Sunday, August 29, 2021

Hike: Loowit Trail via June Lake, Mt St Helens, WA

AllTrails maps

Getting There

Take the Lewis River Road from Woodland passed Merwin & Yale Lakes, through Cougar and take Lava Canyon Road. About 1.0mi passed the Marble Mountain Sno-Park is the June Lake Trailhead. The actual trailhead only has room for 3-4 cars but there's plenty of parking along the June Lake Trailhead Road (NF-250).

The Hike

Distance: 9.71 mi
Elevation Gain: 2,044 ft
Moving Time: 4:20:31
Total Time: 4:40:15
Avg Pace: 26:51
: 2,295

This is epic, my new favorite trail around MSH. 

It's about 1.5mi to June Lake on a nice gradual climb forest trail (~500' gain). The lake looked pretty swampy. This time of year the waterfall is barely a trickle.

June Lake, WA

To get to the Loowit Trail, follow the clearing in the bushes to the left of the lake access path. I kind of got lost around here and had to get out AllTrails. I was somewhere between the Pike Trail and switchbacks to head north.

Center: June Lake

It's another 0.2mi to the junction Loowit (west to Ptarmigan Trail, north to Pumice Butte/Ape Canyon).

For another 1.1mi you skirt the edge of the old forest. It's mind boggling to realize that 41 years ago, the boulder field just a few feet away way moving blob of rocks, mud, slushy snow, water (lahar) just obliterating everything in its path.

You emerge from the trees and onto the edge of this immense debris field for a bit and I got a look ahead, hoping this trail offered more than just dense trees. It was mildly claustrophobic. 

Skirting the debris field until climbing out onto it

(Middle of the photo above): When you do get out of the trees, it's a steady climb up the rocks.

For a long time it seemed like I was close to Pumice Butte but then the trail would wrap way around and down and back up and I was only a little bit closer. Haha. No matter, it's so amazing to hike with MSH over my shoulder, quietly towering above. 

On the edge of the debris field

Holy cow! It's not particularly difficult, elevation-wise, but the trail surface is brutal and slow going. There are long stretch of dirt/gravel but there are sections of grapefruit sized rocks where you really have to be careful which ones are stationary and others move. I was pretty careful to NOT "Aron Ralston" myself. 

I passed 3 or 4 groups (trios and pairs) heading south.

While I got a pretty good start on the day (around 12noon on the trail), I wanted to make sure I made it back to the car by 5ish since it's on the east side of the mountain and would be getting darker in the trees.

I came to a huge ravine crossing. It wasn't particularly hard but I was still 2-30min from Pumice Butte. I could see the seismic equipment at the top of the Ape Canyon Trail but the lack of landmarks makes it difficult to judge the distance.

There was a perfect sitting rock. Next time I'll going the whole way.

The big ravine and the sitting rock

I stopped for a few minutes to admire the view and watch an avalanche way up at the rim.

On my way back I passed a trio going north. It was slow, steady progress. I'd passed some critters in the bushes on the way out so I got out my little speaker with Alan Watts lectures. Instead of talking to myself I let him speak for me. (Human voices are probably better than bells to announce yourself to fauna.) One of the critters was pretty large and squeaked in alarm when I went by, obviously right off the trail. I'm not sure if marmots live in the blast zone and it wasn't a bird. 

Down in the forest part of the hike, it looked like there were animal trails everywhere and spots that looked like bedding for larger mammals. Another reason I didn't want to pass through in the late afternoon.

Traversing the rock/debris field

Mt Adams from the Loowit Trail


MSH just before a snow crossing

The big ravine where I turned around

Mt Rainier, Pumice Butte from the Loowit Trail

The trail across the ravine

Loowit Trail

MSH + Loowit Trail


Another view of Mt Adams

Loowit Trail heading to June Lake

Loowit Trail

The Debris field and ridge near Ptarmigan Trail


Post Hike Drive

Instead of taking Lava Canyon Road (NF-83), back to the Lewis River Road (SR-503), I detoured at NF-81 (which is the turn for Climber's Bivouac) and took it passed the Red Rock Pass Trailhead and Merrill Lake and puts you back on the main road west of Cougar @ Yale Lake.

Definitely adding the Red Rock Pass/Butte Camp Dome hike to my hiking 'short list'. Lots of open camp spots after NF-830 (Road to Climber's Bivouac).

Merrill Lake loop

Friday, August 27, 2021

Hike: Forest Park (Firelane 12, 15, Wildwood, Newton, BPA) V, Portland, OR

AllTrails map

Getting There

There is room for a few cars on the side of the road at the Skyline Blvd trailhead (Firelane 15). It's about 1.6mi north of NW Germantown Road on NW Skyline Blvd. 

The Hike

Distance: 7.02 mi
Elevation Gain:
1,713 ft
Calories: 1,263
Avg Pace:
Moving Time: 2:23:19
Total Time:

This is a milestone: 50th hike of 2021. (309.8 mi hiked & 69,939 ft climbed).

This is my fourth time doing this exact route. I added 1:18 to my moving time but I think I got my best time doing the Steep Sections (Hwy 30 to the Ridge). It's 0.9mi and a 814ft climb. I did it in 22-23 mins.

The Mt St Helens summit is going to be 2.0mi and a 3400ft climb from the start of the Permit Required point on the trail. It's gonna be tough. There's a reason it takes between 6-10 hrs to complete.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Hike: Forest Park (Firelane 12, 15, Wildwood, Newton, BPA) IV, Portland, OR

AllTrails map

Getting There

There is room for a few cars on the side of the road at the Skyline Blvd trailhead (Firelane 15). It's about 1.6mi north of NW Germantown Road on NW Skyline Blvd. 

The Hike

Distance: 7.21 mi
Elevation Gain: 1,726 ft
Calories: 1,251
Avg Pace: 19:41
Moving Time: 2:22:01
Total Time: 2:22:01

This is my third time doing this exact route. I mostly keeping in shape. I like that it's close to home, there's a nice warm up, the uphill at BPA from Hwy 30 to the top is tough, and it ends with a bang.

I feel like I'll be ready for my Mt St Helens Summit attempt in a couple of weeks.

Hike: Forest Park (Firelane 12, 15, Wildwood, Newton, BPA) III, Portland, OR

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, thoughts about road trips & hikes

Goodreads: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

This book really change my ideas about road trips and hiking/climbing. While the title implies it's a book about fixing & tuning bikes, the subtitle "Inquiry into Values" suggests something that reside within. How we approach something, and why.

What I like about the structure of the book is that it mimic what the narrator is experiencing sort of in real time, weaving between the tangible reality of a road trip and those long periods of meditation (because you can't really talk on a motorcycle).

I've also experienced that feeling of déjà vu when traveling through places I visited as a kid or as a young adult. Lifetimes ago. Phaedrus was here. My IG handle is @pha3drus (cuz the regular spelling was taken).

Within the book there are some great quotes than have echoed in my mind since I first read them.

"We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on “good” rather than “time” and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes."

When you are so focused on getting from Point A to Point B, you miss all the cool things in between. This is common wisdom and a well-known trope but it's not always easy in practice. When I drove down to San Diego from Portland, OR a few years ago, I booked a series of hotels & campsites along the way and it locked me into my route and rough timing. If I'd wanted to stay somewhere for an extra night it would have affected the subsequent stops and I'd likely forfeit some money (deposit or 1st night). As such, I found myself half enjoying the trip and half being aware of the miles & time. I did deviate from my plan and learned the "hard" way ($$), but I was much happier in the end. 

The quote above is general advice to enjoy the ride, the journey. Serendipity.

The word "good" comes up again in Pirsig's Lila when he remembers going to the North Cheyanne Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana with his friend & colleague Dusenberry and
LaVerne Madigan. Madigan had asked Northern Cheyenne chief John Wooden Leg about a dog during their visit: “What kind of dog is that?” John responds, “That’s a good dog,” puzzling Madigan, and Dusenberry and Pirsig as well. Pirsig uses the incident to contrast the European Aristotelian approach versus the Native American approach of defining the dog by Quality: “That’s a good dog.”


"Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow.

But of course, without the top you can't have any sides. It's the top that defines the sides. So on we go -- we have a long way -- no hurry -- just one step after the next -- with a little Chautauqua for entertainment. Mental reflection is so much more interesting than TV it's a shame more people don't switch over to it. They probably think what they hear is unimportant but it never is."

"When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it's a hollow victory."

I love hiking because it immerses me in the "now". Of course as a solo hiker, you spend a lot of time in your own head, but it's not always mediation on something from the past or about the future. It's sensory hyper-awareness. I'm always aware of each step, 1000s of them. Planning my route through rocks or branches or just down a dusty path. Listening to the sounds, smells, sights, touch. I'm getting more comfortable with potential encounters with wildlife.

My recent hiking accomplishments have been a lifesaver and morale booster. I feared that my arthritis would prevent me from doing certain physical activities later in life. I reasoned that I'd rather have memories than regrets. I spent a lot of time contemplating from the couch during the pandemic. I guess in that regard I'm trying to prove my courageous self to my scared self. I've been training for a big hike in mid-Sept to the Mt St Helens Summit. Even if I don't make it to the top, I'm stoked to even be making an attempt. If I do, I will have to set another goalpost because it's been a great motivator.

The quote above is similar to The Tortoise and the Hare, "you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly." (source).

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Hike: Hamilton Mountain Trail plus Little Beacon Rock, Stevenson, WA

AllTrails maps


Getting There 

See previous posts for directions. Spring for the annual Discover Pass for $30/yr instead of paying $10/day at the trailhead.

I got a late start, not leaving Portland until around 12:30-1pm. I picked this hike because I wanted some place close and challenging.

The Hike

Distance: 6.30 miles*
Elevation Gain: 2,307 ft**
Moving Time: unk
Avg Pace: unk
Calories: unk
Total Time: unk

* I accidentally canceled my trail recording on the ascent. I restarted it from the top of the hike to capture the descent but just to estimate the distance to add the section to Little Beacon.
** Elevation Gain is based on a previous hike.

This hike has become my go-to spot to keep in shape. It’s close to home, just the right distance and elevation gain for a quick afternoon hike. 

I know I made my best ascent time to-date. I crushed it. I love my new pack and the hiking pole side strap. Actually, I never used the poles. This was the first time ever that I didn't deploy them one. I kind of liked having both hands free for scrambling. For practice I took the difficult route down from Little Hamilton. I only had one slip/close-call after I'd made it to the trail. Dammit. Those 1" rocks that act like marbles. I need to be able to identify this kind of stuff better and slow way down ... or get out the dang hiking poles.

Little Hamilton Mountain

The real treat of this hike was the side trip on the way down to check out Little Beacon Rock. By the time I've reached the power lines and the end of the trail was in sight (not really but it's the first/last segment of the trail), I've always said "next time". Well, this was the time! I peeled off to the Hadley Trail. It traverses below the power lines so you still feel immersed in the forest. 

Wow! This is what I love to find, a craggy peak to climb and get some views. This reminded me of the little spot (6070') I found next to Pinnacle Peak. This trail is well-worn and easy to follow. I climbed out onto the point to rest and enjoy the views.

My selfie from Little Beacon Rock (Beacon in bg)
Northwest view from Little Beacon Rock

Beacon Rock + Columbia River


I don't do this part enough, stopping to enjoy the views. Often, I'm weary of the time and making sure I have enough to make the trip back to the trailhead. Joey Coconato comments in many of his videos that he never gets an early start, often leaving after 12noon. This is about route planning and not trying to cover too much ground, leaving time to smell the wildflowers, enjoy the views, cook & setup camp.

With day hikes, if I just start a little earlier, I would not feel rushed to 'get back down'. I'm cautious about hiking too early in the morning or too late in afternoon/early evening as there is likely to be peak feeding periods for critters.

Note: I was surprised walking through the Hadley Campground that none of the trash cans were bear-proof. I'm pretty sure I've seen bear poop near Phlox and Hardy Creek. I would like to get to a higher level of comfort when hiking alone. I follow good practices (carrying bear spray but not always, carrying noise makers (bell) and talking/whistling, looking for signs like poop or scratched trees, etc). After seeing Joey's video where they had a bunch of encounters, it says a few things: (1) it's gonna happen if you spend time outdoors, (2) it doesn't mean a sighting = an attack, (3) follow you gut instinct, caution, (4) I need to find some people to do back-country hikes with.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Advice: Masterclass: Counting Lemons (Survivorman/Les Stroud)


Lemon System

When your out in the wilderness, esp. by yourself, you have to pay special attention to your mind & body and the surroundings. Little things can add up to big problems. One system I heard on an episode of Survivorman. 
"You count the lemon, one lemon, two lemons, three lemons. now you have to stop & fix the situation." A lemon is: an injury, the weather, a hole in your canoe, pushing yourself too hard. He mentions a small injury like a blister or aches from an old knee injury might only count as a 1/2 lemon but it should be considered.


The "Lemon system" is well-known around Ottawa. The earliest reference I have is a little booklet by James Raffan, Wilderness Crisis Management, published by Canoe Ontario in 1987. I'm still using this (with permission of course) for tripping courses.
One commenter said that Les' 1/2 lemon was erroneous - one lemon could be life threatening. My response: well of course, it's just a rule of thumb.
On my Gold Creek hike, I used this system in my decision to turn back when I did.
    1) my leg was in pain from the previous day
    2) the trail was overgrown
    3) the creek crossing was mildly risky (wet shoes, unseen hazard, deeper on way back)
Three Lemons = turn back.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Hike: Cape Horn Loop, Washougal, WA

AllTrails map

Getting There

I got a late start so I wanted to pick a hike that was close to home. I've only got one hike in this month (for the WA Trails Association's August Hike-A-Thon). The wildfire smoke has been bad in the area so I've been exercising caution instead of my legs. (ba-dum-clank).

I thought about heading to Archer Mountain but figured I'd check the Cape Horn Trailhead parking lot. I even thought if the main parking lot, I'd drive down Cape Horn Road and park there. (Good thing I didn't because there's is maybe room for one car - no parking in the turnaround).

I was surprised to find the parking lot less than 1/2 full. Bizarre for a weekend at this time of day. Guess folks are still staying away from smokey areas. I parked, geared up and set out.

The Hike

Distance: 6.63 mi
Elevation Gain: 1,401 ft
Moving Time: 2:35:15
Avg Pace: 23:25
Calories: 1,368
Total Time: 2:49:35 

I wanted to see the lower section of the trail which is typically closed from Feb 1 - July 15 as it’s a nesting site for the Peregrine Falcon. According to the Forest Service (, they’ve returned here for 100 years and probably more.

I opted for the clockwise loop. The first 1.4 mi is on Cape Horn Road with views of the river and highway lookout above. The actual trail starts just before a gate and private property. There’s really no parking down here.

My new pack interferes with my wide brimmed hat so I had to take it off. Fortunately it’s shade most of the way. There are some gorgeous viewpoints that are well-marked along the way and I made sure to stop at Cape Horn Falls. Except for the viewpoints there are designations for horses.

The trail is not particularly steep thanks to the long switchbacks. There’s a tunnel under Hwy 14 so no need to worry about crossing a busy road. Once I got to Strunk Road it’s pretty much downhill. I checked out the viewpoints on the northeast side before zigzagging down to the trailhead.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Gear: Upgrading My Hiking Boot Inserts


Super happy with my new hiking boot inserts, Superfeet Trailblazer Comfort.

After traveling 300+ miles in my KEEN Targhee IIIs, I was starting to feel the rocks through the bottom of my boots on rough terrain. The boot's original soles had compressed and had no cushion left.

I stopped by REI in Tualatin but was a bit daunted by the wall of shoe inserts, some for arch support, some for comfort, some for insulation/warmth, and a range of widths. Fortunately a salesperson was quick to help me find the right option.

I went out to the Hamilton Mountain to test them on some tough sections of the trail. And, wow! So much better. Such an improvement.

  • Superfeet insoles keep their shape, delivering reliable support and comfort for up to 12 months or 500 miles, whichever comes first

Update: As of Feb 17, 2022, I've got 235 miles on these insoles. They do seem to be compressing as I can see the imprints of my big toe and ball. Hopefully, they will last another 5 months and/or 265 miles.

Another Update - Feb 27, 2022: I bought another set of the Superfeet Trailblazer Comfort (Size E). I went to REI to get a look at the Sof Sole Insoles ($21.95) because of the low price point but they seemed too narrow. I also looked at the SOLE Performance Thick Footbeds ($59.00) but, in the $50-60 price range, I just liked the Superfeet ones best: (1) wider esp for the front/toes, (2) reinforced molded heel, and (3) overall cushioning.

I'd venture to say that Superfeets would have offered diminishing returns during the 2nd 250+ miles. Better to incur the cost now rather than experience discomfort & problems with my feet.


Here are some photos from the Hamilton Mountain Trail, showcasing the variety of surfaces.

1-2" rocks + roots, firmly embedded in trail (mud/dirt)

1-3" rocks, somewhat loose on the trail

2-4" rocks, firmly embedded in trail (mud/dirt)

A smooth section, just a from 2-3" rocks but avoidable

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Hike: Hamilton Mountain up-and-back, Bonneville, WA

AllTrails map

Getting There

The directions are included in previous posts. It's above Beacon Rock off Hwy 14. 

As expected, the parking lot was mostly empty on Wednesday however there was a shuttle bus and about 20 people milling around while a tour guy give tips and details about the hike and that a person would be posted at the Hardy Creek Trail junction to keep folks on the main path.

I really didn't want to get "stuck" behind them (silly in hindsight) but I hurriedly got geared up and set out on the trail still carrying a few items...

The Hike

Length: 5.26 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,037 feet
Type: Up and back
Moving Time: 2:33:45
Avg Pace
: 29:15
: 1,355
Total Time
: 2:40:07

... I was rushing to put some distance between us but stopped when I realized the group was still gathered at the shuttle. I stopped and put the stuff I was still carrying in my pack and resumed.

I had the place to myself for the most part. I passed a couple on the trail and a family relaxing at Rodney Falls.

I was moderately wary of the hazy air and faint smell of smoke but pushed on. It was good to be on the trail again; two hikes since my WA road trip and week of hikes.

Super happy with my new hiking boot inserts, Superfeet Trailblazer Comfort. After traveling 300+ miles in my KEEN Targhee IIIs, I was starting to feel the rocks through the bottom of my boots on rough terrain. The boot's original soles had compressed and had no cushion left.

Wow! So much better. Such an improvement.

Medium-sized, loose rocks

Medium-sized, embedded rocks

More medium sized, loose + embedded rocks

Between Big and Little Ham.