Back in the PNW

The Southwest was awesome, but the Pacific Northwest will always be home. We spent the first part of May with Melissa’s family in Medford, but on 5/11/16 we had time for a quick escape to Devil’s Punchbowl in the Siskiyou Wilderness in Northern California. The road was a little rough, and hadn’t yet been cleared of the winter tree falls, but we were able to make it to within about a mile of the trail head in the Prius. It was a quick hike up, and after a chilly dip in the ice cold water we set up camp at a nice spot on the shore of the lake. We were lucky, and had the whole basin to ourselves!


Devil’s Punchbowl

On 5/17/16 we left Medford and hit the road again, working our way to Smith Rock, where we were meeting some friends and family for the weekend. We decided to take our time and check out some of the sites along the way. We camped that night near Toketee Hot Springs (you can no longer camp at the springs, but there are great spots along the road just a few miles past).


Pretty scenery on hike to Toketee Falls


Toketee Falls


Tokatee Hotsprings

The next day we drove to the Bend, OR area, and decided to check out some the roads south of town. We drove out China Hat road after noticing all of the caves marked on the map. Many of the caves are closed, or required special permits, but we ended up stumbling across one called Boyd Cave which was open. It starts as a small hole in the ground with a stairway leading down. It then opens up into a huge Lava tube, which we followed until it ended at a cave-in about a half mile in. We found a nice camp spot on a nearby BLM road that night.


Boyd Cave stairway entrance


Inside Boyd Cave

The next day we went to a wilderness area just east of Bend called The Oregon Badlands. We went for a nice long trail run, making an ~11 mile loop out of the Ancient Juniper, Flatiron Rock, Castle, Badlands Rock, and Homesteader trails. We made it to Smith Rock later that day, and spent a nice few days hanging out with friends. We did a couple top-roping sessions at Rope-De-Dope, but between the rain and Gabe’s hurt elbow we couldn’t really do any serious climbs. We did take a nice scenic drive to go look at Steins Pillar in the Ochoco National Forest during the rainiest day. On our last day at Smith Rock, we ran the Summit Trail Loop, which is a great 7 mile trail run that takes you all over the park.


Oregon Badlands


Stupidly scenic Smith Rock

Originally we had planned on spending more time at Smith, and doing a lot of climbing, but with Gabe’s elbow still not in climbing condition we decided to explore some of the eastern half of the state, which aside for Joseph (northeast corner of OR) we had never been to. So on 5/23/16 we left Smith Rock and started heading toward Steens Mountain. We set up camp that night on a BLM road just west of Burns, OR. The next day we drove to the South Steens Campground on the west side of the mountain, and went for a short hike up the Big Indian Gorge trail. We camped that night at the campground.


Cowboys and cows outside of Burns, OR


Steens Mountain

We decided that instead of doing a longer hike on the west side of the mountain, we would drive a loop around the mountain to see the much steeper east face. We left the campground and headed to the small town of Fields, OR where we fueled up at the local gas station/grocery store/liquor store/restaurant/bar before driving north on the gravel road that parallels the east side of Steens Mountain. The Fields-Denino Road, is probably the most scenic road in Oregon. The huge east face of Steens dominates the view to the west, and the Alvord Desert, the driest place in Oregon, stretches out the east.


East face of Steen’s


Alvord Desert

The Prius was able to drive the whole road without any problems, and before we knew it we were back on pavement heading towards Crane, OR. We noticed a place called Crystal Crane Hotsprings on the map and decided to pull in. It ended up being a really nice hot spring, out in the middle of nowhere, surround by cow fields. The pool was big, deep, and hot, we definitely recommend it.

Next we decided we wanted to do a hike in the Blue Mountains, and decided on Strawberry Mountain. We drove to the Strawberry Basin trail head that evening, where there was a nice Forest Service campground that we stayed at. We hiked up Strawberry Mountain on 5/26/16, and loved it. The Strawberry Basin trail takes you past a lake, and 60 foot waterfall before heading up the mountain. There was still ice clinging to the edges of the waterfall, and a decent sized chunk had recently broken off. Snowline was still pretty low, and we spent most of the day hiking over firm spring snowfields. We got off route a couple times, and were glad to have a GPS with us as there were no tracks or trail markers to follow in the snow. We made it to the summit in just over 4 hours, and enjoyed intermittent views of the surrounding peaks through the clouds. After a quick hike down we started towards our next destination, the John Day Wilderness and Fossil Beds.


Big ass piece of ice


Strawberry Mountain


Summit of Strawberry Mountain

We drove the Upper Middle Fork Road through the gorgeous Umatilla National Forest, where Melissa had spent a summer doing stream work as a undergraduate. We stopped for quick hike to Arch Rock. Arch Rock features an interpretive trail where we learned about Oregon’s prehistoric history. In a nutshell, 30 million years ago, Oregon used to be a warm tropical place home to many types of mammals. Then an increase in volcanic activity buried much of Oregon in ash and evidence of this volcanic past is everywhere in Eastern Oregon. The Arch itself is left over volcanic tuff.


Arch Rock

After Arch Rock, we made our way to John Day, OR. We camped along the way at a free campground called Billy Fields USFS campground. The next day, 5/28/16, we went to the fossil beds. We stopped at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, which is an awesome free museum where we learned more about Oregon’s fascinating geological history. We then went for a hike up Blue Basin, which was a treat for the eyes. Next we drove the nearby Painted Hills, which was equally awesome.


Inside Thomas Condon Paleontology Center


Blue Basin


Painted Hills

We left the John Day Fossil Beds with a new appreciation of our home state, and ended our eastern Oregon loop by driving west through Prineville and into the Cascade Mountains to meet our friend Dorian at the trailhead for Middle Sister. It was Memorial Day weekend, so the trailhead was pretty packed, we met up with Dory and camped there night, fending off hoards of mice that wanted to make the Prius their new home. The next morning we packed for two nights, strapped the skis on the packs, and headed out to Camp Lake. We made it to the lake fairly early in the day, and decided to a run on the slopes above the lake before calling it a day. We got up early (by our standards) to climb Middle Sister on Sunday, and enjoyed great snow conditions on both the way up and down. It was still early when we made it back to camp, so we decided to just hike out that day and stay with another friend in Sisters, OR. We got off route on the way down and ended up doing a little bushwacking to get back to the trail.


Middle Sister


Summit of Middle Sister

After a relaxing night in Sisters at our friends house (with a hot tub!) we drove to west to see friends and family in Eugene, Cape Blanco, Newport, Nehalem, and Ilwaco. After spending the week being social we were ready for a relaxing climb and ski of Mt. Adams in Washington. We made it (barely… the dirt road is not Prius friendly) to the South Climb trail head on 6/4/16 and camped there that night. The next day we were feeling pretty lazy, so instead of doing the whole mountain in a day, we decided to pack for one night and camp somewhere part way up. We didn’t make it very far before we found a great spot at treeline. We spent the whole day relaxing in the sun and enjoying the views.


The next morning we were able to skin all the way to the summit via the popular South Spur route, we moved at pretty slow pace in the sweltering heat, but made it the top just after noon. The ski down was fun, and at ~6,500′ is the tallest ski descent we have ever done, but variable snow made it pretty tiring. We were pooped by the time we made it back to the car. We drove back down the Columbia Gorge that evening camped at the free Bridge of the Gods Boulder Camp. The next morning (6/7/16) we started driving to Bellingham, WA.


Summit of Mount Adams

Gabe will be starting graduate school at Western Washington University this Fall, so we have spent the last couple weeks going back and forth between getting established here in Bellingham, and exploring the awesome North Cascades just east of town. On 6/8 and 6/9/16, we found some awesome free campgrounds along Boulder Creek, on the Boulder Creek TH road outside of Arlington, OR. At the end of the road is the Boulder Creek Trail. We explored a bit of this trail which features several waterfalls. On 6/10/16,  we drove the Mountain Loop highway from Darrington to Granite Falls, stopping to camp at a nice free roadside spot on the bank of the Sauk River near FR 4081.

On Monday,6/13/16, we left for a week of rainy hiking and camping on the Mt. Baker Highway. We camped at the Church Mountain trail head that night, and hiked most the way up Church Mountain the next morning, and to our surprise we were getting snowed on only a couple miles into the hike! We were in shorts and running shoes and turned around just past treeline where the fresh snow was already a few inches deep. We camped a second night at the trail head, continued our drive toward Mt. Baker on Wednesday. We drove to the Mt. Baker ski area that day, and enjoyed the awesome partial view of Mt. Shuksan’s north face in the rain/snow storm, and then went for a hike up Goat Mountain. We made it to where the maintained trail ended at viewpoint in an alpine meadow area just above treeline, but we didn’t feel inclined to go to the true summit which was still a ways away up slippery snow cover heather slopes. Instead we relaxed and enjoyed a nice break in the rain, and Mt. Baker finally poked it head out of the clouds for us! We camped that night at the Goat Mountain trail head.


Church Mountain


North face of Mount Shuksan


Views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan from shoulder of Goat Peak

On Thursday morning, 6/16/16, we went back to the Mt. Baker ski area (the highway isn’t yet open beyond this point), and packed for 4 days of ski touring. It was pretty rainy when we left, but there was good weather in the forecast and we were optimistic. We set up camp near Iceberg Lake that night, and awoke to blue skies the next morning. We didn’t move camp very far on Friday. We made it to the start of Ptarmigan Ridge and were blown away by the amazing views in all directions. After setting up camp we skied the slope directly below us, and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the sun and the views. Rain came in that night, by the morning our tent was starting to soak through. We waited for a few hours hoping it would clear up, but it just got worse and worse. We decided to call it quits, and packed up camp in a downpour. We made it back to the car pretty quick, cutting over to the closed road and following it back. We turned the heater on full blast and headed back to Bellingham.


Approaching Iceberg Lake from Mt.Baker ski area



Ski fun


Killer sunset on Mt.Shuksan

On Monday, 6/20/16, we bought a 28 foot Irwin Sailboat to be our home while Gabe goes to grad school this fall. We spent the week cleaning the boat and turning it into our home. Gabe also finally went to a doctor about his elbow. On 4/20/16, Gabe hurt his elbow while we were climbing Royal Arches in Yosemite. We were worried that he may have torn something, but over the past 2 months, it had been getting better, SLOWLY. But the doctor thinks it is only a sprain, and will get better without surgery. We hope to be doing some easy alpine climbing soon!

On Saturday, 6/25/2016, we made our way to La Push on the Olympic Peninsula to meet Gabe’s sister Chel and her husband Kai. We camped on Rialto Beach and had a nice fire and drank a little too much whiskey. The next day we explored the beach and nearby sea stacks. It is a beautiful place that we definitely plan on exploring more. That afternoon, we were very eager to set up camp as soon as possible. We made it to the Heart of the Hills campground at the base of Hurricane Ridge, just inside the Olympic National Park, and spent the afternoon in our tent, recovering from the night before.


Sunset on Rialto Beach, WA

The next day we wanted to summit something, so we decided on giving Mount Deception, the second tallest mountain in the range, a try. We hiked 7 miles to the very scenic Royal Lake that day and set up camp there. The next day we started off towards Mount Deception, or what we thought was Mount Deception. We didn’t really do our homework before starting the hike, and weren’t really sure where the route up was. We eventually decided which the correct mountain was, but ended up just picking our own route up. After some pretty nasty steep scree, and slushy snow slopes, we made it to some somewhat solid 4th class rock. We made our way up to the high point of the ridge separating Deception and its closest neighbor to the west, but the we were not able to connect the ridge to the summit due to some steep gendarmes, and/or snow slopes that we would have needed ice axes for… But we were pretty happy with our “summit” and the amazing views of the Olympic Mountains. We camped one more night at Royal Lake before hiking back to the car and returning to our new sailboat home in Bellingham.


Lake Royal




Mt.Deception in background


Getting off the ridge

If your exhausted from reading this blogpost, imagine how we feel! We plan on spending a few weeks enjoying our new home and exploring the nearby North Cascades. We may have moved to Bellingham but the road trip is not over! More adventures to come.

-Alpine Monkeys




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