Friday, August 22, 2014

Silver Mountain, Peak 3430, Peak 3742, Pine Mountain #3

Hiked: 8/22/2014
Distance: 12.6 miles round trip on use trail and dirt road
Summit Elevation: 3388' (Silver), 3430' (Peak 3430), 3742' (Peak 3742), 4542' (Pine)
Prominence: 305' (Silver), 310' (Peak 3430), 419' (Pine)
Elevation Gain: 4100' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.28
Round trip time: 7 hours
Recommended water: 164 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

Two more peaks from the Great Lower Peaks list were in my sights today, both north of Azusa. I parked in a turnout on highway 39 across from the Morris Reservoir and headed up past the locked gate of Silver Fish Road. Right away, you need to make a choice between two ridgelines. The use trail to the left goes up a more southerly ridgeline past a water tower. If you continue following Silver Fish Road, you can ascend the next ridgeline north, which is a little more direct and probably easier. Sometimes I choose the more difficult path, but not today with temps expected to hit 90F.

Silver Fish Road quickly degenerates to a single track trail. In less than a mile, I left the road and followed a moderately steep use trail, crossing Silver Fish Road again before hitting it higher up and turning north toward Silver Mountain. The road was overgrown with grass and other small plants from knee to waist high, but not to the point where it obscured the trail. I could see Silver Mountain clearly and the firebreak heading up. Silver Mountain summit had a small cairn, but no benchmark or register I could find. It was just a round grassy spot and after a quick photo, I continued.

Starting a little before sunrise

Morris Reservoir

Silver Mountain ahead

Silver Mountain sad summit cairn

Silver Mountain summit

From Silver Mountain, the path to Pine Mountain #3 was clear, following an undulating ridge and firebreak. Between Silver and Peak 3430, directly along the path, the trail got more congested. Thicker grasses crept into the mix, some with fox tails, along with some kind of Little Shop of Horrors thing with spike balls. They were hard to avoid if you tried to stick to a cadence. I got jabbed a few times despite long pants and ankle gaiters (a huge help). Past Peak 3430, the firebreak cleared out a lot and the going got easier. There was a final steep section up to Rincon Road, then I took a left turn and followed it around to the Pine Mountain peak. It looked like there was a way directly up the ridgeline to Pine, but I needed a break from firebreaks. The only shade of the day was found along the road in the shadow of Pine Mountain. On the north side, I finally saw some pine trees, having seen none on the south side. The Pine Mountain summit is adorned with communication towers, but there is a summit register at the high point outside a fence. I signed it and recognized Sean Green and crew had visited a few months ago. The most recent previous entry was from early May, and only a handful of pages had been filled. Pine doesn't seem to be very popular, and is no pushover if you arrive by coming over Silver. Views all around were great on a very nice day. After recharging with some calories, I headed back, adding some gain on the return.

Peak 3430 dead ahead, Pine Mountain #3 the distant high point

Nasty plant with spike balls

Looking back from Rincon Road to Peak 3742, Peak 3430, and Silver Mountain

Pines on the north side of Pine Mountain

Pine Mountain #3 summit

Twin Peaks and Triplet Rocks from Pine

Pine Mountain #3 summit register

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mount St. Helens

Hiked: 8/8/2014
Distance: 9.2 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 8333'
Prominence: 4573'
Elevation Gain: 4930'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.94
Round trip time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 152 oz.
Parking/Fees: $22/person permit fee, includes Northwest Forest Parking Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

My first stratovolcano and first active volcano. This mountain became famous by exploding May 18, 1980 losing about 1200' of elevation and the entire north face in the process. So much of the mountain slid into nearby Spirit Lake that it permanently raised the elevation of the lake by 200'. My family and I were vacationing about an hour away in Portland, but this day was set aside for volcano climbing. I had invited a few people along but for various reasons it ended up a solo adventure.

I had purchased the permit back in February when they went on sale. I left the hotel a little before 5 AM to pick up the permit and parking pass at the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar, WA, which is more of a general store and motel than what the term "resort" conjures. I attached the permit to my pack then drove to the trailhead at Climbers Bivouac. During the summer, only 100 permits a day are issued. It was 49F when I hit the Ptarmagin Trail around 6:45 AM and climbed the first couple of miles through the pine forest to the top of the tree line. Blue diamonds marked the trail, but unless it was buried in snow, the trail was wide and obvious. It was weird seeing the tree line end so cleanly, the terrain replaced with an ash and pumice boulder moonscape. Above the tree line, there were wooden poles that marked the monitor ridge route. After scrambling over the boulders to follow the poles, I spotted a trail in the gully left of the ridge going up. I dropped into the gully and made better time by avoiding a lot of needless boulder hopping. Unfortunately, after a mile or so I was forced back on to the ridge to avoid the remnants of a glacier. My progress slowed while I navigated the boulders, probably a mile or so of scrambling. I was expecting to see several major seismic monitoring stations, but only passed one.

Mount St. Helens Volcanic Monument

Ptarmigan Trail

End of the tree line

Mount Hood to the south

Looking back on Monitor Ridge and glacier remnants


Seismic monitoring station

Final slog up to the crater rim

When the boulders and wooden pole markers ended, the wind started howling and I put on my outer shell and face protection to stay warm. In front of me was about a 1000' wall of ash to climb to get to the crater rim. There was a use trail leading up, but it was not very helpful, generally a straight up slog. I ground out the last bit to find a few people at the crater rim taking in the views. No one I talked to had been to the true summit and did not seem interested when I pointed it out. After taking a few shots of the smoking lava dome, I headed up the rim on the left toward the true summit. No snow got in my way, but this was probably the crux of the hike. I had to drop about 100' down one section, go up and over a higher part of the rim, then traverse over boulders on another part with some exposure. Then, another 200' climb to the highest part of the rim and summit where a large cairn was built. I was alone at the summit. I took more photos of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood, and was fascinated by the obvious cornice melting in the summer sun. Rocks and snow were constantly crashing into the crater as the cornice melted, while steam rose from two or three spots in the lava dome. It was riveting to take in all the geology. Seeing how much mountain was blasted away, I got a better sense of how immensely powerful the explosion must have been. I started back and got below the wind on part of the rim before stopping to eat something.

Mount St. Helens Crater and Lava Dome

Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier in the distance from Mount St. Helens

Mount Adams to the east

Traversing the rim toward the summit

Steam rising out of the lava dome

Close up of the lava dome. The dome is over 300' tall
and surrounded by the Crater Glacier that started forming in 1980-81.

Approaching the summit

Mount St. Helens summit

On the summit, crater and Mount Rainier in the background

The way down was much faster, except for the boulder section which took about the same time going down as up. When I got back to the tree line, there was a USFS forest ranger checking permits of people going both ways. He turned two parties back and we had a short conversation about the rock slides into the crater. It was quite a bit warmer at the lower elevation so I stored my gloves and outer shell. I completed the round trip in 6.5 hours, a bit faster than my plan. Before driving away, I got a tree-obscured view of Mount St. Helens from the parking lot. I stopped by Lone Fir Resort again to sign out so no one would think I was missing. While not a record breaker, Mount St. Helens was challenging and fun with unique active volcano views.

Traversing back toward Monitor Ridge

Close up of the melting cornice

People coming up, Mount Hood distant left

Mount St. Helens from Climbers Bivouac parking lot

Washington Trails Association Mount St. Helens Monitor Ridge guide

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Aliso Canyon Mentally Sensitive Trail

Hiked: 8/3/2014
Distance: 6.5 miles round trip on paved road and trail
Summit Elevation: 822' (high point)
Elevation Gain: 820'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.65
Round trip time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks parking lot or Free on Awma or Knollwood
Difficulty: Easy

This was probably the only official trail in the Aliso-Wood Canyon area I had not hiked. Legend has it the "Mentally Sensitive" trail was originally the "Environmentally Sensitive" trail until a reckless mountain biker broke "Environ" off the sign leaving "mentally". True or not, the trail is signed "Mentally Sensitive" now.

The most direct way to get to the trail is to descend from Moulton Meadows Park. I took the long way from the entrance to the canyon near Alicia Parkway. I parked on Knollwood by Wood Canyon Elementary School and followed the paved road into Aliso Canyon until I found the trail heading up a ridge on the right. The trail is well past the Wood Canyon junction, bypassing many of the more popular trails. Note that the road past Wood Canyon is only open to the public on weekends. It is closed during the week. I jogged part of the way to reduce the boredom. Most of the trail is rutted from mountain bike use. About half way up, there is a fence on the west side of the trail and a beat up section of trail above it that would be tough to ride on a bike. It gets a little steeper toward the top and spider webs before intersecting a dirt road on the ridge. With unseasonal fog and low clouds, there were zero views at the top so I just snapped the trailhead sign. The way back was unremarkable, dodging the waves of runners and bikes.

Start of the trail from the canyon

The fence about half way

Trail sign from the top, clouds obscuring all views

On the way back down