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Hiking Silver Star Mountain SW Washington Trip report Washington

Starway Trail to Silver Star Mountain

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

Our inspiration for this visit came from Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” (2nd edition) which was printed in 2019. Reeder calls the hike to Silver Star Mountain via the Starway Trail as “by far the most difficult….”. He also mentions that the last two miles of driving on FR 41 to reach the trailhead are “potholed and rocky” while the Forest Service states “Trailhead is best accessed by high clearance vehicles due to rough road conditions.” The Washington Trail Association also mentions that “…most of the roads accessing the trailhead have been severely degraded…” This last description was probably the most accurate description of what we encountered for the final 3 miles on FR 41. The road didn’t have pot holes, it had craters. Our Outback scrapped the ground twice emerging from said craters and I can’t imagine how a low clearance vehicle could make it given the current condition of the road. In fact there was a sign at the Sunset Falls Campground with slash going through a low clearance vehicle. We parked at a pullout near a gate at the FR 41/FR 4107 junction. Reeder mentions that you can drive 4107 approximately a half mile to the start of the actual Starway Trail at Copper Creek but if the gate gets closed your stuck. Looking at the gate we weren’t sure if it even still closed but we were more than done with driving at that point.
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We headed down this one lane road approximately a half mile to a small parking area near a bridge over Copper Creek.
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It was an overcast morning which was a welcome sight for this hike. Reeder had recommended not attempting this hike on warmer days due to the steepness of the climbs. The forecast for Silver Star was for a high in the low 60’s with partly sunny skies. We hopped that by the time we reached Silver Star we’d be greeted by those partly sunny skies, but the low 60’s temperatures were what we were really after. Beyond Copper Creek the trail followed an old road bed as it gradually climbed for a little over a quarter of a mile to a fork.
IMG_8154Overgrown roadbed that is now the Starway Trail.

IMG_8156The fork with the Starway Trail to the right.

The trail began to steepen here but didn’t really pick up steam until reaching a couple of switchbacks 0.4 miles from the fork.
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IMG_8160Scouler’s bluebells

IMG_8157Beardstongue

IMG_8164Paintbrush

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

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

IMG_8180Almost to the bench.

IMG_8183Level trail!

A section of trail on the bench passed through a carpet of foam flower. We’d never seen so much of that flower in one area.
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IMG_8192Inside out flower

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

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

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

IMG_8203A little bit of blue overhead through the fog.

IMG_8208Tiger lily

IMG_8209Paintbrush

IMG_8210Wood rose

IMG_8211Thimbleberry

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

For a little over a half mile the trail climbed gradually alternating between forest and small meadows before arriving at its high point just below the wildflower covered Point 3977. Along the way we emerged from the clouds and got our first glimpses of Silver Star Mountain and Mt. St. Helens.
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IMG_8220Silver Star Mountain

IMG_8224Bunchberry

IMG_8229Our first view of Mt. St. Helens

IMG_8230Zoomed in on Mt. St. Helens.

IMG_8232Arriving below Point 3977.

IMG_8239Point 3977

IMG_8241Pollinator on catchfly

IMG_8242The pink vetch was very bright.

IMG_8243Silver Star Mountain from the trail below Point 3977.

IMG_8244Rose

IMG_8246Wildflowers on Point 3977.

IMG_8249Bluebells of Scotland

IMG_8252Sub alpine mariposa lily

IMG_8257Checkerspot on Oregon sunshine

IMG_8261Lots of purple larkspur amid the other flowers.

IMG_8265A few columbine were hiding in the mix.

IMG_8266Violet

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

IMG_8272Looking back up.

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

IMG_8274Pinesap emerging from the ground.

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

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

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IMG_8282Fully back in the fog.

IMG_8284Time to climb again.

IMG_8285Big root balls.

IMG_8287Trail sign near the Bluff Mountain Trail junction.

IMG_8288Final pitch to the Bluff Mountain Trail.

IMG_8291On the Bluff Mountain Trail at the junction.

We turned right on the Bluff Mountain Trail which steadily climbed for nearly three quarters of a mile to a fork.
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IMG_8302Lots of nice wildflowers along the Bluff Mountain Trail.

IMG_8310Another checkerspot

IMG_8313Paintbrush

IMG_8315Penstemon

IMG_8320We just couldn’t quite shake the fog.

IMG_8331First sighting of Mt. Rainier.

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

IMG_8334Coiled lousewort

IMG_8336Lupine

IMG_8339Getting closer to Silver Star.

IMG_8341Crab spider on fleabane

IMG_8354Spirea along the trail.

IMG_8357Bistort and mountain goldenbanner

IMG_8358First Mt. Adams sighting.

IMG_8364A crescent on bistort.

IMG_8369Penstemon

IMG_8377Wallflower with beetle.

IMG_8378Passing below Silver Star Mountain.

IMG_8379Mt. Hood

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IMG_8388Rock arch below Silver Star’s summit.

At the fork we turned uphill to the left leaving the Bluff Mountain Trail.
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This short connector trail climbed 0.1 miles to an old roadbed.
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20220723_110718Fading avalanche lily.

IMG_8391The old roadbed.

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

IMG_8393Mt. Hood to the right at the saddle.

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

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

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

IMG_8400Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson

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

20220723_111756Swallowtail

IMG_8417Sturgeon Rock

IMG_8418Wildflowers at the summit.

IMG_8429Bug at the summit.

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

There was a lot of butterfly action here.
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After tagging the southern point we headed back the way we’d come.
IMG_8451The only beargrass bloom we saw all day.

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

IMG_8456Pikas are not easy to spot.

IMG_8462On alert.

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

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IMG_8483Ladybug

IMG_8488Making the steep climb back up to Point 3977.

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

IMG_8495Looking toward Silver Star.

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

IMG_8498Bluebells of Scotland with at least three visible insects.

IMG_8501Some bright paintbrush.

20220723_130806Larkspur

IMG_8510A brief appearance by Silver Star’s summit.

After a short break on Point 3977 we began the relentless descent to Copper Creek. The long steep descent was not a friend to the knees but we managed to make it down in one piece. Just before reaching the bridge we passed just the second hiker on the Starway Trail for the day.
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IMG_8520Sorry knees.

IMG_8526Mock orange

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IMG_8530A little blue sky in the afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

Flickr: Starway Trail to Silver Star

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Hiking Silver Star Mountain SW Washington Trip report Washington

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

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

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

The Tarbell Trail crosses the road at the trailhead. The route to Silver Star begins on the far side of the road, opposite the restrooms and signboard. (A Washington Discover Pass is required to park here.)
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The trail climbs from the start as it follows an old roadbed uphill.
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The Tarbell Trail splits off just before the .2 mile mark allowing for a loop. We stayed right at the fork on the Grouse Vista Trail.
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The trail gains 500′ over the next half mile as it climbs up a ridge end. The rocky surface provides an added challenge.
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As the trail begins to emerge from the trees Sturgeon Rock is visible across the Rock Creek Valley (when clouds aren’t hovering over it). The loop route that we were considering would have us descending beneath Sturgeon Rock.
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The trail continued to climb around the ridge and we soon found ourselves with a view of Pyramid Rock (and the Sun).
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IMG_0311Sturgeon Rock (still with cloud) and Pyramid Rock

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

IMG_0304Paintbrush and lupine

IMG_0309Daisies

IMG_0317Penstemon

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Shortly before reaching Pyramid Rock we detoured on a spur to the right that lead up to a meadow in a saddle.
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Here we had what would turn out to be our only view of a Cascade volcano on the day as Mt. Hood rose above a mass of clouds over the Columbia River Gorge.
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We returned to the trail and continued heading toward Sturgeon Rock past ever improving flower displays.
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IMG_0344paintbrush and mountain spirea

IMG_0345Beargrass

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IMG_0361Columbine

IMG_0373A penstemon

IMG_0374More penstemon

IMG_0377Variety pack

IMG_0378Tiger lily

IMG_0381Golden pea and paintbrush

IMG_0392Another variety pack

IMG_0394Wallflower

As we neared the junction with the summit trail we could see that clouds had now overtaken Pyramid Rock.
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They were moving up the Rock Creek drainage heading for the summit of Silver Star so when we arrived at the large rock cairn marking the junction we decided that we would skip the summit for now and head north on the Silver Star Trail.
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IMG_0402Avalanche lilies near the junction.

IMG_0404Sign for the Silver Star Trail.

IMG_0405Silver Star Trail

We headed out along the Silver Star trail which began on top of the ridge. This was a new section of trail for us as we had done a big loop around the ridge on our first visit. There wasn’t much visible at the first viewpoint we arrived at but we were able to see Little Baldy which the Bluff Mountain Trail passes along.
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We followed this trail along the ridge for just over a mile and a half passing in and out of the clouds as they in turn passed over the area. The lack of views was mildly disappointing but the flowers more than made up for it.
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IMG_0441Sturgeon Rock momentarily out of the clouds.

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IMG_0490Phlox

IMG_0496Beargrass

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IMG_0582White crowned sparrow

We arrived at Ed’s Trail having already seen a wide variety of flowers.
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We turned up Ed’s Trail wondering if we could possibly see any more types.
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For the most part it was the same cast but in continuously different combinations.
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There were a few new sightings though.
IMG_0627Cat’s ear lily

IMG_0632Rose

IMG_0635Violets

IMG_0640Rock penstemon

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

IMG_0660Candy flower

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IMG_0672Lousewort

IMG_0682An aster or fleabane

A unique feature of Ed’s Trail is a rock arch just past the one mile mark.
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IMG_0680Backside of the arch.

Beyond the arch the next quarter of a mile gets a little tricky. There are two short but steep scramble sections. The first was a bit muddy making it a little slick. The second is a rocky section with pretty good holds.
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We had forgotten just how steep these places were and had considered doing the loop in the opposite direction. We were glad we had not.

Silver Star’s summit soon came into view and although it was cloud free there didn’t appear to be much hope for views of the surrounding mountains anytime soon.
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When we arrived back at the junction we eschewed the .3 mile climb to the summit opting to skip the 250′ climb since we’d been up there twice before and there weren’t going to be any views. Instead we continued past the rock cairn two tenths of a mile and turned down hill on a rocky unmarked roadbed.
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This return route would add about 1.6 miles to the hike, but it would cut down on the amount of time spent descending on a rocky roadbed. We find that toward the end of hikes our feet and lower legs are much more sensitive to uneven terrain, especially loose rocks. We had been down this 1.4 mile section of road before passing the basalt columns of Sturgeon Rock.
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Silver Star was not done with the flower show even though we were now in denser forest as we spotted some marsh marigolds and marsh corydalis near a wet area.
IMG_0712Marsh marigold

IMG_0714Marsh corydalis

The section of the Tarbell Trail that runs from the Grouse Vista Trailhead to Hidden Falls had been closed on weekdays during much of 2018 due to an active logging operation. There were plenty of signs of it when we arrived at the junction with that trail.
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We turned left onto the Tarbell Trail which followed the new logging road for a bit before crossing it into the clear cut.
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IMG_0733Pyramid Rock from the Tarbell Trail

IMG_0741Black headed grosbeak

IMG_0737Mountain parnassian

After descedning a series of switchbacks the trail left the clear cut and reentred the forest before reaching a footbridge over Rock Creek.
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Beyond Rock Creek the trail traversed the hillside beneath Pyramid Rock wrapping around the ridge end to meet the Grouse Vista Trail. Along this final stretch we noticed some green orchids near a seep that was also popular with butterflies.
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The trailhead parking lot had filled up while we’d been hiking but we only ran into a half dozen people on the trails, far fewer than the number of different flowers we had seen over our 11.1 miles. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Silver Star Mountain via Grouse Vista