Silver Star Mountain Musings by Brittany Kelly

You know those places you go just because you have to? We all have them, I’m sure. The places that for some unexplained reason, you are just drawn to them. Sometimes I wake up (usually early) on a Saturday and simply because of a hectic work week, I just haven’t had the time to seek out somewhere new to roam and sometimes it just isn’t in the cards to take off the whole weekend and travel up to the North Cascades, a place that is magical and always worth the effort. Anyway, when I have one of those weekends there are a couple of hikes within two hours of Portland that are always on the top of my list. Silver Star Mountain in SW Washington is one of them.

This particular weekend I knew it was going to be hot so I wanted to get up into the mountains where the higher elevations would call for cooler temperatures. I had a couple friends who wanted to join me as well (a welcome change of pace). I am more of a solo hiker, for the most part it’s just me, my thoughts and my dog for miles at a time, so having some friends to break up the internal conversation was welcomed.

We took off around 9:30am and it was already 80 degrees outside. My fourth floor apartment was bound to become an inferno so I couldn’t wait to be on top of Silver Star, sitting at roughly 4,400 feet and 6 miles RT. It’s certainly not the highest point you could reach in a day, but where it sits between Washington and Oregon provides you a 360 degree view of some of the most prominent peaks from Mt. Adams to Mt. Jefferson on any given clear day – which this was.

We set out from Grouse Vista Trail, which is a bit longer than taking off from Ed’s Trail, but the road to get there is better. Grouse Vista is still a few miles of driving on gravel roads deep within old logging roads but Ed’s trail leads you through some pretty gnarly unmarked foresting and hunting roads that I wouldn’t recommend attempting without a 4 wheel drive car that has good clearance. The beginning of the trail begins with steady elevation gain and starts on the opposite side of the parking lot. For the first quarter mile you are just heading up a rocky and stump laden path with trees on both sides. However, you will reach a point where everything opens up and you are greeted with gorgeous and expansive views of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and if it’s the right time of year – dozens of wildflowers line the trail like particles of a rainbow.

Silver Star Mountain Path

Silver Star Mountain Flowers

For the most part, the trail looks like this (above photos) as it winds up to the summit, which doesn’t suck. Even on a hot Saturday morning, where most of Portland is looking to get out of town, we only saw a dozen or so people on the trail and summit. Making it so, at times, it was just the mountains, our dogs, the wildflowers, and our conversation, which really doesn’t suck. To deal with the heat I took a small 18L backpack, 2 1L water bottles, some snacks and wore a comfortable pair of shorts, a sweat wicking tank and low profile hiking shoes. Since this hike has so much uneven terrain I would definitely recommend some sort of hiking shoe or hiking boot over road running shoes or regular tennis shoes.

After about 2.5 miles there is one last pitch and a right hand turn up the summit trail (PRO TIP: there is an undesignated camping spot just past this summit tail and the sunrise from Silver Star would be INCREDIBLE) and then you are greeted with the expansive 360 views, usually a nice breeze and a bit (or a lot) of sweat trickling down your forehead.

Silver Star Mountain

Silver Star Mountain View

Looking to the right you see Ms. Hood, in all of her glory, just past that you can see Mt. Jefferson, scanning left you can see Mt. Adams, Mt Rainer, Mt St. Helens, the lower and usually snow covered Goat Rocks (more about that area later – TEASER ALERTAHMAZING) I have one particular rock below the right hand summit that I like to go sit on. If it’s a crowded day that rock always seems to be free and fits my dog and I perfectly for some serious mountain top lounging time. I won’t tell you anymore because it’s my secret rock.

We visited both the left and right summit areas. Both sides offer incredible deep green valley and snow covered cascade mountain views. Because the view is completely exposed there is nothing to obscure the 360-degree view of the expansive mid cascade region all the way down past Mt. Jefferson, there really is nothing like it. Since the summit has so much exposure there is always a chance of wind or snow depending on the season. Make sure to come prepared with a light wind jacket no matter what time of year, sunscreen in the summer and boots with traction in snow from late fall to early spring. After about an hour, some food and a few hundred photos we started heading back down. When it’s just me, I usually hang at the summit for a while – there’s no better way to clear your mind AND get a tan than on a quiet mountain a few thousand feet above sea level.

When heading back, go back the way you came down, which is a lovely second chance to take in the views and wildflowers while working the “downhill” muscles. There are some loose rock so if you have weak knees or ankles, a pair of hiking or trekking poles could be needed. An hour of so had past and we were back down and in the parking lot ready to head back for some social scenery, fully pleased with the much-needed re-charge and outdoor goodness barely two hours outside of Portland.

Here are some stats below for more travel and gear info.

Portland –Trail Head: 1 hour 30 min

Car-Summit: 3 miles/ 2040 ft. (info taken for Portland Hikers Field Guide)

Car- Car: 6 Miles / 3 -3.5 hours

Gear:

Small Day Pack – 18L

2L Hydration Pack or 2 32oz water bottles

My trusty and well used Montrail Mountain Masochist hiking shoes. I didn’t bring hiking poles but they could be used.

Sunglasses/Sunscreen

And most importantly: Good Vibes Only

Happy hiking!

It’s All About the Shoes

Lower Turret Lake, High SIerras

Lower Turret Lake, High SIerras

Regardless of your activity, shoes play an intimate role in how you feel during participation. There is a reason people spend so much money on footwear. Our feet are sensitive, and we use them almost all the time during physical activity. Picking the right set of shoes/boots for hiking or trail running  is a crucial part of finding enjoyment in your adventures. Two trips that I took recently reminded me how shoe choice can make the difference between success and failure. One trip was a run/walk around Mt. St. Helens, totaling about 30 miles with a light backpack in a single day. The other was a two night adventure in the High Sierras covering over 50 miles, mostly off trail, boulder hopping. Each required excessive use of my feet. The only store I trusted in picking up the right trail running shoes was US Outdoor.

Saucony Progrid Perigrine Trail Running Shoes

Saucony Progrid Perigrine 2 Shoes After 30 Miles

For the run around Mt. St. Helens, I wore Saucony’s Progrid Perigrine 2 shoes. Coming in at only 1 lb. 3.8 oz, they still offer enough heal and forefoot support to keep the foot centered and stable on the sole. Even with a backpack near 15 lbs., they provided plenty of stability and cushion. They also are minimalist regarding the foot bed. This means they do not have an arch support, or other technology that interferes with the foot’s natural movement. The sole has a thin plastic shank that runs back and forth like a riverbed S-shaped through the sole. This reduces stiffness and weight while protecting from rock protrusion through the sole. The tread has massive grip with large, knobby rubber protrusions. The trail around St. Helens has sand, mud, rock, boulders, hard pack, and “Ah Ha” lava (the rough, hard to walk on kind). These shoes held up perfectly across every type of terrain I could find. If you trail run or backpack light, there is not a better shoe out there.

High Sierras La Sportiva Trangos

High Sierras La Sportiva Trangos

Next, I went off trail in the High Sierras on the west side of the mountain range. For this trip, I needed a beefier shoe since I had heard that the terrain was brutal on foot wear. I had no idea how brutal it would be. I’m glad I chose my La Sportiva Trango Extreme Evo Light GTX boots. The moment I stepped off the John Muir Trail, I was committed to careful foot placement on boulders ranging in size from cars to bowling balls. Literally, every step was crucial since the boulders are stacked in a chaotic granite wonderland of enormous proportions. Any mistake here could be very costly since few people are likely to be traveling in the same place off trail. The La Sportiva Trango has extremely good ankle support, ridiculous durability, and more importantly, a sole that protects the foot bed no matter how sharp the rock feature placed beneath. Anything less stout would have put my safety at risk.

North Side of Mt. St. Helens

North Side of Mt. St. Helens

Of course, that nature of your trip is what matters most. So if you are planning any type of adventure, consider seriously, the shoes or boots you are going to choose. Not only is that shoe choice going to affect the entire quality of your experience, it also will influence the safety of the trip. For lightweight backpacking, hiking, or running, I can attest to the quality, comfort, and durability of the Saucony Progrid Perigrine 2. It is my favorite shoe. For three season mountaineering, and strenuous backpacking, nothing competes with the La Sportiva Trango. The ankle support, footbed protection, and rugged construction make it perfect for serious mountain travel. Both are available for men and women. The basement at US Outdoor has the most knowledgeable staff in the state regarding hiking shoes, boots and trail running shoes. Be sure to take advantage of this wonderful Portland resource when you think about your next exciting trip.

Explore the South Central Oregon Outback

Summer Lake, Oregon Outback

Summer Lake, Oregon Outback

My spring break was spent in South Central Oregon at Summer Lake Hot Springs. The trip was meant to celebrate my ten year wedding anniversary. My wife picked out the hot springsbecause they are in the middle of nowhere, and our dogs could stay in the cabin with us. I never expected to find the entire region another gem of our state. The area offered an ideal combination of dramatic landscapes and solitude. If you haven’t been to this part of Oregon plan a road trip sometime soon.

Summer Lake Hot Springs is located just north of Paisley, OR. Camping and cabin rentals are available on site. The springs sit just under the Winter Rim near Summer Lake. It is similar to the Alford Dessert Hot Springs which sit below Steens Mountain. The main pool is located in a neat, super old barn style structure. Two outdoor pools are also available for views of the surrounding Mountains and desert.

Running at Cove Palisades

Running at Cove Palisades

The entire region is so huge, and far from any major cities, that we found more solitude than expected. Almost every business was eager to share neat things to see and do since they don’t seem to get enough visitors. We had a hard time picking the best places to hike on our trip down from Portland, and on our trip back. First, I ran the classic Tam-a-lau Trail in the Cove Palisades State Park. Then on our way back we played around at Fort Rock State Park. So many more options are available. We will probably spend a lifetime exploring only a small portion of the area.

If you do plan to take a trip into the Oregon Outback of South Central Oregon, be sure to bring along layerable clothing . The temperatures vary widely. Additionally bring hiking or running shoes , a swim suit , head wear , and sun glasses . Lots of books can give you ideas as to what is available in the region. Just make sure you allow yourself enough time to enjoy settling into the place. Oh, and feel free to keep this place a secret to protect its solitude. I currently feel guilty telling you about it, so heed my warning.

Mt. St. Helens Suprise

Running Toutle Canyon

Running Toutle Canyon

During late July, 2012, I took a couple of co-workers on a small backpack trip to Mt. St. Helens. I had been putting off trips there for years since I always assumed it had a homogenous landscape, was busy with tourists, and that special permits were required. I was pleasantly wrong on all accounts.

To begin with, no special fees or permits are required for lower elevation wilderness travel. All you need is a Northwest Forest Pass or Snow Park pass to parking, which you can purchase at the US Outdoor. Climbing fees and permits are only necessary for those who are attempting to summit the mountain. When the mountain is snow covered in winter and spring, the fee required is worth the price considering the pristine nature of the Mountain. The neat thing about Mt. St. Helen’s is that hikers reach timberline below 5000 feet. This makes accessing alpine environments less arduous than many of the other volcanoes in the area.

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

Regarding monotonous unchanging terrain, the mountain has undergone a massive transformation since it’s eruption on May 18, 1980. The trail systems include canyons, waterfalls, old growth hemlock forests, prairies, grasslands, and alpine flower environments. Traveling paints a picture of the destruction and rebirth of the many ecosystems surrounding the Mountain. Evidence of the explosion is apparent everywhere, but so is the magnificent succession of new species reoccupying the landscape. The flowers and ground covers are more diverse than any of the other Cascade volcanoes I’ve hiked. The dust and ash I expected instead seemed to nourish a rich botanical diversity with unique textures and color tones. The story that unfolds as you hike provides a new dimension to backpacking that no other wilderness can match.

West Side of St. Helens North Viewing

West Side of St. Helens North Viewing

Finally. Privacy. We all want to know where the secret places are that no one else goes. They don’t exist as we envision them. However, my visits to Mt. St. Helens typically include fewer visitors than I expect. My vision of tourists swarming the mountain has vanished. The only people I see are nature lovers with a mellow attitude and an appreciation for the beauty of the land. No ski lifts. No cash hungry mountain towns. Just the Mountain its self. Camp sites are available, and use is minimal. Serenity abounds at Mt. St. Helens during all four seasons. Hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and mountaineering all await those who choose to venture out.

If you have not yet hiked around Mt. St. Helens, then a wonderful opportunity awaits. A great way to see the whole mountain is the Loowit Trail. It circles the entire mountain, and offers views of all the amazing features and ecosystems surrounding the dramatic history of the place. Of course, any supplies or gear needed to maximize your experience can be found at US Outdoor.

Mt. Hood Summer Sanctuaries and Family Vacation Destinations

“I need a vacation!” We have all said these words. In fact, I said them yesterday. In this day and age we live to work instead of working to live and most of our routines are mapped out: wake up, brush teeth, endure traffic, punch in, work, punch out, endure more traffic, get home, eat dinner, talk about work, watch television, go to bed… Repeat. It’s a vicious cycle that engulfs us all and when we can endure no more we “head to the hills” in search of a relaxing reboot of the mind, body and soul. Is it simplicity we seek to balance out the complications of employment, or are we just reverting back to a primal instinct? Whatever it is, I went in search of it… online. Oh the irony.

Mt. Hood Vacation Destinations

A quick search lead me to mthoodmagazine.com and an article on the Villages Of Mt. Hood. The article lists a handful of vacation destinations that are family friendly, romantic, and luxurious ways to beat the summer heat. Read the list of destinations here at mthoodmagazine.com

Keeps Mill Campground

Now, if you’re heart desires more solitude I suggest you take a trip down to Keeps Mill Campground. A few friends and I stumbled upon this great landscape whilst exploring Mt. Hood National Forest. Located on the White River, this neck of the woods is secluded enough to get your bearings back and also is not so far removed that you lose a sense of reality, although sometimes that seems the best route. Visit Keeps Mill Campground

Anywho, those are two of my cents that I can throw into the fountain. Being a resident of the Pacific Northwest and having Mt. Hood in your backyard is an obvious perk. Mt. Hood offers an array of outdoor activities and if I were to list them all I would end up with a ZZ Top beard and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But to make your search a little easier you can start by researching more Mt. Hood vacation destinations here at www.mthoodinfo.com

 

Sunday School – Dick Proenneke: Alone In The Wilderness (Part 1)

Ok class, listen up! Dick Proenneke was a beast of a man! In this timeless documentary: Alone In The Wilderness, he took us on a journey beyond the civilized limits and out into a world where life was/is exactly what you make of it. Where food and shelter are job 1 and everything else is stripped of its meaning. Where status symbols and stock portfolios carry no merit. Where the aches and pains of hard work are real and pristine landscapes and the sound of nature are your reward!

Now, I remember watching this film on OPB as a young kid growing up in the suburbs and thinking that Dick Proenneke was nuts. As far as I was concerned, the baseball diamond was the only wilderness I cared to explore. But as you grow older and the responsibilities of life creep in, you begin to realize the benefits of the great outdoors and the health and wellness it offers. A necessary balance so-to-speak that keeps our everyday lives from imploding. With that said, there are still people out there that will never see Dick Proenneke as anything more than a kook in the woods; so be it. But for those of you who are looking for a little inspiration for your next adventure look no further than: Alone In The Wilderness. Odds are you have seen it before, nevertheless, it’ll give you a good shove out the door. Enjoy!