Friday, July 6, 2018

Jill Hikes Oregon: HikerTube.

While I haven't written in this blog in a long time, this year I did start a new hiking documentation venture: I've been making hiking vlogs and uploading them to YouTube.

I didn't know hiking vlogs were even really a thing until a year or two ago. My two backpacking stints on the PCT were some of the coolest, hardest, and scariest things I've ever done. The scary part increasingly seems to win over my senses as I get older. What if I trip and fall down one of those steep slopes and die, leaving everyone who loves me in pain, just because of this stupid thing that I chose to do "for fun"? I expressed this sentiment to my wife last summer. And then I watched a bunch of hiking videos on YouTube after a friend sent me a link to one of the most popular ones, Homemade Wanderlust (thanks, Jenn!). And I was like YES FUN PRETTY I WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN!

It's entirely possible the desire to hike is part of my being now after 10+ years of doing it pretty consistently, and I would have wanted to hike and backpack again eventually on my own....but yeah, YouTube probably helped.

I have a few complaints about the HikerTube world, though. (One is that HikerTube sounds really embarrassing but I don't know what else to call it?) Mainly, everyone on it is a flawless super skinny lady or a super bro-y dude. So...basically, it mirrors a lot of what you see in the outdoors. I still enjoy these videos, and don't think the people who make them are bad people because they're skinny or because they're bros. There are a lot of kind bros. (Although there are some issues.) But I've also been really inspired over the last year by groups like Unlikely Hikers and Fat Girls Hiking. And while I've seen more of that diversity in other hiking social media platforms, I haven't really found it on YouTube.

A lot of popular hiking vlogs are also by thru-hikers of the big three trails (AT, PCT, and CDT), and I LOVE watching them. But an experienced thru-hiker is not a typical hiker. So when they are doing 20+ mile days, you start to feel like you must be a weakling when a 5 mile day hike leaves you totally exhausted. Pro tip: You are not a weakling if a 5 mile (or less!) day hike leaves you totally exhausted. You are still a badass.

So I decided to try making my own videos. It was a bold experiment because it's not something I would normally do. I am much more comfortable expressing myself in the written word than in a freaking VIDEO. I hate my voice most of the time. And even as I started really enjoying making these videos, I still cringe when I actually watch them. They are...exceedingly embarrassing. They are also super amateur when it comes to video making skills. It's just my iPhone and my shaky hands, and some often-cheesy free music clips because I wanted to do that part legally.

There are some big pluses to making these videos though. The main thing is that it does help me document and remember these trips in a way that just some photos doesn't. The second biggest thing, though, is that trying to express myself audibly, through just speaking words out loud, is a goddamn SKILL, and one I am honestly not very good at! And one that as a teacher, I need to improve on. Some teachers are natural public speakers. not one of them. Aside from just the nerves you get speaking to a group of people, I am still not as good at expressing my ideas out loud as I am in my head. It's like there's a link between your brain and your mouth and when I'm on the spot sometimes, that link disappears. Even on a regular day when I'm just talking to people I love, that link could use some strengthening. And when I make and listen to these videos, I hear that, as well as how many times I say "um" and "so" and the like. I think I get naturally better each year at using my words when I'm trying to explain things to students at my job, but I think these videos can help, too.

It is also both vulnerable and comforting to talk out loud when you're in the middle of the woods by yourself. You can feel super dorky doing it, which is why I'm still not able to do it whenever there are other hikers around, but it also makes you feel less alone. And sometimes the woods can get lonely.

I haven't told many people about these embarrassing videos, but as I get more into hiking again this summer, I also want to be less self-conscious: about my voice, my body in the wilderness. And I want to get back to writing more about hiking, too. So I'll keep talking to myself in the middle of the woods, and I'll try to open up this blog every now and then. And hopefully, my feet will get me where they need to go, and I can keep doing this nature therapy safely and happily for as long as my body lets me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Catherine Creek.

Catherine Creek is only a two mile loop, but it's two miles that packs a punch. It's also in the arid, central Northwest high desert, and on this trip we saw a rattlesnake and one of our doggos got a nasty tick stuck in her ear, so be vigilant. The high desert, even if it's in the Gorge, ain't no joke!

On the Washington side of the Gorge slightly beyond White Salmon, Catherine Creek is part of the outstanding complex that also includes Coyote Wall and the Labyrinth. I consider Catherine Creek to be the most hiker friendly of them all, since Coyote Wall is also quite popular with mountain bikers. The whole area encompasses some of my favorite hiking and landscapes I've experienced in my ten years of living here. They are relatively quiet trails compared to the packed trails on the wetter Oregon side, and they are full of views, crazy rock formations, and wildflowers every way you look.

I've now done this hike twice, once in February a few years ago and once earlier this summer, and it was interesting seeing the different flowers in bloom at different times of the year. It's a great hike for all seasons, and doing it in the cooler months might even be preferred--a lot of this hike is exposed, so if it's a hot day, make sure you start early and wear lots of sun screen! 

At the trailhead, there are a couple rocky paths leading up a sunny slope. If you're doing the Arch Loop, which I recommend, you actually want to take the one to the RIGHT, the one marked FR 020. Even though this path is clearly marked, and your trail guide says it's the one you want to take, your instincts MIGHT tell you, "This is a loop hike so let's just start walking up the one on the left because that seems to make sense," not that that happened to me! Your instincts are wrong!

After walking up this pretty field, the trail flattens out for a hot minute and you'll enter a stand of trees and see little Catherine Creek to your right. You'll soon cross the creek on a small plank bridge. This is where we saw our special snake friend, so keep an eye out. Here, the rocky plateau suddenly rises to your right, and this is where you can actually see the arch the loop is named for through the trees. 

Weird arch/monster mouth.
And it's like, fine? It's cool, and I feel like it shouldn't be able to exist like any arch made of rocks that I've witnessed, but it's not overly exciting. The real treasure of the hike is still ahead. On your left during this stretch, there are also some overgrown corrals and wooden structures, which are neat looking but supposedly favorites of rattlesnakes, so if you want to explore them, cool, but that's your own stupid idea. I know I've mentioned rattlesnakes a few times now, but I feel like it's important.

Shortly after this stretch is where the Hill of Doom rises in front of you. This hill is short(ish) but steep, and I refuse to believe that even experienced hikers aren't winded by it. Take some time to catch your breath at the top of it, and then walk into an actual forested patch of trail. It's nice to get a short reprieve from the sun in this peaceful section, but during our most recent summer visit, this was also where we were (unsurprisingly) viciously attacked by bugs and mosquitoes, so I high tailed it out of there.

You'll now see some power lines and a trail junction ahead of you, and you'll want to veer to your right on a narrow track that winds up a small hill. I think of this hill as being the "Haha, You Thought You Were Done Climbing After That Last Bigass Hill You Just Did" Hill. But this one is briefer and less painful than the last. Promise.

And once you finish this climb, you are suddenly on top of the plateau that you were just recently below, and it feels like you are on the top of the world. This is my favorite part of the hike, what I think Catherine Creek is all about. You have expansive views to the Columbia River and Mt. Hood beyond it, and more wildflowers all around. When you see a fence to your right, that is the top of the arch. The fence is there to encourage you to not try to peer into it and die. Listen to fences.

After this, the trail winds down the plateau, crossing a few gullies along the way, until it then plops you back onto the road and you have to walk a few yards back to your car. I am always perplexed when trails end like this, but even this road walk is pretty. And luckily this isn't a very busy road so even though there's not much of a shoulder, you should be just fine.

Lesson learned: Rattlesnakes, they really do rattle!

Highlight: The first hike of the year Kathy, Manda, and I were able to do together.

Catherine Creek in February.
And in June.

Info: From Portland, you can cross the river and take 14 in Washington the whole way, or for a quicker route, take I-84 until Hood River. After crossing the Hood River Bridge--a slightly harrowing affair--turn right, pass through White Salmon and Bingen, and then look for Old Highway 8 on your left. This winds around Rowland Lake, and then you'll see the trailhead on your left. No fees, although it does cost $1 each way to cross the Hood River Bridge.

Post-hike chowdown: Since this is such a short hike only an hour or so away from home, we've just headed back to Portland each time. BUT if I had the time and money to do it right, I would definitely stop by Everybody's Brewing in White Salmon after a good hike in the area.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Strawberry Island.

One of my favorite things about living in the Pacific Northwest is how even after almost ten years of living here and what feels like countless hikes, there are still new gems to find and explore. Strawberry Island, in the middle of the Columbia right at the foot of the Bonneville Dam, feels like one of those places. Before finding it online the night before, I had never even heard of it; the only other souls I saw while I was there were some fishermen on its perimeter; and goddamn was it lovely.

Finding these kinds of little-known treasures is especially joyful these days when so many of the popular areas and hikes are getting overrun as our population booms. I realize I'm part of that population boom, but I am all for trying to limit parking at Dog Mountain, or new rules trying to curb crowds at Opal Creek and Detroit Lake. Too many people is not only irritating, but often dangerous, and almost certainly harmful to the land and wildlife. There are definitely reasons why the areas that are so popular are so popular, but there is so much else to explore! Seriously. Didn't see a single other hiker here.

The trailhead for Strawberry Island is located behind a baseball field in the tiny town of North Bonneville, off of Highway 14 on the Washington side of the Gorge. (Pro tip: If you just type Strawberry Island into your Google Maps--which is technically called Hamilton Island, but Strawberry Island is way more fun to say--it will take you to a parking area near the dam that appears to be primarily for fishermen. While this is also close to the trail, the actual trailhead is most easily accessed in the town.) As soon as you take a few steps, you get the feeling of this hike: wide open fields surrounded by views of the Gorge on either side of you. And it is just utterly pleasant.

This is a nice, peaceful 2.8 mile stroll, almost entirely flat, which made it the perfect walk for my rusty hiking muscles. No crazy drop-offs or rocky terrain also made it easy to walk with two energetic puppers. But it was still a decent enough walk to make you feel like you had accomplished something by the end.

Other pluses of this trail: even in mid-June, there were a ton of wildflowers, and quite a variety, too. And I am a sucker for wildflowers.

Last big plus: The trail is extremely well marked. I started by trying to closely follow the directions on Oregon Hikers Guide, as I often do, but then realized I could just put my phone away and follow the markers, which immediately made the stroll much more relaxing. Even signs for the trailhead are well-marked in town once you get off the highway. Well done, North Bonneville!

Once you complete the first long straight stretch, you can keep going straight through some forestation for a viewpoint of Beacon Rock through some trees. While the viewpoint itself was fine, I mostly enjoyed it for some shade, and for the feeling of being at the very tippy point of the island! There are some benches scattered along the trail, although a few of them are very overgrown. 

Halfway through the loop, there is a slight incline where the trail also gets wider and more gravelly, and here at a higher elevation is where you really get lovely views of both Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain on the Washington side.

Here you're walking right alongside the Columbia, and straight ahead you'll see the Bonneville Dam and the parking for fishermen. The trail starts to curve around at this big rock that looks like it's smiling at you, and after that the trail gets slightly more boring, but you're in the final stretch. Once you pass the backyards of a few houses, you'll know you're close to the ball field and the trailhead.

Lesson learned: Bring sunscreen!

Highlight: Feeling like this was exactly the right kind of hike I was looking for for my first hike of the season. Also, getting to take lots of great selfies with the dogs.

Info: From Portland, you can take I-84 to the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks and then turn left towards Vancouver. Drive just a few miles until you see the sign for North Bonneville, by a gas station. Since crossing the Bridge of the Gods will cost you $2, though, you can also just take Highway 14 on the Washington side, which is what I did. Slightly curvier and slower, but still a lovely drive. Once you turn into North Bonneville, turn right onto the main road, following signs for the ball fields. No fees.

Post-hike chowdown: This hike was close enough to Portland--around an hour's drive--that I didn't need to stop anywhere to eat, but since this is close to Cascade Locks if you do take the Oregon route, I will once again mention the Eastwind Drive-In, a must stop. Cheesy potato rounds, man. Do it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

PCT 2016: Thoughts and fears.

Hello, little hiking blog! I have so much to say to you! 

I know we haven't talked in a long while, but it's two and a half weeks until I leave for 400 miles of the Oregon PCT all at once, and while my friends have been so kind and encouraging in listening to my PCT thoughts and fears, having a neutral place like you to really just LET IT ALL OUT, YOU KNOW? might be helpful.

Also! I have done SO MANY great hikes in the last six months as part of my PCT "training," and during most of them I've said to myself, "Man, I'm going to get back home and write all about this trail for that hiking blog I always mean to write in so I can remember every bit of this," aaaand I never do.

But for posterity, some of my favorites have been (pictured below in this order):
  • Cape Falcon, on the Oregon Coast
  • Wildwood Trail in Forest Park, Portland (all 30+ miles of it!)
  • Falls Creek Falls in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington
  • Saddle Mountain in the Coast Range
  • Cascade Head, on the Oregon Coast
  • Mosier Plateau, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge
  • Coyote Wall/The Labyrinth, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge
  • Hamilton Mountain, in Beacon Rock State Park in Washington
  • Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain in Mt. Hood National Forest

And that's not even all the hikes I've done, just my favorites! I have seen a lot of cool things and LET'S JUST ADMIT IT, I am pretty badass.

Some of those were tough, some were longer than any other day hikes I've done before, some I carried my very heavy pack on for practice. BUT the fact remains that I've never done a long distance thru hike like I'm about to do with the PCT. So let's talk about some of the things I'm anxious about! 

I should say the list of things I'm excited about exceeds this list, I think, which is why I think getting this list out of the way first is important. I am afraid:
  • That I will fall. That I will fall a lot. I had a hard fall on the Hamilton Mountain hike that fucked up one of my ankles for a while and made a huge bruise/hard bump on my shin that is JUST just starting to go away after a month and a half. I went on a hike yesterday where I fell twice and my body feels a little broken. So, this is not an unfounded fear. I don't know if I just have lazy feet or what, but I know when I fall on the PCT, I won't be able to take rest days to heal like I can with day hikes, so hopefully none of my falls will be too traumatic.
  • That I will forget to bring something really important, or bring the wrong things. I am particularly worried about this in regards to clothing.
  • That I will be generally bad at setting up/breaking down camp / look fairly stupid with my gear in general. I am by no means a gear head and most of the supplies I need for this trip I've bought brand new and am just learning how to use properly.
  • That my pack will be too heavy and I'll hate it and be miserable.
  • That I will miss Kathy too much.
  • That I will be hungry all the time. And miss real food too much.
  • That I will miss my animals too much.
  • That I will miss my general "real life" too much.
  • That I will run out of water at points, or that I will fuck up or lose my water filter somehow.
  • That Cliff, my hiking companion, will tire of my company after a while.
  • That the landscape will be that Cascade alpine and/or high desert landscape, dry and sandy and hot, the entire time, and that I will get tired of it and long for the rainforests and waterfalls of the Gorge and the Coast.
  • That fjording streams or crossing snow patches will be scary.
  • That I will shit or bleed all over myself at some point. JUST BEING REAL HERE PEOPLE.
  • That it will rain a lot when I'm not expecting it to rain much at all.
  • That the mosquitoes will drive me crazy.
  • That I won't be able to finish the entire thing.
  • Bees.
  • That sleeping alone in my tent at night may be scary sometimes. Mainly because of bears.
  • Bears.
Phew! That felt good. Now I can focus on the awesome. *brushes shoulders off*

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Silver Falls / The Trail of Ten Falls.

Silver Falls is my happy place. The largest state park in Oregon, driving into it drapes the same deep sense of calm and happiness over me that entering a national park does. 

Once navigating into the right parking lot at the South Falls entrance (there are a lot of parking lots--it can be a bit confusing), there's this wonderfully grandiose sign welcoming you to the South Falls Historic District, like you're about to enter a town or something, but really there's just an equally grandiose lodge and a little gift shop. It is all very WPA-y, and we all know how I love the WPA. Thanks for all the good times, FDR.

Foxgloves across from the lodge.

There's a viewpoint from the top of South Falls here, and then the Canyon Trail begins, dipping down rapidly to take you to the bottom of these falls. And here is the point where you can NO LONGER BRING DOGS. If you've brought a dog with you, just ditch them here! Or you could be a rebel and take them with you, although FYI, Silver Falls is a busy place and there are rangers around like whoa. Or you could also just research your trip beforehand and realize that dogs aren't allowed before you leave your house. This was my course of action, but many other people at the trail head opted not to do this and were quite grumpy about the anti-dog forces of the universe.

On the day that I hiked Silver Falls this month, I was on a mission and tried to run by South Falls and subsequent Lower South Falls as fast as I could. One, because it was REALLY crowded, one of the first times I've ever been slightly annoyed by other people on the trail. Normally, I'm one of those peeps that actually finds other trail trekkers comforting, especially when I'm walking alone. The other reason for my rush was that I'd already seen these falls before. But still, rushing past was an arrogant move on my part, because these two falls are absolutely spectacular, and you should stop to wonder at them each time you see them.

See the little people along the fence? That's how big this sucker is!

South Falls is one of those glorious waterfalls that you can walk behind, a classic Northwest thing that never gets old to me. And then after a bit of walking and some stairs--which can be kind of treacherous, be careful! You might almost slip and twist your ankle while two old ladies pass you by, not that this happened to me!--you arrive at Lower South Falls, which is not quite as dramatic as South Falls but still takes your breath away because it's just so pretty.

You walk behind this one too, duh, but the path behind this one is narrower and tends to be much more wet than the rest. This month Oregon is in a state of drought and it hasn't rained in for-ever and our snowpacks are sad and pathetic, but the path behind this waterfall was still all deep puddles. But on a related note, know that in all my photos, the waterfalls and streams would be much more robust in higher water season.

After this I stopped to breathe a bit. The reason I was in such an arrogant hurry was that I'd done this part before--twice. After these falls and a bit more walking, you have the option to return to the parking lot via the Maple Ridge Trail. Don't get me wrong, this loop is still a totally worthy hike. It works out to be around two miles, and Maple Ridge is almost all uphill all the way so it definitely gets your blood bumping.

But this time I was determined to do the whole thing--The Trail of Ten Falls, the reason this park is so popular. Finally doing the whole loop was sort of a present to myself for finishing my first year at my new job. So I kept on left to continue to the next waterfall. This portion of the trail was perhaps the quietest of the whole trail in terms of other hikers, and it stays pretty flat and calm, following Silver Creek. I was really in my happy place here.

After quite a bit of this, the next batch of falls come all in a bunch and while I was excited to document each and every waterfall at the beginning, to be honest, they all started to blend together after a bit. I started asking myself, "Wait, what number waterfall was that?? Six? Seven? What's this one called??" before eventually realizing I didn't care that much. They were all pretty.

Lower North Falls.

To get to Double Falls, you have to take a very short trail off the main path, but it really only takes five or ten extra minutes so you should do it. Somewhere among these smaller waterfall stops, there's also a very Memorable Tree on the trail. In my opinion, every hike should have a Memorable Tree. And this is a good one! 

Trees, man!

Twin Falls was pretty much impossible to see from the main trail, unless you wanted to go off trail and really get up in there, which I'm never too fond of doing because I am boring and scared. And then after that, it's onwards to North Falls, the other falls that people really come to the park to see. In the stretch between Twin Falls and North Falls, though, the trail becomes narrow and slightly unkempt, at least at this time of year, completely taken over by salmonberry bushes. 

Really, the whole trail was overtaken with salmonberry bushes, and herein I learned what a salmonberry was. As I kept passing them I thought they were golden raspberries, even though they tasted kind of weird, but then at least three different people I passed talked about "all the salmonberries!" Congratulations, Pacific Northwesterners! Aren't you just soooooo good at nature!

The unripe ones were quite tart; the ripe ones tasted much more like blueberries than raspberries. So anyway, overall these were enjoyable to see and taste, but in this stretch, you were literally pawing your way through them, and all the billions of spiders and other bugs that probably reside in them, and it was not the best.

Salmonberries, with North Falls in the background.

Once I got to North Falls, though, all the trampling through salmonberries was worth it. While not quite as high or majestic as South Falls, the thing about walking behind North Falls is that the amphitheater of rock is so huge and deep that it's truly overwhelming. Here are some of my attempts at capturing it:


This is where the canyon section of the loop ends, which means you have to, you know, walk up out of the canyon. This meant stairs. Now, along with being bad at keeping track of the number of falls I was seeing, I was also bad at keeping track of the mileage of this trail, maybe because my guide book told me this loop was 6.8 miles but all the signs said it was 8 miles? I don't know, whatever, I think I'd hiked 4 to 5 miles at this point, after not going on a real hike for a few months, and I was getting tired. So when I saw these stairs I said some not-so-nice words to them, even though I knew it wasn't their fault.

Looking back on the trail map, it looks like there's supposed to be another trail from here that leads to Upper North Falls, which I must have missed. So maybe I only saw nine falls and not ten. I guess this means I just have to go back sometime, which is fine with me. But I still completed a long ass loop so I'm still counting it as doing the whole thing, goshdarnit!

There's a large parking lot by North Falls, so if you don't have time to do the whole loop, seeing these falls is still easy. Or if you have been on the trail for a while and you're tired or broke your leg or are currently being chased by a hive of bees, you can get off the trail at this point and call a friend to come pick you up, by the off chance you have a friend with a car that happens to be near Silver Falls State Park. But if completing the loop, take a sharp right right before the parking lot to continue up to the Rim Trail.

The Rim Trail (where you CAN take dogs, FYI!) is pretty straight and narrow back to the parking lot. It follows the main road pretty much the whole time, so the nearby traffic takes you pretty solidly out of the alone-in-nature hike feel. And while this section is still pretty, parts of it were so straightforward that I actually started to get bored and anxious to reach the end. But after the up and downs of the canyon, my legs at least appreciated it.

Lesson learned: While I attributed it to my out-of-shape hiking legs, I stumbled quite a few times over rocks on the Canyon Trail. This would be a good hike to wear actual hiking boots on. Meaning, I need to buy actual hiking books.

Highlight: The amphitheater behind North Falls. And the sense of accomplishment of doing the whole thing!*

Info: From Portland, you can arrive here by taking I-5 South towards Salem, or taking I-205 to 213, which in my opinion is the much more scenic route. Either route takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours from PDX. I started my loop at the South Falls parking lot, but it can also be started from the North Falls parking lot. There is a $5 parking fee, which you pay at a machine that takes cards or cash. I highly recommend actually paying this fee, as I saw many cars getting tickets. As I stated at the beginning, dogs are not allowed on the Canyon Trail, but are allowed on the Rim and other smaller trails around the park. Relatively nice bathrooms are available at the South Falls trailhead, and the gift shop, if open, sells snacks.

Post-hike chowdown: If you take the I-5 route from Salem, you will pass right through the town of Silverton, which is the absolute definition of charming. Seriously. Gilmore Girls could've been filmed there. While I've never really stopped to spend much time there myself, there are a number of cafes and restaurants here to satisfy your hunger.

* Minus that pesky Upper North Falls I guess, but who's keeping track.