The GoalThis is a very belated trip report that I did during the summer of 2010. Having recently finished a trip to California and a trip report for it, I felt inspired to go back and write up something for this equally challenging trip. There were dozens of stops along the way, so I’ll do the best that I can to tie the pieces together.
The year or two prior to this trip I’d started to compile a list of some of the best hikes, climbs, and most beautiful spots in America. An area that continually came to the top of the list was the Pacific Northwest. Names that everyone has heard of spiked my curiosity: the Olympic Coast, Mt. Rainier, the Columbia River Gorge, Crater Lake, and many more. I thought it would be the perfect trip, bringing together a combination of mountains with huge vertical gain, beautiful waterfalls, and hiking the unique Olympic Coast.
This trip would, by far, be the most ambitious adventure undertaking I’d ever attempted at the time. Hundreds of miles of hiking, thousands of vertical feet, and thousands of miles driving – almost completely solo. Most people would be content with one, maybe two, major stops. But not me, if I was going to drive 1000 miles just to get there, I was going to make the most of my time.
Miles hiked = 216.1 (Avg 10.8 miles/day, removing Day 1 and the rafting day)
Elevation gain (ft) = 41,440 on mountains alone (4.5 major, 3 minor)
Miles driven = 3767
Note that elevation is ONLY figured for mountains and thus total elevation gain is a major underestimate. Consider that the hiking in the Columbia River Gorge alone would add over 3000 additional feet of elevation gain. Van Trump Park at Rainier is another 2000+ feet.
Please also note that although I often don’t mention it there is a fairly significant amount of distance between each of these features that required anywhere from 1 to 6+ hours of driving time.
The Big Day Postponed
The winter in the northwest had been rather severe that year and during the spring it would continue to make its presence felt. Late snows prevented access to many areas until well into the normal climbing season. I’d intended to start my trip in mid-June but ended up postponing for nearly a month. As it turns out, things worked out almost perfectly this way. The weather couldn’t have been better for anything, except for the near perpetual overcast skies over the Olympic Coast.
Day 1 Sun, July 11 – Drive to Mt. Adams TH, White River Falls - .2miAfter working until about midnight the night before my intended day of departure, I wasn’t a happy camper. I had over 1000 miles (18hrs) of driving to get to the Mt. Adams trailhead in Washington. So with zero sleep I hurriedly packed my things and left Grand Junction shortly after getting back home. I only made it a couple of hours before being forced to pull over for a very short nap in central Utah.
Before taking the turn to Trout Lake into Washington I somehow figured I had the time and energy to swing by White River Falls in northern Oregon. After that it was a sprint to Trout Lake where I paid for my permit and then drove to the trailhead for some much needed sleep before my first climb early in the morning.
Day 2 Mon, July 12 – Mt. Adams (South Spur) – 10mi, 6000’ gain (appx)The night was less than restful, but I woke up at about 5AM and was soon on the trail. It started off pretty easy going until large snow drifts started to cross the trail, evidence of the large amounts of snow remaining at higher elevations. The road had just opened weeks before. From then on out it was largely a gradual snow climb, giving me an opportunity to try out my crampons for the first time. Luckily there were plenty of tracks to follow and before I knew it I was at the Lunch Counter.
Up until that point everything was going smoothly. I’d met a few people on the trail that had been up the day before and they didn’t report any problems. As I made my way across the Lunch Counter the wind noticeably started to pick up, but it wasn’t anything that would impede progress. On the other hand, only two other guys were on Suksdorf Ridge and they weren’t making good headway.
It wasn’t long before I passed them on my way up and reached the top of the ridge. However, just as I was cresting the top a wall of wind literally kept me from going any farther. I could barely open my eyes and, as much as I tried, I couldn’t even begin to stand up. Although I don’t have any idea of the actual wind speed, I’d estimate it at 50-60+mph. I wondered if the wind would abate if I just made it past this problem spot, but after repeated attempts to move at all I was forced to turn back. I’m not sure how they get around this kind of thing on Everest or other peaks, but I knew I didn’t have the experience for it.
Starting the descent was a little slow going, the angle was pretty steep to simply walk down and the snow hadn’t entirely softened up to make glissading easy. Muttering to myself I decided to endure the injustice the ice would serve upon my rear end and plopped down for a little slip and slide. Glad to have my ice axe as a brake it didn’t take long to pass the other two guys again on the way down. After a brief chat of what lay in store above, they began to follow me down. Leaving them in a spray of slushy ice, I was whooping and hollering all the way back to the Lunch Counter.
At this elevation the snow was a lot softer and it was easy to run and slide down terrain that had taken considerably longer to hike up. Perhaps going a little too fast, I missed a turn and started following some tracks farther down the mountain. Not concerned yet I started angling in a direction that I thought would bring me closer to the correct route. However, after still not coming across the trail sometime later, I started to get a little worried. I knew that I could follow my route back up (and did so for a ways), but I also didn’t want to waste energy or time doing so.
I was indecisive for a while because and started thinking about the huge wilderness area around me, nearly devoid of people. Not a place I wanted to get lost in. Continuing back along my route I finally came across someone that was able to show me to the trail, just a short distance away. Although not “lost,” it wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat. Ready to be done, we made quick work of the last of the trail back to the trailhead.
Still with a little daylight left, I made a brief stop at Guler Ice Cave outside of Trout Lake. With a tripod and perhaps some backlighting (colored?) you could get some sweet pics here.
Day 3 Tues, July 13 – Central Washington Waterfalls, 8+miWaterfalls, waterfalls… and more waterfalls. Between the snowmelt and the abundant rainfall that the Northwest receives, there are hundreds of waterfalls to be found- each prettier than the next. Tall ones, small ones, wide ones, wispy ones. Might as well incorporate it into a Dr. Seuss book. This day would be all about seeing as many as I could fit into one day while also getting a “rest” day between Adams and Rainier.
At the time, and still to this day, I wasn’t and am not an expert photographer. I don’t know diddly squat when it comes to camera settings- but I like to think that I know how to compose a shot. Also, my ultimate goal was and is to see and do as much as possible. If I can get some good shots in the process, that’s great. But I’m rarely going to take a lot of extra time waiting for the perfect conditions to appear. It’s a trade off between seeing more and getting quality shots. Just have to hope that you’re in the right place at the right time.
The saving grace with waterfalls is that as long as there aren’t major light contrasts you can get a nice pick one way or another (full sun or full shade for flowing water). On this trip however, I hadn’t gotten around to purchasing a tripod, so I had to do the best that I could to hold the camera still while trying to get the flowing water images that many photographers prefer these days.
Ruining the expression “saving the best for last” would be the very first waterfall that day. Falls Creek Falls is one of the nicest waterfalls I’ve ever seen, squeezed into an idyllic, mossy covered corner. It’s a little difficult to photograph unless you have a wide lens but nice nonetheless. You could also get some interesting shots with a fisheye lens that would capture the whole area.
After that it was on to Big Creek Falls. It’s a very nice waterfall, but with a tree or two interfering with getting a really nice pic.
Hemlock Creek Falls is only seen from a distance and not an impressive falls at any rate.
Then Lower Lewis Falls. A little difficult to photograph, especially if you’re not willing to scramble or search for a better perspective. An easy, quick stop.
Curly Creek Falls is another small, unique waterfall with a natural bridge. It’s also difficult to get a good perspective without vegetation in the way anywhere but at creek level, which is a bit of a scramble largely without a trail.
Iron Creek Falls is a short, but interesting fall that shoots out into the creek below. I happened to hit it while it was in full sunlight, though I think it would make for unique flowing water shots earlier or later in the day.
Clear Creek Falls is a large waterfall just off of Hwy 12. Personally, I hardly think it’s worth the stop because I didn’t like the viewing angle and it is also difficult to find a clear shot.
One more stop before reaching Mt. Rainier National Park, Thunder Falls is a moderate sized waterfall that spreads out like a dress.
There are many other waterfalls in the Randle area, though either not as nice or requiring more of a drive or hike. There’s also the rather famous Ape Cave south of Mt. St. Helens, but I’d previously experienced lava tubes in northern California at Lava Tubes National Monument and chose not to take the time.
With time to spare after entering the park, I tagged Silver Falls which is really more of a constricted cascade.
Then at Box Canyon, having done a fair amount of canyoneering in Utah over the previous year, I wondered if the water ever gets low enough to walk through the short, narrow canyon. It was interesting to see something that doesn’t occur often in the mountains, but difficult to get good views much less good pics.
Driving further into the park views of Mt. Rainier were largely obscured by building clouds, unfortunate for my first time in the park. Though since the weather was perfect over the next two days, I couldn’t complain.
Shortly before reaching Paradise I saw a fox in the road. It seemed to be very habituated to people, who are probably feeding it because it nearly walked all the way up to my car. It looked rather sad, almost like a beggar on a street corner.
Day 4-5 Wed-Th, July 14-15 – Mt. Rainier – 14mi, 9011’ gainMt. Rainier (14,411’, the lower 48’s 5th highest peak) is, quite possibly, physically the hardest mountain that I’ve ever done. Definitely in my top three hardest to the present date. (Banner/Ritter, in California, and Challenger Point/Kit Carson, in Colorado (I wasn’t feeling 100% for the latter) – both as dayhikes, round out the list.) Although this is very subjective as to your acclimatization, fitness level, rest, energy reserves, weight carried, weather, and just how you’re feeling that particular day.
Unless you have a lot of experience, the park requires you to have at least one partner due to the seriousness of the climb and the risks involved (primarily slips and crevasse falls). I’d had a partner set up when I’d planned to be here in June but I was scrambling to find another now in July. Shortly before I’d left Colorado I’d finally gotten in contact with a young but fairly experienced local climber, Josh. I was a little hesitant to try something as serious as Mt. Rainier with someone young that may not have the experience to make good judgment calls. However, he turned out to be not only knowledgeable but also a strong hiker. Regardless, I wasn’t in a position to be picky, especially considering my experience level with snow climbing, and quickly agreed to meet up. Definitely far preferable to the $1000 that RMI charges to take clients up the mountain.
The morning dawned clear and bright as I met Josh, his brother Michael, and an older gentleman named Bill. I wasn’t overly happy having an older guy on the team who also turned out to have a slight hearing problem. But since we were just hiking halfway up the first day I thought I’d let it be until I saw how he’d fair on the mountain.
In the permit office we looked at the weather and noticed that the third day was starting to look questionable. The others had originally planned on a three day summit bid to help acclimatize to the conditions (they live near sea level). However, I thought it was more than possible to make the trip in two days and the weather forecast would end up forcing our hand. After taking care of the permits we got a somewhat late start from Paradise (5400’) after 10AM.
I almost couldn’t believe that I was at the base of one of the most famous climbs in America. Looking up at the mountain from below it’s difficult to get perspective of what you’re about to tackle. 9000 feet is a LONG ways up. It is to this day the most vertical gain I’ve done on a single mountain, although it was broken up into two days.
The hike to Camp Muir was mostly uneventful. While not too steep, it still takes its toll while carrying a pack with overnight and climbing gear. Josh and I took a break outside of the RMI shack while waiting for the others. It was at that time that one of their groups came rolling in. I was a little jealous of the “luxurious” accommodations they had at Camp Muir, but I’ve never been one for guided trips unless absolutely required.
When the others arrived we eventually decided to continue to Ingraham Flats, which would give us a good head start the next morning. Josh and I again soon lead the group and quickly crossed the top of the Cowlitz Glacier, a good thing as there was a small rock fall shortly after we’d passed below the cliffs. A short scree climb at Cathedral Gap led to the ridge above and then views opened up of Ingraham Flats ahead and the summit above. Finally arriving after a little over nine hours of hiking, we hurriedly set up camp. Ramen noodles never tasted so good in my life! Thanks for sharing guys.
As usual I didn’t sleep much or well before the climb. I was constantly looking at my watch waiting for the time to come. Finally, at about 2AM we got up and soon hit the trail. I’d talked to Josh about whether Bill could handle the rest of the climb. I was extremely doubtful, but I didn’t want to tell him no either.
We set off as a group and soon came to a slightly sketchy traverse just below Disappointment Cleaver. We took our time across this slightly loose ledge and then started heading up the Cleaver. No one even mentioned roping up at this point, which was fine by me because I’m very hesitant to attach myself to other people when I’m uncertain of their abilities or cautiousness. I’ve read stories about roped teams being taken out together, not to mention others below them. At any rate, the steepness didn’t seem extreme and there was no crevasse risk on this part of the mountain.
In no time Josh and I were again way ahead of the others, though I think Michael was staying back to make sure Bill was making it ok. To make matters worse for him, his light wasn’t working well. At the top of the Cleaver Josh and I waited for what seemed like forever for the other two to arrive. All we could think about was the cold seeping in through our pants as we sat on the freezing snow. Eventually the other two reached our position and Bill made the smart decision to turn back here. I felt sorry for him, but there was no way he could maintain our pace and I wondered if he could make it at all.
At this point we roped up because you could see the crevasses splitting the mountain everywhere you looked. However, being the main guide route the trail was well packed and wanded, so unless something opened beneath our feet it felt pretty safe. It wasn’t long after we left that midpoint that we started to feel a little winded. We were making decent progress, but I was definitely not feeling strong.
After what again seemed like forever we crested the lip of the volcano only to see that the true summit lay across the crater a short distance away. I’d forgotten about this little detail and was a little dismayed. Some other people nearby weren’t bothering with the true summit but there was no way I was skipping topping out. Even without a pack this part hurt more than I care to admit.
After enjoying the summit for a while it was soon time to head down. While a lot easier going it was still time consuming because you had to be careful to pick up your feet while also not stepping on the rope.
Back at Disappointment Cleaver the snow was really starting to soften up and we saw at least one person slip and slide a short distance. We had a little group reunion at Ingraham Flats and talked to Bill about being on the summit. After that I packed my gear, thanked them for hauling the tent and stove, and raced down ahead (enjoying some sliding and glissading on the way), getting back to Paradise at about 2PM.
As Josh says in his trip report, I’d thought about whether Rainier could be done in a day. After that exhausting climb I was a little doubtful. However, most of my hikes/climbs are done as dayhikes and I personally think saving your energy by not carrying a heavy pack goes a long ways. It would definitely be a long, hard day- but I think doable. It took me about twelve hours to go up and down on summit day and the nine hours from the day before would be cut in half without a heavy pack. Something I’d consider trying if I could find someone to go along.
I’m not really sure what I did the rest of the day, but from the lack of any pictures the rest of July 15th I apparently either wandered around Paradise, repacked gear, or slept the remainder of the day away.
Thanks again guys for going along, otherwise that day wouldn’t have been possible.
Day 6 Fri, July 16 – Comet Falls and Other Waterfalls – 11miThe next day I was surprisingly feeling pretty good. I slept in a little and then doubled back to Reflection Lake to get some cool pics of the mountain that weren’t possible earlier.
Then it was time for more of the famous Pacific Northwest waterfalls.
Narada Falls is another nice waterfall that fans out nicely. Too bad I hit it after the sun had already started to touch the falls. I wasn’t sure about continuing on to Carter Falls, but the distance wasn’t too bad so I jogged the trail off and on until getting to what I thought was the falls. Luckily I talked to some people that had come from the opposite direction and they said the actual falls were just up ahead. I’m glad I asked because I ended up with some really nice pics, although it was necessary to scramble around on the small hill/cliff nearby to get them.
Christine Falls was notable only because it is right next to a bridge.
Comet Falls, on the other hand, was really nice. Definitely a worthy side trip. (Note that the parking fills up fast.) It’s hard to find a good shooting angle, but it’s a magical spot nonetheless. After a quick trot up to Van Trump above the falls I was soon saying goodbye to Mt. Rainier.
On my way to Tacoma I visited a lesser known waterfall called Little Mashel Falls. I had to be really quick about it though because I’d read about vehicles getting towed as there isn’t any official parking. It would be a nice stop if not for the fear of not having a car when you get back to the road.
In Tacoma I met MrZ, from summitpost, with whom I’d be climbing Mt. Baker. He was kind enough to let me crash at his awesome converted pad and give me a break by driving to Mt. Baker.
Day 7-8 Sat-Sun, July 17-18 – Mt. Baker (Easton Glacier), Baker Hot Springs – 14mi (appx), 7411’ gainThis was one of the few hikes where I wasn’t in a rush to do it all in one day. Mainly because I wanted to see Snoqualmie Falls and Baker Hot Springs on the way. Snoqualmie was awesome, although ruined a little by the construction going on in the background. The hot springs, on the other hand, were ok but definitely not one of the better ones I’ve been to.
By the time we started the hike from Schreibers Meadow for the Easton Glacier route it was already nearly mid-afternoon. Still plenty of time as we crossed the wildflower laden meadow and then came to the swollen creek, just high enough to be tricky but not a problem. Continuing up the wet trail it wasn’t long before we reached the snow line and then the Railroad Grade, pointing the way, stretched out before us.
The trail along the ridge provided a convenient and dry path up the mountain, splitting the glaciers on either side. It’s a very pretty hike and worthy of doing by itself, but an even better precursor to what was to come the next day. Towards the upper end of the Railroad Grade we found a camp spot beside some trees. As darkness descended shortly after we made camp, the stars came out to greet us with an intensity that you only see far from any inhabited area. I only wish I had the energy on occasion to try a little night photography- difficult when you’re waking up early for climbs or wanting to turn in early to catch up on sleep.
It was another early start the next morning and we were underway well before first light. The view was amazing as the sky started to glow in the east and the mist continued to carpet the valleys below. I’m not normally a fan of backpacking distances under 20+ miles unless circumstances require it, the photography is better, or someone really wants to. However, this time around it was nice to get a head start on the mountain and even better to be able to see the early morning light.
Although the grade was very moderate the whole way up, the climb still seemed much slower than it should have been. Just before the last climb to the summit ridge several small fumaroles were spewing gas that made us nauseous. Soon enough the summit appeared over the crest and it was an easy walk the rest of the way where people that had climbed the Coleman-Deming route where already on top. For a relatively easy hike the summit views are well worth the effort.
Baker would provide some awesome skiing on the way down (carefully avoiding crevasses), but for us it was a little glissading mixed with running and sliding. Overall a lot of fun and pretty. Definitely something I’d do again, perhaps from the Coleman-Deming side next time.
Day 9 Mon, July 19 – Olympic Hot Springs, Sol Duc Falls, Beaches – 12.4miAfter finishing Mt. Baker the day before I’d left Tacoma that night and driven to the ranger station in Port Angeles. I picked up my permits for the Olympic Coast first thing in the morning and was on my way to Olympic Hot Springs.
Olympic Hot Springs is one of the best hot springs that I’ve been to. It’s more secluded due to a 5mi RT hike that prevents casual soakers from flooding the area. There are a number of pools scattered across a beautiful hillside so there is a little more privacy. I had a pleasant soak and then was on my way to see more of what the area had to offer.
Although Marymere Falls is not an impressive waterfall, it’s an easy hike off the highway. If time is pressing I don’t think it’s worth a stop, especially at a bad (light) time of day.
Sol Duc Falls, while not big, is one of the most unique waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Its three plumes of water… literally leave me at a loss for words. It may not have the awe inspiring power or breathtaking height of other more well known falls, but it will leave you changed nonetheless. If I’m ever in the area in the future I would definitely swing by again, preferably at a better time of day.
Then it was on to the famous Olympic Coast. Besides the big mountains and waterfalls the Olympic Coast was the main reason for this trip. Like most people I’d done my share of beach walking, but never anything that had the coastline of Oregon or Washington with the added bonus of a little scrambling thrown in.
I had a little extra time still that first night and made the short hikes to Second Beach and Third Beach. As it would be during most of my stay along the coast, it was overcast and difficult to fully appreciate what the area would look like under better conditions. I had especially wanted to see a nice sunset with the offshore towers in the foreground but that just wasn’t meant to be. Either of these two beaches, while requiring a little more effort to get to than some farther south (and thus more secluded), are good introductions to what the area is like.
Day 10-12 Tues-Wed, July 20-22 – Olympic Coast (Rialto to Shi Shi) – 33miEarly the next morning I was the sole person at Rialto Beach, eerily quiet except for the gently crashing waves at the base of the beach. The fog was still enshrouding the sea stacks offshore and the trees onshore. If you toned out the crunching of the rocks beneath your feet it was almost as if you were floating through a dream. Makes you wonder what monsters early explorers would have imagined lay waiting for them around the next corner.
I started early so that I hit Hole in the Wall, one of many natural arches, at low tide. Sitting near the end of a small rock peninsula it waits surrounded by small tide pools teaming with life. Neon green sea anemones, bright orange star fish, crabs, and shy little fish. I can think of little else that brings out the child in you as a tide pool can. The innocent curiosity as you cautiously poke a sea anemone, never 100% sure if you’ll get stung or not.
Certain beaches accumulate lots of debris. Fishing rope and buoys of every size and shape, which some people drape over bare branches, almost like a mockery of a Christmas Tree. Literally from a world away, bottles with Chinese or Japanese characters dot the beaches. Huge logs stripped of their branches and bark lay in neat lines.
I saved a small piece of driftwood to take home. Completely smooth, it made me wonder where it came from (Washington or China?) and how long had it been floating in the waves (months, years, longer?). There’s a study of a container ship that lost bath toys and then tracked where they ended up. It’s an interesting thought, wondering what a little rubber ducky sees as it crosses the huge ocean.
Just south of Cape Alava, where I camped the second night, is Wedding Rocks. If you take the time to find them, there are a number of petroglyphs carved deeply into the rocks. A dog, a whale, and a couple that appear almost alien.
North of Cape Alava there are a couple areas of coastline that get a little rougher, necessitating the use of the overland trails which are marked with large red and black “targets.” Other places, if carefully done at low tide, are fun scrambles, although not always easy with a heavy overnight pack.
At Point of the Arches the sun finally decided to make a short appearance. If there was a time and place for it, this was definitely it. With the sun fighting to break through the clouds the water below glowed blue-green and the green of the trees seemed to be more alive. With the near constant overcast skies along the coast it was almost as if the land was soaking up every second of sunlight as quickly as it could. It was almost a religious experience standing on top of the peninsula looking out at the ocean, waves crashing below, the clouds dissipating to show the bright blue sky, and everywhere life thriving as wild as when the first explorers came. However you want to describe it, it’s another place well worth its reputation.
Day 13 Th, July 23 – Hoh Rainforest, Ruby Beach, and Beach 4 – 10.7miNow one day ahead of schedule, I hiked up the Hoh River Trail (Hoh Rainforest). Supposed to be the quietest place on earth, it was feeling a little under the weather while I was there. The summer had been relatively dry and, while great for hiking, left the moss and plants shriveled and dull. There were a few big trees and the river was a pretty blue in places, but overall not particularly special in my opinion.
Further to the south lay Ruby Beach and Beach 4. While both nice (especially Ruby Beach) and easily accessible, they were crowded and no better than the beaches to the north.
From there it was a rather long and featureless drive to I-5, past Portland to Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood.
Day 14 Fri, July 24 – Mt. Hood, Tamanawas Falls – 11.5mi (appx), 5435’ gainIt was another early start (2 or 3AM) from the parking lot of Timberline Lodge, really too early as the South Ridge/Hogsback is a short round trip hike with few dangers as long as the weather holds.
A climbers trail starts up from the parking lot, but it was soon lost and I was then cramponing up the groomed slopes. My feet were killing me as a direct result of terrible boots (Asolo – poor customer service, too. I’ll never buy anything from them again.) Somehow it was more comfortable to hike up backwards than forwards.
Gritting through the discomfort the terrain leveled out a little at Devils Kitchen and Crater Rock. The fumaroles on the other side of the small ridge were again emitting some noxious gases that were a little upsetting. Then stretching up in front of me was the final obstacle to the summit ridge, the Pearly Gates (great name). This last steep climb is very intimidating at first glance.
It is probably one of the steeper snow climbs that I’ve done, but with the deep foot steps already dug into the snow it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Unfortunately it was too much for several people who decided to turn around at the base of the climb.
The summit ridge wasn’t as exposed as I thought it could be after reading several route descriptions and it was a pretty easy walk over to the summit. Despite the sore feet, it was a pretty easy climb compared to the massive elevation gain of the other volcanoes. Then it was a careful downclimb of the Pearly Gates and a slog back down to the parking lot. During the descent it was pretty cool to watch all of the skiers, some of which are Olympic hopefuls, enjoying the slopes at the peak of summer.
There was plenty of time for Tamanawas Falls that afternoon. It’s a nice waterfall at the end of a fairly easy hike. It would have been much better earlier in the day, but still a nice stop.
With still more time I made a brief stop at Starvation Falls (named for a train that got stuck there in the past). This is one of the more difficult falls to photograph since there are few good viewing angles and those that exist are very close to the falls. I made an attempt to find Hole in the Wall Falls as well but gave up after hikers coming down reported not having seen anything on the trail.
Day 15 Sat, July 25 – Columbia River Gorge 1 – 20.3miThe Columbia River Gorge supposedly has the highest concentration of waterfalls in the world. While I think it’s hard to substantiate claims such as this, there definitely are many large waterfalls in the gorge.
One of the two hikes I was most looking forward to is along the Eagle River. This is another fairly gradual hike, although one of the longer ones in the gorge for waterfall viewing. While all of the major waterfalls were really nice, not one of them was either easy to photograph or provided good angles.
Punchbowl Falls, befitting its name, is in a nice bowl. However, the angle looking down was a little extreme, especially given the small size of the falls compared to the bowl.
Tunnel Falls would provide nice pics if you have a very wide lens, but otherwise the waterfall is difficult to fit into the frame due to the close proximity of the shooting area. The tunnel behind the falls is nice, especially continuing on the trail across the face of the cliff.
Twister Falls has several interesting shooting angles, although it does require some minor scrambling that some would consider hazardous. Definitely one of the more unique falls that I saw and not far from Tunnel Falls despite the supposed “Vertical Mile” required to get there.
Nearby Wahclella seems to be a popular destination. A nice fall tucked into a corner. To avoid the head on view I found some nice shooting spots about 150’ back to the right (which required either scrambling or getting your feet wet).
Yet another nearby fall is Elowah. It is far too wispy for my liking, but with a long exposure it might be possible to get some neat effects. On the other hand Upper McCord Falls, despite a more strenuous hike, creates a nice cascading effect. It would be even better with a tripod and in the early morning.
One last stop was Moffet Falls, probably most easily accessed directly from the interstate. It is accessed only by bushwhacking along the creek or, often more easily, in the creek itself. Though not a powerful waterfall, it would probably be nice with a tripod.
Day 16 Sun, July 26 – Columbia River Gorge 2 – 13.6miThe next morning it was an early start for the Oneonta Creek loop. This was the other hike in the gorge that I was most looking forward to. Horsetail Falls, at the start of the trail, is not overly photogenic. Soon after, however, is Ponytail Falls. Shooting out in a tight stream, there are interesting perspectives to the sides and even directly behind the falls.
The famous Multnomah Falls was a short distance down the road. Normally I don’t like man-made features in a natural setting, but I think the bridge actually helps to add depth and scale. Without it it’s a rather featureless, tall waterfall.
Starting up the trail my feet were soon killing me, an effect of the long previous day and the crappy boots while climbing Mt. Hood. Normally cruising on easy terrain like the paved trail to the top of the falls, I was reduced to little better than a crawl. However, the loop is well worth the effort (again, with a tripod).
Dutchman Falls, although small, would be a perfect picture from all of the small rocks creating texture in the water as it falls. Soon after Weisdanger is another narrow fall. Then Ecola Falls provides interesting contrast as fingers of water fall straight down only to scatter partway down on the slopes below.
I’d intended to hike to Angel’s Rest or Devil’s rest, there was even a cute girl hiking up solo right in front of me (something I rarely see), but my feet were having none of it. “They” were telling me, quite clearly, that girl or no girl they were going down and they were taking me with them.
On the other side of the loop is Fairy Falls, sadly partially exposed to the sun when I arrived, it’s another series of small falls that provide nice detail. On the way down the trail you’re occasionally walking next to a stream with mossy, vegetated banks- very nice pics in their own right. Finally, near the end, is Wahkeena Falls, a smaller version of Thunder Falls near Mt. Rainier.
Doubling back, I hiked the short Oneonta Gorge. Far from equal to the many slot canyons in Utah, it was still an interesting diversion from several days of nothing but waterfalls.
Passing through the gorge, I noticed the many kite surfers on the water. I’d considered taking some lessons, which I’m sure would have been awesome, but the time requirement and somewhat steep cost precluded stopping.
Apparently I’d buried the discomfort of my feet because my day was still far from over. The Bridalveil Falls of Oregon has few redeeming qualities compared to that of Yosemite, but it was still a must see stop.
Latourell Falls, another tall and thin waterfall, was better, though the wrong time of day. The Upper Falls are also nice, with an upper section (overexposed when I arrived) that then channels into a shooting fan below.
Day 17 Mon, July 27 – Silver Falls State Park, Sahalie Falls, Proxy – 14.2mi
Silver Falls State Park is well known for its waterfalls and the Trail of Ten Falls makes them easily accessible. There isn’t a lot to say about the park besides that it has several nice, large waterfalls, particularly the first and last. I even caught a snake and salamander while hiking along the trail.
Not too far away is Shalie Falls, one of the more powerful waterfalls in the area. Although not big you can almost feel the force of the water coming over the edge from the viewing area. The bright green most in the foreground provides an interesting contrast to the white water and the dark rock behind.
Just a short hike downriver is Koosah Falls, an even more scenic waterfall. There are several different spots to shoot from, so find whatever works best for you.
I then continued down the trail to see Tamolitch Pool, but I never was able to find it. Though after a little searching I was able to find Bigelow (Deer Creek) Hot Springs a little ways down the road. Hardly worth the effort, it is a very small, rather murky hot spring on the side of the river.
With the daylight quickly disappearing I had just enough time to run to Proxy Falls. This is another unique waterfall in that in fans out from the top, scattering across a mossy surface. A nice finish to a long day.
Day 18 Tues, July 28 – Umpqua Gorge, Crater Lake and Mt. Scott – 14.4mi, 1243’ gainYet another morning of waterfalls, now in Umpqua Gorge, started with Watson Falls. Set in a nice grotto with a grey rock backdrop and blanketed with moss below, it’s a very tranquil scene.
Nearby Toketee Falls is one of the more famous falls in the area. The columns of volcanic rock, similar to Devil’s Postpile in California, are an interesting background. While I was there, however, I had trouble finding an angle that I liked.
A little ways down the road is Umpqua Hot Springs, its manmade pools are set on the edge of a cliff. The normally short and easy hike was made significantly longer due to work being done on the access trail and bridge.
Back up the road I wasn’t able to find Warm Springs Falls, but Lemolo Falls was very scenic. More of the characteristic bright green moss, set in a half bowl.
Then it was on the Crater Lake National Park. It was an easy hike up The Watchman, but I ended up having to wait for several large clouds to pass. The views were spectacular when the sun finally came out, with various shades of blue and even some glowing green around Wizard Island. (Make sure to go on a very clear day or the water won’t come alive.) Well worth the effort for the views of Wizard Island surrounded by translucent water that is more befitting of a tropical island.
Following another viewpoint or two it was on to Mt. Scott. After a couple days of easy hiking I was eager for a little more of a challenge. While not steep or difficult, it is a gradual climb to the top. Without running, I managed to make it up the 2.5 miles in about 38 minutes. While I think the views are much better from The Watchman, it was still a fun, must-do hike.
After leaving the park I had one more stop to see Mill Creek and Barr Creek Falls. These two falls don’t seem to be very popular, but they are worth the short hike. (Although Mill Creek Falls is partially obscured by trees.)
Day 19 Wed, July 29 – Rafting the Upper KlamathInstead of using my extra day from the Olympic Coast to go back to Mt. Adams I decided to try something a little different. I made some calls and booked one of the best rafting trips in the area- the Upper Klamath on the border of Oregon and California. It’s a run completely dependent on a scheduled dam release.
The verdict? A lot of fun. I’ve run a section of the Colorado River called Westwater on the Colorado/Utah border a couple of times that is pretty cool. But the two rivers aren’t even comparable. The Colorado is much more powerful and bigger, but tends to be smoother. On the other hand, the Klamath is a smaller mountain river. The many rocks create bumps, holes, and small drops that cause it to be much rougher and more unpredictable. Two completely different and equally enjoyable rivers.
Day 20 Th, July 30 – Castle Crags State Park, waterfalls – 8.2mi, 2200’ gain
Crags Trail has awesome views of Castle Dome and Mt. Shasta in the background. The Dome itself is a fun, fairly easy scramble (unless you get off route). A little more than half ways up the trail and also beside the Dome there are many nice scrambling opportunities. You really can’t go wrong.
The first time I was here I had the bright idea that I wanted to camp on top of one of the towers behind Castle Dome. At the time my skills weren’t up to the task and I about got myself stuck forty feet up with a heavy pack, before eventually making my way back down. Probably a good thing considering the lightning storm that rolled in later that night. After a sleepless night, I quickly descended like a dog with its tail between its legs.
Day 21 Fri, July 31 – Mt. Shasta – 12mi, 6965’ gainShasta has a myriad of routes to its often sought after summit. Several years ago I’d made it the majority of the way up the standard Avalanche Gulch route (in good time and in sneakers), but ended up following a guy that had full snow gear up a way that I couldn’t follow. I knew this time that I wanted something less traveled and a little more difficult.
From what I could find, one of the popular alternative routes is the Hotlum-Wintun Ridge. However, I think what I actually did would more accurately be described as a small ridge to the north of Wintun Glacier and then traversing across the top of the glacier before looping around to the summit. As best as I can tell, it really doesn’t matter much depending on the presence of crevasses on parts of the mountain and your tolerance of somewhat steep snow or rock in other spots.
I’d originally intended to get an early start, but in the end I didn’t start until 5AM. As with Mt. Baker and Mt. Hood before, an early start really isn’t necessary. The slopes are hardly steep enough to worry about an uncontrolled slide down the mountain. If anything the traveling is easier as the snow softens, going both up and (especially) down.
At any rate, the climb started out on a gradual trail and then cut up toward the volcano. As I said, I started out on what I think is the ridge and snow to the north of Wintun Glacier. Half way up it became a little steeper, where I crossed over the rock spine and then angled up across snow that became slightly steeper still just before reaching the level area below the summit. Despite feeling the effects of the altitude, it was just an easy hike past some small fumaroles to the summit. First 14er ever attempted now conquered!
The way down was much faster and more fun than the way up. After descending the steeper part of the upper glacier and again crossing the spine, it was over 3000’ of glissading and running down slushy snow. It’s not possible to avoid giggling as you bounce and weave your way down the mountain. (One note of caution: It would be easy to miss the trail on your way down, so make sure to pick out some landmarks on your way up.) It took longer to go up than it seemed, but the ascent time was 7hrs and descent time was 3.5hrs.
Day 22 Sat, Aug 1 – Great Basin National Park, Wheeler Peak – 8.6, 3000’ gain (appx)After driving through the afternoon, part of the night, and again the next morning (about 12 hours from Mt. Shasta) I reached Great Basin National Park. It’s far from a destination of its own, but it was on my way back so I figured what the heck.
I had to do at least one hike there and the obvious choice was to climb Wheeler Peak, of the same name of New Mexico’s highest peak and Nevada’s second highest after Boundary Peak. So after yet another short and less than restful night I started up the trail with my camelback.
The going was pretty easy, despite having just climbed Mt. Shasta the previous day. Before I knew it I was more than halfway up, passing people left and right. I was just a little winded but at that point I was determined to top out without stopping at all. Glancing at my watch showed an ascent time of 1:37 (4.3mi, 3000’). After several pics I decided to see how fast I could do a roundtrip time and started jogging the less steep sections. Round trip time of 2:45 (average speed of 3.13mph).
With the fast descent time I was able to get an earlier Lehman Cave tour. The cave has some very nice formations, but the lighting rarely does it justice. Maybe it was the fact that the lighting wasn’t very good or perhaps I was just itching to start home.
Already a full day behind me, I had another seven hours of driving back to Colorado.
Final ThoughtsThis trip literally took many months of research to pull off. Every stop required driving directions, hiking distances, elevations, maps, and/or difficulty ratings- no small feat when you’re tying together dozens of individual features. Nearly everyday was used to its fullest, accurately judging hiking and driving times.
Except for Mt. Adams and the Olympic Coast the weather could not have been more perfect. Long dayhikes often just aren’t possible in places like my home state of Colorado where afternoon thunderstorms are common. Fortunately the Northwest’s dry summer held out against its otherwise ugly reputation for gloomy skies and wet weather.
I’ve noticed over the years that successive days of hiking make you strong very quickly, so much so that your body almost craves the exercise (as long as your body holds out and, to a lesser extent, you get enough calories and sleep). Maybe I’m a freak of nature, but as sore as I might be one day I’m usually ready to go again by the next morning.
My only real regret is that I didn’t buy a tripod for my camera to make the most of the dozens of waterfalls that I saw. It really was a wasted chance, though I’d readily go back to do just about anything again or try some of the other mountains in the area. There’s definitely no lack of options.