Dateline: July 30, 2018
Snowgrass Flat, Gifford Pinchot NF
Note to self: Don’t hike when the temperature is forecast at 95 degrees in the closest town. I thought I would pass out several times. Apparently others knew better. There wasn’t much traffic on the most popular trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and most of what there was were backpackers. Hence we had little competition for attention from the flies. I read on WTA trip reports they were bad, so I succumbed to a small bottle of Deet. Don’t like it, but I like fly bites less; and I seem to have none on the morning after, so I guess it worked.
I had promised my sister I would take her with me on a hike; I don’t know if that felt like a gift to her or not, she is not a hiker. But she closed her shop for the planned day and got up early. Both sacrifices that felt like a gift to me!
We picked up our adventure lattes and headed for my new favorite trail, as of last summer. I was hoping, two weeks earlier than last year, the wild flowers would be at peak.
I promised her it was a pretty easy hike, with a big payoff.
Okay, so I hiked it after I did Indian Henry’s last summer. Compared to that it is a pretty easy hike. It wasn’t 95 degrees last year; and there were no bugs except when I sat on a log to eat my lunch. The sky was deep blue behind the white Mt. Rainier last year; there was no haze from California’s wild fires, making it more a white on grey view this time. And the signage on the long forest road up wasn’t broken off last year and was this time, causing us to miss the turn off. Twice. It was already hot when we started up the trail. I also lied a little bit about the mileage. Unintentionally of course.
The first two miles through the Douglas fir/cedar/hemlock forest are flat. Well, there was some downhill, but of course we didn’t notice that until the return. It would have been pleasant, but for the hungry flies. Then the up shit started for the next two miles. That’s when the almost passing out part came, when we couldn’t really stop because of, you know, the flies.
We reached the lower meadows, which, I see now, is the destination of the 4.1 miles the WTA lists, but the big meadow is higher up. We ate our lunch by a babbling brook, soaked our hot feet and dirty ankles in the icy water, and noted the flies weren’t so interested in us there.
There are many options when the trail breaks out of the woods to the lower meadows, and I picked the wrong one (didn’t read the minimal signage). We found out the trail with the brook crossing was heading for Goat Lake. I knew we didn’t want to go there, so after lunch—not sorry for the detour to the brook—we turned back through the paintbrush meadow and got on the right trail. More up. I’d forgotten that part of the trail. Rebecca didn’t believe me that there was a bigger meadow, and by the time we got there she was unimpressed.
The flowers were not what I had hoped, and we weren’t clear if they were past prime or still coming. The bear grass, though, was as pretty as I have ever seen it. And anemone (Old Man on the Mountain) always delights. And there was the paintbrush at the lower meadows.
We built a cairn for our mom and headed back for the bypass loop trail that adds a bit of mileage, but different scenery as it descends in full view of Herself.
Last year I missed the bypass trail, and after asking someone coming up from wherever that portion of the PCT comes from, I hiked back a mile to the missed trail. Rebecca impressed upon me the need not to miss it this time and I watched closely, knowing now what to look for. Still, I thought we’d gone too far and we turned back before we headed down another slope we’d have to come back up, if indeed we’d gone too far. Finding another PCT hiker at rest, we learned we hadn’t gone far enough, and hiked back where we came from, finding it this time, looking exactly as I remembered it.
We thought we would never get back to the car. The bugs weren’t bad up in the Flat, but picked up briefly when we returned to the forest. A beer at Base Camp Grill in Ashford was screaming our names! And the Grill closes at 8. I would have hurt someone if we missed it, and there was a chance. There was still the 12 or whatever miles of washboard road before we got to the 25 miles of winding road between Packwood and Ashford. And we weren’t down the trail yet. (I discovered the next morning the water bladder in my camel back was empty except for what was in the hose.)
Suddenly, as we walked in exhausted silence, there was a loud scuffling around a curve in the trail ahead. We stopped dead. What the hell was that? I knew what it was. There was only one thing it could be, and I raised my bear whistle to my lips. But it had no interest in meeting up with us, so I didn’t blow it. Black bear. One. We hoped. We started singing, “Valderie, valdera…” loudly as it crashed up the hillside as fast as it could go through the bushes and over fallen logs.
“Well, that was exciting,” I said, when the incident seemed good and truly over. We walked on clicking our poles against rocks and roots just in case.
Farther down the trail, we found tiny wild huckleberries. How had we missed them going up? How did the bear miss them? We picked some, until the flies found us, and the beer stepped up its call, tick tock.
Never have either of us been so glad to see a parking lot. Why the heck are trails longer on the return? We reached the Grill at 7:30. I don’t think Rebecca will ever hike with me again.
Last summer I thought I would do this trail often. (You can read about the first time here.) It was like Paradise without the crowds and flip flops. Now I think I’ve done if for the last time. Maybe I should stick with once per hike; except for Paradise, it will always be my favorite, crowds or not. I’m getting older, and there is still so much to see.
I guess if you try to go home again, you have to know it will be different.
Adventure Log, cute animal photos, Hoodview Campground, Lake Timothy, Little Crater Lake, Mt. Hood, Mt. Hood historic Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon wildfires, sunrises, sunset
As I write this, five days after my return to Washington, Mt. Hood National Forest is on fire. I’ve spent too much time this afternoon looking at photos, and I’m sad and sick. I feel bad for dissing Oregon, because it is—like all of our vast country’s natural areas—a national treasure. Roads I was on are closed this week, including the interstate that passes Multnomah Falls. Trails and campgrounds in the area of the one I enjoyed are closed, threatened, or—at best—inundated with smoke that blots out the beauty. Part of the Pacific Crest Trail adjacent to the portion I hiked is closed.
At least one of the Oregon fires is believed to have been started by reckless fireworks. More than 30,000 acres are currently burning from that one fire that joined up with another one. The Washington fire near Mt. Rainier in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest—where I hiked last month— was, I heard, thought to be ignited by lightening.
I looked at the fire incident website, and counted well over a dozen active wildfires in Washington and Oregon. My forester father would say fire is nature at work; it makes for healthier forests. But these fires are threatening property, national landmarks, beloved recreation areas. Perhaps we don’t get to choose, humans are the interlopers here. But it is heartbreaking, particularly when caused by careless (read stupid) humans.
I am feeling very fortunate that, except for the beginning of my adventure, the skies and the air were clear. The wind shifted right after I left and everything changed again.
Not My Mountain, the Third Day
The smoke has cleared and the sun rises yellow instead of red. I’m ready and waiting for it. The man with the recorder is back with friends; and the chipmunk, that seems to sleep until just the moment the sun peaks over the ridge, then scampers out and worships with me before scurrying about looking for breakfast.
The mountain, if not soaring, is at least pointing into blue sky. I am eager to see it up close.
I quickly make a lunch and head out. An hour later, I am at its base. It’s a year-round snow sports venue! I had no idea. (The US ski team trains here in the summer.) Men (I saw no women) are clomping about in ski boots and hefting their snow boards. It’s weird.
There are ski lifts that go two-thirds of the way up the mountain. Could I say I climbed a snow-capped peak if I rode the lift? No trees, no meadows, no flowers. Just rock and dirt, and some snow.
I go into the Welcome Center to see if there are hiking trails somewhere. Wrong place. I’m not renting skis, repairing a snow board, buying any permits. Nothing here for hikers. I move on to the Historic Timberline Lodge.
It’s interesting. Most mountain lodges with which I am familiar boast a massive room with a Paul Bunyon sized fireplace. This one is a hobbit warren.
I finally locate a trail map. The “trails” run horizontally through the dirt just behind the lodge. I can see them in their entirety from the parking lot. Maybe there is hiking on another side of the mountain, but thanks to the previously mentioned (in an earlier post) unhelpful ranger and no good websites, I don’t know where they are. (When I head for home a couple of days later, I take the back part of the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop and see one trail head sign and more than a dozen sno-park signs.)
I’m back in the car 30 minutes after my arrival, thinking I will try Mt. Hood Meadows that I passed on the way here. It sounds promising. It also sounds like it could be a horse race track. I Google it. (Oregon apparently has better AT&T coverage than Washington does, a perk I’m not entirely pleased by.) I’m close: Mt. Hood Meadows is one of Oregon’s largest ski resorts. And it closed in May for the summer in spite of having one of the best snow packs in history. Why? “Ski fatigue.” Though Timberline remains open for the diehards, it seems most Northwesterners want to hike and play in the water in the summer. Duh.
On my way back to the campground, I turn down the road to Little Crater Lake, which I had opted out of continuing to on the PCT yesterday. Turns out it’s a Tiny Pond, not much bigger than the potholes in the road to get there. But is is deep startlingly blue hole, as clear as a just-polished bar glass. The submerged ghost trees are eerie. I’ll let you read its story.
Once again, I’m ready to be back at my lake with the ducks and a book, and the lunch I took with me. Mt. Hood: been there, done that.