Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

Notes on Benson Lake, and 2011 snow conditions in Oregon

July 16, 2011

North and Middle Sister, moonrise

I just returned from a quick overnight hike to Benson Lake in the Mount Washington wilderness (see hike #46).  As of July 15 2011, the snowline is at about ~5000 feet, but the melt is very uneven.  Many south-facing slopes are snowfree, especially above tree line.  The bald southern face of Scott Mountain (6100′) is entirely melted.  Black Crater (7251′) and Belknap Crater (6872′) appear to have snowfree hiking routes above treeline, but I suspect their approach hikes are snowbound.  North facing slopes and deeply shaded forest areas have four-foot drifts all the way down to Highway 242 (at about 5000′).

The Benson Lake trailhead (-5000′) remains unreachable by car.  Instead, I parked about 1/2 mile down Scott Road.  I found the trail to Benson Lake (5200′) about 80% snowbound, but I was able to follow good boot prints from early-season day-hikers.  Benson lake basin was mostly snow-free; I found a dry campspot with a view and built a fire.  Silent lightning flashed for hours in the southern sky , and later, rain clouds consumed me, Benson Lake, and the entire wilderness.

fire (2 of 3)

Check-out more photos on Flickr.

Notes on trekking from Squaw Dome to Iva Bell Hot Springs, June 2011

June 26, 2011

Balloon Dome

Summary: Here is a novel route to access Iva Bell Hot Springs in the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra National Forest.  Most people reach Iva Bell from the north (via Red’s Meadow), or from the east (via the PCT).  However, in heavy snow years—such as this year, 2011—the north and east trailheads may be unaccessible early in the season. The route I describe here provides early-season access to the hot springs from the west, starting at the McCreary trailhead in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.  CAUTION: This route uses trails that are poorly maintained.  Navigation skills are required, especially to traverse the section from Heitz Meadow, around Pincushion Peak, and down the Silver Creek drainage.

Trip Statistics: Approximately 25 miles one way.  About 6000′ total gain one way.  McCreary trailhead is located at 6774′. Cassidy Bridge is the lowest point at 4400′.  The saddle north of Pincushion Peak is the highest point at 8622′.  Iva Bell hot springs are located at about 6450′.

Conditions in June 2011: Small snow patches lingered on the Minarets Road, but we were able to drive a sedan within one mile of McCreary trailhead.  We parked our car alongside the road, left a note in the window (and crossed our fingers).  The trail from McCreary to Cassidy Bridge was completely snow-free and easy to follow.  Further down, we encountered a dozen poison oak patches at the bottom of the San Joaquin river canyon.  The poison oak was difficult to avoid; pants and a long-sleeve shirt are highly recommended for this short section.  Past the poison oak, there are several excellent campsites on the canyon floor near Cassidy Bridge.

The switchbacks east of Cassidy Bridge were in great condition, and we easily found Rattlesnake Lake — which is mostly a marsh these days.  The ascent to Rattlesnake Lake offered several good places to pause and enjoy views of Balloon Dome.  Although Rattlesnake Lake lacks the majesty of high-elevation Sierra tarns, it nonetheless felt extremely wild and lost; it seemed like no human had visited this area in a very long time.  Beyond Rattlesnake Lake, we sometimes struggled to follow the trail to Heitz Meadow.  The cross-country walking was easy, fortunately, so we followed what clues we could find: sawed logs and occasional water bars.  We found Heitz Meadow with its collapsed cabin, destroyed outhouse, and broken horse corral.  It was apparent that no human has lived here in decades.

East of Heitz Meadow, the trail disappeared under fallen trees and forest litter.  Views were minimal, so we took a compass bearing and tried our best to stay on course.  The cross-country walking wasn’t bad, but there were endless downed trees to negotiate. We found hints of the trail several times, so that was reassuring.  We eventually lost sunlight, so we camped near a creek at snowline (~7500 feet).

The next day, we hiked on solid snow over the saddle north of Pincushion Peak, past String Meadows, and into the Silver Creek drainage.  We used the compass to hike directly to the saddle, but — if you get lost — you could just as well follow the counters around Pincushion Peak and find the saddle.  A map is 100% required for this section. We dropped to Silver Creek, and then checked our GPS; surprisingly, we were only 100 feet away from the trail.  This early in the season, Silver Creek was an unfordable white stallion, but we found a wide log spanning the creek nearby.  This log seems to be a permanent fixture, and it should be easy to find for anyone hiking through this area.  (Hint: the log sits in alder bushes on both shores).  From Silver Creek, the switchbacks down to Fox Meadow were easy to follow, but they were overgrown with manzanita and huckleberry oak; this is another section where long pants are recommended to protect your legs from sharp branches.  At Fox Meadow, we rejoined the well-maintained trail that connects Reds Meadow to Iva Bell, and we cruised to the hot springs in luxury.

Iva Bell hot springs are scattered across a grassy hillside; we found at least seven pools, but there may be others.  I strongly suspect we were the first people to soak in the springs this season.  The meadow pools were covered in algae, but we easily scooped away the mess and enjoyed soaking in clean hot water.  The pool in the open meadow by the boulder is probably the hottest and cleanest, but the pool under the trees by the campsite has seats and shirt hooks and other nice features.  The highest pools are perched on a shelf (about 200′) above the meadow, but unfortunately they were filled with hundreds of tiny leeches; I think these pools are unsoakable until the leech problem is solved.

We camped near the meadow pools for two nights; it was heavenly.  A duo of hikers briefly passed through — apparently they entered over Mammoth Pass — but they seemed rushed and quickly departed.  The shuttle to Red’s Meadow was not yet running during our trip, so I’m not surprised that Iva Bell was basically empty.  Over the next three days, we returned to McCreary trailhead using our original route.

A note about navigation: We carried topographic maps, a compass, and an iPhone with GPS.  We relied on the map and compass to navigate the cross-country northeast of Heitz Meadow, but we also used the iPhone a few times to validate our decisions.  The iPhone GPS, surprisingly, worked very well in the wilderness.

Map: view the route in Google Maps:

Video Postcards from the trip: 

William Sullivan slideshow

April 16, 2011

Jefferson Park, September 2009

Today I saw a captivating slideshow by William Sullivan, based on his book “Oregon Favorites”.  (Sullivan is best known for his “100 Hikes” series of trail guides, which are really excellent.)  Sullivan has a busy year-round lecture schedule.  Today’s slideshow featured one favorite place in Oregon for each month of the year, with an emphasis on places that are rarely visited.  Here is the list. . .

MarchThe Mulino Flour Mill is not a wilderness hike, but the water-powered flour mill still functions and is interesting the visit.

April – The Badlands loop, in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness near Bend, OR

May –  Cape Horn in the Columbia River Gorge

June – The Scout Camp Trail, near Crooked River Ranch, OR

July – Visit the Wallowa Mountains, near Joseph, OR.  Avoid the crowded trails, and visit McCully Basin.

August – Pinnacle Ridge on the NE side of Mount Hood.

September – Jefferson Park

October – Sisters Rocks, on the Oregon coast between Port Orford and Gold Beach

November – Eight Dollar Mountain along the Illinois River.

December – rent a fire lookout tower.  Sullivan recommends Warner Mountain.

January – visit Fort Hoskins Historic Park

February – ski around Broken Top, using the pass/notch near Iceberg Lake

notes on South Sister circumnavigation

August 9, 2009

This weekend, I circumnavigated the South Sister with L.L. and E.F.  You can view my Flickr media (click here).

Our route combined a mix of trails and cross-country travel, and roughly followed the path shown on the Traditional Mountaineering website.  In summary, we started at the Devil’s Lake trailhead and hiked across the Wikiup Plain to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  We traveled north on the PCT until Separation Creek; from here, we trekked cross-country upstream to the ridge connecting South Sister and Middle Sister.  We traversed over the moraines surrounding Chambers Lakes, and descended on a rough climbers trail to Camp Lake.  We bivvy-camped on a ridge above Camp Lake.  In the morning, we traversed cross-country along the east shoulders of South Sister and joined the trail north of Green Lakes.  After a short break at Green Lakes, we followed the trail to the Green Lakes trailhead and then walked along the road to return to our car  at the Devil’s Lake trailead.

Overall, the route was straightforward.  The cross-country section south of Camp Lake provided some (fun) navigational challenges, but I don’t think it was particularly dangerous.  Here is a map (linked from the Traditional Mountaineering website):

Trekking in the Evolution Range

June 29, 2009

I just returned from a short trek through the Evolution Range in the California Sierra Nevada.  It’s a ruggedly beautiful landscape, and all the peaks are named for famous evolutionary biologists (Lamarck, Darwin, Mendel, Haeckel).  You can view my Flickr media here.

I think “evolution” is the theme of my 2009 summer, given my recent participation at the Evolution conference, my upcoming participation at Burning Man (the 2009 theme is “evolution”), and this recent wilderness trek in the Evolution Range.

Obscure notes for the future:

  • This year, patchy snow remained as low as 11,000 feet.  The switchbacks above Upper Lamarck Lake were snow-free, but the terraced plateau to Lamarck Col was mostly buried.
  • In the midday sun, the snow over Lamarck Col was slushy and we did not need an ice axe.  I suspect a morning climb (when the snow is icy) would be dangerous without axe and crampons.
  • The cross-country route through Darwin’s Canyon is straightforward, but the boulder-climbing can be exhausting.
  • There exist many excellent campsites below Darwin’s Bench before Colby Meadow.
  • This year, the mosquitos were active in Evolution Meadow, but they weren’t insufferable.  Given the cold temperatures and auspicious lack of wilderflower blooms, I suspect we experienced an early mosquito hatching and later weeks will have bigger swarms.
  • My favorite campsite in McClure Meadow is beside the trail, west of the ranger station, near the outflow of the meadow.
  • The best place to ford Evolution Creek is in Evolution Meadow, not at the official PCT crossing.
  • An awesome campsite exists in Piute Canyon, on a southern-facing cliff about 2 miles downhill from Hutchinson Meadow.
  • Although most climbers approach Pilot Knob from the eastern saddle, you can also climb from the southeast face (and avoid climbing the saddle).  I suspect the southast face offers more sand and smaller boulders than the eastern ridge.

a video postcard

June 27, 2009

Sounds from the Eugene Saturday Market

April 5, 2009
(Photo credit to Koocheekoo on Flickr)

(Photo credit to Koocheekoo on Flickr)

Today was the first Saturday Market of the year.  The weather was perfect and the attendance was massive.  I strolled around the market with my Edirol R-09 and captured (in my humble opinion) a very unique Eugene soundscape.  Click below to listen.

“Sounds from the Eugene Saturday Market, April 4th 2009″ (MP3 27 MB, 11:14)

notes on Henline Falls

March 15, 2009

This weekend, I took a short trip to Henline Falls (hike #5 in William Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades”). The hike itself is super short (less than a mile); the real attractions are Henline Falls (over 100 feet tall) and the abandoned Henline mine. The mine is safe for exploration; we ventured inside about a 1/4 mile before turning around. You can view my Flickr media here.

Here are obscure notes for the future:

  • The driving directions in Sullivan’s book are slightly confusing.  After driving 15 miles on Little North Fork Road, you’ll see a spur road on the left (tip: it forms a T-intersection with Little North Fork Road).  DON’T TAKE THIS SPUR ROAD.  Instead, keep driving forward.  The junction for road 2209 is further ahead; it’s a well-marked Y-intersection.
  • Sullivan is correct when he says the entrance to the mine is “just to the right of the waterfall’s misty base.”  In fact, you can’t see the mine entrance until you’re practically next to the waterfall.
  • The mine seems to be safe for exploring, albeit a little spooky.  Headlamps are a necessity!

The dance of bolas spider with its prey

March 6, 2009

pyramids and temples

January 19, 2009

During my recent visit to the Teotihucan archaeological site, I overhead an English-speaking girl say to her boyfriend, “It’s awesome that Mexico has so many pyramids and temples. . . The U.S. doesn’t have anything like this at all.”

In a literal sense, the girl was correct: the indigenous peoples of the continental United States aren’t known for building massively tall temples.  On the other hand, the U.S. is ripe with natural temples.  In no particular order, here are three of my favorite:

1. Mount San Jacinto in southern California. Mount S.J. looms over the dessicated San Gorgonio Desert, and is one of the few places to simultaneously view the Pacific Ocean and the state of Nevada.

2. Spencer’s Butte in Eugene, Oregon. 

3. Sourdough Mountain in the North Cascades National Park.


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