Categories
Hiking Silver Star Mountain SW Washington Trip report Washington

Starway Trail to Silver Star Mountain

The late snow melt in in SW Washington had prompted us to push a planned hike to Silver Star Mountain at the end of June to next year but when we found ourselves in need of a substitute for another hike we took the opportunity to pull it back into this year. This would be our fourth visit to Silver Star Mountain having previously taken Ed’s Trail in 2013 (post), the Bluff Mountain Trail in 2015 (post), and the Grouse Vista Trail in 2019 (post). Those hikes had taken place on July 1st, June 27th, and June 24th respectively so this was a later visit for us, but we knew that the late snow melt had delayed the wildflower display so we still expected to get to experience that.

Our inspiration for this visit came from Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” (2nd edition) which was printed in 2019. Reeder calls the hike to Silver Star Mountain via the Starway Trail as “by far the most difficult….”. He also mentions that the last two miles of driving on FR 41 to reach the trailhead are “potholed and rocky” while the Forest Service states “Trailhead is best accessed by high clearance vehicles due to rough road conditions.” The Washington Trail Association also mentions that “…most of the roads accessing the trailhead have been severely degraded…” This last description was probably the most accurate description of what we encountered for the final 3 miles on FR 41. The road didn’t have pot holes, it had craters. Our Outback scrapped the ground twice emerging from said craters and I can’t imagine how a low clearance vehicle could make it given the current condition of the road. In fact there was a sign at the Sunset Falls Campground with slash going through a low clearance vehicle. We parked at a pullout near a gate at the FR 41/FR 4107 junction. Reeder mentions that you can drive 4107 approximately a half mile to the start of the actual Starway Trail at Copper Creek but if the gate gets closed your stuck. Looking at the gate we weren’t sure if it even still closed but we were more than done with driving at that point.
IMG_8144

We headed down this one lane road approximately a half mile to a small parking area near a bridge over Copper Creek.
IMG_8149

IMG_8150

IMG_8151

IMG_8152

It was an overcast morning which was a welcome sight for this hike. Reeder had recommended not attempting this hike on warmer days due to the steepness of the climbs. The forecast for Silver Star was for a high in the low 60’s with partly sunny skies. We hopped that by the time we reached Silver Star we’d be greeted by those partly sunny skies, but the low 60’s temperatures were what we were really after. Beyond Copper Creek the trail followed an old road bed as it gradually climbed for a little over a quarter of a mile to a fork.
IMG_8154Overgrown roadbed that is now the Starway Trail.

IMG_8156The fork with the Starway Trail to the right.

The trail began to steepen here but didn’t really pick up steam until reaching a couple of switchbacks 0.4 miles from the fork.
IMG_8158

IMG_8160Scouler’s bluebells

IMG_8157Beardstongue

IMG_8164Paintbrush

IMG_8166Taken from the first switchback this gives a little reference for how steep the trail was.

The switchbacks only lasted a tenth of a mile and then the trail shot almost directly uphill. The grade varied between steep and really steep for three quarters of a mile where it finally leveled out for a bit on a bench along the ridge we had been following.
IMG_8168Pictures never do justice to just how steep trails are.

IMG_8180Almost to the bench.

IMG_8183Level trail!

A section of trail on the bench passed through a carpet of foam flower. We’d never seen so much of that flower in one area.
IMG_8188

IMG_8192Inside out flower

For about a half mile the trail avoided any overly steep climbing and then it once again headed uphill in earnest.
IMG_8195The trail starting to steepen again.

Every website I checked agreed with Reeder that the Starway Trail didn’t see a lot of use. They all mention the steepness of the trail and that the trail was faint and could be difficult to follow. After having hiked the trail we can confirm the steepness but it appears that someone or some agency has put a good deal of work into improving the trail. We had no trouble following the tread and there were a couple of places where a series of short switchbacks appear to have replaced sections that went straight uphill.
IMG_8197The first set of what appeared to be fairly recently built switchbacks.

At the top of the switchbacks the trail emerged in a small meadow where it once again leveled out.
IMG_8199Approaching the little meadow.

IMG_8203A little bit of blue overhead through the fog.

IMG_8208Tiger lily

IMG_8209Paintbrush

IMG_8210Wood rose

IMG_8211Thimbleberry

I had gotten to this level section first and looked for a place to sit down and wait for Heather but the meadow was too wet so I found a log in the trees at the far end and had a seat.
IMG_8212Into the trees to look for a log.

For a little over a half mile the trail climbed gradually alternating between forest and small meadows before arriving at its high point just below the wildflower covered Point 3977. Along the way we emerged from the clouds and got our first glimpses of Silver Star Mountain and Mt. St. Helens.
IMG_8217

IMG_8220Silver Star Mountain

IMG_8224Bunchberry

IMG_8229Our first view of Mt. St. Helens

IMG_8230Zoomed in on Mt. St. Helens.

IMG_8232Arriving below Point 3977.

IMG_8239Point 3977

IMG_8241Pollinator on catchfly

IMG_8242The pink vetch was very bright.

IMG_8243Silver Star Mountain from the trail below Point 3977.

IMG_8244Rose

IMG_8246Wildflowers on Point 3977.

IMG_8249Bluebells of Scotland

IMG_8252Sub alpine mariposa lily

IMG_8257Checkerspot on Oregon sunshine

IMG_8261Lots of purple larkspur amid the other flowers.

IMG_8265A few columbine were hiding in the mix.

IMG_8266Violet

We surprised a fellow hiker as he rounded Point 3977 from the other side. He said he hadn’t expected to run into anyone on the Starway Trail. He’d started at the Ed’s Trail Trailhead and was doing a big loop using the Starway Trail and then road walking FR 41 & 4109 back to his car. He climbed up Point 3977 and we continued on planning to do that same thing on our way back. On the far side (south) of the point the Starway Trail suddenly dropped heading steeply downhill through a meadow.
IMG_8268Starting down.

IMG_8272Looking back up.

For nearly the next three quarters of a mile the trail alternated between steep descents and more gradual downhills losing a little more than 500′ in the process. Then the trail shot back uphill gaining over 300′ in the next 0.3 miles before arriving at a junction with the Bluff Mountain Trail.
IMG_8273Stars on the trees marked the Starway Trail at times.

IMG_8274Pinesap emerging from the ground.

IMG_8276A cairn at the end of this brief level section marked the start of another steep descent. By this time we’d lost enough elevation to be back in the clouds.

IMG_8279Part of the elevation loss was to drop below some interesting rock outcrops.

IMG_8280

IMG_8282Fully back in the fog.

IMG_8284Time to climb again.

IMG_8285Big root balls.

IMG_8287Trail sign near the Bluff Mountain Trail junction.

IMG_8288Final pitch to the Bluff Mountain Trail.

IMG_8291On the Bluff Mountain Trail at the junction.

We turned right on the Bluff Mountain Trail which steadily climbed for nearly three quarters of a mile to a fork.
IMG_8294

IMG_8301

IMG_8302Lots of nice wildflowers along the Bluff Mountain Trail.

IMG_8310Another checkerspot

IMG_8313Paintbrush

IMG_8315Penstemon

IMG_8320We just couldn’t quite shake the fog.

IMG_8331First sighting of Mt. Rainier.

IMG_8333Mt. St. Helens to the left with Mt. Rainier to the right.

IMG_8334Coiled lousewort

IMG_8336Lupine

IMG_8339Getting closer to Silver Star.

IMG_8341Crab spider on fleabane

IMG_8354Spirea along the trail.

IMG_8357Bistort and mountain goldenbanner

IMG_8358First Mt. Adams sighting.

IMG_8364A crescent on bistort.

IMG_8369Penstemon

IMG_8377Wallflower with beetle.

IMG_8378Passing below Silver Star Mountain.

IMG_8379Mt. Hood

IMG_8380

IMG_8388Rock arch below Silver Star’s summit.

At the fork we turned uphill to the left leaving the Bluff Mountain Trail.
IMG_8389

This short connector trail climbed 0.1 miles to an old roadbed.
IMG_8390

20220723_110718Fading avalanche lily.

IMG_8391The old roadbed.

We turned left and followed the roadbed 0.2 miles to a saddle.
IMG_8392The summit to the left with Mt. Adams in the distance.

IMG_8393Mt. Hood to the right at the saddle.

We headed for the summit to start and met a couple with a cute puppy named Hazel, the same name as our cat that we’d lost a year ago nearly to the day (post). The puppy even shared similar colored fur to our Hazel’s.

The view from the summit was a good one on this day. The clouds were low enough that we could see all five of the Cascade volcanoes: St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Hood and Jefferson.
IMG_8399Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams.

IMG_8410Goat Rocks (between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams)

IMG_8400Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson

IMG_8402Mt. Jefferson. If you enlarge and look closely you can also make out Three Fingered Jack and the North Sister to the far right.

20220723_111756Swallowtail

IMG_8417Sturgeon Rock

IMG_8418Wildflowers at the summit.

IMG_8429Bug at the summit.

After a nice break at the summit we dropped back down to the saddle then climbed to the southern high point just to say we did.
IMG_8438Point 3977 is the the island surrounded by clouds.

There was a lot of butterfly action here.
IMG_8445

IMG_8450

After tagging the southern point we headed back the way we’d come.
IMG_8451The only beargrass bloom we saw all day.

As we were passing below Silver Star we kept our eyes out for our favorite trail animals, pikas. We’d heard a few from the summit and we were rewarded with spotting one of the little rock rabbits in a talus slope.
IMG_8463The talus slope.

IMG_8456Pikas are not easy to spot.

IMG_8462On alert.

As always we kept our eyes out for other things we’d missed on the first pass.
20220723_120051Orange agoseris

IMG_8481

IMG_8483Ladybug

IMG_8488Making the steep climb back up to Point 3977.

We did wind up making the short climb to the top of Point 3977 even though the clouds had risen enough to effectively block most of the views.
IMG_8491Looking toward Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier.

IMG_8495Looking toward Silver Star.

The views weren’t great but the wildflowers were.
IMG_8496Possibly a Native American vision quest pit.

IMG_8498Bluebells of Scotland with at least three visible insects.

IMG_8501Some bright paintbrush.

20220723_130806Larkspur

IMG_8510A brief appearance by Silver Star’s summit.

After a short break on Point 3977 we began the relentless descent to Copper Creek. The long steep descent was not a friend to the knees but we managed to make it down in one piece. Just before reaching the bridge we passed just the second hiker on the Starway Trail for the day.
IMG_8518

IMG_8520Sorry knees.

IMG_8526Mock orange

IMG_8528

IMG_8530A little blue sky in the afternoon.

We walked back up FR 4107 to our car and began the tedious drive back down FR 41 and made our way safely home.
IMG_8534Salmonberries along FR 4107. I may have eaten a few as well as some red huckleberries along the lower portion of the Starway Trail.

20220723_144336
Both of those berry types are too sour for Heather who prefers thimbleberries but alas those were only beginning to show signs of ripening.

IMG_8539Looking back at the hillside the Starway Trail climbs from FR 4107.

In my research I’ve seen several different distances listed for this hike. In Reeder’s book he lists the hike to Silver Star as 10.2 miles. Our GPS units recorded 11 miles though. Some of that may be due to going to both ends of Silver Star and some additional distance may be due to the newer switchbacks (assuming they really are new). Regardless of the actual distance I think everyone agrees that the total elevation gain is right around 4200′.

I’m not sure we could have asked for a better day to do this hike on. We got some big views and lots of wildflowers while the temperature remained mild thanks to the low clouds and we saw our first pika of the year. I don’t know that either one of us would ever want to try that drive again but the hike itself was worth the effort. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Starway Trail to Silver Star

Categories
Hiking Silver Star Mountain SW Washington Trip report Washington

Silver Star Mountain via Grouse Vista – 6/24/2019

We continued to rearrange our vacation plans based on a seemingly ever changing forecast. On Sunday night the Monday forecast for Silver Star Mountain was mostly sunny so we decided to make our third visit to the area. Our first hike at Silver Star Mountain began at the Silver Star Mountain Trailhead in 2013 (post). The road to that trailhead has become extremely rough and is now only recommended for high clearance vehicles. Then in 2015 we used the Bluff Mountain Trail to visit Silver Star (post). A better road but still a bit rough and further away.

For this visit we would start at the Grouse Vista Trailhead. We took the Battleground approach described in the trailhead link which was a mostly paved road approach with just a final 5.5 miles of decent gravel driving.

The Tarbell Trail crosses the road at the trailhead. The route to Silver Star begins on the far side of the road, opposite the restrooms and signboard. (A Washington Discover Pass is required to park here.)
IMG_0277

IMG_0278

The trail climbs from the start as it follows an old roadbed uphill.
IMG_0279

The Tarbell Trail splits off just before the .2 mile mark allowing for a loop. We stayed right at the fork on the Grouse Vista Trail.
IMG_0280

The trail gains 500′ over the next half mile as it climbs up a ridge end. The rocky surface provides an added challenge.
IMG_0282

IMG_0285

As the trail begins to emerge from the trees Sturgeon Rock is visible across the Rock Creek Valley (when clouds aren’t hovering over it). The loop route that we were considering would have us descending beneath Sturgeon Rock.
IMG_0299

The trail continued to climb around the ridge and we soon found ourselves with a view of Pyramid Rock (and the Sun).
IMG_0308

IMG_0311Sturgeon Rock (still with cloud) and Pyramid Rock

A smattering of flowers were popping up along the trail as we approached Pyramid Rock.
IMG_0301Wild iris

IMG_0304Paintbrush and lupine

IMG_0309Daisies

IMG_0317Penstemon

IMG_0321

Shortly before reaching Pyramid Rock we detoured on a spur to the right that lead up to a meadow in a saddle.
IMG_0324

IMG_0326

IMG_0330

Here we had what would turn out to be our only view of a Cascade volcano on the day as Mt. Hood rose above a mass of clouds over the Columbia River Gorge.
IMG_0325

IMG_0328

We returned to the trail and continued heading toward Sturgeon Rock past ever improving flower displays.
IMG_0343

IMG_0344paintbrush and mountain spirea

IMG_0345Beargrass

IMG_0346

IMG_0350

IMG_0354

IMG_0361Columbine

IMG_0373A penstemon

IMG_0374More penstemon

IMG_0377Variety pack

IMG_0378Tiger lily

IMG_0381Golden pea and paintbrush

IMG_0392Another variety pack

IMG_0394Wallflower

As we neared the junction with the summit trail we could see that clouds had now overtaken Pyramid Rock.
IMG_0390

They were moving up the Rock Creek drainage heading for the summit of Silver Star so when we arrived at the large rock cairn marking the junction we decided that we would skip the summit for now and head north on the Silver Star Trail.
IMG_0399

IMG_0402Avalanche lilies near the junction.

IMG_0404Sign for the Silver Star Trail.

IMG_0405Silver Star Trail

We headed out along the Silver Star trail which began on top of the ridge. This was a new section of trail for us as we had done a big loop around the ridge on our first visit. There wasn’t much visible at the first viewpoint we arrived at but we were able to see Little Baldy which the Bluff Mountain Trail passes along.
IMG_0410

We followed this trail along the ridge for just over a mile and a half passing in and out of the clouds as they in turn passed over the area. The lack of views was mildly disappointing but the flowers more than made up for it.
IMG_0413

IMG_0414

IMG_0422

IMG_0426

IMG_0428

IMG_0432

IMG_0433

IMG_0439

IMG_0441Sturgeon Rock momentarily out of the clouds.

IMG_0444

IMG_0454

IMG_0460

IMG_0475

IMG_0490Phlox

IMG_0496Beargrass

IMG_0501

IMG_0508

IMG_0513

IMG_0526

IMG_0535

IMG_0550

IMG_0567

IMG_0575

IMG_0582White crowned sparrow

We arrived at Ed’s Trail having already seen a wide variety of flowers.
IMG_0588

IMG_0591

We turned up Ed’s Trail wondering if we could possibly see any more types.
IMG_0592

For the most part it was the same cast but in continuously different combinations.
IMG_0594

IMG_0598

IMG_0607

IMG_0617

IMG_0622

There were a few new sightings though.
IMG_0627Cat’s ear lily

IMG_0632Rose

IMG_0635Violets

IMG_0640Rock penstemon

IMG_0642

And some we’d seen but not a lot of yet.
IMG_0652Bleeding heart

IMG_0660Candy flower

IMG_0669

IMG_0672Lousewort

IMG_0682An aster or fleabane

A unique feature of Ed’s Trail is a rock arch just past the one mile mark.
IMG_0676

IMG_0680Backside of the arch.

Beyond the arch the next quarter of a mile gets a little tricky. There are two short but steep scramble sections. The first was a bit muddy making it a little slick. The second is a rocky section with pretty good holds.
IMG_0690

IMG_0691

We had forgotten just how steep these places were and had considered doing the loop in the opposite direction. We were glad we had not.

Silver Star’s summit soon came into view and although it was cloud free there didn’t appear to be much hope for views of the surrounding mountains anytime soon.
IMG_0697

IMG_0695

When we arrived back at the junction we eschewed the .3 mile climb to the summit opting to skip the 250′ climb since we’d been up there twice before and there weren’t going to be any views. Instead we continued past the rock cairn two tenths of a mile and turned down hill on a rocky unmarked roadbed.
IMG_0706

This return route would add about 1.6 miles to the hike, but it would cut down on the amount of time spent descending on a rocky roadbed. We find that toward the end of hikes our feet and lower legs are much more sensitive to uneven terrain, especially loose rocks. We had been down this 1.4 mile section of road before passing the basalt columns of Sturgeon Rock.
IMG_0708

IMG_0709

Silver Star was not done with the flower show even though we were now in denser forest as we spotted some marsh marigolds and marsh corydalis near a wet area.
IMG_0712Marsh marigold

IMG_0714Marsh corydalis

The section of the Tarbell Trail that runs from the Grouse Vista Trailhead to Hidden Falls had been closed on weekdays during much of 2018 due to an active logging operation. There were plenty of signs of it when we arrived at the junction with that trail.
IMG_0723

We turned left onto the Tarbell Trail which followed the new logging road for a bit before crossing it into the clear cut.
IMG_0725

IMG_0729

IMG_0730

IMG_0732

IMG_0733Pyramid Rock from the Tarbell Trail

IMG_0741Black headed grosbeak

IMG_0737Mountain parnassian

After descedning a series of switchbacks the trail left the clear cut and reentred the forest before reaching a footbridge over Rock Creek.
IMG_0750

IMG_0758

20190624_130035

Beyond Rock Creek the trail traversed the hillside beneath Pyramid Rock wrapping around the ridge end to meet the Grouse Vista Trail. Along this final stretch we noticed some green orchids near a seep that was also popular with butterflies.
IMG_0765

20190624_134348

The trailhead parking lot had filled up while we’d been hiking but we only ran into a half dozen people on the trails, far fewer than the number of different flowers we had seen over our 11.1 miles. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Silver Star Mountain via Grouse Vista

Categories
Hiking Silver Star Mountain SW Washington Trip report Washington

Lucia & Moulton Falls Parks

It’s been a wet and dreary winter in the Pacific Northwest so when a halfway decent forecast came along we jumped on it and headed out for our March hike. Our destination was a pair of Clark County, WA parks along NE Lucia Falls Road and the North Fork Lewis River.

We began our day with 1 mile warm-up hike at Lucia Falls Regional Park. A loop passes through the park and along the river past viewpoints of the modest Lucia Falls.

Lucia Falls Park

Lucia Falls Park

North Fork Lewis River in Lucia Falls Park

Lucia Falls

North Fork Lewis River

After our warm-up we hopped back into the car and continued east on Lucia Falls Rd for .3 miles where we veered right onto Hantwick Rd. We followed this road for half a mile to the Hantwick Road Trailhead.

Hantwick Rd. Trailhead

From the trailhead the Moulton Falls Trail follows an old railroad grade 2.6 miles to Moulton Falls Park.

Moulton Falls Trail

The trail crossed several streams which were flowing nicely and also passed a long pond.

Pond along the Moulton Falls Trail

Small fall along the Moulton Falls Trail

Stream along the Moulton Falls Trail

Beyond the pond the trail neared the East Fork Lewis River.

East Fork Lewis River

Just beyond the 2 mile mark we came to the Bells Mountain Trail junction. We planned on heading up the trail a ways after visiting Moulton Falls Park so for now we took a photo of the sign and continued on.

Bells Mountain Trailhead along the Moulton Falls Trail

A little further along the trail we spotted cars on the far side of the river in the park’s parking lot. Moulton Falls was visible below, a small 10′ cascade.

Moulton Falls

We crossed the river on a scenic footbridge.

East Fork Lewis River

Footbridge over the East Fork Lewis River

The trail split on the far side of the bridge and we forked right heading uphill toward Yacolt Creek Falls. The trail climbed to an upper parking lot which appeared to still be closed for the winter before dropping back down to a crossing of Lucia Falls Rd. On the far side of the road were a couple of picnic tables and a small pullout above Yacolt Creek Falls. The trail continued down some stairs to a seasonal footbridge.
Yacolt Creek Falls

The footbridge pivots and was still in its winter position making it impossible to complete the loop shown on the park map.

Yacolt Creek Falls

We were a little confused by this as well as by the placement of the falls on the map. The star marking the location appeared to be further up the creek along a spur trail that extended north off the loop on the other side of Big Tree Creek. The fact that the falls at the footbridge were on Big Tree Creek and not Yacolt Creek also made us question whether or not this was actually Yacolt Creek Falls. We decided to walk down Lucia Falls Road and pick up the other side of the loop where it crossed the road. We turned back uphill on the loop trail on the east side of Big Tree Creek and quickly arrived at a viewpoint of the falls and bridge.

Yacolt Creek Falls

Yacolt Creek Falls

We found the spur trail shown on the map leading up and away from the viewpoint. We followed this path less than 100 yards past a sign for Yacolt Creek Falls to the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad and Moulton Station.

Moulton Station

Sign for the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad

Despite the fact that the Yacolt Creek Falls sign seemed to support the falls we’d just come from as being the correct ones we were still unsure based on how we were reading the park map.

Yacolt Creek Falls sign

Sign for Yacolt Creek Falls

We passed through Moulton Station and continued along the tracks for a bit before deciding that we were on a wild goose chase. We had failed to take into account the scale of the map and just how short the distances reflected on the map were. It was a good early season reminder to pay attention to the map scale. We turned around and headed back past Yacolt Creek Falls and descended to Lucia Falls Road which we crossed.

To the right was the parking lot at Moulton Falls which was filling up pretty quickly and to the left was the continuation of the loop. If we’d have gone right a short distance we would have come to a viewpoint with a close up of Moulton Falls, but we’d seen them from the other side of the river already so we turned left. The trail crossed Big Tree Creek on a footbridge then led to a nice viewpoint of the bridge over the East Fork Lewis River.

East Fork Lewis River

Footbridge over the East Fork Lewis River

Beyond the viewpoint the trail climbed up away from the river completing the loop. We recrossed the footbridge and headed back toward the Bells Mountain Trail. This trail provides access to  Silver Star Mountain.  We weren’t going to be going anywhere near that far on this day though, instead we decided to pick a turn around time based on when we started on the trail.

It was 10:25am when we started up the Bells Mountain Trail so we gave ourselves until 12:30pm and then we’d turn around hoping that would get us home around 5pm. The trail climbed fairly steeply at first but soon leveled off in a young forest.

Bells Mountain Trail

After the initial climb the trail did a series of ups and downs crossing several streams and logging roads as it passed through alternating sections of clear cuts and trees.

Bells Mountain Trail

Bells Mountain Trail

Bells Mountain Trail

Bells Mountain Trail

Creek along the Bells Mountain Trail

Clear cuts along the Bells Mountain Trail

Due to the amount of logging activity in the area the trail is subject to periodic closures so make sure to check ahead if you’re planning on visiting.

The trail was in really good shape and there was good signage at the road crossings as well as mile markers every half mile.

Bells Mountain Trail

Bells Mountain Trail

The mile posts actually played into our turnaround point as we arrived at the 4.5 mile marker at 12:25 which was exactly 2 hours after having set off on the Bells Mountain Trail.

Bells Mountain Trail

Despite setting 12:30 as our turn around time being at the mile marker exactly 2 hours after having started out seemed to demand our calling it so we tapped the post and headed back. On the way back the clouds lifted enough to reveal Silver Star Mountain.

Silver Star Mountain from the Bells Mountain Trail

Silver Star Mountain

Silver Star Mountain and Sturgeon Rock

We were really feeling the effects of not hiking regularly on the way back. We hadn’t really been paying that much attention to how far we’d gone but our feet knew it was a lot further than the 10 miles I’d originally planned on for the day. By the time we’d made it back to the Hantwick Road Trailhead we’d gone 17.8 miles, but we’d finished a little before three so we were on track to be home by five. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Lucia & Moulton Falls

Categories
Hiking Silver Star Mountain SW Washington Trip report Washington

Bluff Mountain Trail to Silver Star Mountain

Late June is typically a good time to catch the wildflower displays on Silver Star Mountain in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. Located in Washington between the Columbia Gorge and the snowy peaks of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams the Silver Star Scenic Area offers several trails. Many of the trails pass through areas that were part of the 1902 Yacolt Burn, the largest fire in Washington State’s history. The series of September fires left exposed ridges and hillsides which are now wildflower filled meadows. The two most popular routes to Silver Star Mountain are via the Silver Star Trail/Ed’s Trail, a 5.2 mile loop, and an 8.2 mile loop via the Grouse Vista Trailhead. Each of these starting points come with their own drawbacks. Road 4109 which leads to the Silver Star Trail is an awful drive full of rocks, ruts, and potholes. The Grouse Vista Trailhead is on Washington Department of Natural Resource land and thus a Discovery Pass is required to park a car there. Passes are currently $10/day or $30/annually. We had done an expanded loop starting on the Silver Star Trail in 2013 https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/silver-star-mountain/ and didn’t feel like shelling out another $10 for a discovery pass so for this visit we chose a third option – the Bluff Mountain Trail.

The Bluff Mountain Trailhead has its drawbacks too, mostly a slow drive on a rock and pothole filled Forest Service road. I don’t think it is as bad as road 4109, you do pass this road on the way to the trailhead, but it is longer and took us a little over 45min to cover the 9.4 miles. It is also the longest route to Silver Star at 6.5 miles one way. The trailhead is at a poorly marked junction where the road bends around a ridge at a large swath of dirt. Only a small wooden stake marks the start of the trail which follows an old roadbed for the first 2 miles.
IMG_4862

Both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams were visible from the trailhead parking area. It was going to be another hot day here with the highs near 90 degrees, but it was also fairly cloudy so the air was humid and the horizon hazy. We had prepared for the heat by filling the bladders for our packs the night before and leaving them in the refrigerator, bringing a couple of additional Hydro Flasks full of water, and packing some extra salty items such as potato chips and some after hike pickles.
IMG_4867

IMG_4869

IMG_4870

The old road traveled along ridges past a couple of small hills where a few trees were present. After passing the first of these hills Silver Star Mountain was visible in the distance.

Silver Star Mountain on the far right.
IMG_4874

There were still quite a few flowers along the ridge despite the hot and dry conditions, and there seemed to be butterflies everywhere we looked.
IMG_4875

IMG_4876

IMG_4886

IMG_4896

IMG_4893

There were even some huckleberries beginning to ripen.
IMG_4879

One sight that was not welcome was a fire pit filled with garbage where someone had obviously been shooting a shotgun.
IMG_4884

This is something we see far too often and it’s really disappointing that people bother to head out into nature just to make it their personal garbage can.

We continued along the road toward Bluff Mountain amid the wildflowers and butterflies. The views kept shifting as the old road made its way around the small hills along the ridge.
IMG_4902

IMG_4898

IMG_4910

IMG_4915

Little Baldy
IMG_4897

Silver Star Mountain and Little Baldy
IMG_4900

At the two mile mark the trail left the road and diped along the right hand side of a small knoll. At the split the view included all three of the peaks we would be passing – Bluff Mountain, Little Blady, and Silver Star Mountain.
IMG_4918

It was interesting to be able to see so much of our route due to the open views. Often times we could see the trail in the distance giving us a glimpse of what lay ahead.
IMG_4921

The section of trail between the road and Bluff Mountain was full of flowers. Some had seen better days a week or two before but many were still blooming strong and crowding the trail.
IMG_4924

IMG_4933

IMG_4925

IMG_4928

IMG_4939

In addition to the numerous butterflies we were seeing we also spotted several snakes during the hike. This one was spotted as we were passing below Bluff Mountain.
IMG_4947

New flowers and more butterflies joined the views as we passed under the cliffs of Bluff Mountain.
IMG_4953

IMG_4952

IMG_4956

There were also lots of thimble and salmon berry bushes. The thimbleberries were not ripe yet but we found plenty of red and orange salmonberries ready to be eaten.
IMG_4962

IMG_4968

IMG_4966

Looking back from where we’d come we could see three Cascade mountains. (Some better than others)
IMG_4963

Mt. St. Helens
IMG_4972

Mt. Rainier
IMG_4970

Mt. Adams
IMG_4974

After passing through the thick berry bushes the trail crossed a rock field then entered an forest of trees on a wide ridge between Bluff Mountain and Little Baldy.
IMG_4973

IMG_4975

We spotted a small rock cairn and what looked like a possible trail leading off to the right but didn’t have time to investigate.
IMG_4978

When we emerged from the trees we were in a small meadow with a view of Mt. Hood.
IMG_4979

IMG_4985

The meadow was full of yellow flowers.
IMG_4980

We also spotted some of my favorite flowers – gentians.IMG_4981

We were now on the opposite side of Little Baldy from what we’d been seeing all morning. Silver Star Mountain spread out ahead of us across a deep valley.
IMG_4987

IMG_4990

Little Baldy looked like a giant rock pile with a few patches of vegetation growing on its flanks.
IMG_4995

Gentians dotted the trail wherever plants were able to grow.
IMG_4992

As were were walking we started to hear a loud noise in the distance. At first I thought it might be thunder since the forecast had called for some storms later in the afternoon, but the noise kept growing and getting closer. Heather was the first to identify it as helicopters and then we spotted three of them crossing the sky above Silver Star.
IMG_5003

IMG_5005

IMG_5007

At the 5 mile mark we reached the junction with the Starway Trail. This trail starts on the same Forest Service Road as the Bluff Mountain Trail but at an elevation almost 2000′ lower and is reportedly difficult to follow due to light usage and maintenance. We had watched for the trailhead during the tedious drive along road 41 but were unable to spot it on the way up or back down in the afternoon.
IMG_5033

We were now on the final half mile section of the Bluff Mountain Trail before its end at the Silver Star Summit Trail. The trail skirted along the ridge amid wildflower covered slopes and mountain views.
IMG_5047

IMG_5042

IMG_5053

IMG_5054

IMG_5058

IMG_5076

I had been trying to get one of the many lighter colored butterflies to land long enough for a picture and finally a pink-edged sulpher landed long enough for one.
IMG_5050

As we neared the end of the trail it suddenly forked with the left hand path heading up the hillside while the right hand side turned and began a traverse along a ridge away from the summit. We initially went right due to that fork looking more like an official trail than the left hand fork but we were getting further from the summit and starting to lose some elevation. I checked the map then the GPS unit and decided we should have taken the narrower left hand fork up so we hiked back and took the other path up to a camp site next to an old road that serves as the Silver Star Summit Trail. The only sign in the area was a small metal plate attached to a tree at the campsite.
IMG_5079

We turned up the old road and headed for Silver Stars dual summits.
IMG_5081

IMG_5083

The views are great all along the long summit of the mountain. Our route was laid out below us all the way to the large dirt parking area where we’d left our car that morning.
IMG_5085

IMG_5087

On our previous visit we had visited the southern summit first so this time we headed for the northern rocky summit where a lookout tower once stood.
IMG_5097

IMG_5099

We took a seat on the rocks and ate the potato chips we’d brought along for their extra salt. They really hit the spot after all the hot climb we’d just finished. While we were relaxing and enjoying the view another pair of hikers arrived. I noticed a yellow button hanging from one of their packs and thought it might be a “I’m A Portland Hiker!!” button that some of the members of Oregonhikers.org (formerly Portlandhikers.org) had. It turned out to be miah66 from the forum and a friend who had come up the Silver Star Trail and was planning to return via Ed’s Trail. This was the second time that we’d crossed paths with another member of the forum but the first time we realized it at the time. The first time it wasn’t until we saw a trip report posted on the website that we realized we had passed another forum member.

After a nice conversation we headed to the southern summit then started back down the road. As we were starting to turn into the campsite and the start of the Bluff Mountain Trail miah66 caught up to us. He had realized that he had an extra button which he was nice enough to gift us. After a group photo it went straight on my pack.
1509012_857108270991212_1645144033841294853_n

It was a warm hike back to the car but the views and the butterflies helped keep our minds off the heat. We arrived back at the car with a little water to spare and a shiny new button. 🙂 Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157655183073161

Categories
Hiking Silver Star Mountain SW Washington Trip report Washington

Silver Star Mountain

HOT! That certainly describes our recent visit to Silver Star Mountain, but that would be doing this hike a great disservice. Despite the 90 degree temperatures better descriptions would be amazing flowers, great views, and beautiful scenery. Silver Star Mountain is located in Washington State’s Gifford-Pinchot National Forest between Mt. St. Helens and Portland, OR.

I’d been wanting to visit Silver Star for a long time, but the timing hadn’t been right until now. I had seen a number of trip reports which indicated now was a good time to catch many of the wildflowers that fill the meadows and the weather called for clear skies, the perfect combo. There are a number of possible approaches to the 4390′ summit but for our hike we chose to approach from the north via Ed’s Trail.

The drive to the trail head was tedious with the last 9 miles taking a good 45 minutes due to poor road conditions. Our plan was to hike a big loop sampling as much of the area as we could so we knew we had a long day ahead of us. It was already over 60 when we arrived at the parking area at 7:15. The sky was clear and the birds were out in force as we headed up the north flank towards the junction with Ed’s Trail. Mt. St. Helens loomed behind us and as we climbed Mt. Rainier and later Mt. Adams joined the horizon. As we approached the junction with Ed’s Trail Mt. Hood appeared through a gap ahead surrounding us in Cascade peaks.

Mt. St. Helens & Mt. Rainier from the jct with Ed's Trail
Mt. St. Helens & Mt. Rainier from the jct with Ed’s Trail

Already the flower display had been amazing. The variety of flowers was one of the best we’d seen. There was red paintbrush and columbine, pink nootka rose, purple lupine and iris, orange tiger lilies, white beargrass and thimbleberry, and (new to us) yellow lupine. The meadows here are due in large part to the 1902 Yacolt fire which swept over Silver Star Mountain removing the trees and clearing the way for the flowers. I could easily fill this whole trip report attempting to describe the flowers we saw on this day but the hike had other things to offer as well so I will have to let our photos do much of the flower reporting.
056

Ed’s trail was truly scenic as it traversed the NE side of the ridge through wildflower meadows with views of the 4 snowy Cascade peaks. Soon the path passed some rocky areas and passed through a natural rock doorway. Not long after passing through the doorway we scrambled up a short, steep section of the trail as it passed through a rocky slot up to a great viewpoint. A small patch of snow remained surrounded by avalanche lilies.

When Ed’s trail met an old road we took it up to the twin summits of Silver Star mountain. The view from the north summit was a true 360 degree panorama. Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams were joined by snow covered Goat Rocks to the north while Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and the faint Three Sisters rose to the south. The Columbia River and Portland, OR lay to the SW while the ridges and meadows of Silver Star Mountain surrounded us in every direction.

Washington Cascades form the summit
Washington Cascades form the summit

After leaving the summit we continued on to the Indian Pits trail to visit a series of rock pits used as vision quest sights at one time. More wildflower meadows awaited on this trail which ended at a rocky ridge endge with yet another set of wonderful views. As an added bonus we were serenaded by a resident swallow who appeared to be enjoying the view from the top of the rocks as much as we were. It was really starting to warm up as we left the pits and continued on our loop down an abandoned road past sturgeon rock. The old road was actually lined with trees but it was wide enough to remain in the sunlight.

We made our way down the road to the Tarbell Trail which we then turned right (north) on and momentarily entered the forest. The trees didn’t extend far to our left and we could see that much of the hillside below had been clearcut. It is a sight that I don’t particularly enjoy seeing. The stark contrast of the stumps and piles of slash next to the still standing forest always leaves me imagining what it must have once looked like. We were on a collision course with the cut though and soon emerged to the treeless hillside. One of the first things we noticed were the butterflies. They were everywhere and flitting above a vast array of wildflowers. Even the clearcut couldn’t spoil the areas scenery 🙂
604

The lack of trees did mean we were once again exposed to the sun and for about 2 miles we switchbacked down and across the hillside before again reaching the forest on the other side. We were greeted by the first sound of water on the hike. The source was Coyote Creek and that was where we would find our next destination, Hidden Falls. What a welcome change to the heat Hidden Falls was. A bench near the 92′ cascade gave us a place to rest while we cooled off courtesy of the breeze created by the falls.
653

After another mile and a half on the Tarbell Trail we arrived at the Chinook Trail which would take us up Kloochman Ridge and back to the road we had been on early in the morning. The Chinook trail spent a short time climbing in the forest before emerging in some of the hikes best wildflower meadows. The number and variety of flowers on this ridge trumped all the others we had been through on this day.
747
This was also the steepest trail we’d been on and with the temperatures hitting the 90s we needed all the distraction the flowers could provide.

We eventually made it up Kloochman Ridge and then headed back down the road to our car and the extra water that was stashed in our cooler. This was one of the rare occasion when I actually finished off all the water in my Camelbak (1/4mi from the car). Silver Star Mountain had lived up to all the hype I’d seen in the trip reports. With a little something for everyone it’s an amazing area and I highly recommend exploring any of the areas trails. If you’re a fan of beargrass skip next year since it only blooms every 2nd or 3rd year and this year it was on, or better yet go both years and see the difference. Happy Trails and have a safe 4th of July.

Facebook album https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10201492927112255.1073741839.1448521051&type=1
Flickr photos -http://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157634416726411/