Ah. Summer...

Silver Star Scenic Area, Washington
8.4 miles, 1600 elevation gain

...has finally arrived. Although it took its sweet time coming up to the Pacific Northwest, our long, consistently warm and sunny days finally appear to have begun en force. And July has started off brilliantly.  

I'm revisiting old haunts and exploring some new places with some new people and one of the coolest little trail dogs, ever.

meet Oscar

Thank you, Allison.

North of Portland, sprawled across the landscape east of Battle Ground, Washington, lies an area known as the Silver Star Scenic Area. Torched by the Yacolt Burn of 1902, natural reforestation has never regained much of a foothold in these hills. As such, the area is characterized by incredible, lofty views all around and some fascinating, wildflower-filled ridge walks. Trailheads are reached via crappy forest service roads (potholes seem to be this month's theme), and deer that like to play games of 'Chicken' with your car.

Helens, Rainier & Adams from Little Baldy

I suspect Allison nearly choked when I told her I had never visited the Silver Star area, and my ignorance sealed the deal for Saturday's hike. She directed me to the Bluff Mountain Trail in a quest to climb a crumbly, scree-sloped old summit known as Little Baldy.

Little Baldy from Bluff Mountain trail

The trail stays high and follows an old jeep track before spitting you out onto something resembling true trail at around 2 miles. The wildflowers were profuse; I have never seen such a gathering of Indian paintbrush. Beargrass was prolific but currently not in its blooming cycle. I imagine when it is, these meadows are beyond breathtaking.

The next few miles traverse under a cliff face, cross a few, wee seasonal streams and deliver the predictably lovely views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens.

Upon rounding the side of Little Baldy, we began looking for a way up top. Silver Star Mountain sat before us, another two-ish miles away. I determined I'll be heading over there, soon.

Allison & Oscar, trail detectives

Here, my new hiking companion went bionic on me (damn, that woman can hike), and I met her on the summit of Little Baldy, 3940 feet, in my own good time. We were kept company by bees, ants, penstemon flowers, views, a cool breeze, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a most excellent batch of homemade oatmeal raisin cookies. Score.

going bionic

Silver Star from Little Baldy

Mount Saint Helens

Worm Flows Winter Climbing route
~12 miles, ~5600 feet elevation gain

The weather gods cooperated.

We last climbed Mount Saint Helens eleven years ago. In summer, the Monitor Ridge route is basically a long pumice and boulder-ridden slog; although there is a barren, exposed beauty to the route, it’s brutally hot on a sunny, warm day, and I distinctly remember hating the traction (or lack thereof) hiking up the scree-ridden trail. Footing was just downright questionable at times. 

Since that hike, our local lady has thrown a few minor fits, including building a new lava dome within the crater. I also have to say that prior to last year, beyond our one summit hike, we hadn’t really explored the trails around Helens much, and she is quickly turning into one of my favorite local playgrounds. The entire area possesses a truly unique quality not found in other nearby hiking areas.

This year, snow con­tinues to linger and the Forest Service still has not opened the Monitor Ridge route to climbers. As such, our route to the summit would follow the Worm Flows winter climbing route, which was new to both Andy and me.

Monday evening, to avoid our local neighborhood July 4th party people, we packed in and made camp around 3800 feet. Prior to leaving the Marble Mountain Sno-Park, we spoke with several of the day’s climbers regarding last minute conditions: snowshoes? (overkill). Crampons? (not necessary, but probably also not a bad idea). Oh, and to be careful near the summit. One woman stated she got a little too close to the edge, punched through a piece of the cornice and “…almost saw daylight. When you see Rainier, be worried.”  

Alrighty then.

Our July 4th was perfect. Just Andy and I, above timberline, the stars, the quiet, and absolutely no one else around.

can you find the Big Dipper?

Morning dawned cool but not cold, and overnight the snow near our campsite took on a solid but sticky, consistency. We began climbing at the leisurely hour of 6:15 am; a party of three and a solo climber passed by about 45 minutes earlier and we would only distantly see their little micro-persons on the route afterwards.

Not ¼ mile from our campsite, we hit the first solid snow of the route. We would climb moderately, and then traverse off to the side to continue hiking up the actual worm flow. Here, the character of the hike reminded me very much of the hike up Monitor Ridge- crappy footing, the occasionally vague trail, and the sometimes necessary rock/boulder grab, which will tear your hands up if you don’t have gloves.

worm flows = crappy footing

I think I prefer hiking on snow.

We eventually came to a good point to hit the snow again. Neither one of us had done hiking like this in snow before; we donned our Katoolas and began the long kick-step process of making our way to the summit, still several thousand feet above us.

step, breathe. step, breathe.

Beautiful to watch the world wake up, to watch the dawn hit the mountains, to watch the sun creep over the lava flows and slowly light the snow into a blinding brilliance. Sunglasses and sun block are absolutely necessary in these conditions.

Adams in the early morning light

At only one point in the climb did I truly become uncomfortable, just prior to a false summit. No altimeter to record the exact location, but I’m guessing that somewhere just above 6500 feet the pitch of the climb increased dramatically, to the point where I felt distinctly nervous about a misstep. I concentrated on my footing, kick-stepping in at least twice and planting my feet solidly before attempting the next step.

steep stuff

Beyond the false summit, the pitch again became reasonable but the snow conditions became more questionable- sections of ice, deep snow, sun cups, and areas of exposed rock. Our biggest disappointment of the day: we had assumed (wrongly) that the edge of the crater would be somewhat melted off at this point, allowing us a good view into the crater to see the new lava dome. It is, in my opinion, the most dramatic part of Helens and the entire reason for the climb.

sitting a safe distance from the cornices

The cornices were nowhere close to being melted off. Given the recent spell of hot weather, they were highly unstable, and a ranger warned us to keep at least 25 feet back from the edge, but to “Use [our] own judgment.” Given that an experienced mountaineer died this year on Helens due to a sudden cornice collapse, we decided to leave the lava dome and crater view for another day. Disappointing, to be sure, but it can wait. The crater will still be there.

The best part of the entire day: glissading. Almost an entire 4000 feet of it, down to within a ¼ mile of camp. Now THAT is what I call fun.

Glissading Mt. St. Helens from Andy Park on Vimeo.

From Woods to Wildflowers

"You know, minus the potholes, this road is actually in pretty good shape.”

Andy just looks at me sideways as the Subaru lunges over yet another hole, jostling both of us enough to click our teeth together. Hard. 

“I think you missed some fundamental principle of what makes a road 'good', Amanda.”

It’s the first 80 degree weekend in nine months, and these gorgeous days just happen to correspond with July fourth weekend. Insert grin here. 

Mount Hood Wilderness 
6.8 miles, 1500 feet elevation gain

Yesterday, with Andy still caged at work, I took off with the Rock-monster for a much needed solo trek. I had originally planned to hit up one of my favorite places high in the Mount Hood Wilderness, Cooper Spur, but after a bit of a rough morning got a later start than I wanted. As such, I made an impromptu detour to the Burnt Lake trail, which I hadn’t done in years. The road to the trailhead there, too, was riddled with potholes, enough to leave some serious modernist mud art on the sides of my car.

Burnt Lake trail

The trail was a sun-dappled walk through a verdant, layered forest. Giant, burned cedars, the bones of the old forest, stood like sentinels among vine maple, huckleberries, hemlock, Doug fir, ferns, bunchberry and devils club. Trillium and bleeding heart sprinkled among the greenery. And a few boggy sections choked with slide alder and devils club, where skunk cabbage with its yellow, lantern-like bloom, thrived.

still-life with trillium & bug

At 4100 feet elevation, Burnt Lake has only recently melted out, but even on the first of July, large snow drifts linger, some taller than me. There was no one else around. Just warm ground, a warm sun, and lunch on an alpine lakeshore.

dah boy

requisite Burnt Lake shot

I love watching the world wake up, in that transition time between the sleep of winter and the vibrance of summer.

Columbia River Gorge, Wind River Recreation Area
4.4 miles, 1200 feet elevation gain

The first true day of the holiday weekend. We puttered about the house, halfheartedly attempting needed house chores before deciding to throw in the towel and enjoy the day. Nothing too long, since it was early afternoon already and nothing too difficult since we still had plans for a Helens backpack/climb on Monday and Tuesday. Just a sunny, warm leg-stretcher on a glorious day, and hopefully not too mobbed with holiday crowds.

I picked Grassy Knoll out of hat. Basically stuck my finger in a guide book from the library and said, let’s go there. Which leads us to the road reference above. Still, Bear Creek Road and later, Forest Service road 68, aren’t the worst roads we’ve been on. I’m going to currently leave that honor to the road leading to Breitenbush Lake from the Ollalie Lake area. That is a rip-your-oil pan-out-with-glee road. 

At the trailhead, Andy discovered that in his search for his hat, he had left his hiking boots at home. Since he’s stubborn, he hiked in these:

basically house slippers at this point

The first 1.2 miles of the Grassy Knoll trail provided a decent workout on steeper pitches than I anticipated. The reward beyond is to travel at a rolling pace amongst lovely rock gardens and meadows with sweeping views of Mount Adams, Big Lava Bed plain, Mount Hood and the Columbia River gorge.

From atop Grassy Knoll itself, the foundation stones of an old lookout tower are all that remain in a garden of flowers: phlox, sedum, balsamroot, lupine and indian paintbrush.

We could have continued on, rambling on through the myriad flowers and meadows over the ridgeline, all the way to Big Huckleberry Mountain. It was tempting, but it was already getting late, that glorious afternoon sun backlighting the meadows in a spectacular fashion.