Friday, January 20, 2017

Icy Silver Falls Adventure

Hey Hey... What's up.  Two posts in one month.  Can you believe it?  This is what happens when I set aside time to edit my own photos.  (All photos in this blog post are copyrighted by Jodi Stilp Photography LLC.)

One day on winter break 2016  the kids (plus two friends) and I went on an Adventure Day.  It's such a rare treat to have a full day with all four kids.  Even during breaks, the high schoolers have sports practices that get in the way of being able to just go off the grid for a day.  

We chose Silver Falls State Park, an Oregon rainforest gem just a little over an hour from our house, as our destination.  There's a 7.2 mile Trail of Ten Falls loop that takes hikers "above, behind and around 10 stunning waterfalls.  The moderate hike includes 800 feet of elevation gain on paved and unpaved trails."  We've hiked the entire trail before and it is so fun, but no one felt like going on a big exercise excursion.  We all felt more like exploring and playing. The beauty of Silver Falls State Park is that you can see a lot of these waterfalls without hiking the entire loop as long as you have a car.  Our plan was to park in the different lots, hike to the easily accessible waterfalls, then drive to the next one to continue exploring.

The Willamette Valley has had unusually wintery weather so far this year. Going into this hike we'd already had two snow days due to snow/ice. Cold air was trapped in the valley floor creating much colder (than our usually moderate) winter temperatures and freezing any moisture into black ice on the roads. 

I put my blinker on to turn into the North Falls parking lot, hit a patch of black ice and drifted into the (thankfully) empty parking lot.  It was ICY - in the parking lot and in multiple spots on the trail.  We passed an older gentleman sitting on the stairs heading down to the North Falls.  He had slipped and fallen, but insisted that he wasn't injured and was just collecting himself to try to safely return to his car.  It was a good reminder to go slow and be careful.
the North Falls
We gingerly picked our way down the stairs and the trail to the beautiful North Falls, then hiked into the cave behind it.  It is pretty spectacular to be standing behind a waterfall - the roar of the rushing water filling your ears, mist from the spray getting you wet.  It was COLD, but so worth it.
behind North Falls

When we got back to the parking lot, the girls sat in the car to warm up and eat lunch while Grant and I took a quick detour to view the Upper North Falls. 
Upper North Falls 
We drove to the South Falls parking lot and started round two of exploring.  A blanket of fog hung over the forest, lingering above the mist of the waterfall.  It was cold and wintery and lovely, but then.. Out of nowhere, rays of light  started piercing the fog, illuminating the forest above the waterfall.  It was like nothing I have ever seen.  I can't believe God put on such a show for us AND that I had my real camera with me.  It was a photographer's dream.
copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
Tiny hikers.
Hiking toward South Falls
The play between dark/shadows. Light and fog was spectacular.
Our hiking crew: my four plus Livy and Saige.
I am in love with Oregon's tall trees
Isn't this tree cool?
The fog/mist/sunlight was almost like smoke.
fog burning off
I love them. 
Paigey hiking into the sunshine.
We slid down the trail and behind the South Waterfall, but the wind was blowing the spray from the waterfall all over us and it was cold so we didn't linger long.  We tried to hike to the Lower South Falls but that staircase was also covered in ice.  It wasn't worth the risk to try to descend so we called it a day and headed back to the car.  

Grant and I had a snowball throwing contest before we all piled into the car, cranked the heat, and stopped at Dutch Bros. for warm drinks.  While we were at Dutch, Grant ran into the Dollar Tree to buy hair beads and rubber bands.  He's been bugging me for months to braid his hair like Lil' Yachty - a rapper.  Since we had the time, I said yes.  When we got home, we spent the next 2.5 hours braiding his hair so he could match Lil' Yachty.  He looked "pretty dope" and had a fun time shaking his head around so the beads would smack together.

These kids and their friends are the bomb.  I adore raising middle school and high schoolers.  Thank you Jesus for such a fun adventure day and for keeping us safe on the ice. I'm already looking forward to the next Adventure Day.

#silverfallsstatepark #hiking #hikingadventures #adventuredays 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

McNeil Point And Then Some

Well hey there.  Long time no talk.  The only excuse is life is full of such awesome things.

In September Curt and I had a Date Day and we tackled the McNeil Point hike.  We've attempted it together twice before with the kids, but both trips had way too much whining and not enough fun (adults included).  Since this is one of my all time favorite hikes, we attempted it a third time and were successful.
Self timer at the top of the ridge in Really High Country
DIFFICULTY: According to our trusty hiking book (60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Portland by Paul Gerald) this 9.2 mile hike is rated "Easy" to Bald Mountain and "Strenuous" to McNeil Point.  We agree. The trail definitely shreds your quads and calves with the steep climbing and descents, but is worth every sweat-inducing step.  For detailed specifics about this hike, buy the book or google it.  My "directions" will be vague.

TRAIL ACCESS: This trailhead is remote, but not too rugged. You'll drive the typical narrow Forest Service road that is really one lane with steep drop offs on one side, but is supposedly wide enough for one car going each direction.  Thankfully all of it is paved save the last 1.2 miles and the potholes are minimal. The trail is under snow from October through June, so the window to go on this adventure is July through September.  Mark your calendar now and just do it!

The Bald Mountain viewpoint is only a mile from the trailhead and it is magnificent.  You hike through an old growth forest, go around a corner onto a ridge and BOOM!  There's Mt. Hood.  She takes your breath away.  The ridge the trail traverses is high in the air with a relatively steep drop off.  Don't bring dogs off a leash or kids that don't obey or they could roll off the edge to great peril. The ridge looks down into the valley of the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River.
Curt in the old growth forest before we came out onto the ridge.
Curt at the Bald Mountain Viewpoint.  McNeil Point is WAY up Mt. Hood on that ridge to the left.
The trail is narrow with some significant drop offs.  Be careful.
I love this viewpoint because it's a glimpse of where your final destination is. Squint and look way up on Mt. Hood.  Four more miles of hiking will take you WAY up the mountain to a "1930's era stone shelter" that marks McNeil Point.

Along the way, you'll finish traversing the ridge, hike back into old growth forest, ford a creek twice,  and pass wildflowers (if you're lucky enough to catch them in bloom). The mountain terrain changes the higher you hike with big boulder fields and mountain meadows with ponds.  Backpackers camp here and we saw several breaking camp on our way in.

We stopped at The Ponds for a snack, then continued the final stretch to the McNeil Point.  The narrow trail takes hikers across a "windswept ridge and eventually crosses a rockslide/snowfield."  This area is a little sketchy.  Go slow and be certain of each step you take.
The Ponds
Curt checking directions before we set out to finish our hike.
Getting closer to McNeil Point
Some of the Sketch Area.  The trail picks its way across these loose rocks that are often covered with snow.
It was in this area that Curt and I missed the right hand turn that leads down to McNeil Point.  We accidentally followed another trail to the left that meandered up the ridge instead of down.  When we reached the end of the ridge there was no where to go except into thin air.  It was amazing.  McNeil Point was below us by several hundred feet.  We set our lunch up on a rock and picnicked on top of the world.
Lunch Rock
That tiny turquoise speck directly in the lower middle of this image is a hiker.  The slightly bigger brown speck is the stone shelter.
The panoramic views were jaw-dropping.  Layers and layers upon layers of mountains and forest nestled together to form a backdrop for all the Cascade volcanoes.  Mt. Hood.  Mt. St. Helens. Mt. Rainer. Mt. Adams. They were all out to play and they were amazing.
Volcanoes in the distance.
The very steep, non-switchback trail up into Really High Country.
The trail we were on continued above us into "Really High Country.  It's not on any maps, but if you follow it you will soon run out of breath as you approach 7,000 feet in elevation with virtually no switchbacks and find yourself on a narrow, rocky ridge between the Sandy and Glisan Glaciers." You better believe we huffed and puffed our way to the top of that ridge.  It was slow going and H-A-R-D, but so worth it.

Hello Handsome.
I hiked all the way up to the point on that middle ridge, then came back.
We sat on a rock at the top of the ridge and listened to the glaciers pop and crack and slide down the mountainside.  It was an experience I would have paid a ton of money for, but it was free (minus the National Forest Pass required for parking our car).
We hiked down to the stone shelter on our way out.  It's pretty cool. 
#forreal #mightycreator #inoregonasitisinheaven
Our little side trip added 2.5 miles to an already long hike, giving us almost 12 miles of hiking by the time we made it back to our car. Since I hadn't run my mile yet for my run streak, I let Curt pack up the car and I ran down the mountain for two miles until he picked me up.  All exhaustion from the hike dissolved into the euphoria of running in the remote wilderness, fresh cool mountain air filling my lungs.  One day I will retire and live in the mountains.  They are my happy place.

So there you have it.  An overview of the McNeil Point hike.  And can I just add one thing?  If you're married, date your spouse.  The adventures Curt and I go on carry us through the mundane, nose-to-the-grindstone weeks and make us fall more in love.  Happy hiking.
Selfie game is strong.
#mcneilpoint #mthood #wiildnernessadventures #hikingadventures #dateyourspouse