a great inland lake, the largest in Austria. The lake rested in a deeply carved valley surrounded by high Alpine mountains.

A jet of steam was released from the side of the engine as the train stopped just meters away from the lake, we had arrived at the Achensee. The engineer jumped out and pulled a large faucet arm over to the engine and released a great flow of water. The steam engine greedily guzzled water to replenish itself for the return trip – a trip this steam engine had made thousands of times over the past hundred years.

The lake was beautiful, and because it was easy accessibility by automobiles and buses, the lake was a tourist haven, especially along the southern and western shore of the lake where we had arrived.

We walked on a lakeside trail for about 5 kilometers before we finally passed the last of the restaurants, tour buses and a multitude of visitors. It seemed odd that so many folks who visited these areas of comfort and relaxation looked unhappy and solemn from behind their sunglasses and wide-brimmed sun hats.

Hiking at the AchenseeThe trail we were on followed the edge of this elegant lake. Once we were past the touristy area the paved pathway narrowed, then became gravel walkway, then smaller again to become a dirt footpath. The lake began to reveal itself as we walked and passed small springs and quiet pebbled beaches. At one point a waterfall burst over the edge of a precipice – from fifty feet above – and tumbled down upon the path. The force of the water was strong but this part of the trail was shielded by a tin-roofed structure that looked all the worse for wear. The falling liquid drummed loudly on the roof as we passed under it.

The trail meandered along the inlets and indented shoreline of the lake. At one point we passed a great disgorgement of stone that had slid off the mountain – the action had created a jumble of rocks that fanned into the lake – we stood at the tip of a giant landslide. The mountain above was scarred like a great wound had been inflicted upon the surface.

We had been walking for two and a half hours since we left the train and were hungry. The plan was to meet several family members at an Alm about halfway up the northwestern side of the lake. They would arrive by ferry. We met them at the Alm and ate lunch, though, afterward we wished we had not eaten, for the meal was industrial in its preparation and it was presented without emotion. The meal was a disservice both in flavor and price paid -it did not represent this beautiful area. Having said that I must add that as I left the restaurant we passed others wolfing down the same meal, they were raving about how good it tasted.

FerryWe went outside and waited for the ferry. Our return trip would be by boat rather than by shoreline.

A large ferry boat out on the lake blurted its horn. It approached and with surprising agility maneuvered up to a small dock; we boarded. Not many people were on the ferry and we had the ship mostly to ourselves. Placards inside the main cabin advertised a nighttime cruise, an attached photo showed a sparkling and illuminated vessel on a dark body of water with a setting sun over a backdrop of mountains.

The ship hugged the shoreline. Now, just offshore I could study the topography of the steep and rugged mountains; from the sharp angle of the land entering the lake, it was obvious our ship traversed over deep waters. Looking overboard and into the lake’s water, the late afternoon sun shot lances of light down into the depths. The visibility was about 9m (27 feet) or so.

The recently eaten lunch sat in my tummy like a brick and I thought that if the vessel was struck by a calamity and sank into the dark waters of the Achensee that I would sink with it, like a stone, all because of that unfortunate meal that weighed so heavily on my stomach.

Ferry on the AchenseeWithin twenty minutes the vessel covered the same distance that I had walked in about 2 and half hours on the shoreline. It was then I realized I had not been so far away from the touristy area as I perceived myself to be, in fact, I had been in the middle of it. We docked near some hotels to gather passengers and the same solemn looking tourists I had seen earlier boarded. I guess they had eaten some terrible food too and that unhappy experience had etched itself on their faces.

In another fifteen minutes, the ship docked again and we disembarked. The Achenseebahn was quietly puffing away, waiting for us and others to board and be returned down the mountain.

The engine growled to life and we enjoyed a pleasant journey back to the train station. Everyone was tired and some of the people on the train slept, which was surprising considering the noise from the engine.

The late afternoon light provided great opportunities for photos as the train descended into the Inn Valley. In the distance, the train station and our final stop. Ten minutes later a modern, electric powered train arrived at the adjoining station and transported us back to Innsbruck in comfort.

A Day On Nordkette

A Day On Nordkette

If you stand anywhere in Innsbruck, Austria, you will notice an imposing mountain range rising 2454m (8051 feet) over this beautiful city. This is the Nordkette (Northern Chain) – an immense wall of granite with numerous peaks and trails to explore. Visitors can easily visit via the Nordkettenbahn (gondola) which whisks people up the mountain in 20 minutes.

Starting near downtown Innsbruck (560m, 1837 feet), visitors can take the fast and modern Hungerburgbahn and in ten minutes be within a few steps to the Nordkettenbahn (gondola).

NordkettenbahnThe Nordkettenbahn (gondola) glides over rooftops and farms, hiking and biking trails that quickly reveal themselves hidden among the trees. The sun that day was bright and the clean air allowed for endless vistas as the gondola ascended ever higher. After 15 minutes we stopped at a solid rock building known as the Seegrube.

The Seegrube station is located at 1905m (6350 feet) and offers a restaurant and areas outside for play and exploration. It is a joy to walk down the mountainside from this location, but that is another story.

In the summertime musical events are held outside Seegrube and people often bring tents and camp out on the side of the mountain. The terrain here is rocky and barren looking, but quite beautiful. As people disembarked from the gondola a nippy temperature embraced everyone. People quickly began putting on warm hats and an extra jacket.

We walked a few paces inside the building to the second leg of the gondola ride. A small cable-car glided into the station; this was the more petite-sized Hafelekar station bound gondola. In a few minutes our gondola-pod, holding maybe 10 or 12 people, rose over the shattered and rough looking stones below. We climbed, at a very steep ascent of 40-45 degree angle up the mountain. Upon the barren rock face were large metallic structures, fences designed to hold great weight and guard the city below against avalanches.

HafelekarspitzeAs we approached the Hafelekar our gondola slowed to a crawl. At that moment a powerful wind gush pushed the car to one side and people in the pod briefly lost their footing. As the pod swung back the operator increased the speed and the pod – with a hard bump and then a dull thud – arrived safely at Hafelekar, elevation 2256m (7729 feet). The landscape here was naked, only grass and lichens were visible on a barren landscape of jagged stone. The air was cold – around 6 degrees C (42F) and made colder by the fierce wind that boxed our ears and made our eyes tear.

Several tourists wearing only shorts, a t-shirt and a camera bolted quickly up the mountain for photos. After ten minutes they vigorously returned and clamored into the warmth of the station.

Cross on HafelekarspitzeReaching the actual top of the mountain requires 15 minutes walk up a steep and rocky path to the summit of Hafelekarspitze. This small trail was well worn during the years of visitation. The top of the mountain has a small protective rock wall for visitors, near this area sits a large cross. From the mountaintop, you can see miles beyond in every direction. Below, Innsbruck appeared like a miniature toy city, with tiny buildings and small train yard. The mighty Inn River was just a appeared to be a gentle ribbon of water.

Standing on top of the mountain the setting was peaceful; a bit windy, but the sun was shining, a blue sky was overhead, and the dramatically sculpted mountains surrounding us looked peaceful, but that was about to change.

While exploring some side trails the wind grew very fierce and some menacingly gray clouds appeared to spontaneously generate overhead. We quickly removed ourselves from the mountain via the gondola and shortly we stood again in Innsbruck. We peered up the great line of mountains, the area near the top – where we were – was blanketed by dark clouds and was hidden from view.

An hour afterward, these clouds had silently marched down the mountainside and were bathing Innsbruck in a cool rain.

Learn more:
http://www.nordkette.com/en/top/home.html

Hafelekarspitze

View from Hafelekarspitze

Hafelekarspitze

View from Hafelekarspitze

A Day Hike Near Mittenwald, Bavaria

A Day Hike Near Mittenwald, Bavaria.

I received an invitation from the locals to go on another day trip. This trip was near the Bavarian town of Mittenwald, just over the German border from Austria. Mittenwald is about a 40 minutes car ride from Innsbruck through some breathtaking country. The kids were going today so the hike would be on the easy side. Our ultimate destination was the inland lake called the Lautersee with a possible side hike to a second inland lake called, Ferchensee.

Overlooking MittenwaldWe drove into Mittenwald and parked on a street just out of town. We walked on steep roads and quiet trails until we perceived ourselves to be deep in the woods, but the little side paths that meandered off here and there revealed the town was only just a short distance away. A lot of people, mostly retirees and were out hiking and enjoying the gorgeous setting. The weather that day was just that – gorgeous; not too hot, not too cold, with a radiant sun and low humidity.

We arrived at the Lautersee and walked around the edge. This inland lake was of good size and required thirty-minutes, at an honest pace, to walk its circumference. The water was glassy, clear and it’s depths accented with gradient shades of blue. Tall green trees surrounded the lake creating a textured, natural and living wall. If this was not bewitching enough the entire scene was even more entrancing from the enormous Lauterseesawtoothed mountains that towered aloft.

Several buildings dotted the edge of the lake, but we were headed to a man-made family beach area. This area included slides and an elevated merry-go-round that swung the kids over the water. The area adjacent to the beach was grassy and allowed people to sun. The kids loved playing and the adults swam in the cool waters of the lake. A small cafe sold coffee, beer and fries while a restaurant next door sold more hearty fare.

To many visitors, this setting was heaven; I agree the setting was glorious, but my Family Beach Areaversion of heaven involves more hiking so I took the opportunity to venture to the adjacent lake known as the Ferchensee. In fact, I took several such walks that day.


During one of these walks I noticed an old and sturdy wooden barn stacked with freshly dried green hay. Outside the barn was a large flat-bed trailer being pulled not by a tractor, but an old World War II American Jeep. The jeep appeared to be well-loved and was in fantastic condition. A large white star still emblazoned the hood. After a few minutes a shirtless farmer rounded the side of the barn and jumped in the drivers seat, started it up and whirred off, bouncing all the way, to a patch at the base of a hill he was harvesting.

Farm Using a WWII JeepThe hike to the Ferchensee was very restorative; everything was green, lots of little springs gurgled along the trail, there was an abundance of vegetation, and a variety of toads and insects moved before me on the trail. The abundance of animals suggested the environment here was healthy and vibrant. At one point a small snake, who had been sunning itself on the trail slithered into the grass. Several people came up and studied it with a keen interest then continued on with there hike. Signs in the area thanked people for visiting and reminded them that the farmers and people who lived there (the folks who hung the signs) obtained their livelihood from this land and to respect that fact.

The Ferchensee was exceptionally pretty. A couple of rustic buildings dotted the edge of this gentle looking blue and clear body of water. The perimeter of the lake appeared to be larger than its cousin. The ground around the lake gently sloped and was carpeted with grass. Forests lay at the far end. Most of the people, just a few dozen of them, were laying on the hypotenuse side of this triangular shaped lake in a large green field sunning themselves and having picnics.

FerchenseeThe hike returning to the Lautersee was equally as stunning as the first; this time I had the pleasure of looking upon the tall and jagged sawtoothed mountains that guarded the nearby town of Mittenwald.

Arriving at the family beach area I again felt uncomfortable, it was too crowded.

Then my wife reminded me of the obvious – out of scores of people, of all ages, from various countries, speaking multiple languages that …no one was being rude. Out of that entire day neither of us witnessed any rudeness. She was right. Everyone was courteous, and would say (in German – even those from other countries visiting the area) “please” and “thank you”, or “excuse me” when they accidentally bumped someone or walked by their space. There was zero if any trash laying around, the visitors policed their own items; and when finished with food cartons or rental chairs returned them to the office; there were no loud people – no one was playing a radio or talking offensively. If people wanted to listen to music they used an iPod or similar so others would not be disturbed. Of all of the people at that beach, no one talked arrogantly, nor looked like a gang member, nor did I feel out belongings would be ransacked if we turned our backs or went for a swim. People were calm, sensible, level-headed and courteous. The kids were also well behaved! I was, frankly speaking, stunned. I was stunned from the display of exemplary human behavior, but also that I had not been more observant with my own perceptions.

For the remainder of the day I enjoyed this tiny spot and observed with a fresh mind as though I had woken from a slumber – I saw it anew. As a traveler, that is my ultimate goal, to not be so comfortable with a situation or place that I only see what I want to see; but instead to see things with open eyes, and the sense of awe that makes traveling, well… fun.

Roughing It On Kellerjoch

Roughing It On Kellerjoch

The morning began with a harrowing drive, of utmost haste, up a mountainside. Our small car zipped around hairpin turns, up narrow roads, and past grazing cows who, no doubtably, wondered why these humans were in such a rush. Our rapid speed allowed us to gain an elevation of several thousand feet in a short time. The destination that morning was a mountain named Kellerjoch. It was located about a 45 minutes drive outside of Innsbruck, Austria. I was sitting in the side passenger seat, tightly grasping the door handle and beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

The driver was a local and felt very comfortable on the steep mountainous roads. He and several relatives of mine (our guides for the day) were going to take me (the newbie in the group) and my wife on a ‘real’ hike. After forty minutes of a religious-affirming-ride we arrived at our destination, it was an unassuming parking lot on the side of the road. Five people poured out of the tiny car and everyone stretched.

I am not sure how high we were in elevation, but I was starting to feel a slight pressure in my head. The air was crisp yet muggy, trees surrounded us and the temperature was cool. The handful of clouds in the sky appeared like cotton balls illuminated by brilliant sunshine against a blue backdrop.

Up the mountainA nearby trail marker showed our destination; the top of the Kellerjoch mountain, and the round trip was only 6 kilometers (3.7 miles). “That is a very easy hike.” I thought, and was starting to feel cheated out of an experience. Then I saw the elevation gain was 1000 meters (3000 feet)! “Good heavens, that is steep!” The guides were taking us straight up a mountain… I felt as though the newbie was going to be roughing it that day.

We unloaded our things. I was dressed in layers – the same things I wear in California when on a hike: zip off pants, an undershirt, a long sleeve shirt so I can roll up the sleeves, hat, day pack etc. The man who had driven us was wearing only shorts, a short sleeved shirt and a bandana covered his head. The others wore similar clothes and were outfitted with a ultra-small backpacks. Everyone was tan and appeared to be in really good shape. As the trunk of car closed – and the car locked – everyone stopped and smiled at me; there was an awkward pause, then the driver mockingly inquired why I was dressed for winter. “Yep,” I thought, “the newbie will get it today.”

We started up the road and soon crossed to a ski run. Everyone started hiking straight up the slope – at a 35 degree elevation! Ten minutes when buy – twenty – thirty. I was breathing hard from the constancy of the ascent, sweating from the high humidity and having a tough time with the altitude. A fit woman in our group was not even breathing hard, and she yawned like she was bored…then slowly looked at me. Yes, I was the slow one in the tribe and would be soon abandoned on the mountain – I could feel it. Minute after minute the group moved further up the ski run. My wife (a native of Austria – bless her, was staying with her husband in this time of trial) continued to be further behind. Finally the rest of our small group disappeared, made insignificant to my eyes by the scale of the mountain and the depth of the forest. The only sounds heard were from cowbells coming deep from within the woods.

The trail finally moved off the ski run and onto side trails. It was still steep but a little easier. A ski lift overhead hummed as chairs were carried up the mountain. At one point a couple overhead shouted down and (in German) asked us to ‘Have a good hike.’ For a second, it occurred to me that maybe our guides had trampled down the mountain, unknown to us, and taken the ski lift up just so they could taunt the newbie. I looked closer but it was not them on the ski-lift. We continued our march up the mountain.

Our guides did call on our cell phone (known as a ‘handy’) half an hour later to say they had arrive at the Gasthaus (restaurant) half-way up the mountain and were waiting for us and, “Would we be long?”

After a short discussion they said they would hike to the top, and that “if we were having a tough time” we could wait for them at the restaurant. Grumble. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the gasthaus – we had actually not been that far behind them on the trail. We collapsed. The elevation was 1900 meters (6,200 feet). This was not a high elevation for a hike, but after several hours of a 35 degree ascent it sure was! We enjoyed some apple juice and a snack. Then rested. Later we pet a dog, watched the cows walk past and the also watched the tourists eat lunch under shade umbrellas at the gasthaus. Nearby, a man with a giant balsa wood glider placed it on a giant bungie anchored to the ground. He pulled back the bungie a distance and released the glider. The glider shot into the crystal sky. He controlled it remotely and had an wonderful time being a kid. The views were great and we could see miles up the great Inn Valley.

An hour later the handy rang again, it was our guides. They were approaching the top and wondering “if we had reached the gasthaus yet?” We explained we had been there for an hour enjoying the sights, petting a dog, watching cows etc and having a grand old time. They seemed impressed we had been there for so long, possibly they realized we had not been that far behind on the trail after all, or they were being ornery. …My vote is on the ornery part. Anyway, they raised the bet.

Now, a change of plan, they would meet us as another gasthaus – it would take about an hour and a half for everyone to reach, and the hike “should not be hard.”

Refreshed, we were ready for a rough hike that included trauma, pain and heartache. Instead, we found the trail now nurtured us and treated us to the sheer beauty of the Alps: blue mountains in the distance glittered with snow, mountain-sides carpeted with green forests, rippled clouds danced overhead, our path was bordered by bubbling springs, buzzing insects and all manner of small flowers. This place was medicine; all of the aches, pains and grumbles vanished from my body.

The trees began to thin along the mountain near the tree line, and we could see a small barn was in the distance. We approached and heard cow bells coming from the sturdy structure. We walked up quietly and looked through a open window to see a dozen or so light brown colored cows. They turned their heads an peered back ….with such indignation that I felt as though we had just crashed some social event or interrupted a conversation of high political matters! We politely took our leave and continued down the trail.

In this area was a large patch of green grass that stretch a good distance and the path appeared like a ribbon disappearing into the beyond. The wind danced on the grass playing chase with itself and creating wide sheets of movement. The shadows of clouds glided over the mountainside – moving faster than a horse could run. After twenty minutes the trail moved back into the trees. The shade was welcome but we did not feel fatigued from the heat or sun. Above us was the gray peak, a tiny cross dotted the highest point on the mountain.

Descending along the side of the mountains we several tiny dots that appeared to us as ants walking behind each other. The ants slowly became larger and behold – it was our guides!

We met them at a trail junction about fifteen minutes later. They seemed surprised we were so far along the trail. At that moment we had paid some unseen dues, the value of which I am not sure, but I was not a newbie after that.

They looked a little tired and were talking about beer which, I admit, after a long hike, sounded very good. We passed several other people on the trail – one youthful couple was in their eighties at least. The trail connected with a dirt road and led us downhill, which was indented here and there with small rivulets of spring water. After half an hour a gasthaus appeared ahead of us on the trail. It was perched near the edge of the valley, surrounded by trees on three sides, with the open edge overlooking the most pleasant views you have gazed upon while enjoying a beer.

Everyone was in good spirits. We enjoyed our beer and some Gulaschsuppe (Goulash Soup) while some of the others enjoyed a Kaiserschmarrn – a decadent dessert – and some radler, and refreshing mix of soda water and beer. The sun was starting to lower on the horizon, our entire hike had taken about 7 hours and an unknown distance.

We rolled ourselves away from the table and continued down the dirt road to where the car was parked. The remainder of the walk was pleasant and the final hour of our hike passed quickly.

Hiking in the Gleirschtal of Tirol

Hiking in the Gleirschtal Valley of Tirol

An American visiting the Tirol of Austria will quickly learn the German word, ‘schön’ (sh-oo-n; the ö is pronounced like the double-o in ‘took’), the word for beautiful.

The Gleirschtal valley of Tirol, Austria, is schön, it is a feast for the senses, it is a place for playing, walking and seeing beautiful expanses of mountains, valleys, and sky.

The visit began with a 40-minute drive from Innsbruck up to the Sellraintal valley to the picturesque town of Sankt Sigmund im Sellrain. From here we could gaze into the adjoining Gleirschtal valley – our destination. We parked in a gravel lot just off the main road and walked a short distance to the Fuchs Spielplatz (the Foxes playground) so the kids could play. The playground offered young explorers tunnels, rope swings and structures for both the children – and parents. After half an hour, everyone continued up the trail, past a small bridge and up a gentle grade of this most picturesque valley.

The trail meandered through open fields and forested hillsides until opening up in a most astounding view; a green, and glacially sculpted valley with cows and horses grazing on the side of one mountain. The scene was punctuated with a gentle and cool wind in our faces and a sky was freckled with clouds.

After an hour’s walk enjoying similar vistas we arrived at an Alm. Outside the Alm were half a dozen tables, each packed with hikers and some families who drove up to the Alm. Most adults were enjoying large half-liter sized glasses wheat beer and having plates of yummy looking food. Cows grazed nearby and one seemed overly curious about our presence and approached the fence, but stayed beyond arm’s length. The kids stayed at the Alm with relatives to play while my wife and I continued up the trail another 30 minutes.

Soon the trail became extremely steep and zig-zagged up the valley. It appeared we were approaching the top as snow-topped peaks were ahead, but the mountains were just playing with us – as we reached the top the peaks were actually many kilometers away. Our thirty minutes were up and we had to return to the Alm.

We stopped to drink in the views; our thirst was quenched beyond expectations. From our vantage point, we saw snow capped peaks, mountain streams, forests, and carpets of green in the valley below. A cowbell could be heard somewhere far in the distance. In such an immense place a person feels small, yet connected to this land. It is a good place to recognize what is really important in a person’s life.

Walking down the valley was difficult, not because of the terrain, or altitude, but because the valley is astoundingly schön and you are intoxicated by the experience.

We retrieved the kids and returned down the valley. The walk provided an opportunity for all family members to explore the woods and run in the fields.

A Peek Inside Silver Falls State Park

Upper North FallsIf you have the opportunity to explore Silver Falls State Park in Oregon it is well worth the visit.

During a trip to the Beaver State a short drive off Interstate 5 led me through farm fields and green pastures to the lower elevations of the Cascade Mountains. As the elevation increased Douglas Fir and cedar trees carpeted the countryside until I was in a forest of green.

Inside the park I stopped at the small parking area called the North Falls trailhead. From here it was a ten-minute walk along an easy path to the Upper North Falls. Ferns and moss carpeted the sides of trails and the cool moist air was invigorating. The falls were impressive – falling 65 feet (20m) into a deep emerald colored pool. The roar from the water would have made speaking a little difficult to hear, but there was no need to talk.

In the opposite direction, past the parking area, was a short walk to the North Falls. Bordering the trail the North Fork of Silver Creek cascaded over boulders and rocks, then the water vanished from sight – and was replaced with an audible roar. A few more steps brought me to a good vantage point – the view was literally jaw dropping.

North FallsThe stream was in free fall over a 136 feet (41 m) cliff. The water appeared to hang in mid-air for a moment then in slow motion fell onto car-sized boulders and into a deep blue-green colored pool at the base. Behind the waterfall was a dark overhang, cave-like, colored with green moss and plants. The shape of the valley was reminiscent of the old wrap around Cinemascope movie theaters. Across the valley some hikers had walked along the Canyon Trail near the base of the falls. They appeared to be mesmerized by the sight of the falling water and stood transfixed for several minutes in awe of the performance. After some time we continued on our way to the next area.

Driving down the road we made a stop at the North Falls Viewpoint. It was a fantastic perspective of the falls we had just visited. We were roughly a quarter of a mile distant; the falls appeared to us front and center in a perfect photograph framed with green forest.

South FallsAt the main area of the park we walked along a cobbled path and along the South Fork of Silver Creek. Here the stream is graceful and gently flows through a green and tranquil area; then there is an absence of the ground; the water of the entire stream dramatically plunges 177 feet (54 m) over South Falls into a pool below. The mouth of the pool is at the base of a giant horseshoe shaped depression for the water to pour into. Gray rocks line the overhanging cliff and green moisture loving plants accentuated the entire scene – it was a gift to see.

Below the falls was a trail known as the ‘Trail of Ten Falls.’ This 8.7-mile footpath takes day trip explorers to see ten beautiful falls; including the ones we just saw. I will be returning to visit this trail and see more of the park. My short trip that day was only an enticement to see more!

The day use fee at the park was $5 – and well worth it. We had to use an ‘Iron Ranger’ to pay our fee, so bring some smaller bills to place in the envelope as making change might be difficult. Our visit was before the busy season and the water fountains were turned off making filling up our water containers difficult. The folks in the Nature Store offered us some water from their sink – which we gladly accepted – and we offered a few dollars to their donation jar in good faith. If you come before or after the summer months bring some extra water or filtering device so you will not be thirsty. Based on the size of several parking lots and distance (about 30 miles from Salem) this park receives some high visitation during weekend and summer months. If you want fewer crowds visit during mid-week or during off times.

To explore more visit the park online:
http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_211.php

A Day Exploring the Waterfalls of Big Basin Redwoods State Park

blog_20101230_img6Winter can be a wonderful time to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California.

We arrived at 10 a.m. (December 29th) and parked across from the old log building known as Big Basin Headquarters. The temperature outside was 44 degrees and the damp air was crisp. The morning clouds had dissipated and sunlight streaked through the forest canopy onto the ground below.

Surrounding the headquarters were goliaths – redwood trees that were 4, 5, and 6 feet across. One tree appeared to be 8 or 9 feet at the base. Even though I have visited here many times I am always impressed by the size and grandeur of these magnificent trees. But, today my family was here to see other sights – three magnificent waterfalls: Berry Creek Falls, Silver Falls, and Golden Cascade.

We made sure our water bottles were full before crossing over Waddell Creek and onto the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail that would lead us to the waterfalls. The winter rains had made the forest green with color. The forest was quiet, peaceful and restorative.

After an hour or so of walking through the redwoods, the sounds of rushing water could be heard. The creek next to us, Kelly Creek, was alive with water and small cascades. Everything around was green and moist. The redwoods towered above us. The only sounds we heard were our breathing and our footsteps on the ground made gentle gushing noises as we walked on the damp trail. The cleanliness of the air was a joy to breathe! Something small at the side of the trail moved ahead of us, it was a newt that was slowly traversing the fallen logs and fern fronds.

blog_20101230_img5At the Timms Creek trail junction, a fallen redwood had created a natural bridge (shown). Big Basin Redwoods State ParkWe rested and played here for a few minutes then continued on. Soon, a rock overlook along the trail let us peer down onto Kelly Creek – a myriad of small white cascades dotted the creek, large brown boulders sat among ferns and broad-leafed plants and a color chart of green moss dotted the sides of trees.

The trail descended and crossed over a small footbridge. In a few minutes, we rounded a corner – ahead of us were the Berry Creek Falls.

These 65-foot falls drop vertically – plunging abruptly into a valley of redwoods and moss. To say this is ‘picturesque’ is an understatement.

We enjoyed the view then continued to a viewing platform about three-quarters the height of the falls for a direct look (shown is the view from the platform). For ten minutes we had this view all to ourselves. Then several other hikers arrived, they deserved the same tranquility we just enjoyed, so we moved on.

Big Basin Redwoods State ParkThe trail continued upstream for about twenty minutes. Small cascades danced in the creek and gurgles of water made curious sounds as pools emptied over steep rocks. Here we saw a huge, bright yellow, banana slug about seven inches in length next to the trail. We had seen several banana slugs on the trail but this was by far the largest. The sound of falling water was coming from just up the trail.

Silver Falls began to appear through the redwoods. These falls were slightly hidden by the mass of trees, blog_20101230_img4but it was easy to see the white and frothy ‘silvery’ water as it poured over the top and dropped a wonderful 60 feet or so into a pool below. A series of stairs on the trail wound up the side of the valley to the top of the falls. At the top was a single cable handrail (shown in the photo). The trail was a little slick so we proceeded with caution.

In just seconds we were at the Golden Cascade. These were actually two cascades; at the base was a vertical fall of about 15 feet, just above it was a much more impressive drop. I am not sure about the height, but for perspective notice the blog_20101230_img3person in the photo (top right, wearing a red vest).

We enjoyed a well-deserved snack in this tranquil place then continued on our hike back to the car. Although it was an hour before sunset it was close to dark when we arrived at the parking area. These are some deep valleys and the trees are very, very tall. It can become dark quickly in the redwood forest.

I like to visit between rainstorms when the weather grants a two to three-day rest between showers allowing the trails to harden up a little. Seeing these waterfalls in the winter (and spring) are spectacular. The summer is a great time to visit too, but the streams have less water and sometimes can become just a trickle of water as fall approaches.

On our wintertime day hike, we passed only 14 people on the trail! The loop took us about 6 hours to complete and required roughly 11 miles of hiking – it is strenuous. This is a hike for families with older kids.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park was established in 1902 and was California’s first state park.

Big Basin is located a one hour drive from Saratoga, California and roughly half an hour from the town of Boulder Creek. The entrance fee is $10.

To continue your own explorations of Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit:
http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=540

A Good Family Hike in Eastern Oklahoma’s Redbud Valley

Redbud ValleyA short drive outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma is the 220-acre Redbud Valley Nature Preserve. This preserve has a great deal of scenery packed into a small space: woodlands, prairie grasses, a creek, springs, small caves and rugged looking cliffs.

Families will enjoy the main loop trail that takes about an hour and a half to complete. Kids will especially enjoy the many small caves and overhangs in the cliffs area.

As your family explores look for what really makes this place special – many of the plants traditionally found further west on the prairie and much further east in the Ozark Mountains can be found here in this preserve. Think of Redbud Valley as a unique spot, between the prairie and the Ozarks, where these plants live.

A small visitors center is onsite. Flush restroom facilities and picnic tables are located near the parking area. Admission is free. Redbud Valley is open from 8 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday. From Tulsa drive east on Interstate 44 to the Hard Rock Casino on 193rd E (also known as Hwy 167). Go North on 167. Drive 2 miles to Redbud Drive, make a left. Drive roughly 5 miles until you reach the parking area.

For more information about Redbud Valley visit:
http://www.oxleynaturecenter.org/redbud.htm