The last few weekends, I’ve been up in the mountains. Snow, cold weather, beautifully crisp air… I love it.
Sometimes, we need a change of scenery though – Sticking with the theme of the weekend, I was hiking with a friend today, and she’d gotten into a crash while snowboarding back on Friday… so she wasn’t quite feeling like hanging out in the snow, which is rather understandable after cracking your helmet after flying through a whiteout.
We went in the other direction, trading cold snow and crisp air for warm breezes and salt spray!
Falcon’s Crest is a fairly short hike, with a surprising amount of mud in that short hike… but it’s a beautiful few miles, with light elevation gain and excellent views. The trees are covered in Moss, the forest is lush and green throughout the year… and while you can’t quite smell the sea air, you can still somehow sense that the ocean is nearby. Maybe it’s the subtle noise of the breakers, or the salt tint to the breeze… I couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but it’s still always an amazing feeling.
We hiked in, avoided as much mud as we could, and enjoyed a nice snack out on the point overlooking the waves.
We hiked back, rested for a while on a bench by the beach, and watched the surfers rock the breaking waves. Having Aliona along, I got to learn quite a bit about the surfers… or more accurately, the waves that they were chasing. That’s what I love about meeting new people, and spending time with friends – you can always learn more about something, if you have someone along for the ride to talk to.
Every activity has such surprising depth to it, and I truly love getting to learn the intricacies behind why people are doing what they’re doing.
After beach-gazing for a while, we headed back to the parking lot for a quick snack before driving back to town – Aliona pulled out a full camp cooking kitchen from the back of her car, and I got to enjoy a rather amazing late-lunch of indian-spiced ramen noodles. Not something I’ve ever thought to try, but it was gloriously delicious – smooth, spicy… an excellent end to a beautifully salt-sprayed day!
I’d planned on hiking up to Elk Meadows again… since at this point Elk is basically my go-to locale whenever I don’t really know where to go.
I love that, by the way. I really enjoy having a “spot”, somewhere that I know I can just escape to, that doesn’t involve significant planning or thought. It’s just… “hey, I want to get out of town. How about I just go to the place, and do the thing? I can pack the stuff that I always pack!”
Anyways I didn’t go to Elk Meadows.
Since it’s winter, the main trailhead for Elk Meadows is a bit… snow covered. And by “a bit”, I mean that there’s roughly 6-8 ft of snow filling the little turnout that I’d normally go to. The last few times I hiked Elk, I parked at the Nordic Center for Mt. Hood Meadows, but that was just a single day… so to be paranoid, I’d called ahead to confirm that I could park overnight, and learned that overnight parking was absolutely not allowed.
I needed a new plan.
Thankfully, one of the Nordic Center folks who I spoke to recommended hiking the White River – I’d always just assumed that it was a small snow-park used for day sledding, but looking into it there was a nice trail that would connect me to the timberline trail… which would be perfect for the small outing that I was aiming for. I’d already had all the basics packed, so I was on the road as soon as the car was packed.
The ride out was pretty simple, and involved picking up a bagel sandwich for brunch… which turned out to be way more of a pastry than a sandwich, but… I’m not going to complain right before backpacking.
The hike in was beautiful – the parking lot was more full than I’d have seen at Elk, but the crowds were purely focused on sledding, and stayed within maybe a quarter mile of the parking lot. I didn’t see anyone after half a mile in, and was able to enjoy the cold and the quiet just as well as if I’d been heading toward my original destination.
By the time I was ready to set up camp I’d passed my intended turnout point, and instead found a perfect little campsite that had been set up by someone else sometime recently – a little flat spot partway up a steep hill in the trees, with a small area for cooking and a tent spot just the right size for my little shelter. I set up, hiked around a little bit, made dinner, and stared up at the sky as the sun set and the stars came out. Soon enough the air had that beautiful cutting edge to it, and so I curled into my sleeping bag and tucked myself in for some reading before drifting off to sleep.
The morning came bright and clear, with my Grey Jay friends (or family members of my friends) joining me for a light breakfast as I watched the sun light up the mountain.
People had started coming by pretty early in the morning, but even at the densest crowds, there were very few people this high up on the river – I think the most people I saw was a ski rescue group practicing avalanche testing… maybe 12 people or so?
I had a nice breakfast, relaxed, packed up, and then set off for what I’d planned on being a quick little walk up the glacier before heading back down.
Instead, I kept going as high as the snow would take me – extremely cautiously, though. Strangely, my concern wasn’t anything to do with crowds or avalanche or anything, but was instead the light. Not something you think about often in the winter, but with the bright sun and clean snow, the glare was intense. Really intense, intense enough that I was quite worried about sunburn or hurting my unshielded eyes.
Thankfully, some light clouds rolled in right before I was about to turn around, and the shade was enough that I was confident that continuing onward wouldn’t be any major risk. I mean, I was pretty sure I’d come out of it with a tan or light sunburn, but the bigger worry was my eyes, and since I kept checking in with myself every 10min or so, I felt pretty happy about forging upward.
It was worth it.
The views kept getting better as better as I ascended higher and higher – Realistically, I don’t think I got any higher than 5,000ft elevation, but the views were unparalleled as I looked North to the summit, and South to the rest of the cascade range. The sun shining through the fishscale clouds…
I met a few folks on the walk, but aside from the views there’s not really much to talk about. It was beautiful, I loved not carrying a pack (since I’d left it back at camp), and I felt amazing. You know how you can smell the cold, and how snow gives that crisp taste to the air? Well, this had that in abundance, and I loved every second of it.
After I got back to my gear, I hefted the pack and started back toward the car.
The crowds thickened as I got closer and closer to the parking lot, to the point that I masked up after a little bit, as people were becoming unavoidable. There were families sledding, grills set up, and just this massive sense of happiness and excitement from the yells of people sliding down the snow.
I saw a few back country skiers too, some having descended from where I was, and some from as far away as the Timberline Lodge. I was definitely a bit jealous, I admit, but I still loved the chance to be hiking on the snow.
It had been ages since I’ve hiked out on the Oregon Coast… It’s a long drive, is the problem, but still. The coast is gorgeous, and it was high time that I got back out.
So… I drove. Got going fairly early, for a day off, and was starting in to the Cape Falcon trail by 11:15, give-or-take. Not bad, since it was a two hour drive from my place in Wilsonville, so I was feeling pretty energetic as I hiked through the misty trees, hearing the sound of cars receding behind me and the sound of the breakers growing in the distance.
Once I made it out of the forest and onto the beach… I realized that tides are a thing.
Because there was no beach.
Turns out – high tide does happen, and when it happens at Oswald West, the tide comes all the way up to the trail, nearly. Not so much that it covers the whole area, of course… but the distance between surf and ground was quite small… just a tiny little strip of sand, covered by the waves half of the time, maybe a foot or two wide.
Made it a bit difficult to walk along the coast, as you may imagine, so instead Cape Falcon became the goal of the moment – heading back inland to walk out to the overlook, and give the tides a bit of time to recede so I could get some shore-line walking in later on in the day.
I hadn’t hiked all the way out to Falcon before, so this was an interesting experience… During COVID I’ve been able to avoid crowds pretty well, and having been hiking up on Hood I’d gotten used to the snow and slush of the high elevations.
I’d forgotten just how crowded popular trails can get, and how that can lead to some rather interesting trail conditions… specifically, the fact that I was wading through pretty much constant mud the whole way out to the Cape Falcon overlook.
But hey – that’s what boots are for, right? My boots were still pretty new too, and needed a bit of breaking in… and what better way to do that than to slog my way through deep mud, escaping the forest and striking out onto the cliffside?
The trail was churned up, like a herd of elk had cruised through, but truth be told I didn’t see that many people as I was hiking in. A few groups, of course, but nothing too crazy… Nothing nearly as intense as some of the more popular hikes out in the gorge on a sunny summers day, at least. I was able to make pretty good time, though I did get some added altitude training thanks to wearing my mask so consistently…
Anywho, the hike went well, and the overlook was singularly gorgeous.
In keeping with tradition, after hiking was dinner, or at least a late lunch, out at Cannon beach. I’ve been to the Pelican Brewery a few times, and thankfully they’re still open and kicking during the pandemic… if only for takeout. But you know what? Takeout calamari and seafood chowder is still pretty dang good.