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Coastal Range Hiking Oregon Trip report

Mary’s Peak via the North Ridge Trail – 06/05/2021

After a week of 90 degree temperatures much needed rain arrived just in time for the weekend. Most of the west is in the midst of a drought so the the rain is welcome but it meant looking for a plan B for our hike. We decided to stick relatively close to home and revisit Mary’s Peak (previous post), this time via the North Ridge Trail. In addition to only being about an hour away the forecast for the area was better than any of the other alternatives that I had looked at with NOAA calling for a 30% chance of showers and partly sunny skies over the Woods Creek Trailhead. We figured that gave us the best chance for a dry hike (lol) and if the weather wasn’t great at least we had been there before when it was better.

While we were encouraged by a good sized patch of blue sky between Monmouth and Philomath the trailhead was under the cover of low clouds.
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A couple of trails led into the trees from the parking area on Woods Creek Road. The trails led to what was the Old Peak Trail which was abandoned for a time but appeared to be in good shape now. The Siuslaw National Forest page for the trailhead indicates that this is now part of the North Ridge Trail extending downhill (northeast) 2.2 miles to Peak Road although they do not show said trail on their map.

IMG_6977We took this trail from the parking area to the North Ridge Trail where we turned right at a signboard.

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We followed the trail for approximately 100 yards before popping out onto Woods Creek Road just uphill of the gate near the parking area (on our return we simply followed the road down to the car).
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The North Ridge Trail continued on the other side of the road and began a 3.5 mile climb to a junction with a tie trail connecting the North and East Ridge Trails. On our last visit in 2014 we had come down the North Ridge Trail to the junction and taken the tie trail to get back to the East Ridge Trail and our car at Conner’s Camp. The North Ridge Trail gained 1400′ over the 3.5 miles using a number of switchbacks to keep the grade from ever being very steep. The green forest was filled with fog which was depositing moisture on the trees that was then falling to the forest floor so even though it wasn’t “raining” it may as well have been.
IMG_6986Signboard along the North Ridge Trail at Woods Creek Road.

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IMG_6998Near the half mile mark we ignored this pointer to the left. Looking at the map there are roads looping back to Woods Creek Road and also to Conner’s Camp but what their conditions are we don’t know.

IMG_7002Monkeyflower

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IMG_7005Wren

IMG_7009Thimbleberry

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IMG_7019Pacific coralroot

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IMG_7026Vanilla leaf along the trail.

IMG_7027Lots of vanilla leaf.

IMG_7030Douglas squirrel.

IMG_7034The higher we went the foggier it got.

IMG_7041Bench at the junction with the tie trail.

We stayed right at the junction continuing uphill on the North Ridge Trail for another 0.7 miles to the Mary’s Peak Overlook parking area. We were starting to get pretty wet, and so was the trail, by this point.
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IMG_7043Some of the trillium still had petals.

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IMG_7050Signboard for the overlook on the hillside to the right.

When we exited the trees below the overlook we were able to confirm that it wasn’t raining despite all the water falling from the trees. It was however windy and that wind combined with damp skin/clothes and upper 40 degree temperatures made it cold at the overlook.
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We quickly dropped downhill on the East Ridge Trail, which also ended at the overlook and were going to then head uphill on Summit Trail but we forgot what that junction looked like and when we came to a set of old steps after just 500′ we got confused. The steps led uphill into a jumble of downed trees. This was apparently an older route and the actual Summit Trail junction was just another 100 feet or so away.
IMG_7169The junction from later in the morning with the Summit Trail heading uphill to the right and the East Ridge Trail down to the left.

Since we were unsure we headed back to the overlook and took the gated road uphill.
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IMG_7075Going to be a beargrass year.

IMG_7076Beargrass

IMG_7077Larkspur in the wet grass.

After 0.3 miles on the road we came to the Summit Trail/Summit Loop Trail junction. We stuck to the road opting to do the loop clockwise.
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The road cut between the junction and the summit host a nice display of flowers including large patches of paintbrush, larkspur, phlox, and penstemon. Lupine, parsley, field chickweed, blue eyed mary, buttercups and ragwort were also present.
IMG_7082Paintbrush

IMG_7083Penstemon

IMG_7084Field chickweed

IMG_7085Parsley

IMG_7091Blue-eyed Mary

IMG_7094Ragwort in front of lupine that had yet to bloom.

IMG_7100Phlox

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IMG_7112Lupine

IMG_7120Buttercups and larkspur

The wind was once again an issue at the summit (the highest peak in the Oregon Coast Range at 4097′).
IMG_7126Heather hiding behind the summit signboard to try and keep out of the wind.

Needless to say there was no break taken at the picnic table here and instead we headed downhill on the Summit Loop Trail.
IMG_7127Lots of lupine yet to bloom.

At an unsigned fork we went left descending further through the meadows then reentering the forest before coming to a junction with the Meadows Edge Trail after 0.2 miles.
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We turned left here to take the Meadows Edge Trail which we had not been on before. The 1.6 mile trail makes a loop around a grove of old growth noble fir losing and regaining 450′ in elevation along the way.
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IMG_7138As the name implies the Meadows Edge Trail occasionally entered the meadows before returning to the forest.

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IMG_7143For a brief moment a bit of sunlight hit the forest and we thought maybe the sky would clear up.

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IMG_7145Salmonberry bushes near Parker Creek.

IMG_7147Western meadowrue

IMG_7153Spur trail to the Mary’s Peak Campground.

IMG_7156Fairybells and star flower solomonseal

IMG_7157The sky was in fact not clearing up.

IMG_7161Bleeding heart and sourgrass.

IMG_7164Fawn lilies in the meadow.

When we had finished this lovely loop we returned to the Summit Trail and followed it for 100 yards to the 4-way junction on the gated road.
IMG_7167Signs at the road junction.

We could have crossed the road and followed the Summit Trail down to the East Ridge Trail but we still were under the mistaken impression that the trail might be impassable so we returned to the Overlook via the road and picked up the East Ridge Trail there. Shortly after having turned onto that trail we passed the actual Summit Trail junction and realized that we could have indeed taken it from the road. We followed the East Ridge Trail beyond the Summit Trail junction for 1.2 miles where signs and a bench marked the junction with the tie trail.
IMG_7171The wet conditions were starting to really hinder picture taking at this point.

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We turned left onto the tie trail and followed it another 1.2 miles to the North Ridge Trail junction.
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IMG_7190Striped coralroot

IMG_7195North Ridge Trail junction

It was 3.5 miles back downhill to the car and the gentle grade made for a pleasant return trip. The clouds also began to finally lift and we finally did see some patches of blue sky.
IMG_7196Heather descending in the fog.

IMG_7205Cutleaf goldthread

IMG_7218Millipede

IMG_7215Is that some blue sky out there?

IMG_7213Not much but it is blue.

Our hike came in at 13.1 miles with around 2500′ of elevation gain. We could have shaved a tenth of a mile or two off by taking the Summit Trail down to the East Ridge Trail and skipping the Meadows Edge Loop would have saved another 1.6 (but that was a really nice loop).

Track for Mary’s Peak via the North Ridge Trail

Despite the wet conditions and lack of “partly sunny skies” it was a nice hike and the conditions kept the popular trails from being too busy, although we did see a couple dozen other users. Hopefully we won’t have to do too much more shuffling of our planned hikes but if we do I always have a few options standing by. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mary’s Peak via the North Ridge Trail

Categories
Bend/Redmond Central Oregon Hiking Oregon Trip report

Gray Butte Trail to Smith Rock State Park

We were in Central Oregon to pick Dominique up from college and took the opportunity to hike in the Smith Rock area. We had hiked in the state park twice before, both times taking the Misery Ridge Trail up and over the summit and completing a loop via the River Trail. For this visit we decided to access the park via the Gray Butte Trail which passed through the Forest Service administered Crooked River Grassland and BLM managed lands before reaching the park trails. We parked at a trail junction along Gray Butte Saddle where the Cole Loop Trail (854) meets the Gray Butte Trail (852).
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The trail was marked by a lone unsigned post.
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The trail traversed a hillside amid scattered juniper trees and sagebrush. Despite being a little late in the year for the best flower displays there were still clumps of color scattered along the trail.
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We also spotted a couple of deer above us on the hill.
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One of the nice things about the trail was, as it passed through the sagebrush filled grassland, the snowy peaks of the Cascades lined up on the horizon.
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The views were spectacular and as we continued around the trail more of the mountains came into view as well as many nearby rock formations.
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At the 1.4 mile mark we arrived at Bitterroot Pass where the trail crossed a dirt road.
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Shortly after crossing the road the trail and road intersected again. This second junction proved confusing and after several minutes reviewing our maps we decided to head up a hillside along another old road.
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This wound up being incorrect. At the second junction we should have taken a clear trail that veered down and slightly to the right along the side of the ridge. There was also a trail further to the right that just ended atop a little crest. The route we took led almost 400′ up to the summit of an unnamed butte. We climbed steeply for over half a mile before arriving at the rocky summit. It was only after reaching the top that we knew we had taken a wrong turn. Actually Dominique had been fairly certain we should have taken the right hand fork but that didn’t seem to jive with the map we were looking at. In any event the views from the top were amazing including a good look at Mt. Hood far to the NW.
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We could see Smith Rock below us as well as the trail we were trying to get too at a junction with Burma Road.
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On the way back down we passed a western fence lizard sunning on the rocks and a hummingbird busy collecting nectar from paintbrush.
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We got back on the correct trail and continued to head toward Smith Rock.
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We passed along the side of the butte we had detoured up before arriving at the trail junction we had seen from above.
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Even though the grassland doesn’t put on the kind of flower show that alpine meadows or the Columbia Gorge can we continued to see various flowers all throughout the hike.
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We were now on the Summit Trail in Smith Rock State Park and heading for the Mesa Verde Trail. At a viewpoint along the way we could see the Crooked River as it was winding through the park as well as a section of the Misery Ridge Trail that we would be descending later on.
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We could also see Gray Butte and the hillsides we had traversed earlier.
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We had already passed through Forest Service, BLM, and Oregon State Park lands when the Summit Trail entered a short section of privately owned lands.
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The Crooked River and Smith Rock’s most famous feature, Monkey Face, came into view as we reentered the park.
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We were greeted by number of locals.
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As we passed by a rockfield we noticed a group of rather large very interesting flowers. They turned out to be smoothstem blazing-star.
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smoothstem blazing-star Mentzelia laevicaulis

The colors and textures of the rocks in the park never ceases to impress.
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We turned up the Mesa Verde Trail and climbed to a junction with the Misery Ridge Trail below Monkey Face.
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As mentioned before this was our third time on the Misery Ridge Trail but the first time we had gone up from this side. We all agreed it was actually easier to go up this side than down it due to the loose dirt and rocks that make the trail slick. We followed the switchbacks up along Monkey Face to the busy summit where the view is worthy of a long look.
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We could once again see Mt. Hood and Gray Butte.
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Climbers were busy making their way up Monkey Face.
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We could also see our return route along Burma Road which ran along the hillside below our earlier unscheduled summit.
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We crossed the summit and got ready for our descent down Misery Ridge to the Crooked River below.
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Unlike the other end of the trail we had many steps to use.
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We passed under a number of rock climbers before reaching another trail junction near the only footbridge over the river in the park.
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We turned left along the Wolf Tree Trail which traveled along the Crooked River.
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Butterflies were flitting along the banks while geese enjoyed the water.
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After almost a mile we reached a sign for Burma Road.
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We had a .9 mile climb up Burma Road to get back to the Gray Butte Trail junction. The road passed by a canal and reentered BLM lands. It was another fairly steep climb with the sun beating down on us, but we managed to make it up to the junction.
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Our backs were to the park and mountains for most of the return trip on the Gray Butte Trail, so we focused on spotting additional wildflowers as we went.
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What should have been a 10.5 mile hike had turned into 12.1 miles thanks to our little detour but it had been well worth it. This was a tough hike and probably best during the month of May, but it was packed with big views, plenty of wildlife, various wildflowers, and lots interesting scenery. Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157652211766433