Tuesday, December 30, 2008

McNeil Point Travels

On August 26th 2008 we undertook the long haul up McNeil Point on Mount Hood. From the Top Spur trailhead this is a 3000 foot elevation gain with about 5.5 miles distance to a viewpoint above the glacier. An exceedingly steep shortcut taken on the way back drops about a thousand feet in only around a half mile. In the process it saves about a mile and a half distance. We added another mile or so hiking out to the Bald Mountain viewpoints in the waning light.

The trail passes through several miles of mature but not ancient woods. At first the forest is a typical late seral tall Northwest rainforest. Fire has kept this area from developing a truly old growth condition.


A few interesting plants gave some interest during this portion of the tour.

Drippy Fungus

This fungus is covered with strange droplets of liquid. This is not dew - the how and why of the droplets is unknown to me. It grows perched on the side of a large fir. Only one was spotted.


Merten’s Purple Coralroot

The coralroot orchid bloomed away in the deep woods. Leafless and without the chlorophyll of most plants, this herb gathers all of its nutrients from decaying forest duff.

High Up McGee Creek

The trail crosses high up the many branches of McGee and Elk Creeks. Cold springs create the creek and the wet meadows which intersect the trail. The water and the wet meadows appear on the steep bank behind this view; forest covers everything uphill from the springs.

Spring-fed Meadows Along the Trail

Paintbrush, buttercup, and shooting star among others were growing in the soggy soil.

Climbing along the sometimes steep ridge path a point is reached where the forest quickly changes. The trees become only half the size of the lower elevation forest just below. Snow creep - the winters slow movement of the snowpack downhill - has made most of the trees bent, especially at the base, but sometimes higher too.

An Aberrant Rhododendron

Cascades Azalea

Cascades Azalea is an atypical member of the rhododendron clan. Unlike most rhodies or azaleas it blooms from buds formed along last years shoots rather than at the shoots tip. Consequently its been threatened with transfer to some other genus. It becomes common in the mid-elevation shrubfields and forests of our mountains. Not actually a member of the Azalea subsection of the genus, its so unlike a typical Rhododendron that the azalea name gets slapped on.

Glacial Outwash Events

As we climbed onto the high shoulder of Bald Mountain, the views opened up to the mountain and into the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River valley. The broad valley floor was created by both glacial debris flows and volcanic ejecta.

The last substantial eruption of Mount Hood was a little over 200 years ago, just before the journeys of Lewis and Clark took them past the mouth of the Sandy River on the mighty Columbia. Those intrepid explorers took note of the fact that the route of the Columbia was forced North against the far bank away from the Sandy River delta because of the huge outpouring of sandy grit. They named the Sandy from this phenomena, and to this day the Columbia skirts North around the shallow broad delta formed by the deposition from the much smaller Sandy River.

Glacial outwash events are frequent on Mount Hood - and recent. The last one from the Sandy Glacier was only five years ago, and the effects were widespread and dramatic.

Muddy Fork Outwash Plain 2008

There were no witnesses to this event. Deep snow was on the mountain in the Winter of 2002-03 and few hardy travelers come high enough on this side of Mount Hood to view the upper valley of the Muddy Fork. Snow just after may have quickly hidden the evidence too. And no roads cross the valley high enough for passers-by to notice, and access roads up the canyon are closed in winter. The following summer exposed miles of deposition along the valley floor.

The photo here of Old Maid Flats and higher reaches of the Muddy Fork valley shows miles of extensive deposition of rock from gravel up to truck-sized boulders. The beginnings of this event were beneath the Sandy Glacier high above on the flanks of the mountain. At an elevation around 6500 feet (2000 meters) occurred the most likely scenario: a subglacial lake formed, ponding sufficient water, which subsequently was rapidly released. The upper section below the glacier is extremely steep, with two waterfalls and a 2500 foot (760 meters) drop in only a mile (1.61 km). The velocity this initial drop provided was able to distribute the large amount of stone over the next 2.5 miles (4 km) of valley and more.

Of course that first mile was scoured out of any loose material and probably much bedrock as well. After dropping 2000 feet, the grade lessens and the torrent began tearing into deep deposition from previous outwash events. I am uncertain of the previous depth of the stream channel; after this event a huge vertical sided chasm up to one hundred feet deep and more across was formed. The flow at least at first overtopped that and deposition occurred in relatively speaking small amounts. After another 500 drop the ground became less steep again; the depth of the channel lessens and more deposition than cutting became the rule. Still, large sections of forest were rubbed away and the flood entered two old channels, dead-ending amid a jumble of two and three foot thick firs. In the lower section of the debris flow erosion ceased and rather than removing forests the outwash buried and killed them instead.

A Punctured Glacier

This view of the blown-out snout of the gravel covered Sandy Glacier from 2003 is difficult to read for scale. This is a telephoto shot; the trees in the apparent foreground are around fifty feet high; they are also easily a thousand or 1200 feet from the glacier. This means the opening may be two hundred feet across. Note also the small opening just above the trees.

The Punctured Sandy Glacier 2003

The Ice Cave

The Hollow Sandy Glacier

The passageway continues hundreds of feet uphill under the dirty grayish ice of the glacier before being exposed by some collapsed ceiling. Its unknown if the opening continues farther up. A stream of meltwater falls into the big hole in the glacier, and a much bigger stream exits at the snout. The area in the upper left between two snow patches is the location of the collapsed glacier. Here the glacier is punctured ceiling to floor.

High Mountain Ponds

The trail passes small meltwater pools, filled with tannic cold water and possessing no outlets except at highest peak inflow. These are located on a bench at about 5600 feet (1700 meters) elevation. These remain visible through much of the climb to McNeil Point.

Mountain Pool

The trail here is confusing. If you follow the official trail you miss these attractive waterbodies. If you visit them on the well-established trails, and avoid backtracking to the official trail, you end up with a bit of bushwacking. All and all I always opt for the bushwack. Its just plain more scenic and entertaining. Cross the ridge above the ponds and veer right to the main trail.

The Fin

The Fin

Between the two lobes of the Ice Age Sandy Glacier a remnant fin of rock stands. With the ice retreated far uphill the narrow, leaning object still stands. For scale, the trees in the picture near the feature stand a hundred feet high. And yes, there are stunted trees atop the fin too.

High Mountain Gardens

The high mountain areas of Mount Hood are a great place to study the forces of nature and their expression in the ecology of the region. Trees reach the limits of their growth, and the great, dense forests of the Pacific Northwest give way to banks of heather and natural perennial gardens of great beauty.

Snow, Boulder, and Blossom

Here in a valley below our irregular treeline are interlaced snowfields, boulders, lupine and heather. Trees are eliminated by the deep, late melting snow. There is too little time for tree seedlings to establish here. They will higher up where the mountain winds blow some of the snow away into the valleys. Our treeline is established by length of the growing season after snowmelt, not by cold.

Our native heathers prefer dryer, poorer soils and are tough evergreens. This is an advantage in this short season area. They photosynthesize as soon as exposed to the summer light. The lupines along side them must sprout and grow from their perennial rootstock. The lupines have their own set of advantages. Taller than the heathers, they fix nitrogen though a symbiotic relationship with fungi, enriching the soil and encouraging other flowers. It is actually rare to see heathers and lupine interlaced like this, as the lupines create conditions that lead to the demise of the heathers. Over time as the soils improve the lupines and the meadows they help create will dominate.

Slow Changes in the Meadows

With the climate warming there is less snowpack and that throws the ecological balance in favor of the trees. Starting back in the 1930’s many long-established high mountain meadows have been invaded by trees, shrinking or eliminating the flowery meadowland.

A Few Trees Struggle to Grow in a Glacial Basin

Here in the deep glacial McGee Creek basin, a few scrawny firs are the only ones for quite a distance. As they slowly grow they will capture snow on their lengthening branches, where it can evaporate and never reach the ground. In this way they slowly make it possible for more of their kind to establish, at least in the driest years.

Red Mountain Core

This late afternoon shot shows The Red Shaft on Mount Hood.

The Red Shaft Above the Sandy Glacier

This stratovolcano is the result of many eruptions which resulted in rock of many colors and ages. One major eruption left behind a vertical stretch of red stone now at the center of the West side of the mountain. Most of the rockfall covering the Sandy Glacier is from the Red Shaft. Rock from other eruptions are gray to black and generally more dense than the light red cinder.

Glisan Glacier

Glisan Glacier

The Glisan is one of the lesser glaciers on Mount Hood; its crevasses are comparatively few but always present. It is lower in elevation than most but is North facing. It is also short. Most of its basin has been abandoned by the glacier, and is a boulder-strewn fellfield with little vegetation.

Wind Timber

This snow skirt found above the mountain treeline testifies to the brutality of the high mountain environment. Formed from a single Alpine fir, its shrubby shape is determined by winter snowpack and blowing grit and snow.

Snow Skirt

Rainbow Circle in the Fog

Rainbow Fog

A final curiosity: with the fog swirling in and out we caught a shot of a circular rainbow in the mist. Whenever water droplets are exposed to sun, you have the chance of a rainbow. In the picture my head and shoulders are circled by not just one but two round rainbows. Somehow the shadow creates the conditions necessary for the rainbow to form. I’ve seen this at waterfalls where concentrated spray will show a round rainbow around the shadow of your head.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mount Adams - Horseshoe Meadows Tour

We toured this area September 24th. A summertime hike up here would reveal many wildflowers in the meadows and the sometimes open woods. We saw a few late lupines, pearly everlasting, and the foliage of several flowers, such as the evergreen partridge foot. The trail goes through forest and meadow and passes many interesting rugged rock outcrops.

The paucity of flowers was made good by an abundance of fungi, with many types present following the recent rains. By far the showiest is the fly agaric. Most common in the Fall, this forms symbiotic relationships with conifers here and with many species worldwide.

Fly Agaric, Amanita muscari

This is both psychedelic and poisonous. Despite the danger from ingesting too much, it is widely used for its psychoactive properties. More is not better however, and fatalities do occur from time to time. These are not necessarily from recreational users, but rather those who mistake it for an edible. There are species of Amanita which are truly edible, tasty and not psychedelic, but their appearance is exceedingly similar to those which fit no such criteria.

Originally native to most of the Northern Hemisphere, it has moved with nursery plants to most of the Southern Hemisphere too, so it now is truly cosmopolitan. Reports indicate it has new symbionts in the South - Southern beech (Nothofagus), related to the beeches of Eurasia and Eastern North America, and with Eucalyptus which has no relatives in the North.

Somehow this mushroom became associated with Christmas, especially in Europe. I have a pair of inherited antique Christmas ornaments which feature red and white miniature ceramic Amanitas. Their history has been lost but I do know they were considered old by 1950. Perhaps the red recalls old Saint Nick, or their fruiting just before the holidays made for the association.

The goal of this day hike is Horseshoe Meadow. Following the Pacific Crest Trail on a steady climb, in about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) you reach the intersection with the Stagman Ridge Trail. This is another route to this area of the mountain. It starts higher but requires a long rough section of gravel road. Another half mile or so (700 meters) past this junction brings you to the Round The Mountain Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail heads North along with the Round The Mountain Trail. Horseshoe Meadow is just uphill from the junction. Its elevation is about 5900 feet, a little below treeline. The mountain dominates the view.

Horseshoe Meadow and Mount Adams

The picture shows a lenticular cloud atop Adams. These weather clouds result from high winds, peak crossing updrafts and moist air. They form over all the high volcanic peaks of the Northwest. Even with good conditions elsewhere, it will be harsh atop the mountain just under that cap. The cloud forms from very minute water droplets.

The name Round The Mountain Trail is something of a misnomer - it does not fully circle the peak, not passing around the East side, all of which is part of the Yakima Indian Reservation. It does process from the Northwest to the Southwest sides.

Moraine on Mount Adams

The lateral moraine of Avalanche Glacier is a pale brown for the most part, with darker flows marking it. The coloration is the result of the rock being ground up by the glacier. How the dark areas formed I an not certain.

Mount Adams was mostly glacier covered during the last ice age. High up much of it was sheet glaciation, with broad areas covered without deep valley erosion. Sometimes as it flowed downhill the ice would gather itself into valley glaciers, carving deep, steep-sided canyons. One example is between Stagman and Crofton Ridges. The landforms revealed after the glaciers are gone are quite different. The drop down off Crofton Ridge into Cascade Creek Canyon is now over 1600 feet (500 meters). Relief in the sheet glaciated areas may only be 200 feet (60 meters) or less. Commonly this is in cliffs and steep sided hollows.

Glacial striations along the PCT

Moving ice is the defining characteristic of glaciers. Icefields do not move. If they do they cease to be icefields and become glaciers. Rock embedded in that moving ice gouges the bedrock they pass over, leaving easily seen linear features in the stone. These striations are on the sides of a shallow valley, where they were abraded by the sides of the glacier. More often they are found at the bottom once under the glacier’s full mass.

Directions to the trailhead: Take SR 14 to the Trout Lake Turnoff. From Vancouver simply head East on 14. From the Oregon Side take I-5 East to the Hood River Bridge across the Columbia, turning left at the end, then take the first right onto Highway 141 towards Trout Lake.

At the first stop sign, go straight. Go straight (sort of a right) past Trout Lake, turning left soon after onto FS Road 23, This eventually intersects FS Road 521. Turn right and travel a short distance. The Pacific Crest Trail 2000 crosses the road just before a trailer park along this road. Parking is along the left.

You head left here - its easy to want to go right since the Mountain has been in that direction for most of the drive. The spur turns 90 degrees however, and right is now away from Adams.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Doing the Dog

Dog Mountain is a choice late spring - early summer destination. The lower slopes are primarily populated with Douglas-fir and other westside natives. Eastern species are present though - rattlesnakes can appear on the lower slopes, the native eastside mock orange was present and flowering. Its hybrids are mainstays of the nursery plant trade.

Mock Orange, Phildaelphus lewisii

The trailhead is at the east end of a large parking area along Washington State Route 14. In earlier times this was the site of the Crest Trail Inn, which disappeared in the 1970’s with nary a trace.. The trail initially follows a steep gravel road but after a sharp turn to the left continues up with a trail in the forest.

Dog Mountain tops out at 2940 feet (896 meters) with 2800 feet (853 meters) elevation gain from just above river level. River level here is less than 40 feet, so with the peak only a mile and a half from the river with large open areas, impressive views are commonplace. Such relief is common in the Columbia River Gorge with short climbs such as Mount Defiance rising 4800 feet (1463 meters) from near river level. The dryer conditions this far east contribute to the meadows, as its just a little too dry for trees to establish. All the meadows are along exposed southwest slopes, not the cooler north or east sides. The hike itself switchbacks 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) in to the summit, with a new loop trail returning 3.9 miles (6.3 kilometers) to the parking along SR 14.

Expansive meadows on steep slopes provide the sun needed by the broad displays of wildflowers of many types. With the middle elevation and a location midway up the Gorge, the flowers derive from both east and west, high elevation and low. There is a lot of botanical diversity here.

Date of this hike was the 2nd of July. This was a very late year as far as flowering times, and the predominate basamroot was just past its peak of flowering. So prime time in normal years for this tour should be late May and early June.

Looking Down Dog Mountain

The hike up features a woodland generally like that of Western Washington, dominated by Douglas-firs and bigleaf maples. I found this plant of wild ginger (Asaurum caudatum) perched on the edge of a dropoff, allowing its normally hidden flower to be photographed. Of a chocolate-burgandy color with a pale inner cup, these are borne under the leaves atop the forest duff.

Wild Ginger, Asaurum caudatum

Phantom Orchid, Eburophyton austiniae

The phantom orchid was frequent on the forest floor. This leafless perennial gets its nutrition entirely from the decaying forest duff. It grows only in deep established woods with a goodly layer of organic materials built up over the ground.

Old burnt snag

Like so much of the Columbia Gorge, this mountain has burned, probably in pioneer times. Occasional very large fire-scarred snags can be found along the trail. The existing trees have not had the several hundred years needed to reach the girth of the old snags like the one pictured.

Initially this route is in a thick forest, and your only views are within the woodland. The climb averages 800 ft a mile, so steep sections are frequent. Eventually breaks appear and viewpoints open as the forest thins.

The Columbia from Trail 147

The glory of this mountain is the extensive meadows that carpet the upper slopes on much of the Southwest side. There is a delicate balance here - North and East slopes are just a little less dried by the sun, and tree seedlings survive well there. The location of these mid-elevation fields are determined by drought - unlike high mountain meadows which are sited by deep late melting snowfields.

The meadows provide broad views of the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Mountains.

Wind Mountain and the Columbia

To the right of Wind Mountain in this view is the town of Carson, its hot springs resort hidden in a deep canyon. Wind Mountain is prominent next to the Columbia. On the Oregon side Nick Eaton Ridge leads down to a point which the river wraps around.

Looking back on the climb with Mount Defiance on the skyline

Looking down the rise to the Columbia disappears east past the point. Mount Defiance on the far Oregon side rises to 4960 feet (1512 meters), with its trail having probably the greatest elevation gain around.

Wind timber on the slopes

The trail system continues North, and if you take the correct fork you can connect with the Pacific Crest Trail System in about 15 miles. The trail heads north and east between roads to Mount Adams Wilderness. Certainly there are shorter routes to Mount Adams. To backpack from near sea level on the Columbia to treeline in the high mountains would be interesting however.

Trail heading North across the Southwestern slopes of Dog Mountain, traveling towards Mount Adams

The blanket flower with red centers and yellow petals are as showy as any of their garden offspring. This one of the Westernmost outposts of their range, and only a few plants were present. The flowers are larger that the more common balsam root, making these the largest individual blossoms on the mountain.

Cow parsnip (Heracium lanatum) shows up sporadically Better adapted to the wetter west side climate, here it prefers to grow where sun protected by nearby trees. In damp meadows west of the Cascades, it can grow a lush eight feet high (2.5 meters). In the mountains cow parsnip may reach only half that.

Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) was common in the dry sunny meadows. This common plant is happy in roadside gravel too. It makes a good garden plant, in bloom a month or so in lowland springs. Cut back after flowering it spends the rest of the growing season a tidy and presentable mound of grey cut foliage.

Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) prefers sun, and flowered in orange throughout the meadowlands of Dog Mountain. It is common at mid to high elevations throughout the Northwest. Sometimes it covers roadside gravels and is also frequent in montane meadows like those of Dog Mountain.

Mugwort (Artemesia douglasiana) was scattered in most sunny habitats on Dog Mountain. On these exposed mountain slopes mugwort reaches at best two feet (60 cm). In lush lowland habitats it can reach eight (2.5 meters). Higher up in the Cascades it can be less than one foot (30 cm).

The grey foliage is very aromatic. It was much used like incense by Northwest first peoples, just like the closely related European and Asian mugworts were wherever found.

Lowland mugwort plants are found in dry meadows. The are also very common in coarse gravels along rivers such as the Clackamas where they may be submerged half the year and in full sun the other half. Mountain plants take to the same habitats.

Lupines are very common flowering plants all over the Northwest. Unlike mugwort, rather than having a single species adapting to all elevations, different replacement species of lupine grow at different elevations, with only a little overlap. A tall species occupies low elevation meadows and open woods, producing 6 foot plants with two foot spikes of blossom; on Dog Mountain L. latifolius grows 2 to 2.5 feet (60 to 75 cm) high, and above treeline there is a diminuative species is only two or three inches (5 to 8 cm) tall with inch (2.5 cm)-high-at-most thimbles of bloom.

Circling around the mountain and dropping down the West and Southwest sides are open tall fir forests. Short forest floor plants dominate under the big firs with few taller shrubs to clutter the view.

West of the lower sections of the trail were views of isolated farms and estates on the valley floor, with ponds, forests and fields. This is the valley of Collins Creek,which extends west into the Wind River valley and Carson.

It steep climbs and moderate distances, this is not a hike for the weary or out of shape. The views are a just award for the hiker, and are among the most dramatic around.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Right Angle Viewpoint Area Tour

On July 13th I lead a tour to the Right Angle Viewpoint area on the Molalla-Clackamas watershed divide for the Clackamas River Basin Council. As noted earlier this outing was delayed three weeks due to snow. On this hike snow was present in some spots but gone in others - depending on the winter accumulation and aspect, not on elevation. With about 700 ft. elevation change, the deepest snow was at the flatter lowest 4200 ft. heights, while the 4900 ft ridge was bare of snow and flowers were blooming.

Dry Meadow at Right Angle Viewpoint

The road was blocked by snow at the 4500 ft. high point. There the slope of the road changed from south to north, and from bare ground to two to four feet of snow. As a younger crowd had showed up for this tour, we elected to bushwack at an angle to the north up the slope. We alternated between patches of snow and bare ground and brush. Once the trail was located less snow was found and finally it ended, with the viewpoint clear of snow and blossoming. This was a shortcut, though a steep one.

Larkspur and paintbrush bloomed on Right Angle Viewpoint. Oregon sunshine was growing but not yet flowering. We saw it in full bloom along the road two thousand feet lower.

Lost Creek Overlook Cliffs from the south

Lost Creek Overlook is comfortably broad but cliff on three sides. The rock is a chaotic jumble characteristic of volcanic mudflows. As this entire area was once on the slopes of an ancient volcano, one can assume that this mudflow filled a valley and after millions of years is now exposed by glaciation as a headwall cliff.

Evening Star, Saxifraga bronchialis vespertina

An unusual plant growing only on the dryest cliffs is the Evening Star (Saxifraga bronchialis vespertina). Though widespread, it is limited to rocky, dry faces with little competition because of drought and lack of soil.

Lost Creek watershed from Lost Creek Overlook

This interesting little valley is glacial at first with steep wet meadows high up. There was once a trail but the luxuriant wetland growth now hides it. Much of the area was clearcut. The road at the bottom was removed a few years ago. The glacial section runs north towards a tributary of the Clackamas but makes a quick 180 degree turn to the south and connects with the Molalla. A notch where this creek could have continued north long ago is now hundreds of feet above the creek.

Old Whitespot is interesting and the open south wall is snowfree and looks ready to freeclimb.

A fuller discussion of this area is available on an earlier post from last September.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Further changes to hike schedule

With the heavy, wet winter snowpack meltoff running a month or more late, rearranging hiking plans is required! A second problem with the Bull of the Woods tour has appeared - a section of road is gone, and a 30 mile detour over twisting gravel Forest Service roads will add two to three hours travel time to any trip there. This is a doubling of travel time. And on top of that, the detour route as of this writing is still blocked by snow! So Bull of the Woods tour slated for July 13th will be put off until next year.

The outing on June 22nd was moved to a lower elevation tour around Clackamas Lake. Even with lowering the top elevation a thousand feet (300 meters) a late season snowfall had just melted off. The original destination, Right Angle Viewpoint, is now rescheduled for July 13th, replacing Bull of the Woods. It's possible snow will still be present at the highest elevations of the hike and on the road leading to the trailhead. Alternative routes are available if the road is blocked by snow.

The next tour, July 20th to the Headwaters High Elevation Loop, will go ahead as scheduled. Again snow is possible, and interesting alternative routes at lower elevations are available at several points along the approach road. Lakes are frequent throughout the Olallie Highlands area.

So the new schedule is:

July 13th - Right Angle Viewpoint area

July 20th - Olallie Highlands High Elevation Loop

See the original descriptions of these tours below in this blog.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Clackamas Lake Tour

On June 22nd I lead a tour for the Clackamas River Basin Council to the Clackamas Lake area. This was relocated from the original Right Angle Viewpoint area due to the late lying snowpack, which at this time prevents driving anywhere near the trailhead up there. Clackamas Lake is a good 1600 feet (500 meters) lower than the viewpoint and well below the snow zone. A peculiarity of this season is that once you reach the snow its depth increases very rapidly.

The route for this Tour is past Estacada on Highway 224, which becomes Forest Service Road 46. The ‘turnoff’ onto Forest Service Road 57 is actually a ‘straight ahead’, with 46 turning sharply south towards Bagby. 57 is followed to its end at Forest Service Road 42, where you turn right for the short jog to the historic Clackamas Lake Guard Station. This is now a museum which celebrates the long history of this locale.

Bigleaf lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus, along Forest Service Road 46

The first point of interest we stopped for was the large masses of bigleaf lupine. Its located on the recently built section of road before Ripplebrook Ranger Station. After the 1996 floods proved the old section of road unstable, a new shorter and steeper section replaced it. The lupines were planted only along this new part of the road. The photo was taken at about 1300 feet (400 meters) elevation, higher than the native range of this lowland native. It is thriving along the new section of road in huge drifts.

Vanilla leaf or Moose plant, Achlys triphylla

The trailhead closest to the museum is perhaps a hundred feet past it to the left and downhill. The path immediately enters a conifer woodland floored with huckleberry and patches of herbaceous material. The season at this elevation was mid-spring, and the vanilla leaf or moose plant was flowering. Small spikes of white wave over the triple clusters of leaves, which bear some resemblance to the antlers and nose of a moose.

The trail soon reaches Clackamas Lake Campground. A short sidetrail leads to a boardwalk across wetlands to the edge of spring-fed Clackamas Lake. Shrub birches line the wooden trail, and occasional stunted spruce occupy the wetlands along with many more usual residents. From this angle the water appears teal rather than blue.

A little ways past that another spur to the left drops down to the location of many of the springs that keep the lake full. None are more than a few feet above the surface of the lake, and likely more are hidden in its waters.

Clackamas Lake from near the springs.

Large patches of monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus guttatus) cover big areas around the springs and in the short streams that drop into the lake. It was too early to see this in bloom. the mountain bluebell was at its peak. A large plant overhung spring and lake, its roots bathed in cold springwater.

Mountain Bluebell, Mertensia paniculata borealis,
overhanging the springs at Clackamas Lake

Broad grassy meadows surround the lake, and continue downstream - and up the Oak Grove Fork that enters below the lake. No stream directly enters the lake but those fed by nearby springs. Stunted, scrawny spruce and lodgepole pine dot the grasslands, which are mostly wetlands. There is a fringe of low shrubs and then dryer meadows. A heavy forest covers the uplands. The area appears to have burnt in the distant past, with a few larger trees scattered among thickets of their offspring. Lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, and silver fir are the main trees.

Clackamas Meadows

Heading downstream across the road the stream wanders through more wet meadowland. The stream moves but slowly. Past the end of Road 57 the Oak Grove Fork picks up speed and enters deep forest.

The meandering outlet stream is
the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas.

A variety of plants bloomed on the forest floor and the patches of meadow. The low shrubby evergreen woodland Oregon grape (Mahonia/Berberis nervosa) was providing a scattering of yellow.

Cascades or woodland Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa)

A sunny spot and the shade of a rock provided a shot of the Cascades penstemon (P. serrulatus), happily growing in an apparently dryer habitat.

Penstemon along the trail (P. serrulatus)

Some large lodgepole pines grow around the meadows. Here there is no sign of the bark beetles which have been destroying so many pines nearby. They are quite happy in the meadowside sun.

Lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta latifolia with Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, in the background left.

The widespread blue violet (Viola adunca) grow in the dryer meadows above the narrow shrub belt. These plants are usually assumed to be woodland plants are happy on a sloping southern exposure.

Blue violets, Viola adunca

Past the end of the lake, hidden anyway in the large meadows, some sizeable old growth firs still grow. The picture below shows their scattered nature. Marked with fire and woodpecker scars and surrounded by young thickets of many species, a few of these centuries-old trees survived long ago a major fire, and now stand nearly lost in a much younger pole forest. Such dual-age stands are indicative of past fire history.

One old growth Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Old corrals and barns from the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps still stand in the forest near the big trees. Once upon a time most forest service trail maintenance was done from horseback, and this was a busy place indeed. Lookouts were supplied monthly mostly by mule train, and the mostly college-age lookouts had to be careful to make that food last. The long trails to the lookouts before many roads penetrated the mountains meant that few if any casual hikers would be seen in a summer season.

After a splurge of road building following World War II a decision was made to stop using horses and mules, and the colorful pack trains and mounted crews disappeared. Trails have deteriorated since.

Old corrals at Joe Graham Horsecamp

This spot is known as Joe Graham Horsecamp, and it still sees quite a bit of recreational use. This area was early accessible by road but only from the east, away from the populated Willamette Valley. Pack Trains would start instead at the now disappeared Oak Grove Ranger Station, since replaced by Ripplebrook on the present highway. Oak Grove was a little west of the junction of the present FS Roads 4630 and 4635, then the only and furthest access from the west up the Clackamas. Only abandoned roads, concrete slabs and an opening in the fir forest mark what was once a thriving and crucial camp. At that moment, Bagby Guard Station was 22 miles by trail. Later the road crossed the Clackamas at about Riverford Campground, and from there it was 13 miles to Bagby and 19 to Bull of the Woods Lookout.

Historic barn at Joe Graham Horsecamp

Nowdays its a mile and a half to Bagby Hot Springs, within reach of teenagers carrying large coolers full of beer. Bull of the Woods Lookout, no longer manned, is but 3.2 miles, an easy and worthwhile dayhike.

For a short 2.5 mile (4 km) hike at Clackamas Lake, turn left at the paved road past Joe Graham and continue back to the Museum. Good views of the meadows and streams line the road. For a longer day, continue northwest on the trail to Timothy Lake. One trail is northwest of the Oak Grove Fork and the return trail is southeast. Linking the two is a mile and a quarter (2 km) trail along Timothy Lake. This route totals about 6.2 miles (10 km).