October 27, 2013

Golden trees and lower flows at Morrell Falls


Morrell Falls, outside of Seeley Lake, is a classic western Montana hike, and now is one of the best times of the year to see it.

In the spring, beargrass grows thick in the open forest near the start and a torrent of whitewater cascades over the cliff at the end. In the fall, larch on the front of the Swan Range are golden and the water flows less voluminously, revealing more detail.

Recently, we set out from the parking lot northwest through the level forest, the floor covered in the remnants of spring's beargrass bloom. Slowly, larch began to appear - a yellow tree here and there among evergreens.

The route climbed a couple of short stretches, beginning near the halfway point, then passed two small lakes at about two miles. Here, stands of golden trees could be seen around the shore and up the side of Crescent Mountain.


Just past the lakes, the trail crossed a bridge over Morrell Creek, curved back east at the foot of a steep hill and arrives at the falls.

After a break for some long-exposure photographs of the water streaming down the rocks and to let the dogs splash in the creek, we turned back to the trailhead.

The drive back to Missoula, past Salmon Lake and through the Blackfoot River canyon was equally as enjoyable, with more fall colors and bighorn sheep.


Here are more photos of Morrell Falls.

Distance: 5.2 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From the north edge of Seeley Lake, follow Morrell Creek Road east about 1 mile and then north about 5.7 miles. Drive east again 0.8 miles to the end of the road, turning north where it forks.

October 22, 2013

A fall 30K to finish my race year

I recently ran my first Blue Mountain 30K - Missoula's second longest race and a beautiful fall event!

The course climbs and descends the trails and forest roads of the Blue Mountain National Recreation Area on the southwest edge of town, gaining 3,500 feet of elevation and topping out at Hayes Point. Held in early October, the morning began brisk but warmed as the sun rose in the sky and the forest was awash in greens, yellows and oranges. (Speaking of oranges, the mimosa with a mile to go was a nice touch!)

After running most of the course in September with a couple of friends, I figured I'd finish in about 3 hours and 15 minutes. With about three miles to go on race day, I realized I had a chance at being under 3 hours. In the end, I crossed the line in 18th place overall at 2:53.35.

Blue Mountain was likely my final race of the year, but I'll be back at it in 2014 with some of my favorite events and, hopefully, some new ones.

October 9, 2013

Hiking Oregon's snow-covered crater country


There's something about us, travel and volcanoes - and snow.

We recently returned from Oregon, where we checked off a trip that's been on our list for a while: Crater Lake and the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The vacation with family from Portland had been in the works for a while, with reservations coming in the form of a gift last Christmas, but not everything went according to plan.

Days out from our arrival, the forecast called for partly to mostly cloudy skies with little chance for precipitation. The morning of our only full day in Crater Lake National Park, however, we saw our first snow of the season. When we woke the next day, a record 8 inches had piled up. As a result, the road around the rim was closed, cutting off access to several trails we had intended to hike, including to Mount Scott.


In recent years, it's never failed: If we're traveling to a volcanic area, there will be snow. Mount St. Helens had a dusting of snow when we climbed it. We've visited Yellowstone National Park several times, but only with snow on the ground. Then there was the storm in Iceland. OK, we probably should have expected that last one. Back to Oregon ...

We got a break in the weather the night we spent in Ashland, with only a brief rain shower during a performance of "Cymbeline" on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.


During our pass through Bend on the way home, however, we found more snow from the earlier storms and opted for indoor accommodations rather than camping. We had wanted to hike to the top of the South Sister, but it was socked in so we went partway up the trail to Moraine Lake instead. We also took in several sights at Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

A bit farther north, we stopped at Smith Rock State Park for a short walk to break up the drive home to Montana.

While we were able to get out despite the snow, we didn't hike as much as planned. Still, we enjoyed the journey and will have to return.

Crater Lake East Rim Drive


After driving from Portland - with stops in Salem for breakfast with friends and Eugene to visit a microbrewery - we arrived at Crater Lake National Park in the afternoon, as the sun was breaking through the clouds.

We took our time driving from the north entrance to the park around the east side of the rim to Crater Lake Lodge, where were staying. We didn't know it then, but it would be our only chance to see the lake during the trip.


Along the way, we stopped to view Wizard Island, the Phantom Ship rock formation and Vidae Falls.


Here are more photos from the the drive into and out of Crater Lake.

Discovery Point


With snow falling steadily and the the rim drive closed the next morning, we set out on one of the few hikes available to us from Crater Lake Lodge.

Heading west from the lodge and roughly paralleling the West Rim Drive, the trail passes several overlooks of the lake - or clouds, in our case. Nonetheless, there were some interesting cliffs and snags, as well as some lingering wildflowers frosted over by snow.


The trail continues past Discovery Point, but we turned around there and walked back to the lodge for lunch.

See more photos from Discovery Point.

Distance: 2 1/4 miles round trip.

Trailhead: Follow the paved path along the rim west from Crater Lake Lodge; it turns into a dirt trail as it leaves the parking area.

Annie Creek Canyon


That afternoon, we drove south and west down to Mazama Village - the name taken from the one given to the mountain that became the crater - where we found rain instead of snow, and a short hike along Annie Creek.

The trail loops along the top and through the bottom of the canyon containing the creek, beyond the campground on the west side of the village.

We started southeast along the top of the canyon, then turned back northwest as the trail dropped into it. Near the bottom, the view across the creek included some eroded rock features. Continuing northwest, the trail crosses the creek a couple of times before climbing back to the top of the canyon and the campground.

Here are a few photos of Annie Creek.

Distance: 1 3/4 miles round trip.

Trailhead: We parked in the lot just west of the Annie Creek restaurant and gift shop, but there is also limited parking available in Loop E at the campground.

Paulina Peak


After leaving Crater Lake for a night in Ashland, we turned back north to Bend. Once we were checked in to our hotel, we returned to Newberry National Volcanic Monument south of the city in search of a trail.

We ended up in the Newberry Caldera area, where two lakes and an old lava flow sit below Paulina Peak. On the advice of a park staffer, we decided to hike through the snow to the summit.

The trail begins by climbing steeply through the forest to the southeast, occasionally offering views northwest toward Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters.

Eventually, the forest thins and the trail skirts cliff edges below the peak, and over Paulina and East lakes and the old lava flow. The trail then returns to the ascent through the trees, before a final stretch along cliff edges to the top at 7,984 feet.


After carefully taking in the view near the top, we turned back to the car.

See more photos of Paulina Peak.

Distance: 4 miles round trip.

Trailhead: About 23 miles south of Bend, Ore., on U.S. Highway 97, turn east on Paulina Lake Road. Follow it about 13 miles, then turn south on Paulina Peak Road. The trailhead is past the end of the pavement, after about one-third of a mile.

Paulina Falls


On the way back to Bend for the night, we stopped for a short walk to see the twin drops of Paulina Falls, viewable from above and below by short trails.

Here are a few more photos of Paulina Falls.

Distance: One-half mile round trip from the top of the falls to the bottom.

Trailhead: The parking are for the falls is 12 1/3 miles up Paulina Peak Road from U.S. Highway 97, 23 miles south of Bend.

Moraine Lake


Before leaving for Oregon, friends had pointed us toward the hike up the South Sister, which at 11 miles round trip and nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain would have been possible given the initial forecast. With snow on the ground and the summit in the clouds, however, we opted to stay on the lower part of the hike and see Moraine Lake.

Starting at the Devils Lake Campground in the Deschutes National Forest, the route follows the South Sister Climber Trail north through the trees and across the highway. Here, the trail briefly meets Hell Creek as it cascades out of the forest.


The trail soon enters the Three Sisters Wilderness and begins a steep climb through the trees - and snow at the time we were there. After about 1 3/4 miles, the trail levels and leaves the forest at a junction. Turning northwest, the route continues about a mile down open land with views of the South Sister and Broken Top to Moraine Lake.


After a break at the lake, we backtracked a short distance and followed a cutoff a little more than one-third of a mile east, back to the Climber Trail. About another quarter-mile up the trail to the north, a flat area  provides 360-degree views of Moraine Lake below and the South Sister, Broken Top, Mount Bachelor and beyond.

With more clouds moving in from the north, we turned around here and followed the Climber Trail about 2 1/2 miles south, down through the snow and back to the trailhead.


See more photos of Moraine Lake.

Distance: 6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: Follow the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway about 28 miles west of Bend and park at the trailhead at the Devils Lake Campground.

Smith Rock State Park


On the way back to Montana from Bend, we stopped for a short hike at Smith Rock State Park. While the park's colorful rock formations are a draw for climbers, there's also a good network of trails.

We started by crossing the Crooked River footbridge and climbing steeply to the northwest over the mile-long Misery Ridge Trail, taking in views from the cliffs along the way. Descending back to the Crooked River on the other side, the route passes the Monkey Face spire and connects with the Mesa Verde Trail for a quarter mile.


Out of the cliffs, we joined the River Trail, which rounds the rock formations southwest and then northeast for about 2 1/4 miles. Passing groups of climbers on the rock walls, we returned to the footbridge and then crossed to the parking area.

Here are more photos from Smith Rock State Park.

Distance: About 4 miles round trip.

Trailhead: In Terrebonne, Ore., follow B Avenue east from U.S. Highway 97 about 1 1/2 miles as it turns into Smith Rock Way. Turn north on Northeast 17th Street and continue one-half mile, then east on Northeast Wilcox Avenue and continue another half-mile. Turn north on Northeast Crooked River Drive and follow it about three-quarters of a mile into the park.