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Hiking Mt. Adams Trip report Washington Cascades

Monte Carlo – Monte Cristo Loop – 6/27/2020

After ending a five day stretch of hiking with a 13 mile, nearly 4000′ elevation gain hike we chose a longer hike with even more elevation gain for our next outing. I found the the Monte Carlo – Monte Cristo Loop while working on our future hiking plans in the off season. A recent trip report indicated that the wildflowers were near peak and a mostly sunny forecast for Saturday made it seem like a good time to check it out. In addition this hike is not particularly popular so social distancing most likely wouldn’t be a problem.

There are numerous potential starting points for this loop (or shorter hikes to one or both of the peaks) we chose to start at the Monte Carlo Trailhead. The reason was twofold. First this was the starting point for the hike described in the Oregonhikers.org field guide and secondly the drive was almost entirely paved.

We missed the parking area for the trailhead which was directly across FR 18 from the start of the trail mistaking it for part of the Oklahoma Campground. We wound up turning up the next little forest road (I believe it was 752) on the right and parking at a pullout along it and walked down FR 18 to the trail. This really didn’t add any extra distance as the loop ended by walking approximately 2 miles along FR 18 between the Lower Monte Cristo Trailhead and the Monte Carlo Trailhead.
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We followed the field guide entry closely for this hike due to numerous logging road crossings, a couple of road walks and a few odd junctions. The field guide was spot on (despite being a bit off on total distance which we’ll get to later) so I won’t reinvent the wheel here and try and describe every twist and turn of the route. A tenth of a mile up the trail we came to a forest road which was the same one that we parked along. There was no signage at this junction but we knew from the field guide (and our GPS) to turn right. After our hike some hikers came by our car having turned left at the junction. After following the road for approximately 450′ we came to a trail on the left which quickly began climbing.
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The designer of the trail apparently had little use for switchbacks as the trail went just about straight uphill. A little over three quarters of a mile in we came to an old logging road which the trail followed to the right where it leveled off a bit.
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This road ended at FR 1840 where a sign pointed to the left for the Monte Carlo Trail.
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At another road junction after just 500′ on FR 1840 another segment of trail launched uphill. In the forest here we found a large number of phantom orchids.
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IMG_7967One of the phantom orchids to the right of the trail.

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Just over a quarter mile after leaving FR 1840 we came to another logging road which we turned right on briefly to pick up the continuation of the Monte Carlo Trail.
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Another .3 mile climb was followed by another short walk to the right on a road followed by yet more climbing.
IMG_7983A rare level section of trail.

IMG_7995There were thimbleberry bushes along the roads/trails all day long.

Just over 2 miles into the hike we came to a small hillside meadow.
IMG_8010Bumble bee working on some clover.

IMG_8004Penstemon

IMG_8018A few wildflowers.

IMG_8020Yarrow

IMG_8022Popcorn flower and strawberry plants.

After rounding a corner we came to a bigger meadow with more wildflowers and some views.
IMG_8059Timberhead Mountain

IMG_8062Little Huckleberry Mountain

IMG_8067Nightblooming false bindweed

The trail managed to steepen as it headed uphill and entered the upper portion of the meadow.
IMG_8077Wallflower

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The meadow was full of Oregon sunshine and a few other flowers.
IMG_8085Tall buckwheat

Tall buckwheatCloser look at the tall buckwheat.

IMG_8091Oregon sunshine

IMG_8078Yarrow, lupine and penstemon

At the top of the meadow the trail leveled out a bit and entered some trees before arriving at a trail junction.
IMG_8099Many of the signs along the route were no longer in the ground so it was important to make sure they really were pointing in the correct directions.

IMG_8104Honeysuckle

The junction consisted of the Monte Carlo Trail which we were on and the Buck Creek Trail which is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources whose land we were now on. We kept left on what was now a combination of the Monte Carlo and Buck Creek Trails which crossed and old logging road then arrived at the Buck Creek No. 2 Trailhead. We picked up the Monte Carlo – Buck Creek Trail here at a sign for the Middle Fork Grove and Monte Carlo Viewpoint.
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The Monte Carlo-Buck Creek Trail dropped to a crossing of Buck Creek before climbing for almost a mile (crossing one logging road) to a 90-degree right hand turn. Much of the time was in previously logged forests.
IMG_8119A few trees that were spared.

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IMG_8120Bunchberry

IMG_8131Footbridge over Buck Creek.

IMG_8135Salsify

IMG_8139Streambank globemallow

IMG_8141Silverleaf phacelia

IMG_8153Logging road crossing.

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The trail had reentered forest a bit before the 90-degree turn. After turning the trail dropped just over 200′ to Road B-1500 where we encountered the first other hikers of the day. A couple had parked along this road and were getting ready to head up to Monte Carlo for the wildflowers.
IMG_8161Starting the descent.

The trail set off from B-1500 amid a lot of lupine.
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The trail climbed steeply gaining over 600′ in the next three quarters of a mile to a junction atop Monte Carlo. A bit below the summit the trail enters an open hillside with wildflowers and some actual switchbacks. There is also reportedly an excellent view of Mt. Hood but there were enough clouds present that we could not verify that.
IMG_8179Entering the meadow.

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IMG_8194Pollinator on wallflower

IMG_8197Bee heading for some penstemon.

IMG_8203Clouds to the south.

IMG_8204Penstemon

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IMG_8211Lots of Oregon sunshine again.

IMG_8216Taper tip onions

20200627_101109Penstemon and lomatium seedheads.

IMG_8218Warning for mountain bikers going down the trail.

After briefly reentering the woods (and leveling out for a bit) the trail reached the summit junction.
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At this point the trail is back in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. A jeep track to the right heads down Eton Ridge while the Buck Creek Trail also drops to the right down Penny Ridge. The Monte Carlo Trail turned left and began a mile long traverse of the Monte Carlo Ridge.
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The ridge walk was a delight. First it was relatively level and better yet it was covered in wildflowers.
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IMG_8277

IMG_8278Balsamroot

IMG_8260Ladybug on a flower.

20200627_103428Cat’s ear lily

IMG_8280Lupine

IMG_8283Phlox and Oregon sunshine

IMG_8297Buckwheat

IMG_8301Paintbrush

20200627_104543Sunflowers

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IMG_8334Grouse in the flowers.

20200627_104926Columbine

Despite the clouds having hidden Mt. Hood from the meadow below there were plenty of views from the ridge.
IMG_8378Little Huckleberry Mountain to the left and Lemi Rock to the right.

IMG_8233Lemi Rock in the Indian Heaven Wilderness

IMG_8255Looking SE into Eastern Oregon.

By far the best view was of Mt. Adams.
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There were various penstemons in the area with the view of Mt. Adams.
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The level trail ended at the ridge end where the Monte Carlo Trail dove down toward a saddle and FR 1840. The trail dropped nearly 800′ in .7 miles before reaching the road. Worse than the steepness of the descent was knowing that we would need to gain all of the lost elevation back to visit Monte Cristo.
IMG_8397Starting the drop.

IMG_8409There were huge amounts of Arnica in the forest.

IMG_8419Monte Cristo from the trail as we dropped….further, and further.

The trail arrives at the Monte Carlo Upper Trailhead on FR 1840.
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To complete our loop we would eventually need to start down FR 1840 to the left but to reach Monte Cristo we needed to head uphill to the right on FR 1840-100 following pointers for the Monte Cristo Trail 53.
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IMG_8428FR 1840-100.

IMG_8431Shiny beetles

After .6 miles of gradual climbing the road ended at the an old trailhead.
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It was time to gain that elevation back and the Monte Cristo Trail did it with gusto. Despite the presence of actual switchbacks the concept seemed to escape the designer and instead of tight turns and gradual grades the trail went from a moderate grade to nearly straight uphill before turning back along the hillside at a moderate grade. We gained over 800′ in the next .8 miles.
IMG_8447A “switchback” turning directly uphill.

About a tenth of a mile below the summit the trail entered a spectacular wildflower meadow.
IMG_8456Sunflowers at the edge of the meadow.

IMG_8468Approaching the meadow.

IMG_8474Sunflowers

IMG_8479Scarlet gilia

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After having missed out the view of Mt. Hood earlier there was just enough of a break in the clouds to see the mountain from Monte Cristo.
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A lookout tower once sat atop the peak.
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A much shorter ridge than on Monte Carlo ran north from the summit where the Monte Cristo Trail continued eventually reaching the Monte Cristo Upper Trailhead. Our second encounter with hikers came along this ridge when a group of three people were coming up from this upper trailhead.

The short ridge was covered with wildflowers including quite a bit of white-stemmed frasera which we haven’t often encountered.
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IMG_8521Pussytoes

IMG_8525White-stemmed frasera

IMG_8544Phlox

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IMG_8563Taper tip onions

20200627_122010White-stemmed frasera

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IMG_8584Wallflower and paintbrush

IMG_8581A white lupine

IMG_8580Paintbrush and phlox

We took a short break at the summit which was just long enough for Mt. Hood to sort of reemerge from clouds that had hidden it. This happened at the same time a hawk decided to ride an updraft straight up in the sky.
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After admiring the hawks flight abilities we started back down through the meadow.
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The trail was just as steep going down as it had been coming up and our knees were starting to protest this whole adventure. We made our way back to FR 1840-10 and followed it back to the Monte Carlo Upper Trailhead, pausing briefly to watch some swallowtail butterflies.
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We followed FR 1840-100 a few yards downhill to it’s junction with FR 1840 and turned left for 20 yards to the signed Monte Cristo Trail on the right.
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Our knees would not be getting a break just yet as the Monte Cristo Trail descended over 1000′ in just over a mile to the Monte Cristo Lower Trailhead along FR 18.
IMG_8612Presumably letting you know that you’re a mile from the road. (It could also be that this tree is “Number 1”.)

IMG_8618Twinflower in the forest.

IMG_8622Our first blooming prince’s pine of the year.

20200627_134001_HDRNot nearly the steepest section.

IMG_8626FR 18 finally!

We turned left on FR 18 the nearly 2 mile road walk back to our car. The good news was that the road surface wasn’t too hard and better yet it was nearly level the whole way!
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The field guide lists the hike as 11.8 miles but a trip report from 6/20 that I’d seen said that the hike came in closer to 14 miles for him. My Garmin came in at 13.6 miles so keep that in mind if you’re considering this hike. It was certainly challenging but the wildflowers and the views made it a worthwhile endeavor. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Monte Carlo-Monte Cristo Loop

Categories
Hiking Trapper Creek Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Siouxon Creek & Peak

It was finally time for our first overnight trip this year. We picked the Siouxon Trail for the trip which would be our test run for our backpacking season. Our plan was to hike up the Siouxon Trail approximately four miles, find a campsite to set up in then hike up to Siouxon Peak on a loop using the Wildcat, Chinook, and Huffman Peak Trails.

The trail is located in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest and is accessed via forest road 5071 which is east of Chelatchie, WA. Although the roads are mostly paved, washouts and pot holes made it interesting on the way to the trailhead.
Siouxon Trailhead

There were already quite a few cars in the parking area when we arrived shortly after 7am. Since this was our first hike here we weren’t sure what to expect for campsites and hoped that we would be able to find an open one in the area we had planned on. We slung our packs on and set off downhill toward Siouxon Creek.

We crossed West Creek on a nice footbridge and continued along in a cool, green forest.
Siouxon Trail

West Creek

Siouxon Trail

Cool was going to be important as the forecast called for temperatures in the mid-90s for some nearby areas.

It wasn’t long before Siouxon Creek came into view with crystal clear water and colorful pools. It reminded us a lot of our previous hike along the Lewis River.
Siouxon Creek

Siouxon Creek

The trail then bent back away from Siouxon Creek as it crossed Horseshoe Creek above Horseshoe Creek Falls on another footbridge.
Horseshoe Creek Falls

Horseshoe Creek Falls

Just over a mile and a half from the trailhead Siouxon Falls came into view. Here Siouxon Creek drops in an S-shaped chute into a green pool.
Siouxon Falls

Siouxon Falls

Beyond Siouxon Falls the trail continued along the creek offering views of a few smaller cascades and more green pools.
Siouxon Creek

Small fall along Siouxon Creek

Pool below small waterfall along Siouxon Creek

We passed a trail sign for the Wildcat Trail around the 3 mile mark which would wind up being our return route the following day. Shortly after the Wildcat Trail sign was another junction, this time with the Horseshoe Ridge Trail.
Siouxon Trail junction with the Horseshoe Ridge Trail

We continued on the Siouxon Trail another 3/4 of a mile to a footbridge over Siouxon Creek.
Unnamed creek and the bridge across Siouxon Creek to Chinook Falls

We had begun keeping an eye out for a good campsite following the Horseshoe Ridge Trail junction but  most were already taken and the few that remained were near other groups of backpackers. We crossed on the footbridge and found the sites on the opposite side occupied as well.

We had left the Siouxon Creek Trail and were now following Chinook Creek. In 0.2 miles we came to 50′ Chinook Falls.
Chinook Falls

Chinook Falls

To continue we would need to cross Chinook Creek which did not have a bridge. Logs provided a dry crossing and we were quickly across heading toward yet another trail junction.
Chinook Falls

Junction with the Chinook Trail

If we had been able to find a campsite before reaching this point we would have headed up the Chinook Trail at this point. Since we were still searching we decided to take the connector trail between this junction and the Wildcat Trail. Even though the sign here didn’t point left for a trail there was a clear one there. It climbed a bit at first then dropped down closer to Siouxon Creek again in a much denser forest than on the Siouxon Trail side. We were focused on finding a suitable campsite but instead all we found was a lot of elk sign. As we neared Wildcat Creek we decided that if we hadn’t found a spot by the time we reached the Wildcat Trail we would loop back on the Siouxon Trail and take one of the few spots we’d seen near other groups. Luckily we didn’t need to implement that plan as we found a small secluded spot near Wildcat Creek with just enough room for a tent.
Campsite near Wildcat Creek

After getting settled we switched to our little daypacks and crossed Wildcat Creek on some more logs.
Wildcat Creek

Just on the other side of the creek was the junction with the trail coming from the Siouxon Trail
Wildcat Trail junction

We headed uphill on the Wildcat Trail. The trail stayed a bit above the creek but we spotted a couple of small cascades that warranted checking out on short scramble trails.
Wildcat Trail

Cascades along Wildcat Creek

Slide falls along Wildcat Creek

The best fall of the day came a half mile up the Wildcat Trail. The 225′ Wildcat Falls drops 3 times with the final drop being 124′.
Wildcat Falls

To reach the base of the falls a steep trail headed downhill. The assistance of a rope which we found waiting was almost a necessity here.
Rope down to Wildcat Falls

Wildcat Falls

We’d timed it well both for the day and the time of year. According to the information on the falls from the Northwest Waterfall Survey the falls become “substantially less impressive as summer progresses”. There was plenty of water now and there was no one else at the falls when we arrived. We sat on some rocks at the edge of the splash pool letting the misty wind from the falls cool us off.
Splash pool of Wildcat Falls

When other hikers began to arrive we climbed back up using the rope and continued our loop. We started to climb looking back after about a hundred feet to see the upper tiers of the falls.
Wildcat Falls

The Wildcat Trail switchbacked uphill to a viewpoint above Wildcat Falls allowing us to see the upper tier even beter.
Wildcat Falls

Upper tier of Wildcat Falls

From the falls the trail gained approximately 2000′ in 2 miles to a junction with the Huffman Peak Trail. It was starting to get really warm and we were forced to take quite a few more breaks than usual along the way. Fortunately there was a bit of an off-and-on breeze that helped to cool us off a little as we took in the scenery.
Wildcat Trail

Little prince’s pine
Little prince's pine

Tiger lily
Tiger lily

Penstemon
Penstemon

We turned right when we reached the Huffman Peak Trail which promptly began descending to a saddle.
Wildcat Trail junction with the Huffman Peak Trail

It eventually leveled out and then began climbing again as it headed up the side of Siouxon Peak. Wildflowers along this section included beargrass, avalanche lilies and pioneer violets.
Beargrass

Avalanche lily

Violets

We hadn’t seen any other hikers since we’d left Wildcat Falls but just before we reached the spur trail to the summit of Siouxon Peak we met another pair of hikers that had just come down. We had seen them earlier at Chinook Falls but they had headed up that trail doing the loop the way we’d originally planned on. They said it was beautiful up at the summit and they weren’t kidding. We had been seeing glimpses of several mountains through the trees from the Huffman Peak Trail but no clear views. As we began up the summit spur trail though that all changed.
Mt. Rainier, Goat Rocks, and Mt. Adams

An exposed ridge led up to the former site of a lookout tower on top of Siouxon Peak. Snowy peaks dominated the horizon while numerous butterflies flitted among the various wildflowers.
Mt. Hood heading to the summit of Siouxon Peak

Mt. Hood
Mt. Hood

Mt. Adams
Mt. Adams

Goat Rocks
Goat Rocks

Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier

Phlox
Phlox

Swallowtail above the meadow
Swallowtail butterfly flying over wildflowers on Siouxon Peak

Butterflies above the meadow with Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams in the distance.
Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams from Siouxon Peak

Penstemon
Penstemon

Mt. Rainier, Goat Rocks, Mt. Adams and Swift Reservoir from the summit of Siouxon Peak

Goat Rocks and MT. Adams from the summit of Siouxon Peak

Butterfly on bistort
Hairstreak butterfly on bistort

Swallowtail on phlox
Swallowtail on phlox

Swallowtail overhead
Swallowtail soaring overhead

We sat for awhile at the summit. There was just enough breeze to keep it from being too warm and it was just too beautiful to not spend some time appreciating it. Ironically the closest mountain to us was Mt. St. Helens which we couldn’t see due to trees lining the west side of the peak.

After pulling ourselves away and returning to the Huffman Peak Trail we spotted a little spur trail on the opposite side. This one led to a viewpoint that included Mt. St. Helens.
Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier from a viewpoint below Siouxon Peak

We continued on our loop passing beneath Siouxon Peak in a meadow of strawberry blossoms and phlox.
Strawberries and phlox

After a few switchbacks the trail leveled out some as it began following an old roadbed.
Huffman Peak Trail

The trail entered a section of young trees where the penstemon display was amazing. There was also quite a bit of paintbrush and some lupine mixed in.
Penstemon

Penstemon and paintbrush along the Huffman Peak Trail

Penstemon and paintbrush along the Huffman Peak Trail

Paintbrush

Lupine

There was a bit of a washout in this section but it was not too difficult to cross.
Washout along the Huffman Peak Trail

Slide along the Huffman Peak Trail from the other side of the valley

We turned onto the Chinook Trail at a signed junction.
Huffman Peak Trail junction with the Chinook Trail

The Chinook Trail began as an old narrow jeep track which eventually turned to a true trail.
Chinook Trail

As we were coming down the Chinook Trail we met our neighbor from across Siouxon Creek. She had set up camp Friday night and was now doing the Siouxon Peak loop in the opposite direction. After a nice conversation she introduced herself as Nicole and we shared our names before continuing on. It turns out she is a fellow member of the //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js“>PortlandHikers Facebook group. It’s always nice to put faces to names and have these chance meetings out on the trails.

We spotted a variety of interesting plants in the forest along this trail including yellow coralroot, indian pipe, and some candysticks.
Yellow coralroot

Indian Pipe

Candystick

Candysticks

Before returning to our campsite we detoured back to Chinook Falls to see how it looked in the afternoon sunlight and to cool off by the splash pool.
Chinook Falls

While we were enjoying the falls we noticed a few tadpoles nearby.
Tadpole

We returned to camp and got ready for dinner. We were excited to try out our new Alite Mayfly chairs. I had been a bit reluctant to add any extra weight to my pack but at 1lbs 4oz the chairs aren’t that heavy. I was still thinking I might only bring mine on shorter trips or trips where we establish a base camp for multiple days, but after eating dinner and relaxing next to Wildcat Creek in the chair it will be coming with me from now on.

The next morning we woke a little before 5am and began packing up. Heather had a baby shower that afternoon and we were hoping to be home in time for her to attend. While we were working on breakfast we were thoroughly entertained by a slug that had passed over a strap on my pack then set to scaling a mossy boulder.
Slug on my backpack strap

Slug on a boulder

Instead of going back to the bridge across Siouxon Creek at the Chinook Trail we decided to shorten the morning hike by fording Siouxon Creek at the Wildcat Trail. The ford is not recommended in high water but it wasn’t running too swiftly so we plunged in. At it’s deepest the water came up just a bit past our knees but we had no problems reaching the trail on the other bank.
Siouxon Creek ford between the Wildcat and Siouxon Trails

We returned to the Siouxon Trailhead a just before 8am and Heather was back in plenty of time to go to the baby shower. All in all it was a pretty successful first over night for the year. We thought we had forgotten a couple of items only to discover that they had been in our packs the whole time and our new chairs worked out great. We’re looking forward to several more backpacking trips in the next few months. Until next time, happy trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157666763253394

Categories
Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Lewis River and Curly Creek Falls

After our vacation in Gold Beach, OR we began our next hike 300 miles away along the Lewis River in Washington’s Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. The Lewis River Trail is one of those very popular trails that we had not yet been to. We hoped an early start would help avoid the bulk of the Memorial Day Weekend crowds. We parked at the Lower Falls Recreation Area just a short distance from the first of the days waterfalls.
Trail sign at the Lower Falls Recreation Area

We walked down to a platform overlooking the Lower Falls. This was another waterfall that was much larger in person than it had looked in pictures.
Lower Falls viewing platform

Lower Lewis River Falls

We then headed down to river level to see what the falls looked like from that angle.
Lower Lewis River Falls

Lower Lewis River Falls

After getting the view from below we climbed back past the first platform and headed NE along the Lewis River Trail. A second viewpoint looked down from above the falls.
Lower Lewis River Falls

A couple of wooden staircases led down to little beaches along the river.
Stairs to the bank of the Lewis River

Lewis River

We followed the trail between the river and the Lewis River Campground then deeper into the forest toward the Middle and Upper Falls.
Trail sign along the Lewis River Trail

As we were crossing a footbridge Heather noticed something along the side creek. She said she almost mistook it for a statue because of how still it was standing but then the doe began heading back up the creek.
Deer along a small creek

Doe

As she retreated we noticed more movement in the underbrush. A pair of wobbly young fawns had been with the doe.
Fawns

After snapping a couple of quick pictures we continued on so mom could get back to her fawns.

A section of trail was closed near Middle Falls but a detour was in place using the Middle Falls Parking Area.
Trail reroute due to slides

We had been planning on taking this route anyway since it passed another waterfall along Copper Creek.
Copper Creek Falls
Copper Creek Falls

When we were back on the Lewis River Trail we followed a sign for Middle Falls.
Lewis River Trail

Middle Lewis River Falls

Middle Lewis River Falls

Middle Lewis River Falls

In addition to the waterfalls the Lewis River had some beautiful colored water due to the presence of rock shelves which created some deep green pools.
Lewis River

Lewis River

Before continuing on to Upper Falls we headed for the bridge over Copper Creek. The trail closure was posted at the bridge but below the bridge was a scenic water slide.
Slide on Copper Creek

Continuing on the Lewis River Trail we passed some large cliffs covered in green lichen.
Lichen covered rocks along the Lewis River Trail

Lewis River Trail

Another section of cliffs were of particular interest. Several trees were perched along the cliff edge with exposed roots high in the air. The rock showed clear signs of having been worn by the river which seemed to indicate that the roots of these trees had once been under the river bank, but as the river eroded the banks and deepened it’s canyon, the roots were left exposed. Given how far above the current river these trees were, we wondered how old they were.
Tree roots showing where the Lewis River once was.

Tree roots showing where the Lewis River once was.

The Upper Falls was another impressive, thundering waterfall.
Upper Lewis River Falls

Upper Lewis River Falls

Upper Lewis River Falls

We made our way out onto a gravel bar for a better view and found a few flowers as well as some elk sign.
Tall bluebells

Upper Lewis River Falls

The trail then climbed up to an upper viewpoint via a wide arc around some rock outcroppings.
Upper Lewis River Falls

Upper Lewis River Falls

Upper Lewis River Falls

Continuing on we passed a spectacular green pool before reaching Taitnapum Falls.
Lewis River

Taitnapum Falls

Taitnapum Falls

We turned around after reaching the end of the Lewis River Trail and NF Road 90. The Quartz Creek Trail continued on the far side but for us it was time to head back and get to our second hike.

We had seen a handful of people on our way out along the trail and wound up having each of the falls to ourselves, but on the way back it was a steady stream of people. The Recreation Area parking lot was packed as we left making us glad we had started with this hike. We drove back towards Cougar, WA on forest road 90 turning right on road 9039 at a sign for the Curly Creek Trailhead. We parked in a gravel lot just before reaching a bridge across the Lewis River. The trail was on the far side of the bridge so we crossed on foot and headed downstream to the West. A platform along the trail offered views across the Lewis River to the unique Curly Creek Falls with its pair of rock arches.
Curly Creek Falls

Curly Creek Falls

Curly Creek Falls

Just a short distance further was another viewpoint. This time for Miller Falls.
Miller Falls

Miller Falls

One of the reasons we had not done these hikes before was due to the length of the drive vs. the amount of  hike time. At 3 hours one way the 9-10 miles would cause us to spend more time in the car than on the trail. Our solution was to visit the Bolt Camp Shelter after Curly Creek and Miller Falls. To do this we returned along the trail to the road 9039 bridge, crossing the road and continuing on the Lewis River Trail.

Lewis River Trail

Lewis River Trail

This portion of the Lewis River Trail was along a calmer section of the river offering plenty of access to the river.
Lewis River

Lewis River

We stopped for a short rest along the river at the Bolt Camp Shelter before returning to the trailhead.
Bolt Camp sign

Bolt Camp Shelter along the Lewis River

When it was all said and done we’d spent 6 hours and 42 minutes on the trail which meant we hadn’t violated our rule of not spending more time driving than hiking. It was easy to see why this area is so popular, but even with all the people we had still found some solitude along the trails and at every waterfall we’d visited. We couldn’t have asked for more. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668708267141

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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There were even some huckleberries beginning to ripen.
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One sight that was not welcome was a fire pit filled with garbage where someone had obviously been shooting a shotgun.
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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.
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Little Baldy
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Silver Star Mountain and Little Baldy
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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New flowers and more butterflies joined the views as we passed under the cliffs of Bluff Mountain.
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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.
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Looking back from where we’d come we could see three Cascade mountains. (Some better than others)
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Mt. St. Helens
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Mt. Rainier
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Mt. Adams
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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.
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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.
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When we emerged from the trees we were in a small meadow with a view of Mt. Hood.
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The meadow was full of yellow flowers.
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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.
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Little Baldy looked like a giant rock pile with a few patches of vegetation growing on its flanks.
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Gentians dotted the trail wherever plants were able to grow.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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We turned up the old road and headed for Silver Stars dual summits.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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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.
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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 🙂
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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.
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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.
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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.

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