September and October 2019 Hikes

Molalla River Loop

In early September, we hiked in the Molalla Forest, just east of Salem. There were a lot of trails in the forest, so we didn’t do the exact loop listed on AllTrails, but we did a combination of trails for a total of 6.5 miles. The trail started on the Huckleberry Trail, which is a service road. After a couple of miles on that, we were getting bored so we hopped onto some single-track trail and wound our way through the forest. It was a rainy day and very lightly trafficked. The trails were easy, with little elevation gain – we averaged ~1,000 feet over the course of our hike. While it was enjoyable, we wouldn’t recommend this hike since it was mostly service road with a few short single-track trails thrown in.

Elk Mountain to King’s Mountain Loop

We ended our last weekend in Oregon the same way we started – with some trail time in the Tillamook Forest. The main reason we came to Oregon was so I could run the Elk-King’s 50K and ever since, we’ve been dying to come back and do this loop. We did hike just the King’s Mountain Trail back in December but hadn’t made it back for the full loop. It seemed very fitting that we made this our last adventure.

This trail was lightly trafficked and HARD. As avid hikers, we don’t use that description often and it takes a special trail to earn it. We started at the Elk Mountain Trailhead, and the trail climbed over 2,000 feet in 1.5 miles to Elk Mountain. It was brutal! The trail was steep and very rocky. At points it felt like we were just scrambling, and our hiking poles were extremely useful. After a breather at the top, we started the descent to the ridge line that would take us to King’s Mountain. It was more rocky scrambling through this portion and our legs were getting very fatigued. We finally made it to the King’s Mountain summit and the views were spectacular. The last time we were there, it was snowing and you couldn’t see across the valley. This day we had bluebird skies and perfect views of both Mt. Hood and the ocean. From there, it was an easy, gradual descent down the King’s Mountain trail and a 3 mile hike along the Wilson River Trail back to the car for a total of 10.5 miles.

Pat’s Knob

Pat’s Knob is a 4.5 mile trail near Incline Village in North Lake Tahoe. The trail is moderate, but the altitude (over 8k ft at the base) made it a bit strenuous. The trail starts on a service road for ~1/2 mile before veering off into single-track. The actual trailhead can be easy to miss, so keep an eye out. The trail is mostly loose rock, but not overly technical. At the top, there is a great lookout point over Lake Tahoe with some rocks for scrambling. We were the only ones at the top (a rarity!), so we spent a bit of time just hanging out and admiring the view. The return trip was a quick downhill through the forest.

Secret Cove

The Secret Cove is a short, gradual trail that leads to a gorgeous cove on Lake Tahoe. The cove is clothing option, so be prepared for some nudity. The weather was in the mid-60s the day we went and, while we didn’t swim, we did enjoy sunning ourselves on the rocks. It was so quiet, and there are plenty of places to escape the other hikers.

Tahoe Rim Trail to Galena Falls

We did this 5 mile portion of the Tahoe Rim trail in the evening after work. AllTrails says it’s heavily trafficked, but we went on a cold evening in the shoulder season and didn’t see anyone after the first half mile. There is only 550 ft. of elevation gain making it a great running trail or simply a good intro to hiking at altitude. The majority of the climb is in the first mile and then the trail is mostly flat to the falls. It runs through the forest – there are no views of Lake Tahoe – and you have views of Reno and Tamarack Lake. The trail ends at a small waterfall, which was a bit frozen the day we went. It was a cold, windy day, so we didn’t spend much time at the falls opting instead to high-tail it back to the car before dark. Overall, a very enjoyable, quick hike.

Mission Creek Preserve Trail

During our stay in Yucca Valley, we did the Mission Creek Preserve Trail twice. There was no shortage of trails in the area, but most of them were sand which makes for a very difficult, very unpleasant hike. This trail runs through a canyon in the Mission Creek Nature Preserve. The first 1.5 miles are on a gravel road – inaccessible to cars – and then it turns into a single-track trail. It actually serves as a connection to the Pacific Crest Trail! We did 5 miles on this trail and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The trail climbs very gradually through the canyon before opening up to a sweeping vista of the mountains and river. At 1.5 miles, the trail turns through the river bed and comes out on the other side to continue through the canyon. At this point it got too sandy to run, so we turned back.

Denali National Park Hikes

This is the second part to our Alaska adventure, read the first post! Here we take you through the land-locked hikes in the Denali National Wilderness.

Discovery hike

Discovery hikes are ranger-led, off-trail hikes through the park. These hikes range from moderate to strenuous and can start from anywhere on the park road at the ranger’s discretion. You’ll start with a bus ride ranging from 1-4 hours, hike for 2-3 hours, and then take a similar bus ride back. You have to sign up in person at the visitor’s center a day or two before the hike, and make sure that you have the appropriate gear outlined on their website.

Standing on the Denali wilderness on a gorgeous day

We opted for a strenuous hike with Ranger Emily that started around mile 30 on the park road. The bus dropped us off on the side of the road, we got a rundown of safety and how to hike off-trail, the ranger picked a point to meet, and we all took off on separate paths to meet there. One main takeaway about off-trail hiking is to not make new trails. Rangers encourage leave no trace practices including not stepping in another person’s tracks to avoid creating social trails and much more.

Ranger Emily had us climb to a peak on the Igloo Mountain range. We encountered various terrain including tundra and rocky scree. There were a couple of points where we ended up taking different routes after the original path appeared too steep…all part of the fun of off-trail hiking!

We were also able to enjoy the bounty of blueberries, cranberries, crow berries, and other tasty treats for our personal enjoyment and sustenance. In fact, we spent a good portion of the hike bent over filling our bellies. We saw plenty of recent evidence of bears doing the same…

During our hike we were able to stop to enjoy some of the gorgeous scenery. Every few hundred feet we climbed, we could enjoy more of the glory around us! We hiked to a peak where we stopped for about an hour to eat lunch and just enjoy the view – we even did a little coloring while we were there. The hike down took a different route with a lot less scree and a lot more brush. We found ourselves doing a bit of bushwhacking and creek crossing to make it back to the road.

Highly, highly recommend the Discovery Hike.

Savage Alpine Trail

The Savage Alpine Trail is a strenuous, 4.5 mile trail that connects the Savage River Campground to Savage River Day Use Area in Denali National Park. Take the free shuttle bus either from the visitor’s center or the bus depot to the trailhead. We hiked this on a cool, rainy morning and there were very few people on the trail.

The trail gains 1,400 feet of elevation culminating at a lookout point over the valley. We recommend starting at the Savage River Campground since the climb is much more gradual.

The trail winds its way through alpine fields before coming to a rocky tundra. Once you get to the top, the trail descends steeply via a series of stairs to the Savage River. While a bit more grueling than some of the other on-trail hikes in the park, we loved getting up high and looking over the wilderness.

After a strenuous hike, the only thing left to do is head towards the only road in the Wilderness and wait for a bus with available seats. The scenery, even on a cloudy day, makes it a quick wait.

Need a ride in Denali? Just catch a bus!

Horseshoe Lake Trail

The Horseshoe Lake Trail is an easy, 2 mile loop in Denali’s front country. We started from the bus depot, which added an additional 3/4 mile along a bike trail, but the bus can drop you off right at the trailhead. The trail descends roughly 400 feet from the trailhead and then it’s an easy jaunt around the lake.

The scenery of this hike was very different than the previous two hikes we did in Denali – it was through pine forest rather than alpine tundra. The coolest thing about this hike is the beaver activity along the trail. There are active beaver dams and we heard that you can often see those busy beavers at work. We did this in the afternoon after we hiked the Savage Alpine Trail and the weather couldn’t have been better.

The sun came out and we had bluebird skies. The lake was so still it was like glass, perfectly mirroring the landscape.

Horseshoe Lake in Denali

Finally…

What is an Alaska adventure without a moose??

Moose in Denali!

We have one more Alaska post coming at this. This time we take to the water in the Kenai Fjords!

Alaska, end of summer outdoor adventure – Part 1

Alaska offers an abundance of wilderness experiences and a chance for us to get away from the monotonous modern business life. It is a quick, cheap flight from Portland to Anchorage, directly up the Pacific coast.

From Portland into Anchorage

On a clear day looking East you are able to enjoy the splendor of the coastline, ancient volcanoes, islands, mountains, and once further north, glaciers. However, thick smoke hung over most our trip, caused mostly by the large Swan Lake Fire.

We spent the rest of our day and evening in Anchorage which was still under some gorgeous low-70 degree F weather at this time. Save the smoke in the air, it was a perfect time to walk around the city and enjoy the last bit summer. We moseyed over to a highly rated pizza joint, Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria. It definitely did the trick–good stuff!

Alaska Railroad 8-hours North from Anchorage to Denali

First thing the next morning we headed to the Alaska Railroad station to catch the 8am train. Driving a vehicle the 5+-hours to Denali is another viable option–in fact the railroad runs parallel to the highway for nearly the entire trip; however, the train does offer a hands-free and scenic perspective to the landscape that we did enjoy. A vehicle does not give you any extra capabilities in Denali anyway since the town is small and shuttles are provided to and from the hotels to the Denali Visitor Center and National Park buses inside the Wilderness area.

There are two different options when booking the train: the Goldstar Service or Adventure Class. We actually rode in both classes and would definitely recommend upgrading to Goldstar if your budget allows. The Adventure Class ticket includes spacious seats, food for purchase, and second floor open seating with domed windows. You are free to move about the train and explore other cars. The Goldstar Class is more expensive but includes amenities that were worth the upgrade for us. The ticket includes larger seats with footrests, glass domed ceilings, open air deck, two meals, two alcoholic drinks, and upgraded facilities. Either way, you can’t go wrong; riding the train was such a great experience.

Along the route we got our first view of the great Mt. Denali peak. The mountain range is over 60 miles away and from this distance it is a rare site (visible less than 20% of the time). However, on this day it was visible in all its glory standing at over 20,000 ft above sea level, which is about 16,000 ft above surrounding base! Also visible on the left are the lower peaks of Mt. Russel and Mt. Foraker.

Mt. Denali from the Alaska Railroad, peak over 60 miles away

The smoke from the Alaska wildfires followed us everywhere. We got a very up-close experience with the 3,000 acre McKinley Fire (50 times smaller than the 160,000 acre Swan Lake Fire mentioned earlier) that ran along the Alaska Railroad for several miles. The train slowed to a crawl to give way for the forest firefighters who were containing the still-smoldering areas that we captured.

Burn area from the McKinley fire along the Alaska Railroad

As we approached Denali National Park we come to Hurricane Gulch which spans 914 ft and stands 296 feet above the valley floor. This bridge is among the oldest in the area, built in 1921.

Hurricane Gulch from the Alaska Railroad, 300 ft above the valley floor

Denali National Park

We spent a little time near the hotels, getting to know our surroundings. There are plenty of hotel options near Denali National Park. Be aware that you may pay a bit more, especially during the summer season. We booked a hotel as part of a package with the railroad. It was a good deal, but we wouldn’t recommend that particular hotel. If you have a large budget, there are also lodges in Kantishna – the center of the park.

Getting around

If you choose to take the train, chances are you’ll need some way to get around. Luckily there are plenty of free shuttles that run to and from the park and town. “Downtown” is really just a short strip of road with a few restaurants and shops – it’s a very short walk to many hotels from there.

Even if you have a car, you’ll need to ride a bus in the park. There is one road that runs 92 miles through the park. In order to keep the land as wild as possible, vehicles have been limited on park roads since the 1970s. Personal vehicles are allowed in the first 16 miles of the National Park Road, but if you want to go further you have to purchase a ticket. There are also free shuttle buses that will go to mile 16 (Savage River) if you don’t have a car.

There are two types of buses running through the park: green Denali park buses and white tour buses. The green buses are non-narrated while the white busses are narrated. The price of a ticket varies based on whether or not you choose a narrated bus as well as the distance you want to go into the park. These trips usually range from 5.5-12 hours round-trip if you don’t get off the bus. The buses make stops every hour or two for bathroom breaks, but be sure to take your own food and water.

Visitors are encouraged to get off the buses and explore the park. Be aware of wildlife and follow the safety precautions. When you’re done hiking and ready to go back, simply flag down a green bus and hop on.

For the Ranger Discovery Hike we took the disco bus to nowhere

Denali National Park offers a boundless many activities, but most of them are centered around very wilderness-oriented activities. We opted for the Ranger-led Discovery Hike as our first introduction into the Denali Wilderness. It gave us the confidence to explore the back country with an experienced guide, so we could get our bearings.

Sightseeing on the disco bus before the hike

We started the trip on the disco bus, 1.5-hours (about 30 miles) into the park early in the morning. On that early trip, we were able to catch some wildlife along the way. There are over 150 species of birds in the park as well as plenty of mammals and even one amphibian (it literally freezes solid in the winter!). These caribou are a common site, but these large males had particularly impressive racks. We were also able to spot some brown bears (grizzly bears), from a safe distance. They were digging for roots along a river bed. It was moose rutting season while we were there, and we got to see quite a few moose.

Further up the road we were able to get some fantastic shots of Mt. Denali. This for the second time in 2 days–a rare treat!! Even near the end of summer those peaks are completely snow-covered and frigid. So many people visit Denali and never get off the bus. The scenery and wildlife is so amazing that you don’t have to, but we highly recommend hopping off the bus for some hiking.

There is so much to do in Denali and Alaska; this was just the start of our adventure. Our favorite part in Denali had to be the off-trail hike we did – stay tuned for a recap of that! And in Part 2 (?) we venture south to Seward and the Kenai Fjords.

August 2019 Hikes

Most of our August hikes happened while we were in Alaska. Stay tuned for updates on that trip.

Hamilton Mountain

Hamilton Mountain trail is a 5.5 mile hike located in Stevenson, Washington. It’s a moderately trafficked trail and the parking lot can fill up fast. We went in the afternoon around 3pm when crowds had died down. The trail is mostly uphill for the first mile when it comes across a waterfall. There were plenty of people playing in the water to cool off on the hot, August afternoon. From that point, the trail levels off for the next 0.5-1 mile and meanders through the forest with a few gorgeous vistas of the Gorge. Around mile 2 you come to a lookout point where most people stop. If you’ve got it in you, I highly recommend gutting it out for the last mile to the top. The trail is a bit unrelenting as it climbs ~1k feet through countless switchbacks but the reward is worth the pain. At the top there are sweeping views of the Gorge, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. Be sure to take plenty of water; most of the trail is shaded, but the last mile has a lot of exposure and can get very hot.

July 2019 Hikes

The biggest “hike” for July was the Mt. Hood 50M 🙂

Horsetail and Ponytail Falls

Horsetail and Ponytail Falls are located in the Columbia River Gorge. We ended up hiking this short trail when the parking lot for Multnomah Falls was overflowing and we didn’t want to wait. Horsetail Falls is the lower falls, right off the parking area. Taking a short 0.5 mile hike up the trail will get you to Ponytail Falls, which is a smaller waterfall feeding Horsetail below. The trail is at an incline, but it’s not a very difficult climb and is an overall easy hike. The trail winds behind the waterfall at Ponytail Falls and the pool at the base is cool and refreshing. Due to the Eagle Creek Fire of 2017, the trail is closed after Ponytail Falls.

Summit Springs Trail

Another Plan B trail – we hiked the Summit Springs Trail when we couldn’t make it up the road to Silver Star Mountain. This is a lightly trafficked trail (we didn’t see a single other person) that winds 6 miles through dense forest. It is a moderate trail that climbs 1,700 feet all in the first half. We took the shortcut halfway up and it was incredibly steep. So much so that we were crawling on hands and knees to get up the climb; probably didn’t save us much time in the end and wouldn’t recommend it. The top opens up to a vista of the hills – no mountain views, but still pretty – with a rock slide area to scramble up. The trail turns into a jeep trail at this point and leads to campsites up the mountain.

June 2019 Hikes

Some more hikes we’ve enjoyed this spring.

Salmon Butte Trail – Mt. Hood National Forest

Technically we did this in late May, but I’m rolling it into the June hike category

The Salmon Butte Trail is 11-12 miles through the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness on the southern side of Mt. Hood. We went on a cool, overcast day and had the trail practically to ourselves. It is a moderate trail with a slow, steady climb. The trail meanders along a stream and old growth forests before reaching the summit where you get sweeping views of the valley and Mt. Hood (on a clear day). There were still a few patches of snow when we went in late May, but nothing covering the trail. It’s well worth a visit if you’re not looking to go too far outside of Portland and want a relatively secluded hike. 

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Hebo Lake to South Lake – Pacific City, OR

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Where to begin with the Hebo Lake Trail? This trail starts at Hebo Lake and is an 8 mile point to point to South Lake. When we hiked this, the plan was to run it twice out and back for a total of 32 miles. The first 5 miles of the hike gains 1,500 ft in a steady, unrelenting climb. There’s a steep descent after the Hebo Mountain Peak, but the brush was so overgrown by mile 6.5 that I turned around and didn’t make it to South Lake. The lookout point at the top is spectacular offering views of the valley and the Pacific Ocean and well worth the climb. If you’re in Pacific City and looking for a hike, it’s worth it to do at least the first 4 miles to the lookout. Be aware that it is probably ~75% exposed so make sure to wear sunscreen and carry plenty of water.

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Wilson River Trail

The Wilson River Trail runs for just shy of 20 miles through the Tillamook State Forest. It’s a gorgeous, shaded trail with plenty of on and off points so you can do as much or little as you want. Matt and Snickers hiked 8 miles of the trail starting at the King’s Mountain Trailhead (another great hike if you’re looking for some serious climbing), while I ran 20 as a couple of out and back loops from the Jones Creek day use area. The portion of the trail along the river is very beautiful, but does incur a lot of noise from Highway 26. Depending on which section you do, it’s an easy to moderate hike and well worth spending a day in the forest.

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PCT, Timothy Lake, and Little Crater Lake

In mid-June I set out for a training run on a portion of the PCT that my upcoming race will traverse. Starting at the Frog Lake Trailhead, I went south for 8 miles, looped around Timothy Lake, and ended at Little Crater Lake. This trail was gorgeous! The first few miles on the PCT were mostly downhill with vistas of Mt. Hood the entire way. There were a few downed trees, but they were easy enough to hop over. The trail around Timothy Lake is a 13 mile loop that is mostly flat. The day I went, there were very few people aside from a 1 mile section near a day use area. The lake itself was serene and glassy and there were amazing views of the mountain from the south. There were plenty of campsites and it would be an idyllic place to spend a summer night. I finished the day with a short jaunt to Little Crater Lake. The trail is flat and short, and the lake is worth the walk to see. While small, it is 45ft deep, crystal clear, and nestled in a wildflower meadow. If you’re looking to get out of the city for a while and don’t mind the 2 hour drive, Timothy Lake is a great destination.

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Pacific Crest Trail from Mt. Hood to Columbia River Gorge

Read a full recap here. Suffice to say, it’s not for the faint of heart. Definitely not a day trip for most, but would be a fun weekend backpacking trip.

Summit to Sea: running from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River Gorge

With a big race coming up in July, I decided to go all out for peak week and chose a trail I knew would be both challenging and rewarding. After debating between a few different trails, I decided to run from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River Gorge. Covering 45 miles with 7,000 ft. of ascent, and 13,700 ft. of descent this trail was going to test my mental and physical stamina.

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PCT at Timberline Lodge

We got a late start to the day, hitting the trail around 9:30. I knew I would be chasing daylight but had high hopes for finishing strong. I started on the PCT at Timberline Lodge with a starting elevation of 6,100 ft. No stranger to altitude, I knew this first section of trail would be challenging on the lungs. The first three miles were fun and quick. There were still patches of snow, which made for some slippery miles, but it was an overall descent to the Zig Zag River. The river was running from the snow melt, but I was able to pick a path across and be on my way.

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Mt. Hood

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Zig Zag River Crossing

The trail proceeded to climb 1,000 ft. over the next 3 miles. With the snow and altitude, it was slow going, but the views of the mountain through the clouds kept me energized. After mile 6, I was met with a blissful 2,500 ft. descent over the next 6 miles. The terrain changed drastically – going from snow, across rocky plains, down a sandy hill, and finally into the pine forest that is ubiquitous in Oregon. I rolled my ankle around mile 9 and thought I might have to tap out. Thankfully I was able to recover quickly. Miles 12-13 were familiar territory – we hiked this portion of the PCT to Ramona Falls way back in 2016.  There was a fun creek crossing across two fallen trees where I had to cling to a rope to avoid falling. Then came a grueling 1,600 ft. climb over 2 miles.

I finally met Matt and Snickers at the top of the hill, feeling a little disheartened. My pace was suffering greatly from the climbing and I was about 20 minutes behind schedule. Nonetheless, we powered the next 3 miles (thankfully downhill) to the car at mile 16 to refill food and water. If I wasn’t able to get back to my normal pace, there was a possibility that I’d need to get pulled from the trail at the next stop to avoid running in the dark. I had 16 miles to the next crew point and at that point we would make the decision whether or not to keep going.

Thankfully the next 16 miles felt great. I had a burst of energy and was able to power through the rolling hills with little issue. There were wildflowers galore and views of Mt. Hood around every turn. This section of trail was very different from the beginning; it reminded me a lot of Utah running. The trail was more rocky and there was a bit less tree coverage. Around mile 28 I rounded a curve and saw Mt. Adams more clearly and up close than I’ve ever seen it before. It was truly a great day to be out on the trail. I finally saw the sign to Wahtum Lake (where I was meeting Matt) at mile 29 and it was straight downhill from there.

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Mt. Adams

I felt really good rolling into Wahtum lake at mile 32 and wanted to keep going. We assessed the map and calculated somewhere around 8-12 miles to the end point at Herman Creek Trailhead. The trail I initially planned took the Eagle Creek Trail to Cascade Locks, but that trail is still closed from the wildfires of 2017. I decided to keep going thinking it was going to be mostly downhill. Boy was I wrong.

After leaving the parking lot, I was immediately greeted with a 700 ft. climb in 0.7 miles. It was brutal and I felt like I’d never reach the top. The PCT was rolling hills for the next 9 miles. It wound through rocky terrain and a portion of forest that was burned in 2017. Every time I felt like I was finally descending, the trail would shoot me right back up to the ridge line at 4,000 ft. I was expecting 9 miles to the finish but it was actually closer to 13. When I hit mile 40, knowing I still had 5 miles to go and still hadn’t started the descent, I was hitting a breaking point. I finally hit the descent with 4 miles to go. This part was very rocky and technical and my tired legs kept tripping, so for safety reasons I slowed to a walk. I was finally able to get ahold of Matt at this point and he ran in 2 miles to help me get out. Night was fast approaching and I was so angry and frustrated at myself for not moving faster. When I saw him with 2 miles to go, I officially broke. Mentally and physically I was done. I’m sure I was a sight to see hobbling down the trail with tears running down my face 🙂 . Bolstered by some food, hiking poles, and a pep talk we finished the 2 miles to the parking lot just in time for dusk.

I finished 45.5 miles, 7,000 ft. ascent, 13,700 ft. descent in just over 11 hours total. Even looking at the moving time, which was right at 10 hours, my pace was the slowest I’ve ever run. Mentally I’m disappointed I couldn’t maintain the pace I wanted, but rationally I know that’s silly. I covered more ground and more ascent – by a good 10 miles and 2,000 ft. – than I’ve ever done in a single run. I would’ve liked to finish much faster, but I’m really amazed at the distance I was able to go. I finished standing up with no injuries or GI issues, which is a feat in and of itself.MVIMG_20190622_204617_v1

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Sunset in the Columbia River Gorge

I’m ready for my race…let’s just hope my legs stop hurting before then.

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