Category Archives: Hiking

Stories about simple dayhikes that I’ve been on

Backpacking three corners rock

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Saturday and Sunday, 29 & 30-June-2019

 

I honestly don’t even know how long it’s been since Sarah and I went backpacking… a year?  More?

We needed to get out of town, and get into the woods.

We packed up our bags, tossed them into the car, and headed toward Mt. Hood.  Our target was a nice and easy hike that we’d both done before, but never as a backpacking trip – Elk Meadows, on the East side of Mt. Hood.  A nice approach, and hopefully some wildflowers for Sarah to paint.

 

“But Ben, the title of this post says “Three Corners Rock”, not “Elk Meadows”!” you say.

“Well hold on, because this story is about to get icy!”

 

By “Icy” I mean, “we got hailed on like the sky was selling ice pellets”.  It was bad enough that we were wondering if we should seek cover to protect the car from getting dented… way above what we were comfortable backpacking in, to say the least.

We didn’t even get out of the car, I’m almost sorry to say.  But, discretion is the better part of valor, especially when trekking into the woods, and so we decided to pack it in for greener pastures… or at least, less violently raining pastures.

 

Our new goal – Three Corners Rock, the place Ollie and I had hiked the weekend before.  It’s not technically a backpacking trip, pre-say, but I had found a really pretty meadow near the top that I figured would make a good campsite.  And, since Sarah was looking for wildflowers and good views, I couldn’t think of a better place than the top of the rock pinnacle.

After stopping into Hood River to quickly check the weather, we headed onward, to the trailhead!

 

The hike itself was pretty simple – it’d been ages since we’d backpacked together, as I mentioned, so we walked pretty slowly.  Enjoying the forest, the light, and the fact that we were finally out of the city and in nature.  We still made good time, somehow, and found ourselves at the final trail junction right as the sun was about to set.

Instead of setting up camp first, we dropped our packs near the top and hustled up to the main rock to catch the sunset – and what a sunset it was!  Last weekend was foggy and cloudy and gross, but this weekend was amazing.  Perfectly clear, we had amazing views of all four major mountains nearby – Hood, Adams, Rainier and St. Helens, all in view from the top.

 

Once the sun had set and we’d started getting cold, we packed in our books and art supplies and headed back to our packs to set up camp.  Sarah set up the tent and sleeping bags, while I cooked us up some food.  Or, more accurately, I boiled water and watched the stove, making us our evening mountain house ration and our cup of cocoa.  It was amazing.

 

The next day dawned with the usual fervor – Mostly on Ollie’s part, wondering why we were still asleep when we could instead be running around and sniffing all the things.

We had a lovely breakfast, followed by one last trip up to the top of the rock to read and paint a bit more.

The trail home was quick and simple, as going downhill usually is.  Then a jaunt in the car, some stops for wildflower meadow frolicking, and back to town to wash up and get ready for the week ahead.

Hiking out to Three Corners Rock

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Saturday, 22-June-2019

I don’t want to admit to exactly how long it’s been since I went on a hike.

So I won’t. I’ll just say that, on Saturday, I went on a hike!! After scouring the various books and websites at my disposal, I found a few options for places I could go.  The goal was a fairly short hike, not too much elevation gain, dog friendly, and most importantly… not one of the standard-issue PDX hikes.

 

I’ve done a lot of the hikes in the gorge, and they’re usually fairly populated… really, anything near Portland with good views seems to get overwhelmed by mid-morning.  Finding parking after 8:00 seems to be nearly impossible, but I didn’t quite feel up for getting going that early.  My target area was the Gifford Pinchot range, a national park Northeast of Portland, that I never really hear people talking about.  I figured that it’d be far enough out that I could escape the crowds and enjoy some quiet time with Ollie.

And man, it payed off.

I parked at 10:30 or so, after having to drive the wrong way on a major interstate after the highway was shut down… without any signage, of course.  Seriously – I was on a main highway, in fully-stopped traffic, for 15min.  Finally, people started giving up, and driving the wrong direction to take an on-ramp to get off the highway.  I tried waiting… but after having my car literally turned off for 15min MORE, I gave up and turned around.

To add insult to injury, when I got off the highway every on-ramp was clearly labeled as “highway closed, no entry”.  So they could label those, but couldn’t tell the folks stuck on the road that it was closed.

I still don’t know why they closed it, FYI.  But hey – that’s the fun of driving in the Northwest, right?

 

Anyways, I got to the trailhead around 10:30, and no one was there, and it was awesome.  So I hiked, and hiked, and hiked, and had a gloriously quiet and enjoyable time.  The forest was empty and mostly-still, Ollie was having fun bounding all over the place, and there was even the tiniest bit of fog to add that ethereal air to the whole thing.

I enjoyed a ton of foxglove (also known as dead-man’s bells, I learned, since they’re poisonous) blooms, and got some gorgeous light through the trees for the parts of the hike that didn’t have the beautiful fog clinging to the trees.

That’s even before the summit.  The views off the summit were… well, it was foggy.  Supposedly they were amazing, and I could have seen all four cascade volcanoes, but you know what?  Quiet and foggy was completely okay with me.  I was looking for quiet, and I absolutely found it.

 

Joshua Tree, March 2019 – Joshua Tree National Park

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Thursday through Sunday, 21-Mar to 24-Mar-2019

Ohh man, we’re going climbing!!!

It’s been ages since Sarah and I were able to go on a dedicated climbing trip together – with the New Year successfully rung in, vacation days saved up, and strength and health in our limbs, it was time to get back on the plane and get some rock under our feet.  I set up flights, rented a truck, and we set off toward Joshua Tree…

This post will be broken up into three sections: Joshua Tree itself, Climbing, and the superbloom.  We took a lot of pictures, so… trust me.  This is for the best.

 

Thursday:

We went full-power on this trip – I took a half day from work, and we got on the plane on Thursday afternoon.  The plan was to fly into LAX, rent a truck, and then drive to Hidden Valley campground in the middle of Joshua Tree, about three and a half hours away.  We’d sleep in the bed of the truck, and be able to get onto the rock early in the morning.

Of course, we flew into LAX.  Ideally we’d have gotten flights to Oakland or something, but… we were a bit too late for that, and all the seats had been booked.  So getting out of the airport and picking up our rental took a bit longer than planned.  Picking up the truck was an adventure all of its own too – We took a bus to a random parking lot, where we waited for an unmarked white van to pick us up and bring us to the rental agency.  Not… quite standard, but we’d been warned about it, so it wasn’t unexpected.

After we drove through a dimly lit industrial park and picked up our monstrously large vehicle, we needed dinner and groceries.  Groceries were found an Winco, and dinner was devoured in the bed of the truck outside of an In&Out burger.  Good start to the trip, if I may say so.

The trip did run into its first challenge as we drove into the National Park though – There was a big sign saying “All campgrounds full”.  Not quite what we were expecting to see late on a Thursday evening (actually early on Friday morning at that point, but who’s counting?)  Where did we end up sleeping?  In the parking lot of one of the back country trails, of course!

Not ideal, but hey – that was the whole point of having the truck, right?  And I’ll admit, it was definitely a comfortable bed after spending almost 4 hours driving…

 

 

Friday:

I woke up on Friday to see that Sarah was already awake.

In fact, she’d been awake for a while, stressfully keeping watch and waiting for the Rangers to show up and arrest us for sleeping in the parking lot.  Possible just shoot us, and save themselves the worry of arresting the two terrible outlaws.

Thankfully, we were able to stay one step ahead of the law, and didn’t get thrown in the pokey just yet.  The trick, you see, is to get to them before they can get to you.  As soon as I was mobile, we headed back to the entrance to pay our park pass and ask about where to camp.  It went really well – they requested that we pay when leaving, thanks to the long line of cars trying to get into the park.  And for camping, they suggested just going into the back country, and camping out in some of the camping-allowed sections of desert.

Simple and easy.  The ranger even told us where to find her favorite section of wildflowers!

 

By now, it was breakfast time.  So we made us up a rather intense amount of oatmeal, complete with blueberries and sausage, and got ourselves onto the rock.

The specific details of the climbs will be in a future post.  Suffice it to say that it was glorious.  And offwidthy.  Which was less glorious.  But still pretty great.

We climbed, we had lunch, we ate cheetos, and I was even told that my… peculiar… style of eating cheetos was (in a full-on Cali surfer accent) a “power move, brah”.  All because I was eating them with tongs and not by hand.  Eating them by hand gets dust all over my fingers, which is gross even when they’re not covered in climbing chalk.  Come on, people.  It’s just smart to use tongs.

 

Anyways, we climbed, we enjoyed, and then we made dinner in the back of the truck – searing up a few steaks, some asparagus, and some mac and cheese.  Yeah, you read that right.  We eat well on the road.  Gotta get those calories for the climbs!

Then, we packed up our gear and hiked into the desert.

We… probably could have packed a little better, as the pictures show, but you know what?  We were only walking in a mile, so we weren’t particularly concerned with the efficiency of our packs.  It was simple, beautiful, and a gorgeous night.  Instead of cinching our backpacks down, we spent the extra time stargazing and enjoying the Joshua trees in the dark.  They were flowering.

 

We laid out our sleeping pads under the desert moon.  It smelled like flowers and dust.  The air was cold.  It was perfect.

 

 

Saturday:

Our main goal for today was to climb, and then get to the camping area that the Ranger had told us about the morning before.  But first, we had to pack up from our desert nest and walk back to the parking lot – which was honestly a really nice task to start the day with.

The desert was vibrant.  I’ve mentioned “superbloom” before, but the backstory is that Joshua Tree had gotten a LOT of rain over the winter.  Maybe not a lot in comparison to Oregon, but it was enough to get the whole desert growing and flowering – and we could absolutely tell from where we were camping.  The whole area felt alive, and you could smell the new growth in the air.  Packing up and walking out was pleasant, and honestly a very enjoyable experience.

The climbing of the day was amazing, I’ll tell you all about it later, but suffice it to say that we both enjoyed it, and what’s more important: Sarah got her first trad lead in post-injury!  She crushed it!

 

After climbing, we stuffed everything into the truck and headed back out onto the open highway.  Our goal was Turkey Flats, the back country area that the ranger had mentioned to us.

On the way, we found flowers.

We stopped, and I am supremely thankful that we did – we thought we’d just seen a small patch, but instead we found ourselves in a massive riverbed full of wildflowers, right at the golden hour.  Again, I’ll talk more about it in a future post… but understand that this was probably the most beautiful place I’ve been.

 

Dinner was at the parking lot for Turkey Flats – we had chili dogs, and hung out with some college kids from LA who’d decided to come out to stargaze.  They were unbelievably cute in their naive, city-kid ways, and made Sarah and I feel like true dirtbag adventurers.

Then, we walked into the desert again, found a perfect little patch of dirt, laid out our bedrolls, and slept under the stars.

 

 

Sunday:

Sunday was our hiking day, the day for Sarah to track down the best photos of the Superbloom possible.  I’ll post all of the pictures in a future post (and trust me, there were more than a few pictures), but suffice it to say that we found some beauty out in the desert.

First, our campsite.  When we woke up and did a bit of exploring, we found that we’d camped in a perfect location – We were fully surrounded by thousands of tiny little white flowers popping out of the sand.  And, in the distance, there was a sand dune that had been scraped off the top of the mountains by a glacier in eons past…

So clearly our first order of business was to hike deeper into the desert and see the dune!

 

The sand dune itself wasn’t quite what you’re probably imagining – instead of a Sahara-Desert style thing, it was just a big long mound of sand with plants all over it.  Honestly, it was a bit hard to see, but looking close we could definitely notice the change in terrain as we explored farther inbound.

From there, we headed back to the truck, and then back again to the place we’d explored the previous day.  It definitely looked quite different in the morning light, but still – endless fields of wildflowers.  You can’t say no to that.

Then, Cholla patch.  Ocatillo gardens, and the Cottonwood ranger station.

The ranger station was the biggest event, to be honest, though the Cholla and Ocatillo were pretty cool too.  I mean, who doesn’t love spiky doom balls with spines that can pierce right through my heavy hiking boots?  Ohh, that’d be me.  It was impressive.  But hey – after a while with the tweezers I was able to pull the spines out, so… that’d good, right?

Anyways, Cottonwood.

 

We needed a nice and shaded place to repack the truck, get ourselves ready to fly, and divest ourselves of all the extra food and water that we’d brought with us.  Turns out, we packed WAY too much extra food and water… but you know what?  I absolutely prefer that option versus the alternative.  Next time, we’ll know how much to bring.  And this time, we were able to help out a push-start VW minibus full of hippies.

Yep, you read that right.  A VW minibus that had to be pushed to start.

Full of every archtype of hippie you could imagine.  It was awesome, watching them pile out of the van and guessing who we’d see next, or what type of tie-dye they’d have on.

 

After hooking the hippies up with some water and cheetos, we headed back to LA through the brutal traffic.  It honestly went pretty well, all things considered.  We made it back in time, hopped on a plane, and careened our way back to the wet Northwest, away from the beautiful desert rocks.