Summiting the South Sister

Climbing the last stretch, a mile straight up through red-brown silt and gravel, I kept my eyes on the peak ahead. The blue sky over the rounded bulge summit at 10,358 feet beckoning me like a turquoise pendant. Reaching the top of this mountain however, awarded me with a hiking high better than any jewels could offer.

Hitting the trail, I completed the first hike of my “10 hikes in 10 years” plan by summiting the South Sister in central Oregon. The third largest mountain in Oregon and the highest of the three sisters, the South Sister is one of few climbs of its size in the state that doesn’t require technical equipment. A 12-mile round trip trail leads from the base of the valley at Devils Lake up the mountain plains then finally along a rocky ridge to the mountain’s summit. Continue reading

Cooling off Along the Waters of the Columbia River Gorge

Headin east from Portland along highway 84, we raced the rising summer sun. Warming from the tip-top cliffs of the river valley down to the curving road that hugs the waters’ shore, the sun kissed the Columbia River Gorge as we set off on a day-long adventure.

Following the Historic Columbia River Highway (highway 30), from just east of Troutdale, we dotted our way slowly along the winding road in search of the scenic byway’s many waterfalls – and boy did we discover our fair share of tumbling water!

The drive started with a quick stop at the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint to take in the dramatic landscape from the mouth of this scenic byway. From here we could see the jagged cliffs of the Gorge, the shimmering blue river and our second stop, Crown Point Vista House, an octagonal shaped observatory built in 1916.

Columbia River Gorge

Escaping deeper along the highway, we rounded the corner to our first waterfall, Latourell Falls. Located within Guy W. Talbot State Park, this thin stream of water left both our mouths hanging open in awe. Plunging 224-feet from a wall of basalt, the white water impressively contrasted with the dark rock and neon green lichen that highlighted its face.

Latourell Falls

From here we continued along highway 30 to Shepperd’s Dell Falls. A series of trickling plateau, this grouping of falls took you down below the highway to catch some cool spray before hopping back in the car to take off to Bridal Veil Falls. Elegantly streaming like a wedding veil in two separate falls, this waterfall gushes with glory before it descends into the Columbia River.

Bridal Veil Falls

Next up, cascading also in two folds, Wahkeena Falls steps down 242-feet through a crack in two rock outcroppings surrounded by the forest’s lush greenery – making it quite the sight. Originally known as Gordon Falls, this waterfall was re-birthed Wahkeena – meaning “most-beautiful” in Yakima Indian – in 1915 with the completion of the highway.

Wahkeena Falls
Following the dirt trail from Wahkeena Falls for a half-mile, we finally made it to the granddaddy of waterfalls along the Columbia River Scenic Highway, Multnomah Falls. Oregon’s tallest waterfall, Multnomah cascades 620-feet in total and is fed by natural underground springs that originate at Larch Mountain. Spanning over the second fall, Benson Bridge offers visitors a unique viewpoint of the upper falls in all its glory.

Multnomah Falls
But the fun didn’t end there! Before taking the westward journey back to Portland, we cruised down the end of the scenic highway past Horsetail Falls and finally ended the day exploring the mouth of Oneonta Gorge (can’t wait to return and do this whole hike – looks epic!) as the sun started to fall in the sky.

Have you ever driven this scenic highway? What is your favorite waterfall along the route?

Climbing into the Canopy in the McKenzie River Valley

Surrounded by a rainbow of green and the scent of fresh spring forest, I hung out with my feet dangling and wide grin on my face. Nothing could ruin my spirits – especially at 100 feet off the ground! Gazing over the tree tops in the HA Andrews’ Experimental Forest while attached to an old growth, I breathed in the light and clean McKenzie River Valley air and took in the moment of my first successful tree climb.

I had the joy this past week of taking a tree top adventure with Pacific Tree Climbing Institute. Based out of Blue River, Pacific Tree Climbing Institute is a registered Oregon outfitter that takes visitors on an amazing experience to explore the lush and alive forests of the Pacific Northwest. Using ropes and harnesses, the duo who owns the company, assist, train and teach guests of all ages and abilities how to climb into the forest canopy.

Using my legs to boosted myself upward and then gliding my hands up the rope, I slowly but surely moved my way up the tree. The further up in the tree we progressed, the more the beautiful little details of nature popped out: the bark with its rough surface and color like rich, dark chocolate and sweet smell, the hanging gray-green beard-like moss, and the rush of the nearby the river. In the tree top, the forest fully came alive in an animated orchestra of textures, smells and sights.

Only for a brief moment at the beginning was I afraid – where the heart quickly skipped a beat – but amazingly the higher I went the more confident and exciting the trek became. The first one to the top and the last down, I was a kid again as I hung about the limbs in that evergreen park.

Beyond just leading quick day climbs, Pacific Tree Climbing Institute also offers overnight trips in the tree canopy and educational programs. Find out more about Pacific Tree Climbing Institute and book an adventure that you won’t ever, ever forget!

Check out more photos from my climb:

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Cross-Country Courage

Sliding and swishing through the snow like the polar bears in this year’s Coca Cola Super Bowl commercial, I cruised around Mount Catherine at the Snoqualmie Summit in Washington this past weekend. With blue skies, warm weather and hardly a cloud in sight, I strapped two skinny skies to my feet for a day in the backcountry snow with hardly a second thought.

The Nordic Center at Snoqualmie Summit features over 50 kilometers of groomed trails for all ski and snowshoe levels. Showing off the natural beauty of the Washington Cascades, the Nordic trails weave through the dense evergreen forests, follow creeks and ridgeline ledges and serve up stunning vistas of the surrounding jagged mountains and high elevation lakes. But the cross-country course serves up something extra too – a healthy helping of courage.

Courage to Try Something New

Meeting up with an old friend and three new, I started the day by familiarizing myself with my ski-bum buddies for the afternoon. Initially afraid that I was going to be the rusty fool on the slopes while cross-country skiing, I was happy to find that the rest of my group was new to the sport as well with one exception. I have Nordic skied many times since I was a kid but it had been several years (5+) since my last trek, but three others had only gone once or never before.

Trying a new sport – or anything really – especially one that includes attaching a slipper stick to your body takes a whole lot of courage. Anytime you are willing to look like a crazy-ass nutcase, fall down a hill, and then do it all over again…is amazing. We should all act so silly more often!

Courage to Find Balance

Starting out on the Mt. Catherine Loop, a 15K trail circumventing the ski park, the first thing we had to do was find our balance and rhythm, side to side and toes to heel. To keep grip and forward motion, you will get nowhere on x-country skis without a little ballerina skill – except for maybe face first in the snow. Settling in the tracks, with polls swinging we slowly built momentum like a steam train over the rolling flat sections of the trail.

Like having your legs clicked into the Nordic skis, balance is also key to life. To keep moving forward and to avoid cold wipe-outs, the scale has to be kept equal between all the important paths in your life. For me I work hard so I can play hard because both are equally important and then on top of that I also make time for my family, friends and of course everything else. This gets out of whack every once in awhile, but when you place value in each of your corners they will always return to even.

David Sedaris wrote in an article for the New Yorker that life is like a stove top, “one burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health and the fourth is your work.” To be successful, many people cut off one of their burners, to be really successful they to cut off two. But this creates a horrible and unhappy unbalance. What you need to do is change your definition of success. Like out on the snow trail, success isn’t always just finishing the loop but on some stretches it is to not fall down, or making it to the next bend, or to keep pushing until lunch. At times you may need to lower the burners, but I never-ever turn off the flame. The disproportionate balancing act that inevitably creeps into people lives is not by any means the rule – sometimes it just takes a little courage to keep your feet solid and to strike a balance to stay standing.

Courage to Conquer the Mountain

Just when we thought the trail was easy, it started to climb…and climb…and climb. We would think, oh just around that next bend and we will be at the top for lunch, but no. Following a thin ledge around the backside of the mountain for several kilometers, each of us kept sliding one foot in front of the other as we continued up in elevation. Stopping for lunch we savored in the beautiful rugged views as the wind wiped up clouds of white swirling snow and replenished our tired bodies with food. Though wearing out from the endless incline, there is something invigorating and internally motivating about reaching for a peak. It’s a deep sense of courage tangled with faith that keeps my eyes up. (Matthew 14: 22-33)

The group at the top (photo by Elysia)

Finally we were greeted with a kiss from the wide-open blue ski at the top of the run and white humps of snow speckled by trees. In our narrow-sightedness to reach the top though we overlook one small problem – the challenging descent and sinking sun.

Courage to Turn Back

Sometimes it takes more courage to realize your limitations and turn back then to climb the mountain. As much as we wanted to complete the full loop we had to take into consideration that we did not have the needed resources to make it – the time, skill or endurance. Toasting our toes in the warming hut, which is located just about as far away from the Nordic Center as possible on the backside of the mountain, we re-organized our attack for the trail. Though we had already traveled more than half-way around the loop, the upcoming kilometers mixed more uphill and steeper downhill according to the backcountry ski patrol member stationed at the hut. At 2:30 in the afternoon (our rentals were supposed to be back at 3:30 p.m. – whoops!) we turned our backs on the forward trail and retraced our trenches.

Going back the way we came though was no beachy stroll. Anyone who has ever cross-country skied can tell you that skinny skis – especially when they are too long – are not built to go downhill. Sliding along the crusted ice, my skis grinded along the surface offering little resistance to help me slow down. Unable to make turns in the snow, all of use took many hard tumbles into the snow banks as our nerves gripped our bodies. Looking down the mountain, the slopes appeared much, much taller! Yet we couldn’t stop, so in a perpetual wedge that burned my thighs and knees, we slowly continued down the trail.

Courage to Let Go

On my way down the mountain, with shaky, tired legs attempting to hold a steady wedge and poles dragging behind me through the icy snow, a middle-aged man powered up the steep slope like a steroid-duped Frozone from the Incredibles. As he passed me, he turned and yelled back with a Norwegian accent, “just let go!”

And he was right, my tight ridged form was just holding me back – and cramping my legs and grinding my knees. Once I loosened up and looked passed the ledge, my turns became smoother and the trail more manageable. Like my fear of sliding down the slope, sometimes we need to let go and stop trying to control the situation. The baggage we drag will, yes, slow us down, but that apprehension will also leave its sore spots the next day.

Letting go of the GPS is not an easy task just like cross-country skiing down that mountain was for me, but the exhilarating fear tends to steer right. By putting a little trust in my ability and mustering the courage to point my tips downhill, I not only made it down the mountain faster but fell fewer times along the way.

Courage to Forage on Alone

Once down the steep sections of the trail, we still had 3-5 kilometers of rolling hills to ski to reach the Nordic center. With the sun already below the ridgeline, I was starting to get chilled from my sweat coloring in the crispy dusk air. As a more regular skiing than the majority of my travel buddies (snowboarders), my pace also outran the group. After waiting for over 10 minutes for my friends to catch up, I finally decided to just continue ahead alone. Sailing through the sparse trees of the lower hills, my shadows cast by the low sun raced ahead of me.

At times, we just have to go it alone. Don’t let yourself be held back by your fear of being solo. You can do just about anything by yourself and easily have just as much fun if not more. Some days I am my only best friends, and yes it can be lonely at times, but I am more independent and confident for it. I refused to wait around – doesn’t help I’m not a super patient person, but that’s another post – because time won’t wait for me to catch up.

Sailing into the Nordic Center back at the base of the ski area around 5 p.m. – just a tad late with our rentals – I was rosy cheeked and glad to be back. Warming up inside and enjoying the tail ends of my trail mix, I rested my sore feet up on a bench while waiting for the rest of my group to slide on in from our courageous journey.

More Posts To Explore:

Snowshoe Hike at Salt Creek Falls

With each step a high-decibel crunch erupted against the crusted white snow, drowning out the winter silence in the central Oregon Cascades like a rolling freight train – but our laughter sounded louder.

This past weekend I headed east along highway 58 into the Cascades from Eugene to spend the day playing in the snow. Stopping at the Mercantile in Oakridge, which carries snowshoes and cross-country skis during the winter season, we picked up some winter gear and continued to Salt Creek SnoPark. Continue reading

Framing Portraits: An Adventure with OneStepBigShot

This afternoon I ventured through the wild, untamed roads of Eugene to the University of Oregon campus. Dodging skateboarders, helmet-less bikers, rushing hair-frizzed, tardy school goers, and carefree sunglasses wearers – I practically felt like I was in Zanesville, Ohio, and all the game animals had escaped.

“Wow I haven’t been to campus in forever, it’s like another world,” I thought as I walked past the UO Duck Store. But dangers and all I was on an adventure…and art adventure to be exact.

Rounding the corner, I found my partner in crime for the curious quest, Jordan Eddy. Tall and slender with a contagious smile and holding an empty picture frame up to the oncoming crowd, I spotted him right away – though we never had met.

Jordan and I crossed paths – or should I say tweets – last spring. A fellow Eugene area blogger (One Step Big Shot) with a focus in the arts, we connected via twitter and started following each other’s various adventures and photos. With a passion for the visual arts, Jordan is an up & coming art critic with an eye for the unique and a fantastic working knowledge of the art world. So when Jordan or @OneStepBigShot DM’d me (direct messaged, twitter term) to join him on an art adventure, I quickly agreed.

The concept for the afternoon was framing portraits – a play on our shared love of photography. So with a little bit of wire twine and three empty, used picture frames from Goodwill we created our own outdoor photo studio. Twirling in the wind like a metallic wind chime, the frames hung from a large, branchy tree and seemingly levitated outside of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

Using our energy and of course smashing good looks, we gathered random passing students, faculty and visitors for a quick snap shot portrait – and luckily no one bit.

The first victim of the day. Love the one eyebrow!

The cutest campus couple

A history professor on campus

Superstar!

A international film maker

More Portraits:

See your photo above? Let me know in the comments.

Want a copy? Send me an email with the description of the photo and I will shoot it your way.

Thanks to everyone who didn’t look at us strange and volunteered for the photos.