Categories
Blue Mountains - North Hiking Oregon Trip report

Lower Wenaha River

After dealing with snow the day before at Freezeout Saddle (post) we called an audible and decided not to try hiking at Hat Point. That trailhead is a little higher in elevation along Hells Canyon than we had been during the Freezeout Saddle Hike. We turned instead to the Wenaha River Trail starting from Troy, OR. This trail provided us with the opportunity to make our first visit into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. We planned on visiting this wilderness later on this year but knowing our plans are always subject to change we jumped on the chance for a warmer, drier hike that visited another of Oregon’s wilderness areas.

The drive to Troy from Wallowa Lake was an eventful one. The wildlife was out in force. We kept our eyes on the numerous deer that we spotted along Highway 3 between Enterprise and the turnoff to Flora. At one point several elk ran across the highway ahead of us from one field to another. There were two deer in the second field that upon seeing the elk running away from the road toward them decided they should run too, only they ran toward the road (and us). The lead deer realized its mistake and turned around chasing after the elk leaving the second deer looking confused before also turning around. A short while later we were slowed by a turkey in the road. Its escape plan appeared to be to try and outrun our car. If you’ve seen a turkey try and sprint its a pretty funny sight. Eventually it remembered its wings and flew to the side of the road.

Thirty five miles from Enterprise we turned left at a sign for Flora, a ghost town that peaked in the early 1900’s. Beyond Flora the road was paved for the first 4 miles but then turned to mostly dirt with some gravel. For about 7 miles this road wound steeply down to the Grande Ronde River and Troy. Numerous hairpin turns with steep dropoffs made for a bit of a tense drive down but we arrived at the Troy Trailhead in one piece.
Troy Trailhead

Not only were we at a much lower elevation (under 2000′) but the forecast was for just a 30% chance of showers on this day so we were optimistic that we’d have a little better weather experience. The sky seemed to back that up as we looked back over Troy and the Grande Ronde River.
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This lower portion of the 31.3 mile long Wenaha River Trail passes through the 2015 Grizzly Fire scar.
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Some of the trees survived the fire.
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We had seen a trip report from the end of April over on Oregonhikers.org which indicated that the trail was in pretty good shape, but might be a bit brushy in spots. The author had also spotted big horn sheep during the hike so we were going to be keeping on the lookout for those.

In April it looked like there had been a nice display of balsamroot along the trail but most of that was now done but we were pleased to still find some flowers in bloom.
IMG_7762Vetch

IMG_7768Spreading dogbane

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IMG_7787Houndstongue

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IMG_7792Catchfly

IMG_7795sticky purple geranium

The trail itself began above the Wenaha River but soon dropped down to river level passing through a flat. This pattern would repeat itself over the course of the hike. The sections along the flats ranged from open grass to overgrown brush. We appeared to be the first to be going through the brush since the leaves were heavy with water which quickly soaked the lower halves of our bodies.
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As we made our way along the trail we discovered additional flower types.
IMG_7812Oregon sunshine

IMG_7818Monkey flower

WatercressWatercress?

IMG_7822Fiddleneck

IMG_7827Rough eyelashweed

IMG_7829Blanket flower with two sleeping bees

After a mile we arrived at a gate which we at first mistook for the boundary with the Umatilla National Forest.
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While we were on the lookout for big horn sheep it was colorful birds that we kept seeing (and hearing).
IMG_7848Yellow breasted chat

IMG_7865Lazuli bunting

The contrast in the hillsides on the opposite sides of the river was interesting. The north side consisted of smooth rounded terrain while the south side was much more rugged.
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While we were admiring the ruggedness of the opposite hillside we spotted some promising brown dots (they are in the picture above). With a little help from the zoom on the camera and our monocular we were able to confirm they were some of the big horn sheep we’d been looking for.
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Just a bit further down the trail we spotted another group. These were engaged in some rowdy play around a burnt ponderosa trunk.
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We watched them for quite a while before continuing on. The north side of the river became a bit more rugged and the rockier terrain provided more diverse flowers.
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IMG_7919Penstemon

IMG_7921Clarkia

IMG_7932Phlox

IMG_7945More spreading dogbane

IMG_7949Buckwheat

IMG_7952Scabland penstemon

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While the trail was up on the hillside we had nice views of the Wenaha below.
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A little over two and a half miles in we passed a second fence which was the actual forest boundary.
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Just beyond the boundary was a viewpoint across from Dry Gulch.
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From the viewpoint the trail made a couple switchbacks down to another brushy flat.
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Although it wasn’t thick there was a few pockets of poison ivy along the trail so we kept a watchful eye when the vegetation was close to the trail. It was along these flat sections where we spotted most of the birds.
IMG_7970Woodpecker with a snack.

IMG_7978Northern flicker

IMG_8003Black headed grosebeak

We also spotted a few big horn sheep on our side of the river.
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After climbing up a bit again we found a nice combination of false sunflower and balsamroot blooming along a ridge end along with a few other flowers.
IMG_7985Blue dicks with a beetle

IMG_8010Lupine

IMG_8012Salsify

IMG_8021False sunflowers

IMG_8024Balsamroot

IMG_8013Clarkia with beetles

IMG_8028View from the ridge end.

We repeated the dip and climb a couple more times before arriving at a neat rock overhang a bit before the 6 mile mark (at least according to our GPS). Along the way spotted more birds, a deer, and what appeared to be a rattlesnake that had met its demise along the trail.
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IMG_8040Another bunting

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IMG_8052Another chat

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20190525_095959Geranium

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Beyond the overhang we could see Crooked Creek Canyon ahead to the right where it joined the Wenaha to the left.
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From the overhang it was a little over a mile to Crooked Creek. The stretch began with another nice selection of flowers.
IMG_8077Skullcap

IMG_8081Stream globemallow

IMG_8083Thimbleberry

IMG_8084Threadleaf phacelia

The the wildlife kicked back in and not in the most welcome way for Heather. I had stopped to try and get a picture of a garter snake that had just moved off the trail.
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I heard Heather say snake a couple of time and I was thinking “Yeah I know I’m trying to get a picture of it” only she was talking about a second garter snake that was slithering into the grass on the other side of the trail. Then she notice the third one coiled a couple of inches from her left foot. She is not a huge fan of snakes but has gotten quite a bit more comfortable around them, but three in one spot was getting close to too much. The third snake slithered away when I approached and we continued on.

More welcome wildlife came in the form of a family of geese, a pair of Lewis’s woodpeckers, and butterflies.
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At the 6.3 mile mark we passed a rock cairn with a “6” on top. We weren’t sure but thought that it might have been marking the boundary of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.
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Whether or not that was the official boundary somewhere near the cairn we did enter the wilderness crossing one more off of our list to visit.
IMG_8134Officially inside the wilderness

We followed the trail to the site of the former footbridge over Crooked Creek which was lost in the Grizzly Fire.
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We spent some time pondering what the crossing would be like for backpackers wanting to continue on the Wenaha Trail. The water level looked like fording would be possible but we couldn’t see how one would get up to the trail on the far side. The best we could figure is that you would need to ford closer to the mouth of Crooked Creek and not at the old bridge site but we didn’t investigate further.

We turned around and headed back the way we’d come. The day was warming up nicely as blue sky began to emerge overhead. We ran into several groups of backpackers heading in and they all asked about Crooked Creek. We told them that we thought fording would be possible but they’d need to find a spot to get back up to the trail. One of them mentioned what we had suspected, that there was a way up a little further downstream.
IMG_8165Blue sky

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On the way back we kept our eyes open for anything we might have missed the first time by.
IMG_8177Wren

IMG_8190Spider and blue dicks

IMG_8194Old man’s whiskers

IMG_8220Wild onion

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Near the spot where we had seen the first group of big horn sheep across the river Heather spotted a small group on our side along the river bank.
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By the time we made it back to the trailhead the sky was mostly blue and temperatures were in the upper 70’s. It was a far cry from the snow shower the day before.
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20190525_134957The bees woke up at some point.

For some reason I had started craving pizza near the end of our hike so when we got cell signal I did a quick search of restaurants in Joseph and decided a calzone from Embers Brewhouse which really hit the spot and provided breakfast for the next day as well. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Lower Wenaha River

Categories
Central Coast Hiking Oregon Oregon Coast Trip report

South Beach and Depoe Bay

On the way to our annual family reunion near Gleneden Beach we made several stops to check out short trails in the Newport and Depoe Bay areas. For our first stop we parked next to the Hatfield Marine Science Center and took the paved Yaquina Bay Estuary Trail from the east end of the parking lot.
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We were hoping to see some wildlife along the half mile trail and we weren’t disappointed. Just from the parking lot there were many birds visible.
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There was also a snake sunning itself at the beginning of the path.
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We followed the path along the estuary to its other end near the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
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The final stretch of trail was across a boardwalk.
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IMG_9736View from the boardwalk

We were impressed by the number of herons and egrets in the bay.
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In addition to the the herons, egrets, and numerous seagulls there were many other birds in the area, most of which didn’t want to stop for pictures.
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After returning to our car we drove to Highway 101 and headed south to the signed entrance of South Beach State Park. Here we parked at the Day Use Area and hiked past the restrooms over the foredune to the ocean.
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We turned right and headed north along the beach toward the south jetty about a mile away.
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From the jetty we could see a pair of lighthouses, the Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head Lighthouses. They had been the stops on our way to the reunion in 2017 (post).
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We turned inland at the jetty continuing for just over a quarter of a mile to the South Jetty parking area.
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IMG_9758Part of the Oregon Coast Trail

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An osprey was busy eating its catch on a nearby tower.
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From the South Jetty parking area we took the paved South Beach Jetty Trail back to the South Beach State Park Day Use Area for a two and a quarter mile loop.
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Our next stop was the Mike Miller Trail which is located on the east side of Highway 101 along SE 50th Street which was just two tenths of a mile north of the South Beach State Park entrance. We parked along the shoulder of 50th St. near the start of the trail.
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They were out of trail guides at the trailhead so we weren’t able to follow along with the numbered stops along the 1-mile loop but we did get to see some nice coastal old-growth trees along the way. We followed signs for the Mike Miller Trail which crossed a marshy pond twice on footbridges.
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IMG_9786One of several benches along the trail.

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From the Mike Miller Trail we returned to Highway 101 and drove north through Newport toward Depot Bay. We turned inland on Schoolhouse Street just south of Depoe Bay at a Shell Station. We immediately forked left and drove downhill toward the bay following City Park signs. After parking we headed into the park where we followed signs for the South Depoe Bay Creek Nature Trail.
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The forested path followed South Depoe Bay Creek for a quarter of a mile to a footbridge where a .3 mile loop began.
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We crossed the creek and stayed left on the main trail at junctions. The trail passed a huge, hollow old stump with two trees growing off of it.
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A second nearby stump was covered in green foliage.
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The trail recrossed the still creek and passed a rather large picnic table before completing the loop.
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A short distance prior to the start of the loop we had passed a fork where the right hand path led uphill.
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On our way back we turned uphill on that trail and climbed through the trees to Indian Trail Avenue.
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We followed this road down to the Shell Station along Highway 101 passing a little whale statue/slide.
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We then followed the highway north into Depoe Bay.
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We could have crossed the highway and visited the Whale Watching Center or browsed the local shops, but we didn’t want to be late for the reunion so we simply turned right onto Bay St. after crossing over the highway bridge following it around the bay to the Coast Guard boathouse.
IMG_9816Whale Watching Center

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We continued along the bay until we reached a wide footbridge across South Depoe Bay Creek back to the city park.
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This wound up being a 1.7 mile round trip bringing our total mileage for day to a grand total of 6 miles. It was a nice variety of trails and a good way to work up an appetite before the reunion. Happy Trails!

Flickr: South Beach and Depot Bay Trails

Categories
Bull of the Woods/Opal Creek Hiking Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Whetstone Mountain

One of the hikes we wanted to do this year was a repeat of a hike we’d done back in 2010 when we were just getting into hiking. The goal of that hike was Whetstone Mountain. When we were done with that hike we had no idea how far we’d gone, we just knew that it kicked our derrieres. We wanted to revisit this hike to find out just how far it was and to also see how we would fare now being more prepared and experienced.

The previous hike had ended with Heather and I jogging down the closed portion of forest service road 2209. We weren’t jogging for fun, we were jogging because we couldn’t walk any longer and we desperately wanted to be back at our car. We were heading back now armed with 4 years of experience and a Garmin to find out just how difficult this hike really was. The starting point for this loop was the Opal Creek trail head which was already full of cars when we pulled up at 6am. The trail head is the main gateway into the Opal Creek Wilderness and Jawbone Flats a former mining camp turned ancient forest center. A gate at the trail head blocks any unauthorized vehicles from reaching the center.

We set off down road 2209 and followed it across Gold Creek.
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Shortly after the bridge a sign and wilderness registration box announced the Whetstone Mountain Trail heading up on our left. We turned up it and quickly entered the Opal Creek Wilderness.
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The trail climbed steadily through rhododendrons and beargrass. Neither Heather nor I remembered much about this portion of the hike from our first visit. It may be that we suppressed the memory of this difficult climb :). It wasn’t until we reached a small saddle with an open view of Mt. Hood to the north that anything looked familiar.
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Another notable item that we remembered was an anvil shaped rock outcrop that could be seen through the trees as well as view of Mt. Jefferson.
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On our first visit we had been disappointed with the mountain views. We had been told to look for a trail that forked off to the left and led to a nice view, but we never found it that first trip. We had our eyes open again this time determined to find this trail to a view, but this time we didn’t need to look very hard. A nice new sign had been put up pointing directly at a well maintained trail. It’s hard to believe either was there on our previous visit. The sign was surely new and we couldn’t believe we would have missed such an obvious trail.
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The views kept getting better as we climbed toward the former lookout site. The trail passed a nice meadow below the rocky summit before winding up on top where a 360 degree view awaited.
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Olallie Butte, Mt. Jefferson and Battle Ax Mountain
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Mt. Hood
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Broken Top, Coffin Mountain and the Three Sisters
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Three Fingered Jack
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Diamond Peak
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Mt. Rainier
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Mt. Adams
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We would have liked to have stayed up on the summit for awhile but it was crowded up there. Mosquitoes were beginning to swarm us and there was no breeze to keep them at bay so we didn’t stick around very long and headed back down to the Whetstone Mountain trail to continue our loop. Not far from the summit we passed another lovely meadow filled with larkspur and paintbrush.
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The trail down the east side of Whetstone Mountain had a gentler grade than the side we had come up. We didn’t remember this section either until we reached the bridge less crossing of Battle Ax Creek. On our last visit we removed our shoes and socks and made sure our pant legs would stay dry. Our attitudes about creek crossings have changed since then and this time we just plunged in.
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Shortly after crossing the creek we popped back up on the old road 2209 at a trail junction. We turned toward Jawbone Flats and headed down the abandoned mining road. As we were walking I spotted a snake trying to get out of the way. It didn’t seem too concerned with us and posed for several pictures. Nique and I moved on and soon realized we’d lost Heather. When she caught back up she told us that the snake had come over to check her out.
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About a mile from Jawbone Flats are the remains of the Ruth Mine. We took a moment this time to check out the old equipment and shafts.
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Just before Battle Ax Creek reaches Jawbone Flats there is a nice open rocky area where we could get an up close view of the clear water that the Opal Creek Wilderness is known for.
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We had gone straight through Jawbone Flats crossing Battle Ax Creek on a footbridge on our previous visit but we had made other plans this time. The bridge had recently collapsed so there was no direct route through the old camp. Instead we would take the Kopetski Trail which would take us across the Little North Santiam River and by the Opal Pool.

Closed bridge:
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Old mining equipment:
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Little North Santiam River:
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Opal Pool:
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Despite the number of cars in the parking lot that morning we had only seen one group of people up until we reached the Opal Pool. From that point on we were passing another group every couple of minutes. Since we had hiked this trail in 2012 and we’d already been hiking for over 6 hours we didn’t bother with exploring all the possible access points to the river. After a mile and a half we recrossed the river on another bridge and were back on road 2209. We had one last stop to make. There was a waterfall that we had yet to find along the trail. We knew it was somewhere behind the old Merten Mill but we had yet to actually see it. Determined to finally see Sawmill Falls we turned off the road at the old mill and followed a path next to the building. This time we found the falls easily and it was worth the side trip.
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After a brief rest we returned to the road and began the home stretch. Nique and I began snacking on the Salmonberries that were ripening along the trail (Heather finds them too sour) and we passed a good patch of flowers growing in an exposed rocky section.
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We ended up with the Garmin showing a 16.3 mile hike which would explain why it had seemed so hard 4 years ago, it was hard :). We’d probably gone closer to 15 that day since we hadn’t found the summit trail or taken time to explore the Ruth Mine, Opal Pool, or Sawmill Falls but up until then 7.1 had been our longest hike.

It is really a beautiful area with lots of options, but if you don’t like crowds avoid weekends, especially nice ones. When we got back to the parking area the number of cars had more than doubled. If we were to ever do this loop again I’d go the opposite direction to minimize crowds and to take advantage of a more gradual climb. Happy Trails!

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