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Columbia River Gorge South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Dry Creek and Pacific Crest Falls

Despite what the weather thinks we are approaching our hiking season which means we will be hitting the trails much more often over the next 6 months. As we work our way into hiking shape we jumped on a chance at a rain free morning and headed to the Columbia River Gorge to check out a pair of waterfalls. Several trails in the gorge remain closed due to fire damage from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire and others that had been reopened are again closed due to rock fall and slides caused by our recent weather combined with the fire damage. Please remember to check on the current status and conditions of trails before heading out.

Our sights were set on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail from Cascade Locks to Pacific Crest Falls. We had visited Pacific Crest Falls coming from the other side in October of 2015 (post) but at that time of year there wasn’t much water flowing so we thought a return visit was in order, especially after our recent rains.

We began our hike at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead in Cascade Locks.
Bridge of the Gods Trailhead

From the trailhead we took the Pacific Crest Trail south.
Pacific Crest Trail sign in Cascade Locks

Pacific Crest Trail at Cascade Locks

The PCT briefly follows Harvey Road as it passes under I84 to a second possible trailhead.
Short road stretch on the PCT

Pacific Crest/Gorge Trail

From the Harvey Road Trailhead the PCT climbed gradually through the fire scarred forest. It was encouraging to see that many if not most of the trees along this section had survived. There was also quite a few early Spring flowers blooming.
Pacific Crest Trail in the Eagle Creek Fire scar

Eagle Creek Fire scar along the Pacific Crest Trail

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Just under a mile from Harvey Road the PCT once again briefly shared a gravel roadbed as it passed under a set of power lines.
Another short stretch of road along the Pacific Crest Trail

The trail leveled out shortly after passing the power lines and traversed along a sometimes steep hillside for three quarters of a mile to a signed junction near Dry Creek.
Pacific Crest Trail

Forest along the Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail

Dry Creek Falls Trail

Here we detoured away from the PCT and followed the pointer for Dry Creek Falls. This trail followed an old roadbed along Dry Creek just over a quarter of mile to Dry Creek Falls.
Approaching Dry Creek Falls

Dry Creek with Dry Creek Falls in the distance

Dry Creek Falls

Dry Creek Falls

Dry Creek Falls

After a nice little break at the base of the falls we headed back to the PCT where we turned right and crossed Dry Creek on a footbridge.
Footbridge over Dry Creek

Dry Creek

We had been discussing the fact that hikers were starting to post picture of fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa) one of our favorites. We weren’t sure if any would be blooming yet in this area but we managed to spot a few as we continued south on the PCT.
Fairy slipper

Approximately 1.25 miles from Dry Creek the PCT crossed a talus slope.
Pacific Crest Trail

At the beginning of this section we spotted group of yellow flowers which turned out to be glacier lilies.
Glacier lilies

Glacier lilies

Glacier lilies

This section also provided the best, albeit limited, view across the Columbia River during this hike.
Columbia River

A half mile beyond the talus we passed the Herman Creek Pinnacles. We detoured briefly to get a closer look at the basalt formation and the cute little monkeyflowers blooming amid the rocks.
Herman Creek Pinnacles

Herman Creek Pinnacles

Chickeweed monkeyflower

Chickweed monkeyflower

After exploring the pinnacles we continued on and in less than a quarter mile arrived at Pacific Crest Falls.
Approaching Pacific Crest Falls

Pacific Crest Falls

The amount of water flowing over the falls was noticeably more this time around.
Pacific Crest FallsOctober 2015

Pacific Crest FallsApril 2019

We turned around here and headed back along the PCT to the junction near Dry Creek. Instead of returning to Cascade Locks via the PCT we turned downhill on the old road and followed the creek downhill.
Old roadbed back to Cascade Locks

Dry Creek

Dry Creek

After approximately 1.25 miles we passed some sort of a structure followed by a gate.
Dry Creek Road

Beyond the gate Dry Creek Road was open and well graveled.
Dry Creek Road

After passing a few logging roads and swinging quite a ways east we passed under I84 by turning left on SW Ruckle St which we followed to its end at SW Adams Ave. We turned left on Adams which brought us to a school.
Cascade Locks

We passed behind the school (and library) and made our way to Highway 30 where we turned left again towards the Bridge of the Gods.
Heading through Cascade Locks

Cascade Locks

Bridge of the Gods

We arrived back at our car as the rain was arriving. The hike was approximately 9.5 miles (I had some battery issues with the GPS) with a little under 1000′ of elevation gain. Hiking through Cascade Locks at the end was definitely not the most exciting end to a hike and unless you’re like us and specifically seek out alternate return routes I’d recommend just returning as you came. That being said the upper portion of the road walk along Dry Creek was nice.

I want to take a moment to thank the volunteers that have worked so hard to restore the trails affected by the fire. In particular the PCTA and Trail Keepers of Oregon (TKO) have been hard at work and doing an excellent job. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Dry Creek and Pacific Crest Falls

Categories
Columbia River Gorge South Hiking Oregon

Throwback Thursday – Mt. Defiance

This week’s hike took place on 7/15/2012 when we tackled the challenging Mt. Defiance Trail in the Columbia Gorge. Unfortunately the area was affected by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire making it’s current status uncertain.

Our hike that day began at the Starvation Creek Trailhead.
Starvation Creek State Park sign

Prior to setting off on the Mt. Defiance Trail we made the short walk to Starvation Creek Falls.
Trial to Starvation Creek Falls

Starvation Creek Falls

After visiting the falls we followed pointers for the Mt. Defiance Trail.
Trail sign at the parking area

At the time a path followed the shoulder of the freeway for a short distance before veering away into the woods. In 2016 changes were made to the first mile plus of this hike making it wider and putting up a nicer barrier along the freeway section.
Columbia River

Just over a quarter mile from the trailhead we passed our return route, the Starvation Cutoff Trail, and just a bit beyond that we came to a small sign for Cabin Creek Falls.
Sign for Cabin Creek Falls

That small fall was mostly hidden.
Cabin Creek Falls

A little under a half mile further though was a less obscured waterfall – Hole in the Wall Falls.
Hole in the Wall Falls

This waterfall is not a natural occurrence, it was created in 1938 when the Oregon Highway Department rerouted Warren Creek due to Warren Creek Falls being too close to the old Columbia River Highway. The falls name comes from the waters emergence from the cliff via a man made hole.
Hole in the Wall Falls

A tenth of a mile beyond Hole in the Wall Falls we passed a junction with the Starvation Ridge Trail. A left turn here would have brought us to the upper end of the Starvation Cutoff Trail in a mile allowing for a short two and a half mile loop.
Junction with the Starvation Ridge Trail

Having loftier goals we continued straight passing below the lower portion of Lancaster Falls after .2 miles.
Lancaster Falls

It seemed like a nice “little” waterfall but interestingly this lower portion was only a small part of a much taller fall as we would discover in 2014 when we spotted the waterfall from across the Columbia River on the Dog Mountain Trail (post).
Lancaster Falls from Dog Mountain

Another half a mile of fairly level trail brought us to the start of the 4700′ climb to the summit of Mt. Defiance. The trail passed under some powerlines up a fairly open hillside where low clouds only provided a limited view of Wind Mountain across the river.
Wind Mountain and the Columbia River

The trail then entered the trees as it gained 4000′ over approximately three nearly unrelenting miles.
Columbia River

Mt. Defiance Trail

Mt. Defiance Trail

Along the way we passed a Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness sign.
Mt. Defiance Trail entering the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness

A little further on was a viewpoint along a rocky hillside. Low clouds limited much of the view but a nice rainbow was visible in the valley below.
View along the Mt. Defiance Trail

Rainbow seen from the Mt. Defiance Trail

After gaining those 4000′ we arrived at a junction with the Mitchell Point Trail.
Trail sign for the Mitchell Point Trail

We would be taking that trail on our way back, but first more climbing.
Mt. Defiance Trail

Two tenths of a mile from the Mitchell Point Trail junction a new (at that time) trail led off to the right. The trail was unmarked except for two small rock cairns.
Mt. Defiance Trail

This mile long segment of trail traversed a talus covered hillside above Bear Lake up and around Mt. Defiance to a microwave building at its summit.
Mt. Defiance Trail

Bear Lake

Towers on Mt. Defiance

Unfortunately for us the clouds had not burned off and Mt. Hood was completely hidden.
View from Mt. Defiance

The only view we had from the summit was to the SE.
View from Mt. Defiance

After a nice rest at the summit we opted to head back down to the Mitchell Point Trail via the older summit route which shaved off .2 miles.
Sign for the Mt. Defiance Trail

When we reached the junction we turned onto the Mitchell Point Trail and headed east toward Warren Lake. The clouds to the east had been breaking up revealing some nice blue skies as we reached a viewpoint above Warren Lake.
View from Mt. Defiance

View from the Mt. Defiance Trail

We arrived at the lake .8 miles from the junction.
Warren Lake

Warren Lake

We followed the Mitchell Point Trail another half mile from Warren Lake before turning left onto the unsigned Starvation Ridge Trail.
Trail sign for the Mitchell Point Trail

Mitchell Point Trail

The Starvation Ridge Trail began heading downhill offering a view back to Mt. Defiance.
Starvation Ridge Trail

Mt. Defiance

It was still a bit cloudy for views in other directions though.
View from the Starvation Ridge Trail

View from the Starvation Ridge Trail

View from the Starvation Ridge Trail

The view of Wind Mountain had greatly improved.
Columbia River

As the ridge narrowed the decent steepened and we were soon barreling downhill. The trail ahead would occasionally vanish as is dropped leaving us wondering if it just dropped off a cliff.
Starvation Ridge Trail

For over three miles the trail dove and yet the Columbia River didn’t seem to be getting all that closer. Then the trail came to an opening at the end of the ridge across from Dog Mountain.
Dog Mountain

Wind Mountain on the Columbia River

The view was nice except for the one down to the Starvation Creek Trailhead where our car looked smaller than a Hot Wheels.
Trailhead from the Starvation Ridge Trail

From the ridge end the trail headed downhill away from the trailhead. We turned right onto the Starvation Cutoff Trail at a signed junction and switchbacked down .3 miles to the Mt. Defiance Trail and followed the freeway back to our car.
Trial sign along the Starvation Ridge Trail

Mt. Defiance had lived up to it’s reputation as a challenge and it would have been nice to have had a view at the top but it was rewarding to know that we could accomplish it. It was a boost to our confidence going forward. We look forward to heading back someday when the skies are clearer. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mt. Defiance

Categories
Hiking Mt. Adams Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Labor Day Weekend – Mt. Adams Wilderness Days 2 & 3

We woke up after 6am on Sunday morning which counts as sleeping in for us. The forecast had called for smokey conditions all weekend which hadn’t materialized at all on Saturday but the sky was a little hazy now.
It certainly wasn’t bad and there was no fire smell in the air which was nice.

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Our mission was to find a water source as we had run low the day before and didn’t want to try and filter out of the nearby Cascade Creek which was too silty. We grabbed our packs and headed across Horseshoe Meadow to the Pacific Crest Trail. Our plan was to follow it north to the Killen Creek Trail and possibly into Killen Creek Meadows.

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The PCT climbed along a ridge at the edge of the meadow and we were able to spot our tent in the trees below.

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The trail climbed around the ridge end through the scars of the Cascade Creek Fire. The ground was covered with flowers that were well past bloom but they still provided a colorful display.

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Looking out to the SW we could see smoke in the valleys below a higher layer of clouds. Mt. St. Helens somehow seemed to be in a clear zone though.

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As we passed a large rocky area we heard the “meep” of a pika followed by several more. We stopped to see if we could spot one of our favorite alpine animals and sure enough one scurried out onto a nearby rock.

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After watching the little guy for a while we remembered our quest for water and continued on. The trail remained in the Cascade Creek Fire zone for nearly the entire 3.5 miles to Sheep Lake which was the first potential source of water we came too. The fire zone offered some nice views and interesting rock formations reminding us that as sad as it is too see the forest burn it is part of the natural cycle and can offer some different scenic qualities.

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IMG_7781Mt. St. Helens

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IMG_7784The bottom of Mt. Rainier

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IMG_7798Goat Rocks

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Sheep Lake was nice and was lined with berries which we happily ate as part of our breakfast but it was a little shallow along the edges for our pump filter.

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Riley Creek was near enough that we could hear it flowing so we decided to check it out to see if the water was clear enough to filter. Not only was the water clear but the creek was lovely and we found a large flat area atop some rocks where we could cook our breakfast.

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Heather filtered water while I prepared our Mountain House Spicy Southwest Breakfast Hash which is quickly becoming one of our favorite backpacking meals.

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After breakfast we continued north on the PCT into a green forest. More blueberries and huckleberries lined the trail and we joined the area wildlife in snacking on the juicy treats.

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Large clumps of gentians dotted the open ground in this area as well.

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Just under a quarter mile from Riley Creek we passed the Riley Camp Trail.

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The stretch of green forest lasted for about a mile before the PCT came to a lava flow near Mutton Creek.

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Mutton Creek was cloudy with silt but not the chocolate color of Cascade Creek. It looked more like someone had poured some milk into the creek. The trail followed the cascading creek for a bit before crossing it.

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The PCT then passed across another section of lava where we stopped to admire the craggy peaks lining the horizon.

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There was also a good view of Mt. Adams although the combination of the haze and angle of the Sun affected it.

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We passed through another meadow before reaching the Lewis River.

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It was hard to believe this was the same river that we’d hiked along when we visited Lower Lewis River Falls in May of 2016.

Lower Lewis River Falls

About a quarter mile from the Lewis River we passed the Divide Camp Trail.

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Just beyond the trail junction we passed over a section of the mountain where a washout or avalanche had wiped out a swath of forest at some point where small trees were now regrowing.

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Just beyond that was an even larger barren rocky area where we came to Adams Creek.

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This proved to be the trickiest crossing of the entire weekend. We chose a spot where it looked like we could rock hop to a small island where a log might get us to the other side relatively dry.

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It worked reasonably well and we sallied forth towards the Killen Creek Trail. IMG_7898

About a mile from Adams Creek we passed a shrinking pond.

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Another quarter mile brought us to the High Camp Trail which headed toward the mountain.

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Shortly beyond that junction we arrived at the Killen Creek Trail.

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Although we had toyed with the idea of continuing all the way to Killen Creek it was another .4 miles away and downhill. We had done 22.6 miles the day before and this day was already going to be over 17 miles so we decided to call it good. We figure we can go back someday and start on the Killen Creek Trail and go north on the PCT from the junction.

On the way back the haze began to clear and the passed far enough overhead to greatly improve the views of Mt. Adams.

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The massive Adams Glacier really caught our attention.

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While we were admiring the mountain, Heather spotted a face in the rocks.

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The view of Mt. Adams kept getting clearer and even the view of Mt. Rainier improved somewhat.

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One view that didn’t improve was to the SW where yet another smoke plume had arisen. This one we would learn the next day was the East Crater Fire in the Indian Heaven Wilderness.

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We stopped again at Riley Creek where we joined a number of PCT thru-hikers cooling off and collecting water. We refilled our packs as well as our 96oz canteen (which was not the most fun thing to haul the 4 miles back to camp).

It was just after 4:30 when we arrived back at Horseshoe Meadow. Mt. Adams appeared to be free of any smoke but just over it’s shoulder to the east the sky looked really smokey.

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We ate dinner then sat by our tent and watched as a few wispy clouds passed overhead.

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With all the fires around we couldn’t have asked for a better couple of days on the mountain. Those wonderful conditions didn’t make it into Labor Day though.

We woke up at 5:30am and despite it still being dark, we knew that some smoke had moved in based on the smell. When I got out of the tent and turned on my headlamp it illuminated the ash that was falling like a light snow. As the morning light made seeing a little easier we found that we couldn’t even see Mt. Adams.

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As the Sun rose higher we could at least make out the mountains outline through the smoke.

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We ate breakfast and packed up then headed south on the PCT.

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Overall it was a cool morning but occasional blasts of warmer air hit us. We had started hiking a little before 7am so that helped. We passed a number of thru-hikers on their way north, one of whom told us that the Indian Heaven Wilderness was closed due to a new fire (East Crater).

A red sun came up over Mt. Adams as we made our way back.

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The smoke finally lessened a bit when we had gotten back down into unburnt forest.

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Near the trailhead we spoke to another thru-hiker who had been evacuated from Cascade Locks due to the Eagle Creek Fire. It was from her that we learned a teenager illegally using fireworks had started the inferno and that at least 140 hikers had been stranded overnight, trapped between the Eagle Creek and Indian Creek Fires.

Given the information we decided to drive back to Salem around Mt. Hood via Highways 35 and 26 thinking that I84 might be closed by the time we were trying to get through. It’s been a tough year out west regarding wildfires. Even though they are a natural part of the forest cycle (unless some moron does something stupid) it’s hard when so many of our favorite places seem to be burning at the same time. We know they will not look like they once did anytime in our lifetimes, but they will recover and in the meantime we will watch as God’s creation heals. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mt. Adams Wilderness Days 2 & 3

Categories
Hiking Mt. Adams Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Labor Day Weekend – Mt. Adams Wilderness Day 1

We are in the midst of a horrible wildfire season which only seems to be getting worse. Our original Labor Day plans literately went up in smoke due to the Separation and Nash Fires burning in the Three Sisters Wilderness among others. Our next plan was to spend the weekend in the Olallie Lake Scenic Area but the air quality in that area due to the aforementioned fires as well as the Whitewater, Scorpion, and Devil’s Fires (and so many more) made attempting to camp in that area unappealing so we kept looking.

After consulting several fire maps we determined that either the Indian Heaven Wilderness or the Mt. Adams Wilderness were our best chances for relatively smoke free hiking. The closest fires to those areas were the Indian Creek Fire burning along Eagle Creek in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness to the south and the Norse Peak Fire in the Norse Peak Wilderness to the north.

We settled on the Mt. Adams Wilderness. Our plan was to hike north on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Williams Mine Trailhead to Horseshoe Meadow where we hoped to set up camp. From there we would take the Round-the-Mountain Trail SE to the South Climb Trail and also visit Lookingglass Lake at some point along the way.

We set off on the PCT a little before 8 o’clock on Saturday morning.

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After crossing Swampy Creek on a footbridge the PCT entered the Mt. Adams Wilderness.

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It was a warm morning but more importantly it was smoke free. We were greeted by blue sky as the trail entered the fire scar from the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire.

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A few wildflowers remained and lots of ripe huckleberries were available for picking as we went.

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It was just about six miles from the trailhead to Horseshoe Meadow most of which was in the burnt area. Along the way we passed a some nice meadows, a few green trees and had views of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and a smokey Mt. Hood.

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At the junction with the Round-the-Mountain Trail we turned and promptly arrived at Horseshoe Meadow.

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Cascade Creek flows through the meadow but was a little too silty filter so we debated on weather to set up camp there or continue on, possibly as far as Lookingglass Lake. After a little more consideration though we decided the location and view from Horseshoe Meadow was too good to pass up so we selected a tent site in some trees.

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We had each started the day with 3 liters of water in our Osprey reservoirs and had brought full 18oz. Hydro Flasks. We also had an extra 96oz. Naglene Canteen and another small collapsible container that we decided to take with us on our afternoon excursion and fill them up on the way back to camp.

After getting camp situated we headed toward the South Climb Trail on the Round-the-Mountain Trail.

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We’d made the South Climb Trail our turnaround point because our first and only other visit to the Mt. Adams Wilderness was a 2014 hike to Iceberg Lake via the South Climb and Round-the-Mountain Trails.

The trail continued through the Cascade Creek burn with views south to Mt. Hood which remained mostly hidden by smoke.

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Before long we began to find some forest that had been spared from the fire.

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About a mile from Horseshoe Meadow we came to a small stream with some little pools just big enough to filter water from.

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Just beyond the stream we passed the Lookingglass Lake Trail.

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We decided to make that side trip on the way back and then we could fill our extra canteens on the way back to camp from the little stream.

There were a number of creeks and streams with flowing water beyond the Lookingglass Lake Trail junction. The first set all eventually flowed into Cascade Creek further down the mountain.

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Much of the area we were now passing through contained debris flows from massive avalanches from the Avalanche Glacier. In fact there had been a warning at the trailhead that a crack in the glacier could trigger an avalanche at any time. The Round-the-Mountain Trail was shown as just outside the danger area but it was obvious from our surroundings that the location of the trail had been in the danger zone in the past.

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The next set of creeks were all tributaries of Salt Creek, most of which flowed from large glacial moraines.

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Others came from springs, one of them just below the trail.

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Two and a half miles from the Lookingglass Trail we came to a junction with the Shorthorn Trail.

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We passed more creeks including one with a nice little waterfall surrounded by lush green vegetation.

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It was just over another 2.5 miles to the South Climb Trail from the Shorthorn Trail which made it about 6 miles from Horseshoe Meadow, a little longer than my initial calculation had been.

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After a break at the junction we headed back and turned down the Lookingglass Lake Trail.

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It was about a mile downhill to the lake. The trail passed through more forest affected by fire and crossed several creeks including one with a number of frogs.

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We made our way around the lake and sat on a little hill facing Mt. Adams where we ate dinner.

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It was a little after 6pm when we finally left the lake and headed back up to the Round-the-Mountain Trail. As we climbed we were looking back at the lake when we noticed a smoke plume that we had not seen on the way down to the lake.

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Based on its location in relation to Mt. Hood we wondered if the Indian Creek Fire had exploded or if this was some new fire in the Columbia River Gorge.

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On Monday we learned from a northbound PCT hiker who had been evacuated from Cascade Locks that what we had seen was the new Eagle Creek Fire apparently started by teenager playing with illegal fireworks. What an idiot. As I write this trip report much of the gorge west of the Ruckle Creek Trail including Multnomah Falls has been affected.

We were still planning on getting water on the way back to Horseshoe Meadow at the little stream but we had forgotten how close it was to the Lookingglass Lake Trail and walked right past it. We didn’t realize our mistake until we’d reached the edge of Horseshoe Meadow. We decided that we would make due for the night with what we had left over in our packs (which wasn’t much) and our Hydro Flasks which we’d left at camp. In the morning we’d get water at either Sheep Lake or Riley Creek if no other sources could be found before then along the PCT.

The shadows were growing long back at Horseshoe Meadow.

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We were pretty tired and ready to crash but then we spotted a waterfall across the meadow and just had to check it out. We also thought there might be another water source that wasn’t so silty around. There wasn’t. The waterfall was nice though but it was the color of chocolate milk.

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We wound up moving our camp further from the trail due to a large group that had arrived and were a little louder than we preferred. After reestablishing camp we watched the last light hit Mt. Adams and turned in for the night.

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Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mt. Adams Day 1