Georgia On My Mind

I've been traveling a lot lately. Just after Christmas, I went "home" for the first time in thee years to visit with family and friends in Georgia, where I grew up. Like the majority of holiday/family vacations, this one consisted mostly of toddler/food/family/visiting craziness.

Toddler. Sand. Nuff said.

Cuteness alert

In the midst of all of it, I managed to carve a few hours out for some solitude, taking half a day for myself to revisit old haunts on Kennesaw Mountain.

At 1,808 feet in elevation, the boulder-strewn, woodsy slopes of Kennesaw Mountain are in my childhood backyard. I wasn't much of a hiker growing up (really at all, if I'm being completely honest), and I fondly remember the trails of Kennesaw being tortuously steep as a fifth grade kid forced to climb them on various Girl Scout outings.

Weird to think that the area, newly surrounded by half-million dollar homes with backyards directly adjacent to many trails, is now a national park.

Starting at the visitor center, I carved out a roughly ten mile jaunt down to Cheatham Hill, finishing the hike with a climb up Pigeon Hill, Little Kennesaw, and finally the summit itself before completing the loop. Surrounded by red Georgia clay and barren woods, I felt like I was in Walking Dead territory most of the day.

the final leg of my day, up Pigeon Hill to the summit

I took away an appreciation for the area I didn't have before...the history of the Civil War battles, complete with preserved earthworks and cannons still evident on the hillsides. The park itself also affords wonderful trail-running and hiking opportunities in an area otherwise horribly overrun by suburban sprawl. It was a nice change of pace and a new outlook on the area I grew up in.

deep woods, deep trail past Burnt Hickory. Walking Dead territory.

Pigeon Hill. This place holds both fond & torturous memories for me

winter woods, nearing the summit of Kennesaw

Completely different from my somewhat-solitary-day-in-the-woods, Mom and I took an afternoon to visit the massive Georgia Aquarium before I returned to Portland. Between elbowing the crowds, watching a dolphin show and oggling exhibits, it took us about five hours to walk through the place.

It was like a Hollywood viewing of Finding Nemo. Plus whale sharks.

school o' fish

I speak whale

swimmin' with the jellies


Year in Review

2013: the year of getting back out there. My circadian rhythm going-to-hell-in-a-hand basket. Still short on miles but long on life changes. Trail friends, old and new. A glorious fall, my favorite time of the year. Welcoming home new pups. Loving life.

Passing my RN board examinations. Snowshoeing. Getting-back-out-there.

bluebird doesn't get much better than this 

An incredible ski-vacation with dear friends. Losing one of my best trail friends.

Rocky, sun-snoozing on the trail

Few trail miles. Busy with work. It's still winter, hunting leprechauns in the Gorge.

I <3 the Gorge when it looks like this

(I may have been a little grumpy these trail time...a new job, transition, and night shift begins....)

Coastal adventures. My circadian rhythm is sooooo screwed...

Netarts Bay, one of my favorite places on the Oregon Coast

A wonderful visit from family. My circadian rhythm HATES me. Kayaking and overall being grumpy- discovering I am NOT a night person.

a family member's dream to pinch Goonies Rock

Coming to peace with the fact that night shift means you will never-feel-normal. "Discovering" jump shots. My only two backpacking trips of the year, both hilarious, both with good friends.

Yahooo! on McNeil Point

Checking Hurricane Ridge off the bucket list...sixteen years with my best friend and soulmate. <3 <3 <3

the clouds played for us on our anniversary (ONP, Washington)

Playing in the Mount Margaret backcountry. No goats, no elk. Stalking larch trees. One of the most glorious falls I can remember. Getting dayshift. SCORE.

me, loving the Mount Margaret backcountry, serenaded by Hood & Helens

Returning to the Gorge, my winter playground. Welcoming a new, flat-faced addition to the house.

new snuggle-pug

Going east to escape the rains. No snow. Georgia on my mind. Big fish.

Eastside. No rain. Mount Hood from Hood River Mountain.

Look What The Pug Factory Turned Out

So that major case of dog envy sorta snowballed.

Andy and I lost both of our dogs this last year within nine months of each other; to say the experience sucked is an understatement. Rocky was so ill for the last months of his life though that we needed time to take a break, to grieve and to not have any responsibilities for a while. Combine the reprieve with adjusting (or not adjusting to) night shift, and a new dog just wasn't on the radar.

Well, with a permanent dayshift position and feeling human and being back out on the trails, I found myself really missing our dogs. I love hiking alone, but something about being out on the trail, just exploring the woods in the company of four footed friends is a pleasure. J.B.'s little Shenzi sort of kicked the dog envy into overdrive.

Meet Pepper (previously Maisey), a wee, but extremely feisty, pug rescue from Second Chance Salem. When I first saw her on Petfinder, I was drawn to her because her expression reminded me so much of our Yobo.

first hike: Pioneer Bridle Trail on Hood

She's been with us for a little over two weeks, comical, loving and my permanent stuck-to-leg shadow.


major love

first animal I've had to seatbelt to the car, lol

Shenzi and the Labyrinth

Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, Washington
~7.7 miles, 1200 feet elevation gain

going eastside

When it’s raining in Portland, the solution is often to head east. In search of some sun, or at least semi-dry weather, J.B. and I headed out past Hood River with her new friend, a tiny Cattle Dog/Shiba Inu mix named Shenzi.

Shenzi nose meets camera

The Coyote Wall area is one of my go-to winter hiking areas. It’s situated in that transition zone of the Gorge where East meets West and prairie meadow grasses and oak trees dominant the basalt cliffs. It’s open and windswept, all gold and orange compared to the wintery green and stormy west side closer to Portland. Entertainingly enough, every time I head to the CoyoteWall area in Hood River, I get lost. This time was no exception. Generally, however, the landscape is open enough and with enough pertinent landmarks that “lost” is relative. And it’s always that beautiful kind of lost: never too isolated and with enough bail-out plans to make it a comfortable experience. 

All gold and orange
Conveniently, it’s also been long enough since I’ve visited the Coyote Wall that I forgot that the Washington Trails Association has done an amazing amount of work recently in the area, rerouting and decommissioning trails. So while J.B. and I weren’t precisely lost, nothing looked perfectly familiar either. It made for entertaining trail talk. 

And it was a beautiful day. The sky threatened rain that never came, and the remaining fall color along the hillsides was frequently punctuated by gorgeous late afternoon light. The most entertaining part of the day, however, was watching J.B.’s new little gal, Shenzi, a rescue from FamilyDogs New Life, come out of her shell on the trail.

checking out the view together
sealing the deal as trail buddies

Shenzi digging the Labyrinth

J.B. frolicking on the Labyrinth trail

I have a soft spot in my heart for rescue animals, and it’s always rewarding to watch those with a trampled past suddenly realize that they are safe, they are loved, and the whole world is before them. Both of Andy and I's old dogs were rescues with tremendous personality quirks, but they always loved us and the trail. Shenzi with J.B. on this day was no exception, and it was like watching a light bulb go on when the little gal suddenly got a case of the zoomies in the tall, windswept grasses. 

aw, the luv

Yup. She’s a keeper. 

And now I have major dog envy. {Sigh}

Home Sweet Gorge

With cooler temps, perma-gray skies and the falling of leaves, my go-to spot for hiking becomes the gorge. As previously stated, I abandon the Gorge with glee come the summer months: too many people, too much heat, and too much humidity combined with the lure of the high alpine opening up is far too potent a cocktail to resist.  Every year, though, come fall and winter, the gorge calls me home. It’s blustery, cold, wild and abandoned. 

lonely trail

Andy and I recently took some time to revisit the Historic Highway, driving up the long, winding old road to Multnomah Falls (always a pleasure), then biking the Mark O. Hatfield West trail near Hood River. After biking the Hood River portion of the biker/hiker only trail, we (originally) intended to check out the newly completed portions of the trail from Cascade Locks to John Yeon State Park. Then Andy took an unexpected header-over-the-handlebars early on that portion of trail, so, like before, it will have to wait another day.  

Andy spoiler pic

Mark O. Hatfield Trail

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
~9.8 miles, ~620 feet elevation gain

Continuing in the theme of previously thwarted attempts: later that week I went back to explore a segment of the Columbia Gorge 400 trail from John Yeon State Park to Wahclella Falls trumped by construction last year. Like before, Upper McCord and Elowah Falls didn’t disappoint, and my only company for the day was the remaining vestiges of vine maple color and electric green mosses. It’s a long and lonely, lovely section of trail and exactly what I needed that particular day. 

Upper McCord Falls

Elowah Falls

Trail's End

Operation: Last Backpacking Trip of the Season? Allison’s email showed up in my inbox, posing the question for the final (maybe) overnighter of the year. It seems like the weather is reversed this year- September was October and October is now September, with glorious fall light, color and warm temps. Our last hoorah before the rains settle in.

color along the Tamanawas Falls trail

We never took the overnighter. Somehow, neither one of us was feeling it. Instead, Allison proposed a “pokey” (her words, not mine) hike, with no promise for the spectacular, but rather a sleuthing trip for a field of larch on Mount Hood’s east side. With Allison, “pokey” is usually a good workout. I was in.

The sleuthing began on the very well-traveled and maintained trail to Tamanawas Falls (soooo much prettier in winter), then began a climb into unknown territory along the little-used Lambertson Spur trail. 37° and frosty at the trailhead, we ended the hike stripped down to shorts, occasionally yodeling “It’s October!” to no one in particular.  

October. In less than a mile, it will be shorts & T-shirt weather

At one point, Allison turned to me with apologies for the “not spectacular” hike, and I shrugged, grinning ear to ear. I was just glad to be out. I’ve been very, very short on summer mileage this year- it felt beyond words good to just walk, to be outside, exploring the woods. Besides, I already won the lottery on the morning’s drive: a bushy-tailed, feline shadow leap across Highway 35 as we rounded a corner. In seventeen years of hiking in Oregon, I’ve never seen a cougar in the wild. Now, I won’t lie and say I’m not glad that we didn’t meet on the trail…still, really cool to see one even if it was only a transitional shadow bounding across the pavement.

looking for pots of larch gold at the end of the trail
Oscar in full-terrier mode, enjoying the great outdoors

And the larch were beautiful- a golden climax community at the end of the remains of the Lambertson Spur trail.

Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon
~10 miles, ~3,000 feet elevation gain

The Country of Marge

The Mount Margaret Backcountry, on the north side of Mount Saint Helens, is absolutely spectacular. It’s one of those places, that when you finally end up smack dab in the middle of it, you find yourself wondering how the hell it took you so long to discover it in the first place. 

me, loving the Mount Margaret backcountry, serenaded by Hood & Helens

Part of what makes the country of Marge so damn difficult to discover is that it’s in the middle of nowhere. Well, that is, unless you live in the middle of nowhere. No matter how fast you drive, certain trailheads are simply about (more or less, depending on traffic) 3ish hours from Portland or Seattle. Benefit? Cuts down on touristy hoards. Drawback? Unless you are doing an overnighter, a long day hike turns into a serious, all day commitment with at least 6 hours of driving. Worth it? Absolutely.

Mount Adams & Meta Lake

Helens over Spirit Lake

Norway Pass holds fond memories for us both- a late fall day, chill wind, no other souls in sight, the mountain and Spirit Lake our only company, a world of blue and red and gold, startling a small herd of elk not ten feet from us. We came this day in hopes of recreating that day- all color and wildlife and solitude- not always a successful endeavor as we have found from previous attempts. But still worth a shot.

Mount Margaret backcountry, October 2010

Helens & Spirit Lake from Norway Pass, October 2010
Spirit Lake, Mount Margaret in the background, October 2010

Independence Pass Trail, October 2010

Near the junctions of the Independence Trail and Norway pass, the trail was washed out by late, record September rainfall, so we headed right and up, towards Mount Margaret (second highest peak in the Mt. Margaret backcountry) instead. I was like a kid in a big candy store, heading into an area of the backcountry I’d never been to before. Perfectly compliant, the landscape was all gold and red, backlit with a brilliant blue sky. It was a five peak day- Rainier, Adams, Hood, Helens and Jefferson all visible and punctuating the horizon. The elk and goats were missing though, shy due to hunting season in full throttle, the strangely warm temps, and the six other surprise hikers we saw that day. 

all the colors of fall....

Mount Rainier, Boot & Obscurity Lakes, Mount Margaret backcountry

About five miles in, we came to the junction of the Boundary and Whittier Trail (NO thank you- the Whittier trail is exactly that kind of trail that my vertigo, unfortunately, cannot handle).  Two hikers perched, mountain goat-style, atop Mount Margaret (5,840’), another mile-ish away. After watching another two hikers don extra gear and begin kicking steps into the icy snow on their way to the summit, Andy and I decided to leave Ms. Marge for another day- we don’t suffer from “summit fever” and without proper gear had no interest in attempting the climb on icy slopes above a steep, snow-filled basin.   

Mount Margaret & Helens

Regardless of the lack of the promised views from atop Mt. Marge, the day was far from disappointing. We traversed back along the high, spiny ridges, marveling in the color, the mountain views and the beauty of the valleys laid out before us. No elk and no goats, but no disappointment. We'll be back. 

MOUNT MARGARET (or, pretty close)
Mount Margaret Backcountry, MSH National Monument, Washington
~10-11 miles, ~2100 feet elevation gain