Just A-hiking in the Woods

27 07 2017

It’s no secret how much I love to hike. Outdoor adventures are the usual topic of this blog. And with school out, I have all sorts of time to head out into the woods!

The last month has seen more outdoor time than the previous 6 months combined. Oh, how lovely it’s been! The fresh air, the blood pumping through my legs, the quality time with my wiggly mutt…so good! Here’s a quick peek at some of our recent adventures.

Wyeth

Right before school let out, Simba and I needed some nature time, and J was busy working. We set out with a map and a few suggestions from our housemate to see what we could find. Our first attempt was to climb to Indian Point from the Herman Creek trailhead, but the overflowing parking lot sent us high-tailing to our second choice: Wyeth. Both are right down the Gorge, meaning everything would be gorgeous. We poked around the awesome creek that – of course – tumbled in several rapids and mini waterfalls. Ferns, moss, towering cliffs, swaying trees – a typical gorge hike. We really live in the coolest place.

Emerald Falls, Wyeth Trailhead Oregon Columbia Gorge hikes

Simba “swimming” at Emerald Falls – next time we’re climbing UP STREAM!

Green Point Ridge trail Columbia Gorge hikes Oregon

Lunch break about 3 miles up the trail. Shared a few nibbles with this handsome mutt.

The trail, which is actually called the Green Point Ridge trail, traverses the cliffs and flattens out pretty nicely after the initial climb. It was nice and peaceful once we tuned out the road noise below, and the lack of fellow hikers was a real plus. And since it parallels the Columbia River, the views are outstanding no matter where we looked. So awesome.

Trapper Creek Wilderness

J has been working his rear off this summer, so I’m really thankful I can tag along with him. Its perfect: he gets work done, I get to hike in the woods, and I squeeze in time with my Boo. All the things I want! A couple weeks ago, J invited me along for a trip to the Trapper Creek Wilderness, one of my favorite places. This particular area is unique in that it has old growth forest untouched by the logging industry. Most of the northwest has been logged at some point or another, but not here! The result is gorgeous, old growth forest, complete with monster-huge trees, lack of dense undergrowth, more diverse species of plants and trees, and the presence of old, gnarly snags that provide habitat for cool wildlife. If you’ve never hiked through an old growth forest, I suggest dropping everything and finding one immediately. Go!

Trapper Creek trail, Trapper Creek Wilderness WA GPNF

Simba, charged and ready to go!

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Trapper Creek Wilderness WA

Don’t forget to pause and look up. The colors of the forest get me every time.

Trapper Creek Wilderness, Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Dropped off trail to take a break by this babbling brook. Cold, refreshing, lovely.

saprophytes Trapper Creek in GP Forest WA

Saprophytic plants – just a sample of the awesome flora to be found. These little guys don’t produce chlorophyll!

trail work, Trapper Creek Wilderness WA

My local ranger hard at work fixing some trail tread. ❤

Gifford Pinchot NF, Trapper Creek Wilderness hiking

And of course, #SelfiesWithSimba – the best hiking buddy around!

Cascade Creek

For the 4th of July, we knew we had to get out of town. Far, far out of town. Simba is terrified of fire works and its hard to watch him panic every time one goes off. We headed into the woods with the truck loaded with camping gear and found an awesome spot on the banks of Cascade Creek, right by its joining with the White Salmon River. Since the actual holiday was during the week, we lucked out and had the whole place to ourselves! We didn’t do much actual hiking, but we did a lot of unplugged, kicked-back relaxing and it was amazing. I didn’t take many photos, since I really did turn my phone off, leave it in the truck, and enjoyed time in the woods undisturbed. Glorious.

Cascade Creek, Gifford Pinchot NF WA

Glamping!! Who wouldn’t want a campsite where someone left a giant “Race Base” sign?! (Don’t leave your crap in the forest. K thanks.)

camping in the GP, WA

I can’t help it. Our selfie game is just so ON POINT.
#SelfiesWithSimba is now a thing.

Wyeth (full circle)

And then with JBoo in tow, we hiked Wyeth again. Not quite as far, but more playing in the creek. The hiking experience is totally different for me if I’m with someone, compared to being alone. After all this time, J is still my favorite hiking companion. ❤

Emerald Falls, Wyeth, hiking in the Columbia Gorge

Emerald Falls….again

Wyeth trailhead, Columbia Gorge

He wasn’t even working this time!!

And after a nice long hike, Simba likes to partake in post-hike snuggle time. He’s such a cuddlebug. I love it.

snuggle puddle

I apparently make a pretty good pillow.

This turned into a longer post than I intended…thanks for coming along for the ride! Our other big hike is getting a post all of its own, and of course Simba and I have daily expeditions exploring the neighborhood. More big adventures are in the works, stay tuned!!

Anyone else out enjoying the great outdoors? Suggestions for other places in PNW I should explore? Tell me all about it!!





Pocket Meadows and Campfires

27 07 2016

JBoo has to work some weekends. I don’t. Therefore, in order to spend time with him, I sometimes tag along.

Last weekend was one such tag-along situation. J needed to hike up and check out some areas affected by last year’s wildfires, and I needed time with my man and nature, preferably simultaneously. So we set out for an over-nighter, hiking up the west side of Adams, pretty close to the lovely section of PCT Simba and I hiked a couple weeks ago.

By now, it’s pretty clear that I like to hike. If you’ve ever met me, in person or just on the interwebs, you probably caught on that I love the mountains and forests of the PNW. I’ve only lived here about 6 1/2 years, but I feel this is the place where I most belong. I assumed that eventually, the amazement and wonder would dull, maybe even wear off entirely. Mountains would all start looking the same, a pine tree would be just another pine tree, and every trail was just another walk through the woods.

Maybe this will happen someday, but it most definitely hasn’t yet.

This particular trip was up trail #64, the Riley Camp Trail. J spent lots of time up here with the fires last year, and I expected lots of burnt, scarred forest. The climb started in nice old growth, just like the PCT, but the climb was steeper. Simba ran around like a fool, the little saddlebags of his backpack flopping up and down. I admire his optimism – he doesn’t care where we’re going, he’s just so happy to be out! And I think he knows the big backpacks mean a campout and sleeping in a tent with his people….

dog camping, riley camp trail, mt adams wa

I’M JUST SO EXCITED TO BE HERE

Anyway, the trail did wander through some areas of the burn, but not as much as I thought. The reason was a surprise to me: meadows! We laced in and out of these amazing open meadows full of lush grass and wildflowers. The lack of fuel makes the fire burn around them, and they become little green oases in the middle of the blackened remains of forest. Most are pretty small and J called them “pocket meadows.” I couldn’t help but be delighted with this – how charming! Like I could sneak one in my pocket and take it home, put it on the window sill, and act like I’d had it forever when J asked where I got it! (I’ve never done this…)

The “pocket meadows” also appeared suddenly, adding to their delightfulness. The terrain is rolling and the trail wound up and over and around rock outcroppings and ridges and the general bumpiness found up in the mountains. We would come around a corner or up over another “bump” and BAM! pocket meadow! So exciting. A couple times I stopped in my tracks to gaze a moment at the splendor and would feel a furry collision as Simba ran into the back of my legs. He really shouldn’t hike quite so close.

riley camp trail, mt adams wilderness, wa

Man-to-mutt discussion over lunch.

After 5ish miles, we left the main trail and I assumed we were just going to detour by the creek so Simba could get a drink. Instead, we crossed the creek and headed for the middle of the latest meadow. Finally, I noticed the square of logs and realized there was a campsite here. Yay! Slumber party with the pocket meadow! We dropped our packs and got right to work setting up camp. Simba scouted the perimeter, marking our spot just in case anyone got any funny ideas, and helped out where he could.

We set up the tent, hoisted our bear hang, and secured our packs, then set out back up the trail. J had some work to do, I had new scenery to gawk at. Up and down the trail we trod, through beautiful open forest complete with streams and wildflowers. So lovely. We stopped at a little lake and put out a campfire we found still burning (some people are such idiots…), then started back down.

But this time, we ventured off the trail. J’s expertise allows him to do such a thing, and I followed along merrily as we made our way down through another series of pocket meadows. Soon we were following the same stream that babbled along next to our own meadow camp. I was astounded by the natural masterpiece, though lesbehonest, it should be no surprise by now! Nevertheless, I ate a few bugs with my mouth hanging open and tripped more than once for not watching my footing.

Back at our camp, we got to work settling in for the night. JBoo started dinner as I gathered firewood. Soon I had a nice little fire a-blazing and J had gnocchi spooned into two bowls. We opened our special treat: a little box of red wine that turned out to be totally worth the weight of packing it in. (I can say that because it was delicious AND it rode in J’s pack…)

The evening was magical…except for one thing. Apparently, news spread and every mosquito in southwest Washington came to join our party. And they all brought a friend. Swarms covered Simba’s face as he tried to curl up in the tall grass. They bit through my pants, despite my deet-filled repellent. Even in the warm evening, I wore my fleece to protect my torso, sweating as I tended the fire. The smoke helped a little, but there were just so many of the little buggers! We fled to the tent while there was still daylight, just to escape the awful insects.

The next morning was a race against the tiny critters, and we broke camp faster than I’ve ever seen, including breakfast. The morning was warm and the ‘squeeters were ferocious. The trail offered movement that kept them at bay.

J had a search and rescue waiting before we even got back to the truck, so our mini vacay was over rather quickly. But that evening in the pocket meadow, playing in the campfire with my two favorites, recharged me for the coming week. Another “duh” moment of remembering that the mountains and forests are my therapy and should be visited as much as possible.

Here’s to the hope of another adventure just around the corner!





Appointment with the Mother

4 07 2016

This is my mother:

amazing mom mothers day vancouver wa

She is one fabulous woman.

She added purple to her hair and flew half way across the country to watch me walk the stage and get my master’s degree. She has supported me every step of the way my entire life, even though I rudely moved so far away from her. On my list of amazing women, she fills the top slot.

This is my other mother:

mother nature mount adams wilderness wa

She may be your mother, too.

Mother Nature may not have given birth to me, but she does help support me and my mental well-being. As my real mother is in Kansas this weekend with my broski, and celebrating my insanely fabulous niece’s birthday, I didn’t want to bother her. So I turned to my second mother.

The plan was spend several fun days hiking around and playing outside with JBoo. I took a summer job with WSUV, so I still live in Vancouver, but I was able to leave Wednesday night and come home to Hood River early. Five and a half days with JBoo!! We haven’t spent that much time together since winter break!

And I arrived to find him in the fetal position on the couch, buried in blankets, sick as a dog. Poor thing. So I took care of sick J and got other stuff done…but J woke up Sunday feeling like a human being, so we quickly started making plans for a fun-filled day of hiking and swimming and playing outside. Before I even finished getting dressed, our plans came crashing down around us with a single phone call: a climber on Adams fell and broke his leg. J is not only the Wilderness Ranger on Mt. Adams, he’s also on the search and rescue team. He immediately took the lead organizing the rescue, and I silently packed mine and Simba’s gear into my pack.

We hit the road for Trout Lake, making a quick stop for food in White Salmon. With all the rush, I hadn’t had a chance to sneak any food or coffee, and it was almost 10:30. I was hangry and caffeine deficient. And therefore silent. J coordinated all the various pieces of the rescue as we drove, me eating all the while, then gave me a map and a Spot device at his office. He showed me a trail where Simba and I could hike.

“Uh, I’ve been on that trail several times. And it’s like two miles out of town. Give us a real trail.” I was antsy to go hike and might have given a little more sass than was necessary. But J just turned back to the huge map on the wall and pointed again. “Ok, you could hit this section of the PCT at William’s Mine.” He gave some brief directions and several “stay right” and “stay left” instructions that I tried to pay attention to, then Simba and I bolted for the truck.

Even as I drove up the mountain road, my anxiety started to ease. I don’t need J to hike. Simba and I can do just fine on our own. You go save people, we’ll play without you! But as I parked J’s truck at the trailhead, I realized my grumpiness was from missing him, not because I was mad at him. Dang it.

The last of my moody funk melted away as Simba and I stepped into the shade of the old-growth trail. Simba fell in behind me after his initial spaz-tastic run-around, and off we went. I took a deeeeeeeeep breath and sighed. Hello Mother.

Not far in, we came to a little bridge over a creek where three men had stopped for a rest. As I walked by with a smile and hello, one asked me, “Are you out here all on your own?!” They were all a bit older and seemingly innocently surprised by my aloneness, so I gave a simple, “Nope, I’ve got my dog” and kept walking. I could hear their surprised conversation fading behind me. “A young woman out in the woods by herself? That seems dangerous. She didn’t even seem afraid…..” blah blah blah.

Really guys? Where are you from? Three men are about the greatest danger to me in these woods. Why should I not be able to go for a nice hike in the beautiful forest by myself? Sheesh. I put them out of my mind quickly and got straight to business: my appointment with Mother Nature.

This was long overdue. Have you ever had that feeling where you didn’t know how much you missed or needed something until you finally did it again? That was me. As I breathed the pure air and stretched out my legs I felt a familiar calmness setting in. An almost forgotten calmness.

You’ve been gone too long.

I know, I’m sorry. Things happened. Life got in the way. Grad school got in the way.

I could have helped you. You needed me. You should have come anyway. 

You’re right, of course. I should have come. But I’m here now. I missed you.

As my legs settled into a rhythm, my shoulders relaxed. The last lingering tingles of headache faded away. This therapy that I used to rely on had been canceled when I needed it the most. The anxiety that has been waking me in the middle of the night, robbing me of sleep and joy, was no match for the Mother. She took it from me, filling my heart with song and my soul with light. My mind cleared of all the noise clogging my thoughts and opened to the simple purity of the natural miracles all around me.

As I wound my way up the hillside, the old-growth gave way to burn. Mother Nature’s scars seemed harsh at first, in the charred snags and crusty, black, peeling bark. But the clouds gave way to sun as the air sweetened and I noticed that the whole slope was covered in blooming bear grass. I smiled and chatted with Simba about how cool it was to see the forest growing back after the devastation of the unnatural wildfire. The constant panting and occasional tickle of fur against my leg let me know my faithful companion trotted along with me.

bear grass in a burn, mt adams wilderness WA

Bear grass everywhere!!!

J had told me as we scurried out of his office that he expected 4-5 hours to wrap everything up, so I decided to hike 2 hours up and turn around for 2 hours down. My trusty fitbit kept the time for me and conveniently tracked my steps. It was hard to turn around. The trees were getting fewer and the rocks bigger as we approached treeline, and it was one of those perfect days that made me feel like I could hike on forever. Canada here we come! We had set a nice pace and the day was just so perfect. Knowing J would be waiting on me, though, Simba and I snapped a quick selfie with Adams and reluctantly turned around.

mt adams wilderness, PCT trail WA

Selfie time! Simba, Adams, and me 😀

The trip down did have me daydreaming about hiking the entire PCT one day. My imagination ran away on me and I dreamed up all sorts of good schemes. By the time I reached the truck, I had planned out classroom projects and management systems and blog posts. While my brain drifted in a meditative state on the way up, it went into full planning mode on the way down. The optimistic, excited, ready for world domination kind of planning mode.

I felt like I had received a full-body tune-up. My legs had that sweet ache of working after long months of too much sitting. My lungs felt fresh and clear of the city gunk collected from a year away from my mountains. And my brain felt recharged, rebooted, and revived. The anxiety locking up my shoulders was gone and my thoughts clear and unfoggy. Why had I waited so long? Why didn’t I realize that I missed spending time with Mother Nature.

No need to contemplate on bad decisions, I’ve resolved the issue. J was excited to hear about our adventures and we compared my descriptions to the map. Based on time and what I saw when we turned around, he guessed our round-trip to have been 6-7 miles. My fitbit said we took around 24,000 steps!! I felt powerful and strong and super ready to take on whatever comes next!

Mother Nature, I’m sorry I neglected you for so long, but fear not, I’ll be back soon!!!





Song of the Mountain Goat

24 08 2015

Ahhhhh, summer. After 12 intense, demanding, crazy weeks, my first two sessions of grad school are over. DONE. Check and check. Time for three blissful weeks off before the insanity of fall begins.

Oh what to do?!

Since school started back today, I can tell you exactly what I did: relaxed. (That’s a really nice way of saying nothing… I’ve done so much NOTHING and it has been glorious.) Back in Trout Lake, I spent my days catching up on Netflix, taking extra long walks with my furbaby, reading terrible fiction, and knitting. All the things I neglected while school was in. Simba, especially, felt entitled to lots and lots of make-up attention, and most of my leisurely activities were done on the floor with him either in my lap or snuggled as close as he could get.

What about my J, you ask? Well, the man does have to work. And in August, he works a lot. Also, in case you hadn’t heard, the state of Washington is currently up in flames, literally, and he’s been working the Cougar Creek fire complex burning on the slopes of Mt Adams. However, my amazing beau managed to sneak in three full days for me. Three amazing, fun-filled, spectacular days in the mountains. I even managed to survive!

The location: the Mount Margaret Backcountry, which is on the north side of Mt St Helens, in the blast zone from the 1980 eruption. The plan: backpack up to Panhandle Lake, under Mt Whittier, and spend two nights, then hike back out. The participants: myself, JBoo, J’s pal Andy, and Andy’s pal Sara. The trail description on Northwest Hikers is awesome and totally worth reading and tells just what’s like: http://nwhiker.com/GPNFHike84.html

map of mt margaret backcountry whittier trail

We started at the “TH” (trail head) then hiked the #1 to the #211 and camped at Panhandle Lake. (map belongs to nwhiker.com)

We met at the trail head on a Thursday afternoon, shouldered our packs, and set boots to trail. Quick side note: I am obsessed with volcanoes and have a total crush on St Helens. Her last eruption might have been 35 years ago, but that’s recent in geological terms and the evidence is still really obvious. The slopes are covered in trees all laying the same direction regardless of their orientation to the slopes – trees that were blasted over by the eruption. We hiked through soil that is an ashy mix that quickly coated everything and filled our eyes, noses, and lungs. Many of the lakes still hold trees blasted from their roots that fateful day. SO AWESOME!!!

Anyway, so a-hiking we went. The trail is intense, full of ups and downs and brush and cliffs and dust. Grad school has assisted in my out-of-shape-ness and my pack was a bit heavy. My boots are still pretty new and not super broke in. But around every corner, on top of every ridge, behind every patch of brush, the views were incredibly breath-taking and awesome. From some vantage points, we were rewarded with all the Big Boys: Mt Rainier to the north, Mt Adams to the east, Mt Hood to the south, and of course right there in our faces, the open throat of Mt St Helens. It was like a reunion with all my buddies. Wut up, yall!!

mt st helens and spirit lake from bear pass

Oh hey girl heeeeeyyy! (That’s Spirit Lake full of blasted logs and the crater of Helens)

I’m not going to lie, the hike was pretty brutal. I was huffing and puffing, as usual, and pouring sweat, trying to pretend like my pack wasn’t too heavy and my feet didn’t hurt and I wasn’t totally out of shape. I can write up three research papers in one day but the back country kicks my rear all OVER the place. Some places required us to traverse cliff sides that made my toes curl and my stomach knot. J offered to take my pack across the gnarliest of the gnarly, but I wanted to do it on my own. Thankfully, I didn’t die.

Mt Whittier trail Mt St Helens national monument

Hike with a view. So worth it.

 

hiking in Mt Margaret back country, Mt St Helens

Andy reporting on the conditions of the rock. I was not looking forward to my turn.

Every time we caught sight of a lake, I was sure my torture was coming to a close. (If you notice on the map, we actually saw 4 lakes before reaching ours…yep.) There was really only one thing that inspired me to keep going, fueled me to push on, comforted me and assured me it would all be ok….

wild huckleberries Mt St Helens national monument

HUCKLEBERRIES!!! nomnomnomnom

We actually came across lots of kinds of berries, but huckleberries are the best ever. And there were TONS of them!! J finally told me that I couldn’t have any more unless I could pick and eat without breaking stride. Our next breather he turned to me and just laughed. Mission accomplished – my lips, mouth, and hands were a lovely shade of blue. YUM.

Just when I thought I would collapse and never make it, we reached our designated lake. (You have to get a permit to camp out here and only one permit is issued per lake per night.) After some confusion and back tracking, we clambered down a goat trail and haphazardly made it to the lake shores. We dumped our stuff at our designation campsites and bee-lined to the shoreline. Andy and Sara were brave enough to disregard the cooling evening air and jumped in for a swim. J and I ditched our boots and tried to rinse off as much grime as we could. Time to set up camp and get dinner going. Within the first few minutes at the lake, I was head over heels for this beautiful little spot.

Panhandle Lake, Mt Margaret back country, Mt St Helens

Panhandle Lake, our home sweet home for the next couple days. We could do worse.

I set up our tent and Chef JBoo fixed our dinner. We had packed in some ultra-classy boxes of wine and sat with our little crew well into the darkness. A few shooting stars shot over our heads and added to the ambiance. Spectacular.

boxed wine camping Mt Margaret

Undeniably classy. Lovely merlot.

After an amazing night of sleep, I woke up early and explored the area around the lake while the others slumbered. I saw a herd of elk in the brush near the trail we hiked in on, then looked up and spotted two goats nimbly making their way across the sheer cliff. Birds fluttered around in the bushes and a hawk soared above; fish splashed at the surface of the lake having breakfast. Yep, I could live here. I finally gave in to the roar in my belly and got J up. We retrieved our bags from the bear hang and ate breakfast. Near the bear hang, we noticed more huckleberry bushes, and I found my first activity of the day.

Lake Panhandle, Mt St Helens WA

Morning reflection on the still water. Lovely.

huckleberry picking Mt St Helens WA

Fruits of my morning labor. Well, the few I managed not to eat…

This in-between day was the best day ever. As the morning warmed up, we donned our swim wear and lounged like beach bums on the pumice shores of our little lake. J and I played gin rummy while laying in the sand; the boys worked on their fly casting; I poked around the tadpole convention we found; and we basically just relaxed, breathed deep, and enjoyed ourselves. J and I even gathered enough courage for a quick dip. The lake isn’t glacier fed, so it’s not that frigid, but I still barely managed 3 full strokes. I know for next time I just need to stay in long enough to numb my nerves and stay for a real swim.

fly fishing Lake Panhandle WA

The boys “fishing”.

Swimming Lake Panhandle WA

My JBoo, warming me up after our chilly dip in the lake

After lunch, we finally decided to get ambitious and hike the ridge above us. We climbed up and around and over and across and finally, after gawking at all the 360 views and the gazillion goats on the cliffs, made it to a trail sign. It looked to me like a sign you see on ski trails. It had the black diamond with a zigzag line and said “most difficult”.  Whatev, yo, I do what I want.

climbing to Mt Whittier WA

Pffffffth difficult schmifficult

Turns out they weren’t kidding. I never actually saw the top, but J tells me it was lovely. I made it almost to the top of the ridgeline, and was proud of myself for not dying. So I clung to a squat little pine tree and let the mountain goats boys go on ahead. J came back for me and we started down, while Andy pushed on to the peak of Mt Whittier. He later said it was terrifying. #noregrets

trail to Mt Whittier WA

I conquered enough to still feel like a bad ass. Like a little. And no I didn’t kick the sign down, it was already like that!

Back at camp, sweaty and hot with ash highlighting every little sweat trail down my face, I knew what had to be done. The lake was the only answer. Before I could change my mind or remember how cold the water was, I stepped off into the lake and furiously scrubbed the filth from my skin. I have never felt so refreshed in my LIFE!

Another mellow, relaxing evening with our pals and we turned in. Tucked into my sleeping bag, snuggled up against the warm lump of J in his sleeping bag, I passed out pretty fast. I dreamed that night of the goats, the white specks that you don’t even notice until one knocks loose a rock or calls to a baby. How amazing it would be to have that agility and freedom. I think I would be perfectly content as a mountain goat….

mountain goat on the cliffs Mt Whittier WA

Magnificent creatures

We took our time the next morning and finally left our awesome little camp sometime mid-morning. We saw the first people in two days and marveled at our good fortune in finding such solitude. I was sad to leave and hope to make it back someday.

Despite feeling like the entire hike to the lake was uphill, most of the hike out also seemed to be uphill. Funny how the strenuous uphill is all you remember, so hiking in the mountains seems to be all uphill, both ways. (…in the snow, barefoot, … wait, that’s how my dad got to school….) I love how the views change when you’re coming from the other direction, and I somehow managed to eat still more berries found along the trail.

Mt Margaret backcountry WA

Views for days

Bear Pass, Mt Whittier WA

My favorite view of them all ❤

And now I have to settle back into my school routine, tackling my new classes and getting to know new professors. This semester includes the observation portion of my student teaching, and I could not be more excited to jump right in with my mentor teacher and her 5th grade class.

But, more on that later…..

Happy trails!!

😀





Saturday Morning Explorations

1 03 2015

Saturday is arguably the best day of the week. A day of possibility and potential. And after a rough week and a dreary, rainy Friday, waking up to a Saturday morning full of sunshine brings balance back to my life.

This was one such Saturday, and I had no choice but to get outside and soak it all in. The rest of the country (Texas in particular) might be getting buried in snow and ice, but not up here in the PNW. The rain of yesterday now sparkled in the morning rays. Simba spun in circles while I pulled on my heavy snow rain boots and out the door we went.

J has done the preliminary work to hack a trail through the undergrowth and blackberry brambles between our house and the cliffs of the river. I inhale the crisp, cold, fresh morning air as Simba tore around the corner, running at full speed in the reckless manner of a happy dog with no leash on, and we set off down the trail.

The rain has made my whole world a muddy mess. I try not to slip as Simba zooms past me, sniffing every leaf and blade of grass. The trail is marked with deer tracks; a stray vine snags my boot laces. A cacophony of bird songs fill the air with their sweet tunes – a soundtrack to our morning. Sunlight breaks through the trees in bight streaks, piercing the dim haze under the canopy of branches.

We crunch along, Simba exploring every off-shooting game trail and marking every rock (he acts so proud of himself). Occasionally he manages to fall behind me on the trail, racing by me once again when he notices. He likes to lead the pack.

The sounds of the river rapids down below soon compete with the trilling birds. The rains have lifted the rushing waters, giving them more speed and momentum over the rocks in their way. I want to dip my fingers in the crystal-clear waters, test the frigid temperatures, lose myself in the tumbling drops. But the cliff prevents such adventures and we watch from above instead.

Bare branches and naked vines surround us, but the mist and dew and leftover rain give the forest the coolest shine. The sun becomes a strobe light as I make my way across the mush of a little stream fed by a spring bubbling out of the ground just uphill from me. The staccato of light makes me squint and I almost fall on the slippery rocks. Simba tries to continue down towards the river, following the wrong path, as is his way. A quick whistle brings him back and we climb the last little bit. I want to laugh as we break free of the forest, out into the glittering rows of the orchard.

Simba turns back to check on me, confused by the halt. I just need a minute, I need to fill my lungs with the intoxicating morning air, I need to absorb all the vitamin D and happiness the sun will give up. Impatient, Simba zig-zags back and forth, investigating the edges, circling back, sniffing the air.

I finally follow, winding through the dormant pear trees, glancing down the deer paths leading back into the tangle, laughing at Simba chasing a fly, still taking the biggest, deepest breaths. Life is flowing through my views in full force again, the strength of my muscles carrying me along, and I want to put my arms out and spin until I’m dizzy and drunk with laughter.

So I do.

😀

Join me on my walk:





I Lost My Heart In Oregon

21 02 2015

Ah, Halmark Day… the most manufactured holiday of all. A celebration, supposedly, of love that has turned into yet another marketing campaign. BUY BUY BUY! Ugh.

Thankfully, J and I are in agreement about this, so we ignored the holiday as usual and took a little mini-vacay down to Bend for some much-needed quality time with friends. And by ignoring all the V-day mumbo-jumbo, we had a weekend full of love and friendship and happiness. Best.Ever.

Friday night was Girls’ Night for me – a movie and margaritas with some of my favorite ladies. My face hurt from so much laughing, and my soul felt recharged from the great energy of such amazing woman. Girl power!

Then Saturday was our double-date with MAsh and the great outdoors. I have to admit I’m pretty sad about the lack of snow and winter, but the Central Oregon sunshine is tough to beat. We drove up to the trail-head for Black Butte and started climbing. It didn’t take long for me to fall behind the group – the views were worth slowing down for!

3 Sisters from Black Butte, Sisters OR

Broken Top and the 3 Sisters, sun tanning in February

Cascade Mountains of Central Oregon

From this side, we see Mt Jefferson, then Mt Hood, and if you squint you might see Mt Adams teeny tiny to the right of Hood!! I CAN SEE ALL THE WAY TO WASHINGTON!

We took a rest and a snack break once we reached the top, and of course we took more pictures….

silly on Black Butte, Sisters OR

J, always improvising, testing out his new selfie stick….er, selfie log??

friends on Black Butte, Sisters OR

WE’RE JUST SO EXCITED TO BE HERE!!!!

After our hike, we roamed around Bend on foot. The Old Mill District was all a-buzz with the craziness of WinterFest (despite the lack of winter…) and our stop at Crux Brewery found quite a party. We drifted back to MAsh’s house for dinner and board games, and fell asleep that night with dreams of mountains and sun beams dancing in our heads.

We started off our Sunday the best way possible: awesome yoga class followed by the sauna to really get those muscles relaxed. Then, because this is us we’re talking about, we undid all that wonderful work on our muscles, and went for another hike. This time, we headed down a river canyon, following the Deschutes River to Steelhead Falls.

hiking along the Descutes River, Steelhead Falls OR

See the tiny little hikers? That’s us!

Living in the Columbia Gorge, we’ve seen our fair share of falls. Doesn’t matter – Steelhead is an impressive beast! Not super tall, but so much water!

Steelhead Falls, Terrebone OR

Steelhead Falls

Steelhead Falls, central oregon

Waterfalls (and each other) make us happy

Gorgeous day with incredible friends, my happy mutt, and my dashing beau. This hike was one of the very first hikes J and I did together when we were first dating. We hiked by this tree and my memory flashed – I remembered how muddy the trail was, how warm the sun felt, and that tree…the tree whose branches provided shade while J kissed me like a girl ought to be kissed.

I’m not a fan of this over-commercialized farce of a holiday, but I am a fan of love. All love, all forms of love, all faces of love. And on this day after Valentines, enjoying the outdoors with my buddies, I basked in the love around me. I lost my heart up here in the Pacific Northwest – gave it away gladly. I gave it to the mountains, to the forests, to the sunsets, to the rivers, to the waterfalls, to the coastline, to the lifestyle. By some stroke of luck, I found a man to entrust with my heart, and then a mutt who stole the last few bits.

Good thing hearts are such unique organs – we can keep giving of them and also filling them, yet we never run out, we’re never too full. Sharing our hearts just seem to make them bigger, and even though they can be broken, add more love and they will always mend.  The pieces I’ve left elsewhere are in good hands, and I have plenty more for the people and places I’ve yet to fall in love with.

man and dog at Steelhead Falls OR

What a lucky gal I am ❤

Valentines Day doesn’t hold much meaning for me, but, cheesy as it sounds, I’m head over heels for love. My goal is to acknowledge and appreciate the love in my life every single day.

Also, J’s new nickname is JBoo…

😀

top of Black Butte, Sisters OR

Feel the love, yall!

 





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








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