Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023: My Year in Review

What a year! I surpassed all my hiking goals for this year! This accomplishment comes amid some big life changes including health issues and selling my house. Despite high fuel prices  and a slew of car issues, I still found ways to get out on the trail, as much for my mental health as physical. I kept my same hiking goals the from 2021 since I came so close to meeting or exceeding them last year: 52 hikes, 365 miles, 84,000 feet.

This was also my year to start volunteering in the outdoors. My hiking hobby started in 2020 as a COVID-safe solo activity and evolved into something more social and civic-oriented. I'm proud to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for the outdoors and earn some sweat equity with trail maintenance and interacting with visitors.

This was my first year as a hiking steward with the Mt St Helens Institute following a rigorous training program. I also volunteered with Washington Trails Association (WTA) and Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO). I participated in several work parties and earned my green safety helmet in October. This opened me up to a great community.

In September, I joined the Mazamas and promptly attended their open house where I met several members and got acquainted with what the organization offers. I knew that did group hikes at many of the same trails I already hiked including Forest Park and Hamilton Mountain. 

Hamilton Mountain, Dec 31st, 2023

Silver Star/Pyramid Rock

Receiving my own WTA safety helmet

Hamilton Mountain

Top of Ape Canyon Trail on my first MSHI rove

MSHI/Ape Cave mentor, Nick, and me

Why 52 hikes?

This description from last year is still accurate so why reinvent the wheel. There are lot of hiking challenges "out there", one being the 52 hike challenge. I thought this aligned well with my new targets and I liked the symmetry with the calendar. 

Like the previous two years ('21, '22), I did a lot of conditioning hikes in Forest Park & Beacon Rock State Park. I did 5 hikes at Forest Park, my longest being 11.6 miles and 1,998 feet. I rode the bus from Kenton to the BPA Road, then found my way back to St John's via the Wildwood Trail. I also spent a lot of time hiking around Beacon Rock including Phlox Point and Hamilton Mountain, totaling 15 hikes combined.

Why 365 miles?

In 2022, I adjusted my distance goal from 500 miles to 365. I liked the symmetry with the calendar and of course, it works out to 1 mile per day. My hikes have tended to be a shorter than usual and my average distance this year is about 6 miles per hike so that means I have to exceed the 52 hikes to reach the mileage goal.

What destinations are 365 miles from Portland?

Mt Shasta, CA is about 365 miles via I-5. It's about the same as a round trip to Seattle, WA (at least by highway).

Elsewhere in the US, for example, it's exactly 365 miles from Moab, UT to Albuquerque, NM. 

And in Europe, according to TripSavvy, "London to Cologne: 365miles/587km".

Why 84,000 feet?

This goal was somewhat arbitrary. This works out to 7000 ft per month. 52 hikes at 1600' per hike calculates to 83,200 ft. I preferred the symmetry with the number of months in a year. I also knew many of my hikes would be a bit more in the 2000' range so I could take some hikes without much elevation gain and still not fall behind on the goals. In actuality, after April, the e.g. was all over the place. My year average is just over 1,400 ft per hike.

What is it like at 84,000 feet high (15.9 mi/25.6 km)?

"At 84,000 feet, MSU’s balloon was above 98 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere." (source)

Montana State University students


I hiked some familiar trails and I hiked some new ones. I return to old trails like Hamilton because I love the area and have learned about its history, mostly geologic. But I also think it's a way to affirm my fitness. 

There are times when I've left the trailhead wondering if I'd make it to the top and when I do, I have a similar sense of exhilaration that I felt the first time. 

There's also something remarkable about visiting a place through various season. I think about others that have returned to a special place over the years, specifically Ansel Adams, to bear witness to the natural and human-caused changes.

"When I visited the Ansel Adams exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, the Artist Statement talked about Adams returning to places over the years to photograph how it has changed over time, naturally or human caused and that it was in part motivated to promote ecology and preserving the open spaces for generations to come." (source)

I stumbled onto Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire because I naively thought it was a romantic account about working for the National Park service and spending a season at Arches National Park. This opened up a huge world of conservation literature. 

But I digress... I think the repetition has a lot to do with maximizing time on the trail and not spending so much time in the car getting to a place. However, I was able to log some time on new trails, well new to me!

Wind Mountain 

When I did this hike, I really didn't understand its cultural significance. I'd seen the mountain from my hikes up to Dog Mountain and knew I'd get a closer look someday. I'd driven to the trailhead parking lot once or twice but never gotten out of the car to find the trailhead.

Dog Mountain from Wind Mountain

The day I hiked to the top was after another hike nearby at Bunker Hill. When I reached the top, I found the signage that detailed its history and purpose:

"The Wind Mountain Spirit Quest Site was likely constructed between 200 and 1,000 years ago. Youth questing for their guardian spirits fasted and spent the night here away from their village or camp. Maintaining a constant vigil during the quest, they also completed strenuous physical tasks such as building rock piles. A vision or dream eventually came revealing the seeker's guardian spirit, a spirit that remained with a person for a lifetime.

This site is an exceptional example of the Columbia Plateau cultural pattern represented by construction of rock walls, pits and mounds in talus fields. Artifacts are seldom found in sites of this type.

Tribal people continue to visit this sacred area." 

I immediately knew I was entering a temple. Another pair of hikers was starting their descent and I had the place to myself. It was an honor to visit the site and enjoy the views.

Ape Cave

This place has been on my radar for awhile but I kind of stayed away because it seemed kind of touristy and crowded. I was out there for solitude and the scenery, and was only vaguely aware of the timed permit system.

Skylight in Upper Passage, Ape Cave

After becoming a volunteer with MSHI, I learned more about the place but I was also a bit nervous about interacting with so many people as a new volunteer. I was happy to keep my encounters with visitor in the dozens. My hiking mentor encouraged me to sign up for a mentor shift with the venerable Nick, the regular Saturday volunteer from the sites opening on May 18th to its close in October 31st.

After a few roving shifts, I gained some confidence with my storytelling skills and wanted to add Ape Cave to my MSHI resume. Somewhat on a whim, I signed up for a mentor shift with Nick for the following day.

While this role mostly consists of greeting visitors at the cave entrance before and after their subterranean explorations, I wanted some firsthand knowledge of the cave so I could talk to visitors with more confidence. During my lunch break, I took the opportunity to explore the upper cave for myself. 

It's unlike anything I've ever done before. The closest thing I can think of is exploring slot canyons in the desert east of San Diego or even Torrey Pines south of Del Mar. 

South Climb of Mt Adams

My goal for WTA's Hike-a-Thon was to hike at least one trail that I hadn't done before and try to hike in Washington, although any trail in the world counts for HAT. Last year it was Stagman Ridge on the west side of Mt Adams. This year, it decided to hike to Lunch Counter on the South Climbing route of Mt Adams. 

Below Lunch Counter, Mt Adams

Since I was planning to climb MSH in early Sept, this would be a good conditioning hike to a similar elevation. I also wanted to see the climbing route firsthand since it's next on my list of mountains I want to climb.

From my limited research, I expected the road to Cold Springs Campground to be pretty grueling, and it was! The lower section was brutal because of the relentless washboard surface. I was so glad to reach the "rough road" sign. I still hesitated a little but after passing a camper in a Subaru, I felt like my Jeep could handle the terrain: tall mounds and deep but wide holes. Epic!

The hike to Lunch Counter is pretty benign. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten my microspikes and had to stop after huge patch of icy snow. The trail sort of disappeared. I'd left the trailhead at the same time as a family of 5 from Seattle. We all stopped to rest and have lunch, about 900 ft / 0.7 miles below LC.

I was so glad to have made it where I did. I consider it a scouting hike for a run at the summit soon.. this year?!

Kings Mountain

This trail is another that's been on my hiking bucket list for quite awhile. The trail reports made it seem like a difficult mountain to climb. They are wrong but it's also a bit subjective. It's one of the hikes I'd seen on the Mazamas website. I tackled this climb a couple of weeks after I moved out of my house.

Westerly view from Kings Mountain summit

The weather was really nice and I saw a lot of people on the trail on my ascent. I was wearing my Mammoth Mountain hat and talked to a couple on their descent about skiing & racing there when I was kid.

The views from the top were great. I was a bit hazy but you could see for miles. I'm not sure if you can see the ocean or Saddle Mtn but you still get some perspective. There's a longer loop trail you can do by adding Elk Mountain to the route.

In the end, it wasn't as difficult as I'd perceived, a testament to my fitness and love of hiking. 

Green Lakes

In October, I took a road trip to Bend, OR to check out Newberry National Volcanic Monument. I'd hoped to talk to volunteers at the Lava Lands Visitor Center and explore Lava Butte. Unfortunately, both were closed until the end of the week.

South Sister from Green Lakes

This meant I had plenty of time to explore the area around Bend. After some minimal research, I headed west from Bend into the Three Sisters Wilderness. I really wanted a closer look at South Sister and Broken Top and this trail delivered!

The trail meanders along Fall Creek with a dozen or more waterfalls in the the Deschutes National Forest. When you get near the south side of South Sister, you sort of leave the dense forest and you hike parallel to a huge moraine.

After passing a sign about the various dispersed camping sites, you reach Green Lakes and it's like a huge amphitheater with South Sister to the west and Broken Top to the east. I couldn't have asked for nicer weather. I made sure to give other hikers plenty of space. It was so quiet except for a light breeze.

Tumalo Mountain

The following day after my Green Lakes hike, I wanted another challenge. I was so intrigued about hiking to the top of Bachelor Mountain. It was a different kind of experience because it's a ski resort: I read you can hike to the top and take the gondola down if you like.

South Sister & Broken Top from Tumalo Mountain

Unfortunately, the day I went, the mountain was closed to the public as they were starting preparations for the upcoming ski season. Right across the Cascade Lakes Highway is Dutchman Flat Trailhead for Tumalo Mountain. 

The forest is not very dense so there are many views of Bachelor, three Sisters, and Broken Top along the way. It's a moderately difficult hike so I cruised up without much difficulty. The view from the summit are incredible. I definitely want to visit Bend more and check out more trails. South Sister is on my hiking bucket list.

Mt St Helens Summit

For the third year in a row, I took another run at the summit. This time I made it! I felt strong and had plenty of snacks and electrolytes. I also ate much better the night before. 

In the morning (around 6am), I started out hiking by myself but by the first section of rocks, I started to see more climbers catching up. I heard their voices before I actually saw them. 

I caught up to a father + daughter pair and chatted with them for a bit. I got passed by another pair of hikers. While going through the boulders, I was passed by a group of about 10-12 that seemed to be reservists or new recruits (Army?). There were 3-4 guys in their 50s or more and the rest were guys in their 20s. Even though they'd leapfrogged me, they never got too far ahead. When they stopped, I stopped to drink some fluids and eat some snacks. They were good motivation.

MSH Summit: Mt Rainier, Spirit Lake, the crater dome

MSH Summit: east rim, Mt Adams

MSH Summit: Monitor Ridge

On the pumice section, I paused near where I'd turned back the previous year for a moment of reflection and every step beyond was a triumph. I counted off the last 30 or so steps with some degree of accuracy. 

Seeing Spirit Lake, Mt Rainier, Mt Adams, and Mt Hood was glorious. Despite all that had happened during the spring and summer with selling my house, I had set a goal and achieved it. I decided not to traverse to the "true summit", I was just glad to be on the rim. I have a twinge of regret in hindsight. I will return next time. 

The weather was perfect: clear with some clouds coming in, barely a breeze, and not cold at all. I noticed Shoestring Notch from the inside of the crater, a feature I'd pointed out to visitors from below at the Lahar Viewpoint.

In the end, it was a beautiful hike and another great outing. The ascent took about 4 hours, 15min. I lingered on Monitor Ridge (the summit rim) for about 45 minutes and waited for that group of guys to start their descent. My descent took about 3 hours. I was glad to see the father + daughter pair midway through the pumice section because I thought they'd turned around. I gave a virtual fist bump in the air but didn't get much of a response: I don't think they recognized me from earlier.

Other new trails

Bunker Hill: No, not the one in Boston. This one is about 10 miles north of Carson, WA and is an old fire lookout site. All that remains are four concrete footings deep within the trees. Not many views from there but you can climb out on the rocks overlooking Stabler. The parking lot is also located next to the Whistle Punk loop, an old logging operation from the 1920s.
Latourell Falls: I'm not sure if it's pronounced "la-tourell" or "lateral", I've heard both. This is the first waterfall on Hwy 30 in the Gorge, just east of Crown Point. I signed up for an Ambassador shift with TKO but had never hiked it. I stopped there a week before my shift to get the lay of the land as well as signing up for a trail work party there to decommission an unofficial shortcut.



Oneonta Falls: After my Ambassador shift at Latourell, I had enough daylight for a hike. All my usual spots were full of people so I keep driving east and found a bunch open spots. It's a steep hike up and into Oneonta Gorge and into the 2017 burn area. You are pretty exposed until about a mile beyond Triple Falls where the forest was untouched.


Trail of Molten Land: This is the first site I visited in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It's just north of Sunriver on Hwy 97. The trail starts at the Lava Lands Visitor Center. I was so impressed that an asphalt trail winds through this abrasive lava field. It's also in the shadow of Lava Butte, a 7,000 year old cinder cone. Phil Brogan Viewpoint is a highlight of the trail: panoramic views of the surrounding lava field which "reached the Deschutes River about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to the west of the cone." (source)
Deschutes River Trail: After I hiked the Trail of Molten Lands, I popped over to the Benham Falls East Trailhead. What an gorgeous place! There wasn't much elevation gain but I wanted to stop at the High Desert Museum so I only hiked as far as Slough Day Use Area, about 2.25 miles one way. It's incredible to hike through the forest and look across the river at a massive lava field.
Big Four Ice Caves: I didn't write a post about this hike but it was during a road trip around the Seattle and Everett in early Nov 2023. The last time I was here was on a road trip I took in 2020. My last night on the road was in Concrete, WA after driving from Chelan through the North Cascades National Park. I saw I was near the Mountain Loop Hwy. I stopped at Big Four but the bridge was out. On my recent trip, I made a special drive out there. It's not a long hike but the ice cave is pretty cool.

Notable Destinations

Newberry Caldera: Paulina Peak, Big Obsidan Flow + Sparks Lake + Dee Wright Observatory

Paulina Peak views
Big Obsidan Trail

Sparks Lake

Dee Wright Observatory

What's Next

  • More volunteering with MSHI, WTA, TKO
  • Go on some group hikes with Mazamas
  • Volcano Naturalist Program 2024 with MSHI (in-progress)
  • Climb Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, another mountain TBD
  • Return to north side of Mt Hood (Tilly Jane, Cooper Spur, Barrett Spur)
  • 2024 goals are same as 2021: 75 hikes, 500 miles, 120,000 feet 
  • More road trips; visit other volcanic areas: Craters of the Moon, Parkdale Lava Flow, return to Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lava Beds National Monument
  • More snowshoeing in Oregon, Washington
  • Explore more Gorge hikes: Nesmith Point, Mount Defiance, Herman Creek, Tunnel Falls, Table Mountain

Overall Stats for the Year

  • Number of Hikes: 63
  • Total Distance: 373.3 miles (600.8 km)
  • Total Elevation Gain: 92,113 feet (28,076 m)
  • Average Distance per Hike: 5.93 miles (9.54 km)
  • Average Elevation Gain per Hike: 1,462.11 feet (445.65 km)
  • Longest Hike: 14.36 miles (Phlox Point/Hamilton Mtn, 4/27/2023)
  • Highest Elevation in a Hike: 8,258 feet (Mt St Helens, 9/6/2023)
  • Most Elevation in a Hike: 4,570 feet (Mt St Helens, 9/6/2023)

Check out these platforms for updates and photos

Hike: Hamilton Mountain, N Bonneville, WA

Getting There

I'd planned to hike up Wahkeena/Multnomah Falls or possibly over to Devil's Rest but when I got to the parking lot, the gate was closed, FULL. Oh well, probably for the best. 

I continued onto Cascade Locks and crossed the river, then double-backed to BRSP.

Just after the Beacon Rock parking lot, it's a right 180 deg turn for the trailhead. The road winds up the hill for a bit. It was pretty busy for a Sunday. I guess other folks were squeezing one more hike into the year.

The Hike

Length: 6.43 mi
Elev. gain: 2,156 ft
Moving time: 2:58:02
Avg pace: 27:40
Calories: 389
Total time: 3:24:32

This was the last hike of 2023! No pressure to make it count! LOL. I didn't need the mileage or elevation gain for my 2023 goals; this was icing on the cake. The weather has been spotty in the PNW and it looked like a nice lull in the rain.

Wow.. Hamilton and the CRG de-livered. 

I didn't get the earliest start, so I didn't have time to do the whole loop but I knew I could make it up and down the main trail.

My foot had been hurting less and I make good time up to the top. There were a couple of hikers up there that was leaving when I arrived. I lingered for a little while to enjoy the views. The last time I'd been up there, it was crazy windy and there was snow on the ground. Today, there was almost no wind and all the snow had melted.

I made sure the pair of hikers had a lot of lead time so I didn't catch up too soon. I started downhill and took my time.

When I got near Little Hamilton, the sunset was looking pretty awesome and figured I had just enough time to hike up there and capture some great views.

Just gorgeous! Magical.

I didn't wait around for the sun to disappear completely. Reluctantly, I continued my descent.

When I got down lower level and into the canopy, the light was disappearing quickly. I stopped and got out my headlamp, it's first use on-the-trail. It was good until I reached the fog and suddenly, it was like being in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon after it goes into hyperspeed. 

Fortunately, the trail is in good condition and not too many tripping hazards. I continued partly by Braille

It was pretty dark when I went through Rodney Falls and by the time I reached the powerlines, it was night time. The fog came and went. I considered taking the headlamp off but I managed alright.

My Jeep was the last car in the parking lot. I was happy to reach it. What a way to end the year!

P. S. I am going to pack a second flashlight from now on.


The photos were uploaded in reverse order, starting with the last photo I took, the amazing sunset.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Hike: North End of Forest Park 26, Portland, OR

Getting There

Take NW Skyline Blvd north from NW Germantown Road. The Skyline Blvd Trailhead is 1.6 mi and a parking are available on right (east) side of the road.

The Hike

Length: 7.76 mi
Elev. gain: 1,729 ft
Moving time: 2:45:02
Avg pace: 21:15
Calories: 1,665
Total time: 2:54:52

It's been awhile since I last hike this trail. This time I thought I'd switch things up and do the clockwise route which takes you down the BPA Road and up Newton Road.

With my R foot hurting, I wasn't sure I was going to hike all the way down to Hwy 30 and waited to decide when I got to the power lines about 1/2 down.

When I got there, I stopped and considered the effort to get back up the other side. If worse got to worse, I could call a Lyft to take me back to the car, a luxury I don't have when hiking in other places.

It was good choice. My foot hurt but never too bad that I couldn't keep going. I passed a few people doing  the counter-clockwise route to wherever.

When I reached the car, I was glad to done the whole loop. It was proof that I was 'on the mend'.

I also had the camera I got for Xmas. Unfortunately, I wasn't happy with the limited features, slippery plastic finish, especially compared to the power of an iPhone with all the options and settings. I feel bad and don't want to tell my mom, lest she feels bad about the gift. I'll find a use for it somehow, even if I don't use it while hiking.