Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: January 2018 | Participants: 7 | Type: Urban Walking Tour
In 1978 a low-budget movie about a misfit fraternity who challenged authority was released. The movie “Animal House” prominently featured locations around the University of Oregon. Much to the chagrin of university officials, the movie brought unwelcome attention to the UO; to others, it is one of the greatest comedy films of all time. Forty years later, this small group of Animal House fans visited fifteen sites around campus featured in the movie. We enjoyed a pleasant walk in the light rain. Some areas on campus were similar while other locations, like a refurbished room 110 Fenton Hall where the courtroom scene was filmed, are unrecognizable. We ended our walk the former site of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house, the Animal House. The dilapidated structure has since been demolished and replaced with an office building. Only a small plaque remains about its history from the 1800s and uses in the movie. Thank you to everyone in the group for sharing their stories about the movie’s production.
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: December, 2017 | Participants: 19 | Type: Urban Walking Tour
Over the past months in Eugene, Oregon, a number of building-sized murals have started appearing – some almost overnight. I needed to check out this gigantic expression of creativity, so I offered an invitation for an informal walk. Surprisingly, nineteen people joined me! The murals are part of the 20×21 project, an initiative to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals in Eugene between now and the premier track and field 2021 IAAF World Championships. As a runner myself, I am really excited about this event. After the walk, some of us enjoyed a tasty lunch of pizza and salad (the vegan pizza there rocks; an image is included below). Here are a few photos:
Where can a frugal traveler stay in ultra-expensive San Francisco? These are friendly, clean, and safe hostels to help you explore this world-class city while not wrecking your budget.
The Adelaide Hostel
The Adelaide is a few blocks west of the centrally located Union Square. The hostel’s name originates from a former owner’s love of his Australian hometown. This is an older building, but the architecture’s warm color palette and modern facilities only compliment the charm. The kitchen and dining areas are clean and there are nights where the hostel prepares meals for guests. In the morning make sure to grab a bowl of complimentary oatmeal and orange juice. A quiet area on the main floor is a great place to read and work on a laptop. The staff is very knowledgeable about local places to eat and go sightseeing. Expect some street noise if the windows are open, but earplugs will take care of most extraneous sounds.
Fort Mason Hostel (Hosteling International Fisherman’s Wharf)
All of the HI hostels in the bay area great places to stay, but Fort Mason takes the cake just because of its proximity to the Marina District, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. The hostel retains the crispness and presentation of the building’s military history. The kitchen is sizeable and the common area includes a pool table. Nearby is a small coffee shop that offers pastries and cookies. A palatial quiet room on the main floor offers a respite for computer work, reading, or just hanging out. A grocery store (the Marina Safeway) is about half a mile away if you need to resupply. If you want to explore the city, a Cable Car turnaround is a short walk away. The staff is very friendly and helpful and went the extra distance to answer some of my questions. I really appreciate the hostel’s extra activities, which included area hikes led by knowledgeable locals.
Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Don’t let the unassuming street entrance adjacent to a Hunan restaurant fool you, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is clean, modern, and has a friendly staff. Located near Chinatown, this hostel is centrally located to downtown and North Beach clubs. Be aware, this is a social hostel (aka a party hostel!) and is usually frequented by a younger crowd. The hostel’s main room can quickly become busy and an innocent game of Jenga can turn into a (friendly) beer drinking competition. Bring earplugs as street noise at the night can keep you up. The hostel has a small kitchen with all the amenities. The hostel staff leads tours and clubbing excursions throughout the week.
All of the above-mentioned hostels run about $50 a night. Make sure to bring a small travel lock to secure any items in a locker, as well as shower shoes and extra soap. To avoid the crowds in San Francisco, the best time for visiting is mid-October through March.
I’m an outdoor guide because traveling and nature experiences can be powerful teachers. Here is one such story about how an encounter with a whale helped others (and myself) to grow.
“Whale!” a woman squealed. Two-dozen people slammed themselves onto the starboard railing of a small whale watching the ship. The vessel listed uncomfortably sideways. Just feet away a baby gray whale, the length of a long kayak, floated in the rough surf. Its large black eye seemed to study each of us. Everyone was absorbed in the experience. They had forgotten their discomfort in the previous hour and a half. Up until then, it had been a bad day to be on the water: we had not seen a whale – not one. Our ship sickeningly rolled side to side in the deep troughs, the smell of diesel permeated our nostrils, cold January weather nipped our skin, the sky was oppressively overcast and the wind-chapped our lips. Worst of all was seasickness, not just a queasy feeling, but real illness. I heard my name being simultaneously cursed as participants barfed over the boat’s edge. Some made multiple trips. As they staggered back with a sick yet relieved look on their faces I received several vexing glances. The words were blazed in their eyes, “Why did you make me come out here?”
It was a hard day. My camera had broken too, then again maybe it was for the best. This was the first whale-watching tour that I had organized for a group and it was going horribly. I secretly wanted this trip to be over, to slink home and erase it from my memory. I wanted the trip participants to forget about it, too.
When the young whale appeared the trip was born anew. A marine biologist shared her commentary: the mother was likely on the seabed feeding and would be returning shortly. The juvenile was not lost, just hanging out at the surface.
Amazingly the whale stayed parallel with our ship for about twenty minutes. Then several hundred feet away from a large mass the size of a city bus rose to the surface. She dramatically announced herself by ejecting a plume of air in a geyser-like spray. This was the mother! The smaller whale joined her and they swam off together.
The people were giddy, but also happy to return to port. Upon disembarking from the ship, the trip participants said little, just drove away. I had organized the outing as a way for overscheduled tech workers to connect with their families in the outdoors, but had I inadvertently turned more people off that helped? This was first of several trips where unexpected situations and hardships caused me to question my outings and slowly I became disillusioned. After several summers, I stopped leading nature adventures.
Fast forward to five years. I was at an outdoor market selling child-sized backpacks I made at the time. A man approached and we talked for a minute, then he said, “Hey, you’re that guy who led the whale watching trip.” He briskly shook my hand said, “Thanks.” I wondered if we were talking about the same excursion. He told me about that day, I listened with interest then in dismay as my well-intentioned nature trip was turned into a tale of deceit. At the time, he and his mother-in-law despised one another and for spite, they created ever-increasing hardships for their rival, often to the detriment of family members. One day he saw my whale watching trip and suggested a pleasant outing for the entire family. But his coyness was masked with a desire that his mother-in-law has a miserable experience. In fact, she hated that trip and wanted nothing to do with him again. To his glee, she stopped visiting altogether! Eventually, her lengthy absence spoke to his better nature and he felt guilty for his childish behavior.
Almost a year later she returned for a holiday visit. The conversation at the dinner table was still; everyone in the room knew the two were enemies. As the serving plates started to move about she looked at him and said, “Remember that whale watching trip?” He suspected a trap but replied, “…yes.”
She looked directly at him and with a heartfelt voice said, “Thank You.” His mind was blown. No one in the family knew what to say, him especially.
She shared her story: At the time she suspected the man wanted her to get sick while whale watching, but she went anyway. It was a most unpleasant time. But when she viewed the whale up close and looked into its eye, she saw there was something there – more to the point, something in her. She returned home to southern California and was anxious to the point where sleep was difficult. She spent more time outside and took long walks. She started to walk to the store. Her walks became hikes and she asked her friends to join her, but they were “too busy”, so she went by herself. Later she joined a local hiking club. On these outings, she saw hills and valleys near her house that she had never seen despite having lived in the area for decades. On one hike in the Mojave Desert, she saw a magnificent vista and it inspired her to make a big decision. She decided to visit a place she had always dreamed of seeing since she was a child: South Korea. Then she announced to the family around the table, “I’m leaving for Seoul in three weeks.”
The man was shocked, something in her words had spoken to him. He felt ashamed. After dinner, the two of them had a heart-to-heart talk. The trickery and malice evaporated and they started to heal their relationship. Several weeks later the mother-in-law traveled to Korea and had a wonderful trip. In the months that followed, she visited the family more often and the two of them started to go on short walks. They both enjoyed being outside, even having deep conversations. A year later they had become friends and even hiking buddies. The entire family was happier and everyone was even talking about an overseas trip.
The man finished telling me his tale. Before disappearing into the crowd he said, “Thanks again for the great trip!”
His story was an elixir for me, it helped to renew and strengthen my own passion – connecting people with the outdoors. I started to organize and lead trips once again. Fifteen years later I’m still going strong.
I guide because travel and being in the outdoors teaches things that we can only learn by experiencing life. Guiding is at that nexus, the point between being in the now, learning, and living; and it is best shared with others who seek it.
Note: Originally published in September 2017, this trip report was updated in March 2019 by the author to read more like a travel article.
Trip Report: Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: September 10, 2017, | Participants: 7 | Type: Day hike and wayfinding
In Oregon’s Cascade Range an old tree stood guard over a forgotten story. The memory was about an explorer named Judge John Breckenridge Waldo and his intrepid spirit was that of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Waldo is the unsung grandfather of Oregon’s protected lands. It is because of his perseverance that six national forests, Crater Lake National Park, and over a dozen wilderness areas exist today. Yet, few remember Waldo’s name or celebrate his achievements.
The tall perpendicular woods and glassy mountain lake made seeing this old tree even more intoxicating. A year earlier while researching Waldo I spied a grainy black and white photo. The picture was snapped in 1890; it revealed a couple of trees and a canoe by a lake with the handwritten text, “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.” An interesting yet unremarkable image, except that Camp Edith wasn’t referenced on any map. After a year of research, my fellow explorers and I stood before those words carved into the tree’s hardwood — it was Waldo’s “lost” campsite.
Our morning started with sunlight enriching the blue and turquoise waters of Waldo Lake. The radiant vista poured 5-miles into the distance and an additional 2 miles at breadth. As the sun rose further into the sky it revealed depths of 60 feet or more in the crystalline-like liquid.
From 1877 to 1907 Waldo extensively explored and chronicled the “untrammeled nature” of Oregon’s Cascades. He believed that modern life had “narrowing tendencies” on a person and that wilderness allowed difficulties to “be perceived and corrected, and the spirit enlarged and strengthened.” Waldo was a reflective man who did not seek publicity. Rather, he quietly and diligently advanced his vision: a 300-mile long protected swath along Oregon’s mountainous crest from the Columbia Gorge to the California border. Upon returning from his expeditions he spent countless hours increasing public awareness through letter writing and using his resources as a State Legislator and Chief Justice of Oregon’s Supreme Court to advocate for preservation.
After Waldo’s death in 1907, his writings went missing only to be rediscovered in the 1980s. The papers now reside in the archives at the University of Oregon. This is where I first saw the old photo of Camp Edith. When I inquired with seasoned hikers, campers, and old-timers, they had not heard of the camp. Finally, I met an aged flower child that loved to backpack. Surprisingly, he knew about Camp Edith but only revealed, “When you find ‘the tree,’ you’ll be there.”
The following winter I jumped into reading a rare 500-page copy of Waldo’s transcribed diary. During his treks, he traveled for months at a time to nourish his insatiable wanderlust and love of the Cascades. But like many travelers, he was often homesick. To lessen the loneliness he christened a favorite camping site in honor of his daughter, Edith. A colleague blazed the camp’s name into a tree trunk.
The snow had melted in the mountains and some ground reconnaissance was needed. I enlisted several members from a local hiking group to join me at Waldo Lake. We walked into the forest to find “the tree” provisioned with a photo from 1890, a few telling diary entries, and the mystifying advice of an old hippie.
Progress was slow as we bushwhacked through the woodlands, crossed marshy fields, and scrambled over downed logs. We were close to calling it a day when a member of our team let out a joyous shout. Thirteen decades of bark growth had covered the blaze’s perimeter, but the inscription was legible: “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.”
We had unearthed a sumptuous moment of discovery.
An excerpt from one of Waldo’s 1890 letters was appropriate to read-
“The lake stretches away up to the North; crags and peaks tower above us. It is a splendid scene – this source of rivers and cities, hid away, like pure trains of thought from vulgar observation – in the deep bosom of the wilderness buried. Camp Edith sends you greeting – greeting to Edith from ‘Papa’s Lake.’”
We departed Camp Edith carrying Waldo’s story with us — our spirits nourished and renewed.
The first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. from coast to coast in almost a century occurred today (August 21, 2017). It was a must-see event. In my home town of Eugene, Oregon, the obscuration (amount of the sun’s disk that’s obscured by the moon) was 99.3%. We were geographically about 40 miles south of the shadow’s extent for complete darkness, but our location did not disappoint. Below are four photos, taken with my camera, showing the progression of the moon crossing in front of the sun’s disk.
A total eclipse is a phenomenal natural spectacle. To us humans both objects appear to be the same size in the sky, this is because our star (the Sun) is 400 times wider than the moon and it is 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon. Even in the cosmos, such a splendid matchup of size and distance for intelligent life to observe is likely a rare occurrence.
This composite photo shows the trees and valley thirty minutes prior to (left) and at the height the eclipse (right). During this time the sky became very dark and there were no bird sounds. The temperature also dropped 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit!
From my vantage, I could see about 20 miles south and about 40 miles north. The northern view was dark, the southern direction was sunny; in between this gulf of sixty miles was a gradient between the darkness and light. My wow moment was realizing that such an immense shadow, and on such a grand scale was made by the moon which is indeed very, very big.
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Company: Road Scholar | Dates: Three trips, July-August, 2017 | Participants: 15-25 per group | Type: 6-days of field outings and motorcoach travel in western Oregon
<I enjoyed leading this Road Scholar trip for grandparents and grandchildren. It was a fun and educational opportunity for different generations to share time together exploring the world of animals. For my programs, I wanted to create a mentoring environment where, at the end of the program, everyone who is young at heart would think of themselves as a beginning zoologist. A zoologist is a curious person (a scientist) who loves to learn about animals and everything they can teach us.
Understanding how animals move is a basic feature of tracking. When you start to see “the story” written upon the ground you see patterns, infer distances, visualize speed, and even what type of animal made the tracks. Recognizing the gait – the animal’s manner of walking– is key to knowing the story. Here is a simple PDF I developed called, “Getting to Know Track Patterns” to use in the field. I use when I’m interacting with kids (and adults too). It helps to have someone demonstrate these gaits on all fours to visualize the gait. Then try to walk that way for yourself.
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians (met ONDA on site)
Dates: May 22, 2017
Type: Weekend Camping & Restoration Work
The Whychus-Deschutes proposed Wilderness is a rugged and beautiful landscape in central Oregon. Driving here requires a vehicle with high clearance and some sturdy hiking shoes for the remaining distance. It is a place of weathered cliffs, cold streams, and rocky canyons. If you have observant eyes you might even see bald eagles flying overhead. A prominent landmark is Alder Springs. The mainspring appears to spontaneously gush from the dry ground at an impressive 60 gallons per second. These cool waters flow a short distance into the picturesque Whychus Creek and a few miles further it joins the turbulent water of the Middle Deschutes River. These unique waterways provide spawning habitat for salmon, steelhead, and are central to all life in the area. This wilderness is prominent in fueling the region’s robust outdoor recreation opportunities, tourism industry, and a high quality of life. The Whychus-Deschutes landscape is an asset, yet it lacks permanent protection.
I wanted to find out more about protecting this land so I led a group of fellow Obsidians for an explore. We joined several other volunteers for an extended weekend of restoration work with the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). During the summer months, this sensitive area can be hammered by an influx of visitors who are seeking their own interpretation of this place. We were there to learn about the natural history, rebuild trails, fix up campsites, and remove some invasive plants that were taking resources from native species.
First, a shout out to ONDA. Learn more about ONDA’s great work and how you can help at onda.org
What gear do other backpackers use? During the recent Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2017 held in Eugene, Oregon, I shared a printed spreadsheet detailing the various systems used by backpackers of all skills levels. Thinking in systems (rain system, footwear system, sleep system, etc.) is important because it can save you time, money, and reduce headaches. Enjoy the spreadsheet for yourself, may it help you better plan your own journeys. Thank you to everyone who contributed! Please note the spreadsheet is legal-sized and front and back. Download the PDF here.
The Backpackers’ Rendezvous helps hikers, backpackers, and anyone curious about the trail to network, learn and do more with less. I’m happy to have organized the event and contributed to Eugene’s backpacking community.
An evening of rain, wind gusts, and downed trees could not deter seventy hearty folks of all ages and skill levels from attending the second Backpackers’ Rendezvous held at the Obsidian Lodge in Eugene, Oregon.
The first hour included presentations from PCT and AT thru-hiker Chris “Scrub” Burke with tips on approaching a large hike, REI’s Mark “Jar-Jar” Lemaire on researching lightweight gear options, and Mark “Grubb” Hougardy on five tips for starting a section hike on Oregon’s PCT.
The second hour included knowledge tables, pack shakedowns, and interactions with local outdoor retailers and thought leaders, including lightweight ideas for the big three with REI-Eugene, staying warm and dry with Backcountry Gear; resources for making your own gear with the Rain Shed, staying safe outdoors with the Obsidian Safety Committee, hiking Oregon’s coast with the National Coast Trail Association, and dry food options with Capella Market.
There were multiple requests from attendees asking how to join the Obsidians. One of the best quotes came from a woman in her thirties, “I want to go backpacking and don’t know where to start. I came here to find out more.” Thank you to everyone who helped enrich and strengthen the backpacking community in Eugene.
Science-based conservation is under attack! America’s environmental laws and natural treasures are under assault from the incoming administration in Washington. Laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act along with agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency could be gutted – taking America back to a time when pollution and bad water were commonplace. Hard fought protections are going backward. I created this to help artwork to help stand up for the environment and protect future generations. The following artwork is available to friends of the park and related outdoor organizations to advance their local outreach and fundraising during these challenging times. The artist Mark Hougardy can help with products that will aid in these efforts. America and its beauty are worth fighting for! – Copyright Mark Hougardy.
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Dates: November 7, 2016
Type: University of Oregon Archives Visit
On this sunny day in November, our small group of Obsidians spent several hours with the original writings, journals, and photographs of a true champion of nature – John B. Waldo.
Waldo was an ardent conservationist, he’s been referred to as the west’s David Thoreau and even Oregon’s John Muir. Waldo was known for venturing into the Cascades, often spending months at a time, and recording his findings of this dynamic and vibrant landscape.
Over the course of his life, Waldo worked as an explorer, legislator, and chief justice on the Oregon Supreme Court, all the time helping to preserve land in the Cascades. He envisioned a protected band of land along the crest of the Oregon Cascade Range that ran the entire length of Oregon. This goal became his personal mission.
On September 28, 1893, the Cascade Range Forest Reserve became a reality and 5 million acres were protected.
Today, we can experience his legacy in the protected lands and open spaces of the Cascades from Mount Hood south to the border with California, that include: Crater Lake National Park, Mt. Hood, Willamette, Umpqua, Rogue River national forests, and other public lands. And in the middle of this grand monument are the deep and pristine waters of Waldo Lake, named in his honor.
Curiously, little is written about Waldo. The judge was a philosophical and reflective person who did not directly seek publicity. But possibly this muted message is part of his larger voice – appreciating the beauty of Oregon is best experienced by hiking on the trails, exploring in the mountains, traveling in the wilderness, and experiencing the (as he wrote) “untrammeled nature and the free air.” Discover Waldo’s story for yourself. The University of Oregon archive is free to use – Knight Library, Paulson Reading Room.
Reference: John B. Waldo and William G. Steel: Forest Reserve Advocates for the Cascade Range of Oregon, Gerald W. Williams
Umpqua and Willamette National Forests
Here are just a few of the photos from his collection:
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Dates: September 10-11, 2016
Hiking 8 miles
Type: Day Hike & Tent Camping
Visiting Big Bear Camp is like inhaling a fresh breath of forest air: it’s invigorating.
That’s me with the apple. The lodge’s owners Hal and Tonia quickly welcomed us as we arrived at their retreat/garden/camp in the woods. Hal offered us delicious Honey Crisp apples directly off the tree to enjoy on our hike. [Photo by Darko]
Our 8-mile hike started up a reclaimed forest road, past cedar trees used by mountain lions for scratching, across the deep ravine where a rope was needed (shown), and finally to a deceptively steep forest road.
After a good heart-pounding climb, we arrived at the “Secret Spot,” the highest location within the Coast Range in Lane County. We had climbed roughly 1,600 feet from where we started but the view made up for it. Looking east we could see 130+ miles in the distance: in the north, Mt Hood, followed by Mt, Jefferson, Three-Fingered Jack, North, Middle and South Sister, Mt. Bachelor, and finally 125 miles further south, Diamond Peak.
We rested, enjoyed some lunch, and then traversed back down the forest road to several turnoffs, and a forest trail that deposited us back at Big Bear. That evening we shared a potluck with neighbors; everyone’s gardens were abundant and we and enjoyed the bounty of harvest-time meals. Later that evening we enjoyed guitar folk music by the fire and enjoyed freshly picked grapes (shown below). In the morning we hung out, explored the local creek, enjoyed the garden, and planned a route for a 42-mile, 4-day backpacking trip to the coast for next spring.
The High Cascades in Oregon is 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)
A 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.
The 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.
A 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)
A view of Wasco Lake the following morning at about 7 am.
We 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.
Much 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.
That 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)
Looking 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.
Milk Creek has cut a 100-foot deep gorge into the slopes of Mount Jefferson. Several backpackers are seen crossing the creek below us.
Overgrown 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.
Russell 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 9 pm, which is considered “hiker’s midnight.”
Day 4: Jefferson Park to Ollalie Lake (12 Miles)
We enjoyed breakfast under this stunning skyline.
The 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.
We 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.
Late 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.
Ollalie 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)
The 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.
We 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.
Taking care of some much-needed laundry at the spring using the “Ziplock spin cycle” washing method.
Walking 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.
We 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.
Shown is an old style PCT trail marker that we found, one of the few older versions that we saw on the entire trip.
Crossing the Warm Springs River. It was more a small creek at this point, but the water the clean and cold – a welcome site.
As I took off my shoes I realized just how dusty the trail was that day.
That 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 whooo’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.
Several 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.
This was our first view of Mount Hood after about 40 miles of hiking – what a fantastic sight.
We took a side trail to Frog Lake for 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 even 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.
Finally, 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.
There was an abundance of mountain flowers on the trail.
Close to the Timberline Lodge, the views were fantastic! We could see much of the route that we had spent the past week traversing.
We 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.
Looking 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.
Date: June 12, 2016
Duration: 3 Days
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.
On 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 2 am 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.
We 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 8 pm 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 tale 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.
Date: June 12, 2016
Duration: 1 Day
Group: Obsidians: As this was the first visit to a very remote location, for safety, I enlisted the help of Oregon Wild to introduce us to the area.
Hiking 5 miles (1,000-foot elevation loss/gain)
Type: Day Hike
The proposed Devil’s Staircase Wilderness is one of the most remote and inaccessible regions of rainforest left in the Coast Range. This impenetrable area has limited hiking trails or roads and is visited by only a few hundred people a year. Yet it remains unprotected despite the efforts of conservation groups and Oregon’s congressional delegation. To find out more about this compelling landscape, eleven Obsidians joined Chandra LeGue, the Western Oregon Field Coordinator at Oregon Wild, for a day of hiking to the Dark Grove. The Dark Grove has never been logged and is home to ancient trees that are 400-500 years old.
Our caravan of cars departed Eugene and meandered on back roads through the coast range. At one point, the green surroundings were cleaved from our sight as we drove through a wasteland of cut and darkened stumps: one member in the car likened the lifeless land to the desolated area at Mount St. Helens just after its eruption. This sight was a stark contrast to the lush biomass that we would encounter later that day.
About 15 miles northeast of Reedsport, we pulled off the pavement and slowly traveled up a single laned, overgrown backroad. Salmonberries grew in abundance here and scratched the sides of the car.
We parked at a junction and walked down an old logging road that was being reclaimed by the forest. Then we disappeared into the bushes, venturing down an elk trail. Posted on a tree was a sign that told us this was not the path to the Devil’s Staircase waterfall and unless you’re prepared to stay the night, and have Search and Rescue to look for you, to turn back. Fortunately, we had a guide for our inaugural visit.
The so-called “trail” was on loose soil and maintained a direct angle downward at 45-50 degrees. For the next hour and a half, we carefully descended 1,000 feet. Roots frequently caught our feet as we clamored over fallen logs and beneath large trees that had crashed across ravines and splintered. Ferns grew in abundance and they and helped us balance ourselves with their solid fronds. We quickly learned that ferns were our friends.
The weather that day was pleasant and sunny, though had our schedule been a day or two off, our visit might have been plagued with slippery trails.
Finally, the trail leveled out and we enjoyed lunch in an amphitheater-like area of fallen logs surrounded by a carpet of greenery. We saw a shadow over the canopy as a turkey vulture circled far overhead, no doubt curious to see if the humans had lost their way.
A forest of Salmonberries obstructed our path, so we made a trail straight up a ridge, then down into a forest of sword ferns. The ferns stood at five to six feet in height, so they engulfed us all and many of the shorter members traveled with their arms raised straight overhead. These tranquil glens often hid downed logs and it was easy to twist ankles or slam shins.
A fallen giant became our catwalk above the salmonberries, foxgloves, and ferns. We crossed a creek, but could barely see the water because of the thick undergrowth. Scampering down the side of the massive tree, we squatted and crawled through a small jungle, then emerged at the root base of the fallen giant – it was 25 feet tall!
In front of us was the Dark Grove, a cathedral of 8-foot wide Douglas Fir trees. The trees were dark in appearance, the result of fire about 150 years earlier. Touching the bark a charcoal residue was imprinted on fingers. The tree model is Becky Lipton.
Crossing back across the fallen giant, we stood at the base of one of the largest trees we saw that day. Eight people stood at its base, arms outstretched and hands grasped. They counted one, two, three… their calls became muffled as they rounded the opposite side…the voices returned and the loop stopped – at seven and a half people! This immense tree was somewhere between 35 to 40 feet in circumference! Several Obsidians mentioned they felt like kids in a giant outdoor playground.
We continued through the ferns and back again along the ridge (which was unmarked on the Forest Service map). We lost the trail several times but finally found what we were looking for: a small rocky outcrop along Wasson Creek where the channeled water made a small waterfall for us to enjoy. We rested for half an hour in the sun.
The rest of the afternoon was spent returning via the same trail that we had descended earlier, which was a workout! At about 4 pm, we returned to our cars and started our two-hour drive back to Eugene.
This hike was a rugged and demanding off-trail experience, and all of us got scratched and dirty, some of us stung by insects, and one person had a fall (fortunately the ground was padded by an abundance of moss and there was no injury)! I understand why people get lost in this wilderness; even with directions, I could never have found this remote location. The sheer scale of the forest is very disorienting, but experiencing this place at ground level provides clarity as to why it needs to be protected.
Backpackers of all experience levels spread out their gear on the Obsidian Lodge floor to share ideas and swap stories about backpacking. Of particular interest was the lightweight and ultra-light items and how they could help people do more with less. Twenty-five people attended to learn from other backpackers about what stove, sleeping bag or tent might best help them on the trail. Organized by Mark Hougardy. Held April 30, 2016.
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians: joined by BRING Recycling
Date: April 9, 2016
Type: Day Hike
Visiting the local landfill is not high on a person’s bucket list, but ask this question, “Where is away?” When you throw something in the trash where does it go? What happens to it? What will happen to it?
Roughly 5-miles from Eugene is the County landfill. Visiting such a place is very useful for gaining perspective about our personal and societal use of resources. This was short, but a very educational trip. A handful of curious folks made the trip to learn about the facility’s methane recovery operations, how the landfill cells are designed, how space is maximized via compaction, leachate management (trash juice), wetlands mitigation, and impacts on the Middle Fork’s water quality – a potential secondary source of water for 250,000 people.
The footprint for this site is 540-acres, and the hills will eventually reach a height of 600-feet. The expected “lifespan” for this site is another 100-years; which means we will be putting trash into the ground for another 100-years at this site. That is a lot of trash.
Locate on 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.
Our 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.
This 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.
To 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.
We 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!
Around 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.
Here is a panoramic view of the clearcut, Robin from Cascadia Wildlands is shown.
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 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 is maintained, but the law is vague and spraying has been attributed to water quality issues downstream, degradation of salmon habitat, and human health issues.
The 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.
Sometimes 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.
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:
If you’re interested in visiting the Elliott with your group or want additional information, contact the Coast Range Forest Watch for more information.
City Club of Eugene. “What Fate For The Elliott State Forest” (1 hour)
Background on the Issue:
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.
An Oregon Wild map showing the old-growth forests in the Elliott:
Aerial spraying issues-
The Oregonian. “How average Oregonians challenged the timber industry – and lost”
Different viewpoints on aerial spraying-