I left the residence of my gracious hosts in McMinneville Oregon on a friday afternoon and arrived at around 8pm at an RV park packed with loud, obnoxious tourists that was lacking in both facilities and areas of relaxation. It was also bothersome being charged for a power hook up that didn’t have a 110 volt plug, which most of the RV parks that I’ve been to offered. Eh, no matter – I was tired, and wanted to get some rest before getting up early saturday morning to head out to Mount Hood. It took awhile to get to sleep, mostly due to the human noise around me, but I finally dropped off.
When I woke the next morning, most people were still asleep, so I did my best to stay quiet as I prepped to head out. The first stop was Mirror Lake. I’d seen many pictures of Mount Hood reflected off the lake, and really wanted to go check it out for myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the forethought to have purchased a $5 US park pass for the day, so I had to make my way back to the ranger station in Zigzag, Oregon. The rangers were very cordial and helpful, and provided me with info sheets on the places that I wanted to visit, even directing me to go check out Timberline Lodge, which I handn’t even thought of visiting previously. I picked up my baby blue park pass, then made my way back to Mirror Lake.
The walk up to the lake itself from the trailhead is fairly strenuous. It’s mostly uphill, with lots of switchbacks. Being that I’m still not in the physical shape that I’d most like to be in, I found myself embarrassed at being passed by people ten to twenty years older than me that seemed to make the climb effortlessly. Yeah, time to hit a gym. Seriously. Also, BRAVO to all the older folks getting up and out there in nature, and staying in such great shape! Good on you!
The hike is very scenic, and it took me about an hour and a half to get up to the lake. At the top of the trail, it begins looping around the lake itself, opening up on small campsites under the trees and near the shoreline. The trail gets a little marshy in some places, so park services have placed long planks on the far side of the trail so that hikers don’t get stuck in the muck.
It was quite windy that day, so there wasn’t much of a reflective surface on the lake. It was mostly ripples, but at several points on the path around the lake, there are stunning views of Mount Hood. Mount Hood, also called Wy’east by the Multnomah tribe, is a composite volcano in the Cascade Arc. It’s the highest mountain in Oregon, as well as being one of the higher mountains in the US. It really is quite a sight, rising up out of the treetops. (full run of Mirror Lake pics)
I walked around, snapping a few pics and resting a little before heading back down to the trailhead. Steep switchback descents are just as rough going down in places as they are heading up. The way up gets your muscles to shaking and on the way down, my body seemed to think that my knee cartilage was something to be ground up in a frothy mixture with the fine sheen of powder that my patellas surely became during my descent. Ouchie.
Once back at the car, it was lunchtime. After eating some cheese, turkey breast and a banana, the muscle shakes died down a little as I drove out to the Timberline Lodge. Mount Hood looms high behind the lodge, surrounded by grey hills with high desert scrub plants here and there.
Apparently the hotel was used in some of the exterior shots in the movie The Shining. It was a gorgeous location, and there were quite a few people treking back and forth from the hills with heavy ski gear. The area offers year round skiing, as well as being very popular with tourists in general. Gotta say, though – skiing isn’t high on my list of participatory sports. I don’t slide downhilll at all well.
Next stop on the list was the Multnomah Falls area on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. There are several areas of falls along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Unfortunately, I had chosen poorly as to the timing of my visit, and the area was clogged with noisy, personally unaware tourists that seemed bound and determined to stand directly in the way of anybody that actually wanted to go anywhere.
The first falls I was able to get to was Horsetail Falls. The parking area for this falls is right near the highway, and there were lots of kids and parents gathered around the edges of the large pool collecting at the bottom of the falls. A few girls were brave enough to venture into the water, but began complaining rather loudly that the water was ridiculously cold. Honestly, I was in up to my knees, and after a few minutes, my feet went numb. I don’t know how they stayed in. Yow.
I stayed and soaked my feet for a few, walking around and getting pictures of the falls from different angles before heading over to Multnomah Falls. Packed to the gills, this seems to be the most popular of the falls on the route. Multnomah falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon, and it’s been debated as to whether it’s the tallest waterfall in US. Throughout the park there were these little information stands with park rangers that were handing out leaflets to kids and teaching them about local wildlife and plants, which was pretty cool, but also added to the crowds. The view from the lower level of the park, the first viewpoint, is pretty impressive, but the bridge above offers a spectactular view that seems to cover more ground. The second bridge above was almost impassable, and I could only deal with being there for about five to ten minutes before I had to quickly make my way back to the car. (full run of falls pics)
Once back in the car, I found that there was no possible way to park safely to get to any of the other waterfalls along the road. Being completely over being around people at this point, I just got back on 84 and backtracked up to get to the Guler Ice Caves located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Skamania, WA. As I pulled up, I heard accordion polka music and found myself wondering if there was a group of people camping closeby. They certainly sounded as if they were having a good time. As I reached the stairway itself, I saw an animated guy with wild, long grey hair and a bright yellow coat playing a white and gold accordion vigorously while two of his companions danced along to the music, singing with him. It was the most wonderful and surreal thing I’ve encountered on my journey so far. Turns out, he was a Vegas performer named Botielus that was on holiday with his friends. He was taking requests, so I threw out a few and enjoyed his polka versions of Cold as Ice, Godzilla and Stairway to Freebird, among others.
They were a joyful group, and I happily joined in with them, singing and having a grand old time in the cave. A family was hiking back in the depths of the cave while he played, and everybody seemed to be having a great time. Earlier in the day, I’d been kicking myself for not visiting the Ice Caves sooner in the morning, and now that I was here, I was glad that I’d made it to the cave at exactly the right time. Ah, Serendipity. Gotta love it.
Being that it was in the middle of summer, I couldn’t really see all the way back to where the ice stalagtites and stalagmites grow, but I did spot large patches of snow and ice around the large rocks and patches of green moss on the cave floor. I didn’t bother venturing into the cave itself, as I kept watching people slipping on really slick patches of ice, and I didn’t have an effective light to see where the hell I’d be putting my feet and hands as I made my way further into the cave. At some point, I’m going to be picking up one of those ridiculously high powered flood flashlights so that I can take pictures in an unlit cave and actually have the images come out. (full run of ice cave pics)
After the Ice Caves, I made my way further north, staying at the Beaver US park campground in Washington. I pulled in late, crossed my fingers that they had spots left, and was very pleased when the camp host said that there was one left. I went ahead and took it and pulled in, ate a quick dinner, then relaxed and watched a couple of videos before dropping off to sleep. I slept in the next morning, getting up at about 9am.
Still tired and really achey from the hike up to Mirror Lake on saturday, I knocked back some aspirin and ibuprofin, had a brief chat with the Camp Hosts about the things to see in the area, then began making my way out to Mount Saint Helens. The forests continue to be gorgeous, but the roads are completely wretched on the way there. There were several times where it actually felt like Matilda became airborne. Because of the shadowed mottling of the trees along the pavement, it was really difficult to see where the larger holes were, and there were sizeable patches where you could see the pavement cracking becuase that part of the mountain beneath it was beginning to slide a little. It was fairly unsettling, but hey – ADVENTURE!, so onward I went.
I traveled through thick forests for hours before coming to the blast area, where they became really thin on the ground. At one pulloff, you can see Mount Saint Helens in the distance, and countless trees litter the hillsides like enormous toothpicks, all pointing away from the mountain; echoes of the damage from the large-scale pyroclasic flow that resulted from the eruption on March 20, 1980. The US park service has left large sections of the surrounding hills untouched so that the land recovers in its own time, but has also seeded sections of the area in order to provide a differential view of the two paradigms. The closer I got to the crater itself, the more overwhelmed I became at the devastation wrought.
Just behind the restrooms is a trail of 361 steps that wind their way up to the top of a pumice covered ridge that offers a spectacular view of Mount Addams, Spirit Lake, Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens. As I walked my way up these steep steps, in what felt like 100 degree heat, I paused at a bench and sat to look back at the mountain. Steam wisped up in thin clouds from fumaroles in the crater itself, as well as the top of the crater ridgeline.
A gentleman from Israel sat and talked with me for a few minutes and we commented on the steam before wishing each other well and extending blessings for the remainder of our respective trips. I then started heading up the next segment of steps, taking swallows of water and breathing heavily, in between stopping to take pictures to catch my breath.
Once I reached the top, I almost fell over, already exhausted. Good grief, what the hell was I thinking? I don’t handle the heat well to begin with, and I’m climbing this enormous pumice hill in what feels like an oven – across from an active volcano, no less. Still, completely worth it for the view. Took as many pictures as I could, then with shaky legs began my way back down all those freakin’ steps. When I made it to the car, I was muttering incoherent curses under my breath. I’d pushed past my physical limit, and now it was time to get in the car, find a shady spot to eat lunch, then find a place to stay for the night that was closer to Seattle. I was done adventuring for the day. My body couldn’t handle any more. (full run of Mount Saint Helens pics)
Once I got back into the shade of the treeline, I pulled over and ate, thankful for the protection from the hateful sun that was clearly still trying to set me on fire. As I sat and ate, a park ranger drove up, asking if I’d seen a motorcycle accident. Apparently someone had called one in. I explained that I hadn’t, and expressed my wish that hopefully, everybody was ok. I never did find out, though. Once finished with food time, I got back on the road for another couple of hours before running across the Iron Creek campground in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. I was completely floored by how lush and verdant the entire campsite was. I’m still kicking myself for not taking a few hours off and pulling in to take a nap in the shade of those mossy, giant trees.
The camp hosts were very friendly, and I spoke at length with them about what went into being a camp host, and they stated that the company that they worked for that ran most of the US campsites throughout Oregon and Washingon, were looking for hosts for next year. It’s an intriguing enough idea that I’m thinking of doing it, a couple of years down the line.
As I finally made my way back to a location with any kind of internet access, I checked my bank account and was stunned. I didn’t have enough money to rent a space at an RV park or a hotel room for the next two weeks. After freaking out momentarily, I called a good friend in Post Falls, Idaho and asked him if it’d be ok if I came out to stay with him a little earlier than expected. Luckily, there was no issue there, for which I am supremely grateful. It helps to have good friends in various parts of the country when little unexpected emergencies like this crop up. Unfortunately, it was already fairly late, so I had to get a hotel room for at least one night. I stayed at a hotel in Cle Elum for the night, worked my shift the next day, then packed up and headed out for Idaho shortly after getting off shift. (full run of Iron Creek pics)