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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mt. Adams / Bird Creek Meadows


Mt. Adams as seen from the Cooper Spur trail


I used hike number 36 in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington as my introduction to the Bird Creek Meadows area on the south-east shoulder of Mt. Adams.

I like the Sullivan Guidebook because it includes the nearby hikes in Washington and also because the actual physical size of the book is 8½” x 5½” x ⅝” – that is, it fits easily in a pack.

I had to leave the Monkey-cam at home.

The Monkey-cam is supposed to be cleaning the apartment and doing the dishes to qualify for probation after the Cooper Spur incident.

Hike number 36 turns out to be two different hikes that have only Bird Creek Meadows in common. The short-hike-way that launches from the Bird Creek Meadows trailhead requires a long drive over a crappy access road. The alternate South Climb Trail is longer, but its access road is supposed to be less crappy. My goal was to reach something called Iceberg Lake and my reading of the rough sketch in the Sullivan book indicated that Iceberg Lake could be reached most efficiently by taking the short hike and extending it up towards Sunrise camp. The problem with Sullivan’s rough sketch is that, at least for me, it doesn’t really make sense until after you actually do the hike and see it for yourself.

Starting from Portland, I headed east on I-84. I had an errand to perform for friends at Skamania Landing so I crossed the Columbia over the Bridge of the Gods and backtracked a little. My friends, aware of my propensity to end up lost in the dark because of my late starts, gifted me with some emergency pepperoni sticks – just in case.

I continued east on the Washington side of the river till I reached Highway 141 and followed the directions as presented in the Sullivan guide. The Sullivan guide says that as you approach Trout Lake, you’ll arrive at a “major fork” where you’ll, “have to choose between pointers for Carson or Randall. Veer right toward Randall.” I’m not sure what was meant by “pointers” and never saw any signage for Randall, but you’ll recognize the “fork” because there’s a cluster of buildings in the triangular island in the middle of the fork including a gas station and some food and tour related structures festooned with hand painted signs advertising huckleberry smoothies.

The access road is pretty rough. Can anyone really explain the washboard effect? Why does dust ever stick to the glossy surface of your car? Shouldn’t highway speeds automatically clean your car – at least the leading surfaces?

I had plenty of time to ponder these questions as I steered the car through a never-ending obstacle course of rollercoaster sized potholes and slippery gravel. I started to get hungry so I began the drawn out process of liberating one of the pepperoni sticks from its Scott proof shrink-wrap. I was looking forward to tasting the pepperoni stick because it is a luxury I can seldom afford.

Something was dreadfully, terribly wrong. Suddenly it felt as if I were tongue wrestling a teriyaki flavored slug. I actually took a second bite just to see if it really tasted as bad as I thought. Finally, convinced, I pulled over determined to read the label.

Here’s the thing. I assumed the reason I got the alleged pepperoni sticks was because they were made out of meat. My friends are in the process of purging such barbaric foods from their diets. Last time I visited, to my delight, they jettisoned all of their chips and pasta, handing it all over to me in a big box. What I hadn’t anticipated was that they might become zealous health-food evangelists or that they might slip me meatless pepperoni sticks.

That’s right, meatless pepperoni. It still makes me shudder.

The Bird Creek Meadows trailhead is on Yakima Nation territory. It costs five dollars to park at the trailhead and the do it yourself pay stations certainly won’t make change for a ten.

At one of the pay stations at Mirror Lake, I read an interesting item concerning renegade cows. Evidently, the wilderness area is surrounded by range land, and sometimes marauding cows defeat the cattle barriers and pillage the landscape. Wanted posters explain that such cows should be turned into the rangers.

Remember these water rich green leaves from the Burnt Lake trail?

Well, the water rich season is evidently over. Fall is on its way.




Different plants, more suited to the drier environment are moving in.


Sullivan’s book recommends following the Around the Mountain trail for almost a mile before turning uphill through the meadows toward Hellroaring viewpoint. The book says to ignore side trails until you reach 0.9 miles. I haven’t really figured out yet how to measure distances that precisely, so every time I come across a side trail, I agonize about whether it is the one I should take or not. There is evidence that there was once elaborate signage along the trail. There are frequent wooden posts standing at intersections. Unfortunately, a good number of these posts display only naked bolts at about eye level while fragments of sign are sometimes arranged below in the grass like jigsaw puzzles for people with attention deficits (really big pieces). When I reached the picnic area side trails, I had the distinct feeling that this might be a good place to turn, but I pulled out my GPS device to see if I couldn’t come up with my actual mileage, and misinterpreted the 0.7 mile reading as meaning I hadn’t yet gone far enough. (Pointer: Waypoint to waypoint measurements are straight lines while trail measurements are probably not.)

I elected to proceed on the Around the Mountain Trail which, in retrospect, starts to make me wonder if I am smart enough to be hiking by myself.

Soon, I got the uncanny sensation that I was being watched.

At first, I couldn’t see anything.

But then I spotted them hiding behind a ridge. Renegade cows.


They told me they didn’t want any trouble. They wanted the tasty meadow grass and they meant to have it. They told me not to be a hero. They said they’d kill me if I even thought about telling a ranger and warned me that they’d be watching. With that, they quietly turned away and disappeared into the forest, like giant lumbering noisy ghosts.


The water at the edge of the little pond was teeming with life.


This scene was evocative on so many levels: The miraculous though somewhat creepy transformation of water-faring tadpoles into land-faring frogs. Competition and natural selection playing out in a battle for prime lounging space. Contemplation of a far off time when a similar scene may have starred primitive chordate fish seeking security or food on a new terrestrial horizon.


When I arrived at crooked creek, I realized I had missed my side trail and was turning my short hike into a medium hike. Even so, I followed the crooked creek trail down to the falls before turning back.

Mt. Adams as seen from the picnic area


I stopped for lunch at the Hellroaring Canyon viewpoint.


Then I followed the ridge up on my quest for Iceberg Lake. This picture makes it look like there is an obvious trail to follow, but the ridgeline soon turns rocky and any trail you’re following starts to sprout tributaries that spin off in wacky directions and often disappear.


Along the ridge are areas thick with stunted pine trees that build head high forest canopies in wind-sheltered pockets. These mini forests are filled with fluttering wing noises and the squeals of Clark’s Nutcrackers.


On the left is a Clark’s Nutcracker doing what it does best. On the right is the same picture after I’ve tried to compensate for the poor exposure. I don’t like the stark white background so I add the top of Mt. Adams in a scene that could have been, but wasn’t exactly. Does that make me a liar?


Higher up on the ridge that skirts Hellroaring canyon, I arrive at an area that looks like it might have had a lake at one time, but is currently nothing but an exhausted snow field. I wonder if I’ve gone far enough, or is Iceberg Lake still higher. I climb up a ridgeline beyond the krummholz ‘forest’ to get a high vantage point, but it is effort wasted in the wrong direction.


A mountain-created still-life


Suddenly, in the distance, I spot the renegade cows. My heart turns to ice. They must have decided to kill me up here and make it look like an accident. “I didn’t tell anyone!” I scream at them desperately across the chasm.

But as I look through my telephoto lens, I realize these are not outlaw cows after all. They are some kind of mountain goats. Further, I am able to identify a trail which must surely be the path to Iceberg Lake.

Usually, in this situation, I would persevere and attempt to reach the lake, but the sun has passed behind the mountain and I know I am running out of time. The trail is treacherous with loose and pointy rocks, and the randomly placed rock cairns here and there will not be very helpful in the dark. Even after this careful analysis, I am still tempted to make the attempt, but then I remember that all I have left to eat, should I be stranded overnight, is one of those pepperoni sticks.

So that’s the story of how a meatless pepperoni stick unwittingly saved my life. Faced with the threat of tasting the ill-conceived vegan protein snack, I chose to return to the trailhead and arrived at the car well before dark.


Mt. Hood as seen from Bird Creek Meadow

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