R Solo: Dog Mountain Wildflowers (Again!)

Dog Mountain is something of a bellwether for me. The first time we did it, two years ago, I could barely walk for a week afterward (trip report). The second time I did it, last year, it was just a damn pleasant stroll (trip report). This year… I did it twice. In a row. In the same afternoon. It was sort of a proof of concept. I don’t think I’ll do it again. But it was nice watching the whole mountain change.

Anyway, there’s a tangle of trails going up to the summit. The main two are the Augspurger Trail (#4407) and the Dog Mountain Trail (#147), though the latter splits twice: once between “More Difficult” and “Less Difficult” options about a half mile in, and, after those two rejoin, once at “Puppy Dog” – an old lookout site – between two forks of a summit loop trail. (That sounds really complicated, but Friends of the Columbia Gorge have a great map here.) The best option is to go up the Dog Mountain Trail, taking the “Less Difficult” (right) fork at the first split, and taking the more direct (left) fork of the loop trail at Puppy Dog. Then, on the way down, I like to take the Augspurger Trail, as it’s a lot less steep (read: easier on the knees) and nicely varied.

It’s such an unfailingly amiable ramble that I don’t really have a lot to say about it, except for that you should go, and maybe that you should think twice about doing it twice. Next year, I might just spend a couple extra hours up top.

The flowers start immediately – immediately – after leaving the parking lot. You’ll take two dozen pictures in the first half mile.

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Then it’s back into the woods for a while. If you take the less difficult option to the right, in a little bit you’ll pop out into a little teaser meadow full of flowers and views.

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The woods start again after a couple hundred feet, but the flowers stick around for longer, hanging on to the bits of sunlight sneaking in through the trees.

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And then, before you know it, you’ll be in the summit meadow, encased in its acres of bright balsamroot.

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At the summit junction, you’ll see St. Helens, and spend ten minutes trying, and failing, to get a picture with both the mountain and the flowers. You’ll settle for this:

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Then you’ll walk up top, look down at the bright yellow hillside, and be unable to believe your luck.

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A little ways down the Augspurger Trail, you’ll stop at a lookout for a beer, and butterfly will flitter through the flowers so close you’ll wonder if it notices you. You’ll wonder too if it’s the same one you saw last year. And you’ll hope – against some very basic facts about butterfly lifecycles – that it is.

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Sitting back, you’ll notice some chocolate lilies lilting in the shadows, and think that they’re becoming one of your favorite flowers. Then you’ll think that you’ve thought that thought fifty times already that day, about fifty different flowers.

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On the way down, you’ll stop a few times, noticing something interesting on the side of the trail, then noticing a thousand more things.

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When you get to the bottom, you’ll maybe be so happy that you do the whole thing again. Surely there’s something you’ve missed.

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