Facing Starvation

29 01 2015

Saturday began gloomy, as usual. The fog swirled playfully in the trees, the bare branches cold in the morning mist. I sipped my coffee and appreciated the beauty of the scene before me, while cursing it simultaneously. I’m so sick of the blah weather and it’s monotonous depression. It doesn’t have to be sunny and nice every day, but a little change would sure be welcome!

But that day was different – someone in the sky was listening and granted my wish. The sun broke through and made the swirling fog shine and glow. The moisture on the trees sparkled and made the forest look magical and mischievous. The birds came out to play.

So we geared up to go play, too. My poor hiking boots that have been such good companions the last 3 years have been sent to boot heaven, and I finally bought a replacement pair. Today, I would introduce them to the woods and mountains and see how the dirt would compliment the purple leather. As I laced them up nice and tight, Simba realized we were going somewhere and began his ritual dance of circles and sprints down the hall. Buckled into his harness, he knew he was going, too, and soon we were off in search of the day’s adventure.

Headed west up the Gorge, the sun came and went. We pulled into the parking lot at our trailhead: Starvation Creek. I’ve seen Starvation Creek Falls a couple times – tall, thundering, misting and full of rainbows. But this visit, we turned our backs on the falls and hiked the Starvation Creek Ridge Loop westward. An intersection quickly sent us left and up.

And up and up and up – steep switchbacks riddled with boulders and tree roots, shaded and damp. Ferns brushed my legs as I climbed and I shivered in the cold breeze. Then the air suddenly shifted, like the wind decided to blow backward, and I felt the temperature noticeably rise as we broke above the low cloud layer. Soon I was sweating like crazy, shedding layers and trying to shove them in my back-pack while still walking, without tripping over the side of the cliff. I felt the strength of my legs as my hammies ignited and my quads fired their engines. Climb, legs, climb!

Finally finally, we reached an overlook – the top?! – and I gratefully paused to drink in the amazing views, the peaks of Wind Mountain and Dog Mountain gazing back across the Columbia. The sun was out in fine form, throwing sparkles across the water.

Columbia Gorge, Starvation Creek Cabin Falls trail

Wind Mountain to the west, Dog Mountain right in front of us. The Columbia stretching it’s mighty currents.

Starvation Creek Falls trail, Columbia Gorge OR

Looking east, the parking lot teeny beneath us.

Then, as typically happens after reaching the top, the trail turned downward. The first bit was cleared for the massive power lines marching eastward from Bonneville Dam. The sun, the scene, the warmth I’d been missing – my little heart almost shone itself right out of my chest.

starvation creek falls trail to cabin falls, columbia gorge OR

So many of my favorite things in one picture!

The trail led back into the forest and we crossed several creeks. We hopped across stones and logs, Simba splashing along with us. Then came a creek with a deeper section in the middle. J jumped across to reach the next rock, the leash uncoiling as Simba hesitated, worried as the water splashed his legs. He finally went for it, helped along by J tugging a bit on the leash. His belly got a little wet and you’ve never seen a mutt so excited to run out the other side.

creek crossing, columbia river gorge Oregon

Come on little buddy, you can do it!

And hiking in the Gorge always mean waterfalls. Fabulous waterfalls. Starvation Creek Falls might be the big boy on this section but Lancaster Falls, Hole-in-the-Wall Falls, and Cabin Creek Falls are all pretty awesome in their own right. We made sure to detour over to Lancaster Falls and splashed around some more. It was only as we started back towards the main trail that we noticed the first tier of the falls farther up the slope – a much taller, breath-taking torrent.

Lancaster Falls, Starvation Creek Ridge Loop, Cascade Locks OR

Didn’t even realize this was the small section!

We also passed by the base of Tunnel Falls…which we discovered later is actually called Hole-in-the-Wall Falls. The original waterfall on Warren Creek was diverted through a tunnel they blasted in the cliff-side so the overflow during high flows would stop damaging the old Columbia River Highway. You could drop your head way back and squint a little and see the man-made tunnel the falls tumbled from. Pretty dang cool.

See the tunnel way up at the top?

See the tunnel way up at the top?

Back on flat ground, we finished the loop back to the parking lot, passing by one last waterfall: Cabin Creek Falls. Close to the trail and slightly hidden by a couple of ridiculously huge mega-boulders, you don’t really get a good view of the whole sha-bang. But it’s over 200 feet tall, so you get a pretty good idea.

Back at the car, even Simba was reluctant to go, despite all the water we dragged him through. The sun was slowly sinking and the air was cooling off, so we headed home to rest up.

I’m pretty sad about the lack of snow and true winter we’re having up here in the PNW, but the spring-like day was awesome for a good hike!

starvation creek ridge loop trail, cascade locks or, columbia gorge


Through Hell to Get to Heaven, Part DOS!

18 07 2012

Sorry, I got a little excited there. This is my first ever two-part post! I don’t really know why that’s exciting, but surely it’s a milestone of some sort….

Ok, so Part 1 took us up Gold Creek to Crater Creek trailhead, where we climbed a pretty brutal 4 miles up to Crater Lake. But the gorgeous lake and blooming wildflowers and massive mountains that all happen to literally be in my backyard made the Hike of Hell totally worth it. Right? Right.

So what did we do the very next day? Another hike that was even more steep and more exposed to the harsh, hot sun and swarming with mesquitos! Yay!

I guess you could call us gluttons for punishment…..

This trail was in the north end of the valley, up the Chewuch River a bit, kind of at the base of Big Craggy and Isabella Ridge. This was another trail that would give me a whole new perspective on things, being that this mountain and ridgeline dominate the horizon north of Twisp. So I was about to clamber up into the backdrop of my everyday life. Pretty cool!

We got a real early start, when it was still nice and cool, and pulled up to the Copper Glance Trail. I would have missed it. There was a little sign next to a gate blocking a super old road that I would never have thought marked a trailhead. But there it was – the Gate to Hell. As soon as we opened the doors of the truck, the ‘squitos attacked. Nothing gets you moving like a bazillion biting little bastards! I was ready to sprint up the trail just to try to outrun the little blood-suckers!

The trial/road didn’t waste any time. We immediately started climbing. Then we very quickly stopped to take care of downed logs across the trail. The moment we stopped moving, the buzzing picked up and I was busy swatting. However, I soon learned that putting my earplugs in to block out the chainsaw also blocked out the incessant buzzzz of the ‘squeeters and they amazingly didn’t bother me as much. And I actually got my gloves dirty this time helping clear the trial of what J cut. Just being a helpful citizen…

The pace was slow with lots of logs down. I have never been more excited to work in my life. “Oh, no, another one? (huffpuff) What a shame we’re already stopping again…” The work of moving limbs and logs was a relief to the intense up-hill.

J stopped ahead of me, with no logs in sight, and I couldn’t help but triumphantly shout in my head “HE needs a break! HE must be too tired and needs to stop! Even before I did! Man am I an awesome hiker or what?!”  Oops, too soon. As soon as I set my pack next to his, ready to gloat, he turned toward the slope next to the trail and started up it. This was no steep-grade trail, this was straight up the rocky mountain-side! Was he crazy?!

So, of course, I scrambled up after him. Slipping several times and trying to come to terms with the fact that I might tumble to the valley floor and die at any moment, I finally heaved myself over the edge of the nasty rock I was sliding in and on to flat ground. J was searching the ground like he’d lost something and I leaned on my knees a second to catch my breath and thank the universe for keeping me alive.

Then I looked up and almost fell back over the wall I had just climbed. There was a gaping hole in the mountain!! Then the facts all clicked into place: a road up the mountain that was now closed off, up the steep, winding side of a mountain to nowhere, ending at a gaping hole in the rock – a mine! Then it also donned on me that I had just climbed mine tailings to see this. Hm….

Copper Glance Trail, WA mine shaft

So spooky! See anyone in there?? Maybe it’s haunted!

Rushing over to the hole, I was ready to explore. I was gonna be rich! Maybe all these years had eroded away a new vein, and I would see it with my eagle-eye vision, and I could move to the Caribbean. Woo! My lucky day!

Sadly, as soon as I reached the opening, I felt a slosh as my boot sank in mud. The mine was underwater. Lame! But I had to stand and stare a minute into all that blackness…can you imagine descending into this abyss every single day, fueled only by dreams of striking it big?? Then as I examined the rock of the entrance, I noticed the…sparkle. I wiggled a piece lose with my fingernail and held it up – I was going to be rich after all! Whirling around to tell J, I nearly knocked us both into the mine shaft, since he was standing right behind me, holding his own rocks…that were bigger than mine. “Cool pyrite isn’t it. Nice and shiny.” All my hopes and dreams shattered. Damn fool’s gold!

Copper Glance mine shaft, Methow Valley WA

Yay I’m RICH!!!

I stuck it in my pocket anyway and we headed back down to our packs to keep going. We still had a good ways to go. And man, that trail never let up. No flat spots, no dips where we could go downhill for even a second – up and up and up! The mesquitos were here and there, not so bad, but man it was getting roasty hot. Hell’s furnaces were firing up!

Then we came to a huge tree blocking the path that was going to take a while. I went up the trail just a bit to see if there were any more logs coming up, and suddenly found myself in a big, open, picturesque meadow with an amazing view of Isabella Ridge. I was floored to realize how far UP we had really come!

Isabella Ridge, Copper Glance Trail, WA

Oh, hello, Isabella. Nice to finally meet you in person.

The lupines were blooming, the birds were chirping, the trees swayed in the breeze – just a quick little glimpse at Heaven, right in the middle of Hell. Not bad motivation to keep going…..

Once J finished and we continued, I soon realized it was indeed possible for the trail to get worse. This didn’t happen so much due to the grade, although it did increase a bit, but more due to the fact that the slope next to me was a very sheer drop. I can’t tell you what it dropped down to, since I refused to look down, but even the trail was at a slight tilt and made me walk funny, with the right foot on higher ground than the left. Thankfully this didn’t last the rest of the way, or I might have been forced to sit down and cry….

Relief came in the form of trees. Despite the beauty of the meadows, they allowed the sun to scorch down upon us and offered nothing to catch me if I tripped. Unfortunately, the trail through the trees didn’t change much, and I was about fed up with this uphill nonsense. But about the time I thought I was doomed to climb forever, we reached a lovely creek making lovely little waterfalls as it tumbled down the mountain. We both dropped our packs and dunked our faces, relishing the cold water as it rinsed off the sweat. Ahhhhhh, another taste of Heaven.

The trail after this did finally level out a bit, bringing us to a little pond. Or maybe it was just a swampy area…I’m not sure. But there was a little campsite with some logs that looked like a perfect place to rest my tired butt cheeks and eat some lunch. The shade and cold water made this a nice cool spot to stop, but I hoped as hard as I could that this wasn’t the lake. I’m no expert, but there just wasn’t enough water to classify it as a lake. But food distracted me and I attacked my sandwich like a bear coming out of hibernation.

After the goodies were all devoured, J decided to keep exploring, and we found where the trail continued. More brutal ups and downs brought us right up to the face of Isabella Ridge and into a rock field.

Isabella Ridge, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

I’m almost there!!

It reminded me of the lava fields in Oregon, but not made of lava rocks. A few scrawny trees managed to grow here and there, and I finally saw the Pearly Gates: a bright teal, crystal clear, shiny lake with a waterfall feeding it directly from the snowfields.

Sweet Jesus, this might have been the most beautiful lake I have ever seen.

Copper Glance Lake, Isabella Ridge WA

So clear, so blue, so pretty…so cold!

A couple campers had a tent on the other side and were lazily fishing in the afternoon sun. J went around to talk to them while I hopped down on a rock and yanked my boots off. Sadly, the water was at such a frigid temperature my toes couldn’t stand more than a few seconds.

Copper Glance Lake, Methow Valley WA

The mermaid rock I perched on to rest my feet

I relaxed with my toes in the sun, bathing in the beauty and serenity of the mountains. I’m telling you, this is Heaven. The trail was most certainly Hell, and this was the closest to Heaven on earth that I have experienced. I only wish my time in Heaven could have been longer, but J was working, and we had to keep moving.

At least the trail down was just that: down. I’m finally figuring out how to relax and not hurt my knees, making the return a bit easier. And it’s always fun to see the opposite views once you’re facing the other direction – it’s like a whole new trail. For instance, instead of looking up at the towering peaks of Isabella, Craggy and Sherman, I now had the splendor of the whole valley opening up below me. The smokey haze from a wildfire or two in the area gave the view a softer look, despite the glaring sun.

Methow Valley from Copper Glance Trail, WA

Wow, Methow, you’re really rockin’ the “smokey” look

Stumbling down and down, we quickly came back to the second crossing of Copper Glance Creek (or the first crossing on the way up). I had already forgotten all about it. There used to be a nice bridge to cross, but alas, raging waters or some other force of nature have since collapsed the bridge. Crossing it is now a feat that should normally be reserved for those accustomed to walking high-wires in the circus. The boards are slippery, the water fast and cold, the logs to hold on to wobbly at best, and the outcome of a fall would be nothing fun…if you survived to tell about it.

collapsed bridge on Copper Glance Trail, WA

Poor bridge has seen better days. Time to practice my mad skills!

Thankfully, I did survive, since here I am, still telling you about it. We made it back to the truck, sweaty and stinky and covered in mesquito bites, with one soggy boot from where I stepped off into the waterfall. But I had that vision of Heaven still dancing in my brain, reassuring me that given the chance, I would gladly hike right back up that trail.


Weekend stats:

Saturday – Crater Creek Trail, 8.3 miles round trip, 2195 ft elevation gain in 4 miles

Sunday – Copper Glance Trail, 6.5 miles round trip, 2800 ft elevation gain in 3 miles

I not only survived, I’m getting the hang of this……

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