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|
|The tree view|
|St. Cloud ridge, off limits to hikers|
|Rainbow over the dry Archer alls|
|The complete pano at scott's point|
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?|
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.