Saturday, March 30, 2024

Hike: Trail of Two Forests & Ape Cave Lower Passage, Cougar, WA

Getting There

It's 28 miles from Woodland to the Cougar. There are a couple of gas stations here. Continue east on SR-503 which becomes Rd 90 for 9.5 miles to Ape Cave. Looks for the sign to Ape Caves, June Lake, Climber's Bivouac, Ape Canyon & Lava Canyon which is Rd 83. It's 0.3 miles to Trail of Two Forests and 0.7 miles to Ape Cave.

This was our second field trip with the 2024 Volcano Naturalist Program with Mt St Helens Institute. We had a carpool signup since there was going to limited parking in the Trail of Two Forests parking lot. I added my car to the list and a fellow volunteer signed up. It was nice to have someone to talk with on the drive up and back.

I didn't expect anyone to signup, so I had booked a motel in Woodland for Saturday night. I still wanted to have the company so I took my rider back to their house in Portland after the field trip and drove back to Woodland for my stay.

The Hike

Distance: 3.57 miles
Elevation Gain: 358 feet
Maximum Elevation: 2,110 feet

We met the rest of group at the Trail of Two Forests parking lot. Ape Cave is closed right now until May 18th but we had special permission from the USFS to explore the cave.

After introductions and a preview of what we were going to see and do, we took a walk around the TTF boardwalk, stopping at a few spots along the way. I got some more details that I will be adding to my talks with visitors.

Since I am a volunteer, I was selected to carry a radio and assist with the field trip.

There was no need for snow shoes since the road to the cave was mostly clear of snow. When we reached Ape's Headquarters, another volunteer and I was asked to talk a little about our experiences volunteering at the cave.

We had lunch in the sun and got ready for the adventure.

It was great to have a guide explore the cave with. She had a bunch of details that I didn't know from my own research or from my mentor. I will be adding it to my own storytelling when I volunteer at the cave later this year.

Some highlights:

  • The ledges inside the cave that look like bathtub rings are Cave Levies. The lava flow slowed down and there was cooling & hardening of the lava.
  • Air currents are mostly due to temperature differences between the surface air and cave air. Cold air flows down to lowest points. If air on surface is warmer than the cave air, cold air moves downhill. If air in the cave is warm than the surface air, cold air moves uphill.
  • The holes on the side of the cave are from blowouts. Moisture in the surrounding soil/earth was heated and turned to steam and exploded the rock into the cave. You can see how thick the cave wall is because the rock from the riverbed is brownish.
  • Rock fall inside the cave happened when the cave was cooling. Geologists have checked the debris after recent earthquakes and have not discovered any new rocks. Seems to be stable.
  • The railroad tracks were formed when the volume of lava was diminishing and slowing down, allowing it to cool and harden.
  • Ripples on the walls are rock that was remelted and began sagging due to gravity.
  • 450 years ago, a lahar flowed down over the cave entrance and mud & rock flowed through the cave and was deposited on the floor.
  • The white stuff on the walls is cave slime, a combination of fungus + bacteria that work together in symbiosis.

It was great to take our time and discuss what we found. Several folks were able to find small insects on the cave wall.

At one point, we all turned off our lights and just listened to the sounds and experience the cave in total darkness. The instructor light a single wooden match. We became "Cave Apes", pledging to protect with amazing, natural place.

At the end of the lower passage was a pile of something, fabric, basically trash. We were picking up trash along the way. Even though the cave is "closed to the public", there's not gate to prevent people from going in.

There were several folks in there with us. The instructor just told them they the cave was closed and there are lots of signs saying as much but we weren't there to enforce anything.

Two classmates from Seattle were interested to visit the viewpoint above the cave parking lot. I'd mentioned it in my talk. I couldn't find a good map due to poor cell service but someone else was able to pull up a map. I was glad to have sparked some interest.

Looking for resident insects on the walls

The Meatball

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Hike: Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, Hood River, OR

Getting There

After the WTA trail work party the day before, I stayed in Hood River overnight. I didn't know what I was doing when I woke up. The weekend before I'd done a hike at Wind Mountain on the way home so I wanted to do something else. 

I drove up to the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trailhead just east of Hood River.

From downtown Hood River, I took State Street east toward Hwy 35. The road changes to Old Columbia River Drive. It's another 1.3 miles up a winding road. I instantly recognized that I'd been here before.

I wondered if my Northwest Forest Pass would work for this trailhead/parking lot. I went inside the visitor center to ask the volunteer. We chatted for a long time about her history with the park service and volunteering. I shared that I'd been out in the area with WTA at Lyle Cherry Orchard.

My parking pass wasn't good here since it was a forest pass and not a parks pass. I bought the $5 day fee and got ready to go.

The Hike

Distance: 9.79 miles
Elevation Gain: 842 feet
Highest Elevation: 526 feet

I really didn't know how far I was going to follow this trail. It was paved the entire way but the volunteer I'd talked with gave me the mile markers where stuff was. It was about 4 miles to the east trailhead in Mosier. I'd been there a couple of years ago and checked out the tunnels.

I had my pack with rain gear and snacks. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to refill my water bottle. Oops. It was hardly a remote area but still a bit of a bummer.

I thought I'd go to the view point at mile 71 and turn back. I took my sweet time enjoying the views and explore every side trail. I found an open gate to a small meadow. There was a scramble route to the rocky outcrop but I wasn't sure if it was off-limit and didn't want to get too far off the official trail.

Just beyond the meadow was a small trail through some oak trees but there was also a gate and No Trespassing sign forbidding access for safety and preservation reasons. From there I could see the small pond I'd seen from the meadow. I'd scared a crane when I got there.

From the cliff above, I saw the crane had returned to its pond.

I found the viewpoint at Mile 71. I could see I-84 below and Lyle Cherry Orchard in the far distance. The weather was amazing and slightly chilly. I just had my base layer with was moisture-wicking. I had my soft-shell jacket just in case.

Since the volunteer had told me the tunnel was at Mile 72, I figured I'd just keep going. I didn't see anyone for the most part except a couple of bikers that zipped through.

On the other side of the tunnels was another lookout. It was cool to see the sloped terrain on the WA side of the river. Sedimentary rock that had been tipped at a 30° angle. The clouds were fluffy and gorgeous.

I ended up going all the way to the trailhead parking lot in Mosier. I'd hoped to find a drinking fountain but alas there was none. I used the lew and started the walk back to Hood River.

Near the west side trailhead, the trail splits for bikes and pedestrians.

Nice outing. Not exactly a "hike" because it was 100% paved but I'm marking it as such. I had my hiking boots on (which were pretty comfy TBH) and my backpack. And whew, 9.79 miles! Surprisingly, I had a decent amount of elevation gain (842 ft), comparable to EG at the Lyle Loop Trail (942 ft) even though it was spread over 9.8 miles here vs 1.7 miles one-way to the top of arc.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Hike: Lyle Cherry Orchard, Lyle, WA

Getting There

I left from Portland in the early morning, around 6:15am. I wanted to have a little extra time to get there. I took I-84 to Hood River and stopped at McDonald's on the Oregon side of the Hood River Bridge. 

I paid the $3.50 and continue east on Hwy 14. It's 12.1 miles from there. The trailhead parking lot is on the left. I arrived at 7:45a and there was one car in the lot: Tom and Rod. I waved and ate my breakfast sandwich. Shortly thereafter, Bill showed up and parked next to me. Then, James arrived in the WTA truck. I started getting my gear ready and went the group that had gathered for the orientation and tool talk.

We set out as a group to the worksite somewhere on the trail.

The Hike

Distance: 3.45 miles
Elevation Gain: 942 feet
Highest Elevation: 1,052 feet

From the parking lot, it's hard to see what the area looks like. It's a steep, rocky trail for the first 3/4 mile, then opens up to some amazing views. 

Pretty quickly the group started to spread out. I noticed Rod was still making his way up the first section. I pretended to adjust some settings on my camera and took a few shots. I didn't want to make Rod self-conscience but he thanked me for waiting for him.

We continued up and moderate pace and met Bill. He was at the junction for the Lyle Trail & Cherry Orchard Loop Trail where there were some tools. I grabbed a hoe and shovel (for Rod, since he was using hiking poles) and the three of use took the clockwise loop.

I learned that the both of them had been on the crew to built this section of trail from scratch. Amazing!

Bill pulled ahead up the trail and Rod and I stopped a couple times to add a drain where water had puddled.

I'd seen the rest of the group take the Cherry Orchard Trail at the junction where we met Bill and the tools. I pulled away from Rod and was trying to catch up to Bill. I was a bit surprised to met Tom who was working on a section of the trail. The other half of the group had gone the counterclockwise direction and we met in the middle (sort of).

I came across three others crew members that were debating the best way to dig a drainage trench. I skipped past them and found James. About 5 of us worked on a long section of trail: removing the downside berm and discarding the dirt and clumps of grass far away from the trail.

We continued up the trail doing the same and even created a "bench": widening the trail on the upside of the path, leveling it off, and removing the downside berm for drainage. I had been wearing my base layer, fleece layer, and soft shell jacket, plus my backpack. Rod stopped me at one point to remove my jacket and pack. I hadn't even noticed. It definitely felt better to do the digging and hoeing.

We continued upwards, leap-frogging the groups of two or three. At one point, James came by to give out chocolate and encouragement. Before we knew it, James made the call that we were done with everything that was planned. We stayed there and ate our lunches.

We enjoyed the food, sunshine, and views for awhile and slowly got up and ready to head back to the parking lot.

Again, I took a slower pace so Rod and Bill weren't too far behind. The group was getting spread out again. Finally, I was by myself, stopping every so often to take pictures.

At one point, Bill passed me and I didn't see Rod for awhile. There were many hikers going up. I stopped to talk to some of them, telling them where we'd worked and how grand the views were.

I looked back and saw Rod was stopped and talking with a mom & daughter pair I'd seen earlier. We were just 1/2 mile from the bottom so I just headed down.

I reached the car and took off my gear and changed into my comfy shoes and joined the group for chips and post-work talk. Rod eventually made it back down but he'd missed the wrap-up talk. James remarked that he knew Rod had heard the spiel before; he's got hundreds of hours with WTA.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Hike: Wind Mountain, Home Valley, WA

Getting There

I was on my way home from snowshoeing around Mt Hood. I'd stayed the night in Government Camp and visited the Timberline Lodge for coffee. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed until lunch. I grabbed a to-go coffee from the Day Lodge. I'd thought about snowshoeing around Trillium Lake or Mirror Lake but I was feeling pretty sore from the day before.

So, I headed down Hwy 35 to Parkdale with hope of exploring the Parkdale Lava Flow. Ironically, I strapped on my snowshoes again and started down a steep slope (the clearing for the power lines) because the road to Laurence Lake was still closed for winter before it crosses the top side of the lava flow. Stupidly, I didn't take pictures because I panicked a bit. When I reached the bottom of the hill, I noticed cross-country ski tracks but also a variety of animal prints that seemed to go in the same direction as the skier. There were probably dog tracks but I thought I saw bear and cougar tracks as well. I didn't have bear spray or even water and was feeling a bit vulnerable due to sore muscles. To explore the south side of the lava flow, I would have had to bushwhack through a grove of trees and there were too many other unknowns.

I bailed and crossed the Columbia River at Hood River.


From WA Hwy 14 at Home Valley (just east of Carson), take Wind Mountain Road. Follow for 1.0 mile and take the right to stay on Wind Mountain Road. Go another 0.4 mile to Girl Scout Road (on right) and continue 0.3 mile to the trailhead.

There's a clearing before the actual trail where the dirt road drops down. Technically, there's room for 1 or 2 cars across from the trail but best to park at the clearing.

There was a pair of hikers with a dog parked next to me. I asked about parking permits for this trailhead and they said there wasn't one. Woohoo!

The Hike

Length: 2.56 miles
Elev. gain: 1,138 feet
Moving time: 1:18:12
Avg pace: 30:36
Calories: 790
Total time: 1:44:38

I had enough energy for a hike and had purposefully brought my new Vasque over-the-ankle boots. They did me well on the Dog Mtn trail but also hurt my ankles a bit.

The trail is steep and never really lets up but it's also only about a mile and quarter. This was my second visit up this trail and I had the place to myself.

It wasn't until near the top that I passed a couple on their way down. I made it to the first sign about the Spirit Quest Site and a lot of energy in reserve. I tiptoed my way through the area and grabbed the view to the west. I could see Hamilton Mtn and Beacon Rock.

I heard some rustling on the rock pile side (east side facing Dog & Augsperger Mtns). I waited for a bit to give them some space. Shortly, a guy came around the corner. I said hello and we chatted about hikes in the area and how beautiful this spot was. I wished him well and continued to the east part of the summit.

My face was beet red and I was feeling comfortably tired. I started my descent and noticed the guy I'd talked with was still sitting there, enjoying the sun and scenery. I quietly wound my way back to the main trail.

This was a perfect way to conclude my long weekend.

Home Valley, Columbia River, Beacon Rock SP

Mt St Helens

Home Valley, WA

Dog Mountain and rock piles

Rock piles and Columbia River

Mt Adams

Top of Dog Mountain

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Snowshoe: White River Canyon, Government Camp, OR

Getting There

I was already at the Mt Hood Meadows Nordic Center, so the White River West Sno-Park is just about 4 miles southwest on Hwy 35. The sno-park is 7 miles from Government Camp.

Surprisingly, the parking lot was pretty empty, especially for a bright, warm sunny Sunday. Back at the Nordic Center, the parking lots were about 80% full. I pulled up to a wide spot on the perimeter near the pit toilet and start of the trail.

The Hike

Length: 5.64 mi
Elev. gain: 1,627 ft
Moving time: 2:59:45
Avg pace: 31:54
Calories: 1,604
Total time: 3:52:15

The guided snowshoe at the Nordic park was just a warmup. I set my sights on the end of the trail in the White River Canyon, nearly 6,000 ft in elevation.

I delayed putting on my snowshoes as it seemed like plenty of other folks were faring okay without them to do their sledding and exploring. I quickly found that the warm weather was softening the snow-pack. I knew I could find my rhythm again with them on, rather than sink to my calves unexpectedly.

When I reached the first steep hill where the trail goes up into the trees or parallels the river, I had a decision to make. Some other people surveyed the river/meadow trail and opted to go up into the trees. The river crossing at that point didn't look possible but I saw footprints leading up close to the ridge on the left. I hoped that if I took this route, I wouldn't have to backtrack, possibly a long way.

I took the chance and followed those footprints. Fortunately, I was able to safely cross the river a ways up. 

The snow was pretty soft and even with snowshoes, I would occasionally sink in a couple of inches. It made progress slow at times. I had to stop every 100 yards or so to rest. The sun was so bright and I was completely exposed.

In hindsight, I was getting cooked. While most of my bare skin was covered, my face and hands were not. I got pretty burned on the cheeks and fingers and top part of my hands. Ooops.

I was hoping to encounter some other hikers/snowshoers but not many folks were up there. I eventually rounded the corner and I could no longer see Hwy 35 and the parking lot. In the distance, I could see a group of about 8 people near the foot of the ridge where I was headed. As I approached, they began their descent and detoured into the trees. I took note of how they went so I could do the same when I started back down.

The sun and warmth was great but I was getting pretty tired. My destination was far away and seemed like a long shot. I employed a technique that works for any tough task: breaking it down into incremental steps. Bear Grylls used a count of "20" when he crossed a ravine on the rope (Men vs Wild With Jake Gyllenhaal; S7E1). Climber Joe Simpson referred to this technique in his voiceover on Touching the Void when he was dragging himself across the glacier and moraine. Alan Watts says "You can’t eat the whole chicken at once. You have to bite it, you have to reduce it to bits".

Rather than just push for the top-end of the trail, I picked a feature in the near distance and reset my sights to the next point. Mine situation was not life-or-death but it still worked. Somehow, achieving those small "wins" helps the spirit and attitude. 

Reaching the end of the trail felt so good. I challenged myself and made it! While the distance and elevation gain was moderate compared to other hikes I've done, the sun, snow, and footwear added some difficulty, plus I had about 15 lbs in my backpack.

I enjoyed the view and silence for a little while. I still had about 2.8 miles to get back to the parking lot. After a half-mile, my feet started to hurt. I probably should have tightened my laces because it seemed like my toes were hitting the end of the boot. I also didn't use my Superfeet inserts (Trailblazer/Hike Support). That mistake and no using sunscreen, two "lemons".

I tried to ignore the discomfort and focus on externals: the views, the warmth, the silence beside the snow crunching under my feet.

To my relief, I finally made it the treeline. I marveled about how long it took to descend from the end of the trail and how I had conquered that section. (pats self on back).

It was nice to get some shade and meandering trail. I tried to shade my face with my balaclava but it was a bit tight and not comfortable. I passed some snowshoers on their way up to the edge of the treeline. I recalled the first time I snowshoed up here and snapped some photos with a disposable camera or inexpensive digital camera.

Such amazing views of Mt Hood covered in snow. Maybe I will be able to climb this mountain. I'm looking forward to another trip to the MSH summit and maybe I can reach the Mt Adams summit. Hmm.