Sunday, November 3, 2019

When you enter the DANGER ZONE --- Archer Mountain

After an injured September I finally started feeling good enough to get back out there and try some stuff. Past two weekends have proven fruitful. Last weekend was largely a scouting mission. This weekend I actually accomplished something new!

First off, the scouting mission:

Palmer Mill Road to Devil's Rest

Park at Angel's rest, walk up the road instead, see if I can find the backway to Devil's Rest. I remember a trail offshoot of the Foxglove on the approach to Devils Rest, and I wanted to see if I could find that way, from the back. If I could manage this connection, I could now make Devil's Rest a loop hike. I could also mentally map the perimeter of the Bridal Veil Plateau, and area I still haven't checked out.


I got lucky on parking and immediately set up Palmer Mill rd, the gravel road leading up and out of the extended parking lot. The first mile of Palmer Mill is an asskicker. It just rises and rises and I never caught my breath. It is also not an abandoned forest road as I expected: I had to step aside for multiple cars.

Luckily this was PEAK COLOR WEEK, so I got a hell of a show from the fall colors. Outside the few cars, I was also completely alone. It ruled. After 1.5 miles, another road moved off to the right and I saw a house up the hill. That road connects with Larch Mtn, so that's why it gets used. At this junction, Palmer Mill Rd was gated off and now became a wide open trail, just for me.

The Palmer Mill gate


The road follows along Bridal Veil Creek for a long time. At some point, I found an old forgotten gate with a bushwhack trail heading up to the plateau. It was too early to be my destination, and I pushed on. The further I got however, the more I realized I might just miss it, and now that I know what Palmer Mill rd is like, it would be easier to just climb devils rest and take the trail I saw the first time, if it even still exists. The place was closed for a year due to the fire, it might be gone.

So I headed back. 6 miles and lots of solitude under the colors.

Colors made it look like a painting at the Women's Forum view


Archer Mountain, the big hill between Cape Horn and Hardy Ridge on the Washington side of the gorge.

Park at the unofficial trailhead. Try to find the Archer trail. Follow it as far as I feel comfortable. I was aiming for at least one of the viewpoints.

Archer Mountain is kind of a secret in plain sight. It looms large over the landscape but there is no official trail in the area. There are some harsh boundaries in the area due to sensitive wildlife considerations, especially in the inner valley. Archer is a big forward poking massif and on the west side Archer Falls plummets into a secretive and off-limits cove. The trail starts in the wider amphitheater of the valley at the top of Smith Cripe Rd. The trail, such as it is, is unofficial and unmaintained. Usually that means skinny, steep, and sketchy. Correct on all 3 counts.

So I expected it to be tough to follow in parts. I actually expected it to be harder than it was. The trail starts on an old road, passes through a beautiful meadow giving you looks at the mountain and the ridges. The "old" trail cuts through the meadow downhill on another old road. But I wasn't sure if that was right, so I kept going on the old road (there used to be a hippy commune on this road, now long gone). I was surprised to find a new sign sitting next to an obvious trail.

The beginning of the Archer Trail

The trail scooted downhill, made a couple switchbacks, and crossed the creek on a new bridge. It then climbed up from there, and appeared to join with what was the old trail. All this time I was enjoying myself immensely. Reasonable inclines, easy enough to follow...what is so bad about this hike?

The switchbacks. That's what's bad. The switchbacks come roughly a mile in when the trail needs to ascend out of the valley and onto the mountain proper. Because this is an unofficial trail, these aren't easy switchbacks, or medium switchbacks. This is basically a constant back and forth up a gully, each switchback being maybe 10 feet long.

Luckily, mercifully, you do get payoffs for the efforts. There is a solid view halfway up, and a stellar view under a lone tree on a rocky knob near the end. After the tree view, the pain eases up a bit, crosses a wide open cliff meadow, and then makes a sharp turn at a rocky outcropping. There is a trail down the rocky outcrop, and it is worth taking. This is Scott's viewpoint and is a wonderful expansive panorama into the valley.

The Gorge from viewpoint 1

Devil's Rest!

The tree view

The Tree

St. Cloud ridge, off limits to hikers

Rainbow over the dry Archer alls
The complete pano at scott's point

After this things get more difficult to follow.

The trail plunges uphill, but due to the landscape and the vegetation here, it becomes difficult to follow. Not impossible, but I did have to kick leaves off the trail at points to make it clear where it was when I came back. The trail briefly climbs, then levels out to a moderate incline, and crosses over an old roadbed. It climbs again over the road and levels out once more. From here it was just me carefully following the faint trail through the leaves, using the tree flags for assistance. This is the first time I've ever depended on the flags for help.

I reached a bend in the trail that confused me. It appeared to head down the ridge. I followed it, not seeing other options. The trail at this point began to heavily degrade but I thought I was at the Arrow viewpoint so I pushed on, using just the flags. The further down the ridge I got, the more of a bushwhack it became. But in the end, I got a halfway decent view of Beacon Rock.

Can you see the trail?

As I bumbled my way back up the ridge, I noticed a path off to the left. Turns out, this was the "original" trail, as it was heavily flagged. But it traveled through the burned section of mountain and I didn't know where it would meet back up, so I didn't follow it. I never found the other side. I think it must have been near the roadbed crossing. An adventure for another day.

Following the trail back wasn't as hard as I feared. The dog knew the way with ease and I never got confused. The climb back out of the creek valley was harder than I expected.

See that meadow with the tall, skinny yellow tree? That's the start of the trail!

The tall skinny yellow tree, from right underneath it

The Archer massif

5 miles, 2000 elevation gain. There is much more to be seen at Archer Mountain. I never found the Arrow viewpoint, I was apparently on the "quiver" viewpoint. I can find the old trail, and I can also check out the remains of the hippie commune. Plenty left to do, but I was glad to check this one off.

Tired Puppy

Monday, August 26, 2019

Tillamook head, Four County Point, and Denny Creek

So this is a wrap up post of a few things this summer that I got to do, none of which particularly deserved their own individual post.

First up, Denny Creek!

Denny Creek is a trail up in Snoqualmie Pass, Washington. We were part of a large hiking crew organized as a party hike for my friend's wedding. As a large obnoxious group we did a relatively mild, medium length hike up to a waterfall on Denny Creek.

The area was beautiful, and the hike was mostly a slow upward climb along Denny Creek. We had to hop the creek at one point and I detoured upstream to grab some waterfall photos.

After climbing through a rocky landslide area, we hit our destination on top of a large waterfall, where a nice rocky cliff patio offered us plenty of room to spread out and explore. After heading back home, it ended up being roughly 5 miles.

Four County Point
Four County Point is a very short trail directly off US-26 westbound heading towards the coast. As part of a longer day I finally made a stop to check out this short trail. It is about a mile long trek into the woods to a plaque that is laid down at the exact spot where 4 counties meet, a much smaller scale version of 4 corners in the American southwest. The northwestern counties of Oregon meet at this point and you can stand in all 4 at once.

I wasn't expecting much out of the trail outside a cute detour to a neat spot and it managed to be even more disappointing than that. The trail immediately plunges towards coal creek and then follows along to the west. For the first half mile you can hear the highway loudly above you. You can also hear gunshots from the nearby redneck gun range, loudly blasting assault rifle sounds, because this country is gross.

The trail has occasional little diversions to the creek, which is cute enough. Finally, after 15 minutes of flat walking through the woods worrying I'd be hit by a stray bullet, I came across a laughably small clearing maybe big enough for a small tent, with a small log bench next to a little rectangular plaque on the ground indicating the spot. It's so honestly pathetic that such a neat little marker is just tucked into nowhere.

It was about 2 miles total walking and almost no elevation gain. You can skip this hike unless you have an hour to kill and are a completionist.

Tillamook Head
One of the first hikes I ever did on the coast was this little gem from Ecola State Park. From Ecola, through Indian Beach, you can climb up the trail to an old WWII bunker, campsite, and overlook towards the island lighthouse. It's an easy must-do if you end up in the park and want something fun.

There is also another way to reach the bunker/overlook, and that is the harder, longer way, coming from the north at Seaside.

From Seaside beach Tillamook Head looks very dramatic and perfectly frames the southern coast. If you take the coastal road all the way to the terminus right next to some rich people beach homes, there is a small parking lot and the northern entrance to the Tillamook Head trail.

The trail starts off easy enough, climbing gently through the woods to a neat overlook on an old log that juts over a cliff. After that, the second half of the first mile then proceeds into switchback hell, switchbacking 16 times to the top. Luckily the switchbacks are a reasonable grade and some of them are merely 10 yards apart. If you can make it up this hill, the rest is smooth sailing.

The trail actually gradually descends from this point, which I wasn't happy about since I'd have to climb back up. It mostly follows the top of the cliff and occasionally offers views into the wild blue yonder. I saw very few other hikers and there is something about being a thousand feet above the coastline, looking out into the vast void of the pacific that gives me real existential dread. It reminds you of how insignificant you are. The sheer scope of the ocean doesn't hit you from beach-level. When you are alone, looking out from high above? The reality is palpable. We are nothing.

Pictured: existential dread

Honestly, as much as it gives you an existential crisis, it's nice to break from the bubble of yourself once in a while and put everything into perspective. It's one of the reasons I enjoy being alone on the coast, and being alone in the woods in general. There's a certain freedom of self when you know you are meaningless.

The trail is pretty muddy even in late dry August, and has a lot of wooden steps built into it to make things easier. The trail is honestly a very nice walk once you are done with the climbing, and I had a very nice time. After a short but steep switchback descent down a hill, I arrived at the camp and the overlook. I took in the views and headed home.

Overall it was a bit less than 8 miles, and maybe 1700ft of elevation gain. Most of that comes in the first mile, and the rest is slow rolling hills and the gentle climb back. It wasn't that hard at all, and offered a very nice alternative to the crowded and busy Ecola version.