Mount Saint Helens–Monitor Ridge

“Want to climb Mt. St. Helens tomorrow?” Impromptu hikes are always fun, but this was a mountain. On a day’s notice. “Why not?”

My cousin Kris, his friend Mike, and I met at 5:00am PST on April 2nd. It was dark, we were still an hour and a half and 60 out miles out from the trailhead and we were already talking about the summit. We were expecting fantastic weather and as proof, Kris and I were covered in sunblock–a preemptive action against the notorious snow burns that catch hikers off guard each year. Not only does the sun beat down from above, but when hiking in snow, the reflection of sunlight can burn skin from below. Hikers are attacked from all sides on trails like this.

Eventually, we reached the trailhead. At about 2000ft in elevation, the winter parking lot is very low in comparison to Climbers’ Bivouac–the traditional summer and late spring launch pad. Since it was so early in the season, we were the only ones scheduled for the day. How exciting! We had the mountain all to ourselves. Sadly though, the clouds rolled in just as soon as we began the day. Our group came to the conclusion that they were low-fliers and we could easily climb above them in the first few miles. But like the beginning of any great disaster story, there must be a certain amount of misguided hopefulness. Summit fever hits hard and it hits fast.

The snowpack was hard, but by no means unbearable. Kris and I were sporting regular hiking boots as our technical gear. Michael is always prepared and had thought ahead to rent some spiffy snowshoes. These worked great for the flatter areas, but as soon as the grade increased, he was back to boots. For every step up, our boots sunk down two to three inches. Sometimes, the ice got so thin that we would find ourselves up to our hips without warning.

Now, we did clear the clouds about a thousand feet from the rim, but the weather didn’t last long.

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Kris breaking through the cloud cover.

Standing just shy of the cornice, we had about three minutes of clear weather, and then the clouds blew in and enveloped us.

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Me and Gnomy enjoying the view

I did my push-ups, and turned back, spending less than ten minutes on top of the world. It is worth mentioning that Mike slowed down and never summited. Instead, Kris and I had gone ahead without him. But now, in a whiteout that was getting progressively worse, Kris and I worried we wouldn’t be able to find him on our way down. Visibility got down to about 30ft and windchill was so harsh that ice started forming on my legs. (Yes, I wore shorts. I’m a Pacific Northwestern for goodness sake!)

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     Whiteout

My cousin and I combed the mountain searching for Michael and I now understand how climbers get lost or thrown off course in whiteout conditions. I thought I saw Michael at least five times. For sure it was him at least twice before we actually found him. Shapes materialize and your eyes play tricks on you. But we did find him and we all headed back down the mountain. Is there where I am supposed to say “I shouldn’t be alive?”

Stay safe out there, hikers!

Two Chief’s Trail (Table Mountain)

8 miles (out-and-back)

1,340ft elevation gain

Beginning this hike at the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort, we were immediately tempted not to do it. The cold, blustery weather of this December afternoon was already biting. But we turned away from comfort and relaxation to conquer Table Mountain–a snow-covered Table Mountain. It all started off fine, but after some confusion and snow blotting out trail heads, we eventually found our way to a trail leading us to Carpenters Lake (all but completely dried up). From here we have several choices and we followed the incorrect path.

Through snow-covered trees, we made our way up and down small hills, around bends and deeper into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Eventually, again, we were given the choice to continue following the path we were on, or to divert to the left or right and follow the Pacific Crest Trail. Unsure of where either path would lead us as our map was not very detailed, we decided to continue on our way.

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Kyle Swan Diving into Knee-High Snow

Slowly but surely, the snow began to deepen and we all assumed we were gaining elevation as the snow gained a layer of ice on top of the soft, powdery stuff beneath. We weren’t. Not like we thought we would. You see rather than taking that left onto the PCT, we actually stuck it out on Two Chief’s Trail, which would not take us to the top of Table Mountain. Rather, after more sneak-peak and tauntingly unrevealing viewpoints, we found ourselves at the base of Sacagawea and Papoose Rocks. This offered a great group photo opportunity and we realized that choosing the trail we did was a wise decision as wispy clouds blocked any chance of a view from atop Table and certainly no view of the mountain proper from down below.

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Standing Beneath Sacagawea and Papoose Rocks

 

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Looking South Across the Gorge

Hearing water not far from our position, we decided to push on through the snow and ice (now up to our knees) and finish off this trail. We found our way and took more photos at this beautiful and dramatic spot called Greenleaf Falls.

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Greenleaf Falls

Here we turned around, took one last look up at the majestic mountains and hit the trail fast attempting to make it home before dark. We vowed to come back in summer and tackle the true Table Mountain now that we know where to go and what to expect. We will be back and we will have photos!

Keep on hiking!

Eagle Creek Trail

On October the 26th, Sarah and I decided to go on a mid-morning hike to experience the Fall colors before they all faded away into the bleak of Winter. Despite some light showers that would come and go as we walked along the Eagle Creek Trail, the weather was perfect. Water trickled down the side of the hill was walked along, casting fog off of its slopes and throwing it into the valley below where it hung mid-air.

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Two miles down the gradually sloping trail is the much renowned and frequently photographed Punchbowl Falls. As is life, the moment we arrived at our destination, the rain became more severe, but it did not stop us from having a fun time.

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The creek had swelled in the months since I last hiked, and as a consequence, we were forced to walk out on rocks completely surrounded by the slow-moving waters. The view of Punchbowl still wasn’t the best, but it would do.

After several photos and a chat with some other hikers, we set to work stacking rocks, as is the tradition at Punchbowl. There were probably four or five other stacks around us, as others have the very same tradition. Pictured below is the best I have ever seen! Shout out to the person who made this one!

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We then ate lunch and talked to a few more hikers before making the walk back to our car.

In short, rainy Fall hikes are still worth the effort. Nature is absolutely beautiful in any season.

Have a great day and keep hiking!

Hamilton Mountain, Summit

Yes, That’s What We Climbed, Emily.

Some new faces on this hike!

Last December, Hannah, Kyle, Tysen and I attempted to hike Hamilton, but the main road was closed so we were forced to hike the equestrian trail in cold, wet weather. Again, this summer, Hannah and I were on the main trail with her brother Noah and his fourth grade class, but we did not summit. Now, sadly without Hannah, some friends and I finally made it to the top.

The day was hot–much hotter than last December. We hiked into Rodney Falls and the Pool of Winds like the fourth-graders did, but this time we ascended the switchbacks and quickly gained elevation. It’s a great hike; not too steep or strenuous.

There was a good view of Beacon Rock along the trail, but once you hit the cliffs of Hamilton, there’s no comparison on the Washington side of the gorge. Huge, 360 degree views, sheer drop offs, and a great lunch spot!

Beacon Rock in the Distance

Be care, though. Here the path was dusty and the grass was slippery. There really was no good way to descend. We had a few falls… nothing serious though, just a few laughs!

The way back was much cooler, being that the trail descends through the woods. We made it back to the car in great time, and I can’t think of a single complaint! Great hike, awesome views, amazing friends. It’s all good.

Until next time, keep on hiking!

Mount Defiance

One year ago, Chantalle and I came to the top of Larch Mountain in Oregon. At Sherrad Point, the view could not be beat. Soon after summiting, two Germans found their way to the top as well. We started to compare hikes and eventually we asked their favorite. Mount Defiance they said without hesitation. We had never heard of it, but Chantalle and I were determined to make it there one day. Finally, after an entire year, she and I arrived at the base of “the mother of all hikes in Oregon”, “the monster”, and the hike that is debatedly “more difficult than summiting Mount Hood”. Oddly enthusiastic and so incredibly unprepared for what was to come, we got out of the car and started towards the trailhead.

The first mile is relatively flat taking us past Cabin Falls, Hole-in-the-Wall Falls, and Lancaster Falls as we walk a portion of the old Scenic Highway. The walk in the park only lasts a short while, however. Don’t let this section fool you. Suddenly, the path rockets upward, switch-backing mercilessly up 1500 feet to a densely forested ridge line. As you climb, putting one foot in front of the other, the thought of blue sky and a viewpoint becomes your motivation. Eventually, your dreams are realized. An excellent panoramic of Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams soothes your forest-weary eyes. Take a moment here to realize how high you have climbed.

The Panoramic of St. Helens, Rainier and Adams

Continue onward and upward. Just because the switchbacks are over for now doesn’t mean the climb is done. You’re not even halfway there! To quote Chantalle during this trying section, “Ever ounce of sweat is worth it!” Bless her heart, she is such a motivational spirit. So I keep panting away, pain shooting through my back as I lean forward, almost parallel to the 40 degree trail. But you must power through. There is a flat portion coming up! I don’t know exactly how long it was, but the level ground was a God-send. Water, water and more water. Breathe in, breathe out. Stretch and keep going. The switchbacks return! Only this time, Chantalle calls them intense! If Chantalle calls something intense, you know that we mortal humans will be dying. And sure enough, she powered through these tight, rocky, incredibly steep switchbacks with little trouble. For me, they were yet another nail in my coffin. For already exhausted legs, this part was killer.

By the time your next viewpoint comes around, you will be at about 4000ft. Don’t be fooled by the look of the trail, you still have 900 feet of elevation left. Continue along the trail until you come to a fork in the road. If you go left, the trail will take you to Warren Lake, then eventually the parking lot. To the right is your goal; the summit of Mount Defiance.

Boulder Fields on the Scenic Route

0.2 miles after the fork, you will see an unmarked trail to the right, which will look questionable at first, but it is a very unique and scenic trail to the top. That’s the way we went. After crossing several boulder fields and catching glimpses of the elusive Mount Hood, one last corner stands between you and the top.

The Summit View

Finally, after more than six miles and nearly 5000 feet in elevation gain, you stand proudly on the summit of the most merciless hike in all of Oregon. Officially the high point in the gorge, Mount Defiance is yours. Sadly, the peak is also home to a noisy and unsightly radio tower. Try to ignore the ugly interruption and look south instead. The plains and rolling hills of Eastern Oregon open up and Mount Hood dominates the horizon. We chose one of the hottest days of the year and Chantalle and I could both feel the sun beating down on us. Nevertheless, we were so tired and sore that we sat on top for about an hour before beginning our long journey home.

Warren Lake

But that isn’t the end of the story. Climbing up 5000 feet is difficult, but going down is far more frustrating. The first part, climbing down to Warren Lake (the left you didn’t take earlier) is actually quite pleasant. In fact, it was very relaxing. We of course stopped by the pretty lake and stayed for a few moments enjoying the variety of scenery. Shortly after, however, begins the plunge. From here on out, the trail drops a thousand feet a mile. With 620 feet in the last 0.3 miles. The trail isn’t very relaxing anymore and each step must be carefully planned so as to avoid any accidental falls. The dust and dirt quickly gives way and if your shoes don’t have much traction, it’s more of a slide than a trail.

Chantalle and I had to keep pushing each other to make it off of the mountain. It wasn’t enough to torture us on the way up, but you must fight your way home too. With more than a mile left, we ran out of water. (I myself brought more than two liters and Chantalle had even more water and yet we still ran dry!)

The last viewpoint on the trail is a point that overlooks the parking lot and stares Dog mountain right in the face. (Did I tell you that we looked DOWN on Dog Mountain for most of this hike?) From this point to the old highway is by far the most mentally challenging part. I was so broken down and worn out all I wanted was to sit down. The downhill was relentless and without any water, we stomped on through dry grass, boiling heat and dusty trails.

Looking down from the trail, we finally saw the old highway and flat ground. After all we had been through we jogged down the last bit and cried out in exhaustion.

We walked slowly back to the car, still standing, still breathing, still living.

Mount Defiance truly is a monster.

Hunchback Mountain

On Thursday, July 12th, my cousin Kris and I set out to climb Hunchback Mountain–a ridge across the valley from West Zigzag. We decided, as we neared the top, that “Hunchback” was a very fitting name; we were leaning forward the entire way up! From a Ranger station to the Great Pyramid, this hike takes you from noisy Highway 26 to the silence of the Mount Hood Wilderness.

Hunchback Mountain from West Zigzag

We started later in the day so it was already pretty warm as we pulled up at the station around 8:30am. Once in the parking lot, (no fee required!) we searched for the trailhead for about five minutes before asking a ranger who said to “look around”. Very reassured, we eventually found the trailhead and started our watches.

About a quater of a mile in, a giant rootball soars into the sky–the tree ripped all the dirt and roots off of the ground exposing a layer of rock one must navigate over. Obstacle number one.

The path is a steady climb upward, switchbacking as usual. By the end of the first mile and a half you have already climbed to 2700 feet. But it doesn’t stop there! The path now straightens but by no means does it level out. We continued climbing to 3150 feet at about 2.1 miles and the forest finally clears to an excellent viewpoint of the Salmon River Valley. Keeping with the newly founded tradition, we did push-ups on the rocks there and continued along the path as it reentered the forest.

After a third of a mile, we saw a sign for the “Rockpile”. A short detour takes you to a large boulder field with views of Mount Hood from the top. Watch your step though! The boulders have large drop-offs between them and there is no trail. I highly recommend the extra up hill.

After this detour, the trail resembles the high forests of the Benson Plateau. Less foliage and taller trees create an eery mood broken only by the occasional bird call. Here, Kris and I noticed the sourgrass and stopped for a taste. Sourgrass is a plant that looks like a big three-leafed clover and characterized by it’s sour aftertaste. (It tasted better than some sour candies I’ve had! I couldn’t get enough of it!) After grabbing a few handfuls for the road, we continued hiking through the forest.

Eventually, after fighting our way through the underbrush with little trail designation (we actually thought we had lost it a few times) we came across a fork in the road. To double the distance, one could go left and work your way to the old fire lookout at Devils Peak, or to end the journey and eat a nice, relaxing lunch, go right to the Great Pyramid. Now at first, we didn’t see what was so special about the Pyramid viewpoint. But then we began to duck under branches and climb downward, through red ants. The extra effort brought us to the actual Pyramid rock and an expansive view of the valley. Here we ate lunch and enjoyed the sound of the Salmon River below. A very beautiful spot with blooming columbine, bear grass, phantom orchid, and many more.

Unfortunately, because the trail oscillated between elevation gain and loss the whole way out, the way home was also uphill and several spots. By the end we were sweating bullets! It was a cool 85 degrees that day and we were hiking in the thick of it! After 5 hours of hiking, eating and talking, we made it back to the car and back to AC.

 

West Zigzag Mountain

3:45am. That’s how early my alarm went off this morning to go hike 11 miles in Zigzag, Oregon. Chantalle and Kyle showed up at my doorstep right at 4:30 and we were off! Getting to Zigzag is easy enough, but road along E. Mountain Drive is like no other trailhead I’ve ever been to. It’s a very rough road to say the least. Big pot holes, overgrown trees and massive rocks made us question the directions, but sure enough, after about a half mile, we found the trailhead. Guess what? Switch backs! Right off the bat. This trail doesn’t waste anytime-just over a thousand foot climb in the first mile. But it doesn’t get any easier after that! The sloping trail carries you further up the mountain and over ridges with very minimal viewpoints. Alone the route you might be lucky enough to see Adams and Saint Helens if the day is clear.

Then, in the last two miles, the trees begin to open up and eventually the entire Zigzag River Valley comes into view. Stop at a rock outcropping for photos, but know that they’re more to come!

Chantalle and the Zigzag Valley

Up next is a breathtaking view of Mount Hood. With the naked eye, one can see the ski lifts that go up from Timberline and the craggy top of the majestic mountain. More photos needed.

The Majestic Mount Hood

Lastly, as you come around one more corner to a fantastic display of nature in the form of a cliff face with a phenomenal 200 degree view. The Zigzag River far below–you’re initial starting point–the rocks you climbed over to see the view for the fist time, the rounded summit of West Zigzag to your right, and even a glimpse of Jefferson and the Three Sisters. We sat stayed up there for over an hour taking photos, exploring, joking around and eating lunch–even though it was only nine in the morning! While there, we saw our first hiker of the day–but he was no hiker at all! He was a runner who had just done everything we did in half the time! Chantalle deemed him “hero for the day”.

At the Summit

We regretfully left that beautiful viewpoint to hit the trail and begin the long journey home. After running down the mountain, Kyle and I stopped our watches at exactly 6:24:40. Six hours for 11 miles, 3100 feet, 39 switchbacks, a very lengthy lunch and a gorgeous view. We were back at the car before noon! What a whirlwind of a morning! Absolutely fantastic. Then Shari’s on the way back. Of course!

The Group