R Solo: Autumn on Waucoma Ridge

October 1, 2015

The next several posts will be backlog from this fall and winter. This one’s from a few weeks after we got back from the JMT.

I sort of missed autumn last year – an early windstorm took the color off the trees as soon as it showed up – so this year I wanted to head out as soon as things started to turn. It felt early, but in early October I spent a day rambling around high up in the Gorge hunting for color. From the Herman Creek TH, I first followed the 400 to Wyeth, then took Wyeth up to North and Rainy Lakes, meandered around a little to see some trails I’d never seen, and took a quick hop up Green Point Mountain before taking Gorton Creek back to the trailhead. It was a wonderful.

This trip also marked the end of a project I’d been vaguely working on for a few years, of trying to walk on every official trail on the Oregon side of the gorge. I won’t say much here, because there’s a longer post about the project coming, except for that it made the whole hike feel like a victory lap.

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1.

I leave home early. I’ve got a long day planned, but my knees have been a little sore since the JMT, and I’m not sure how fast I’ll be walking. Also, I really miss watching sunrise from the trail.

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I meander up Herman Creek with a headlamp, then turn east on Trail 400 to walk into sunrise. It’s all so familiar. I missed home!

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2.

I’m not exactly sure how far it is from Herman to Wyeth, but it goes quickly, and soon I’m at the Gorton Creek Bridge, where I stop for a breakfast Snickers. I don’t think I’ll ever hike without Snickers again.

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The junction – or: “junction” – here is a little confusing. At some point 400 becomes the Wyeth Trail (411), but the transition is, as best as I can tell, completely unsigned, and for a while I’m not exactly sure where I am. I needn’t have worried: there are no turn offs to worry about.

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3.

Then… up. Wyeth’s not awful, but it’s not all that gentle either – a bit under 4000′ in a bit under 4 miles – and I slowly truffle shuffle for the next while. Apparently I’ve already started working on my Winter Insulation.

A little ways up, there’s an old water tank or something in a sort of improbable place. Not sure what’s going on here – maybe someone’s very old hydration pack?

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4.

A little ways further, there’s a big log across the trail, into which someone’s carved a few very nice steps. I sit on one for second breakfast, and as soon as I do, I’m surrounded by the sound of a thousand birds scurrying around, doing whatever birds do to prepare for winter. And there are squirrels too – two of them, taking a too keen interest in my bar.

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5.

From here, the trail just gets better and better – first running along a small stream trickling through the tree roots, then into increasingly vivid fields of color.

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Oh, and there are views!

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St. Helens, looking a little bald:

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6.

The trail passes a junction with the Green Point Ridge Trail then descends slightly, and views open up to Mount Defiance in the east.

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And the colors! We weren’t gone that long, but I feel like I’ve been away for years. Coming up here feels like coming home.

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7.

After crossing a dry Lindsey Creek, I walk up a hundred feet or so to the rock dam on the northeast shore of North Lake, where I have an early lunch and took several thousand pictures.

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Sitting in the dirt on the side of the lake, eating gummy bears and sausage, I think about the end of the JMT. How dear everything felt, and how long it seemed I’d have to wait to feel that again. But I feel it now – that same sense wonder, in these familiar hills.

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8.

I meander a bit on the way to Rainy Lake, but eventually find the Famous Privy, at the edge of an utterly empty campground.

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Rainy Lake:

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9.

I ramble a bit more, trying and failing to find the Black Lake Trail (409A, see discussion here), and eventually end up ascending toward Green Point Mountain. I love the color framing the talus fields.

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10.

All the usual views from Green Point aren’t so bad either. After spending so much of the summer away, it’s nice to see the home team. Adams:

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Hood:

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Defiance:

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Nice too to see the line between forest and desert so clearly. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed it before.

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11.

From Green Point, I take a sort of circuitous route part way down the Green Point Ridge Trail to the Ridge Cutoff Trail, then finally to Gorton Creek, which I follow all the way back. So much bear grass!

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Self-portrait:

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12.

A little ways down Gorton Creek, there’s a massive, and massively beautiful, talus slope. At first, it’s just lurking through the trees.

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Then boom!

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13.

Beyond the slope, things get a little hairy for a while. Lots of brush and washouts. I get the impression that this part of the trail doesn’t get a lot of use.

The trail’s in the bottom left:

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Center:

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Even this, though, is interspersed with several smaller rock slopes, each lined with red and gold.

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14.

Eventually, past a couple junctions with trails coming down from Nick Eaton, the quality improves, and it’s just easy, shady walking. I stop on a mossy log for an early dinner.

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I dawdle enough on the way down that the sun’s setting by the time I reach the trailhead. There’s something nice about that, though: beginning and ending with the sun.

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Adventures close to home.

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