Sunday, May 17, 2020

Nu'uanu-Judd Trail

Ok, the next hike on the agenda is O'ahu's Nu'uanu-Judd Trail, just off the Pali Highway outside of downtown Honolulu. This was not one of my favorite hikes, to be honest, though it's not entirely the trail's fault. I picked this hike because it seemed fairly close to a bus stop, although that turned out to be more like 3/4 mile after taking the winding (and sidewalk-less) road into account. Which still doesn't seem that far, but it was also an unreasonably hot and humid day, without the usual tradewinds, if I remember right. Which is usually a clue that it's not an ideal day for hiking, but I was only there for a week and hadn't gotten out as much as I'd hoped, so I figured I'd give it a try and see how far I got.

Once you make it to the trailhead, the first section of actual trail is the Judd Trail, an easy and mostly-flat loop that involves a lot of tromping around a hot, humid, and dark forest, with no views to be had, unless changing from native forest to pine trees to bamboo and back counts as a view. About halfway around this loop, it intersects the Nu'uanu Trail, which switchbacks up through the same dark, humid forest to reach the top of a ridge, at which point it becomes another O'ahu ridgetop hike. So the plan was just to get up onto the ridge and go until I felt like turning around.

Along one of these switchbacks, I leaned forward to get under a low-hanging branch, and somehow managed to launch one of my water bottles out of my pack. It slowly rolled off the trail before I could grab it, and tumbled down the slope into some unreachable underbrush, never to be seen again. Which is the only time I have ever lost something while hiking, at least so far. After standing there blinking for a while, I realized I'd have to dial things back since I'd already used a lot of the other water bottle. I didn't want to give up halfway up the ridge, though, since the whole outing would feel like a waste of time if I did that, so I figured I'd turn around when the trail got up onto the ridge & stopped switchbacking.

So I did that, and took a couple of photos with bits of Honolulu skyline in the distance while I was there, though I they look more or less the same as Honolulu skyline photos I've taken elsewhere. I then turned around, retraced my steps, looked for my lost water bottle on the way down just in case (to no avail), did the remaining half of the easy loop, and wandered back to the bus stop, the end. I did have some water left at the end, so I could maybe have gone a little further than I did, but I was kind of sweaty and irritable at that point and just wanted to declare "Mission Accomplished" and go home.

Obviously my experience is not typical, and I gather from other people's photos and descriptions that I turned around before the scenery really improved. So maybe I'll go back at some point and have another go at it, though it's not exactly at the top of my revisit list. Anyway, here are some links from across the interwebs with more of a positive take on the place and the experience.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Coyote Wall & the Labyrinth

Nearly everything is closed right now due to the global pandemic, and I'm holed up at home trying to make myself do things besides working and reading the endless bad news. So I'm going to try to put a dent in my endless pile of draft blog posts and unused photosets with some of this unstructured free time; it's obviously not a replacement for going outside, but it's the best available option at the moment.

So here's a photoset from last May, taken at Coyote Wall in the Columbia Gorge, on the Washington side a few miles east of White Salmon and Hood River. Coyote Wall is easily visible from Hood River & Interstate 84; it's the huge rock formation that looks kind of like a flat-topped desert mesa with sheer cliffs, but tilted maybe 20 degrees so that one end meets the river. I only recently realized the place had a name, which was around the same time I learned it has an extensive trail system that I knew nothing about. Turns out that officially there have only been trails here since 2011, when the Forest Service adopted a master plan for the area. Of course there were trails here before that, largely of the outlaw mountain bike variety, but apparently I wasn't part of the right rumor mills or whisper networks or insider cabals or whatever to have known anything about the place. Story of my life, really.

Anyway, if you go at the right time of year -- which I apparently did -- at some point while hiking endlessly uphill you'll hit the altitude where it's currently peak wildflower season. Which is truly amazing. I like to think some of the photos in the photoset approach doing it justice. To give you some idea, my original plan for the day was to do the Coyote Wall - Labyrinth Loop trail, but in reverse order to ensure I at least saw the Coyote Wall part if I decided to bail out early. Then after that I was going to cross the river and go to Rowena Plateau, a place I've repeatedly said is my favorite place in the Gorge and maybe my favorite anywhere, a strongly-held opinion dating back to 1990 or so, mumble-mumble decades ago. And I decided to punt on that whole leg of the trip and wander around here longer instead. Mostly I just wanted to stay longer here, but I had a gut feeling that doing both in the same day would lead to ranking them, and the old sentimental favorite might not win that one, and overall I'd be happier leaving them as separate and unique experiences. I am slightly embarrassed to report this, but while I was wandering around with all the sunshine and flowers there miiiight have been a brief "Sound of Music"-style twirl or two. I say "slightly" because there was no actual singing involved, just the twirl part. And furthermore, I am only telling you any of this because there's a global pandemic now, and everything's closed indefinitely, and I really miss going outside in any capacity. So yeah.

Eventually the trail brings you to a point where the steep slope levels off and the open grassy slope gives way to a mixed forest, and a few trails lead off in different directions. A lot of people turn around at this point, having gotten what they came for, and I probably would have been just fine doing that myself in retrospect, but the loop I was doing kept going, so I kept going, and the next bit was something called the "Crybaby Trail". My memory can be a little sketchy about these things, but my recollection is that this trail is slightly wider than a mountain bike tire, and it's laid out along the very edge of a cliff many hundreds of feet high, and on sunny days it attracts all of the world's snakes to come and sun themselves. Or to hide in bushes right next to the trail, for some of the more easily startled snakes. I may be exaggerating about the width of the trail, possibly. I may have mentioned once or twice that I have an occasional heights issue, or more exactly a not-having-anything-to-grab-onto-around-heights issue. Which I don't like, and I try to poke at it under controlled conditions when I can, in the hope I can get over it or at least mitigate it at some point. This hasn't worked so far, and I have to say the Crybaby Trail was my least favorite part of the adventure, but maybe next time will do the trick, whenever that turns out to be.

The Labyrinth part of the loop takes you through varied terrain to the east of Coyote Wall. Some additional open grassy areas, and sections of forest, and lots of rugged lava rocks, and at least one waterfall. I would probably have more to say about this part if a.) I hadn't just been where I'd just been (both the Julie Andrews part and the cliffside Well of Souls part), and b.) I had written this post in a reasonably timely fashion, when it was easier to remember more than a few key highlights. One key highlight I do remember from this stretch of trail was briefly glimpsing a pika, as it fled thinking I was some sort of horrible predator. I hear them all the time while hiking but I'm not sure I'd ever actually seen one before this one. So that was cool. The cute little squeak sound they make sounds exactly like a family dog's favorite rubber squeak toy when I was a kid. So when I hear pika calls I think I'll always have this mental image of a small dachshund eagerly playing fetch with a large squeaky rubber cheeseburger. Which was exactly as silly as it sounds.

In any case, it's time to wrap this thing up before the clock hits midnight, so I can keep the "at least one post per month since 2005" streak going for another 30 days. I had this idea at the beginning of April that I might have time to do more than one this month given all the working from home and avoiding all human contact and so forth. But it hasn't really worked out that way so far. I'm not sure whether that's because April 1st was just a few hours ago and there simply wasn't time, or because it was two billion years ago and I spent most of the month trying to evolve cell walls, followed by a rudimentary central nervous system. Both of these things seem equally true somehow. But I have high hopes for May. Got a shiny new vaguely-defined time period to work with, that's bound to make me incredibly productive and creative this time around. Please note how I am setting this joke up for future me as I try to finish another post with minutes to spare the evening of May 31st.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

In our next Hawaii hiking adventure we're having a go at Honolulu's Wa'ahila Ridge Trail, in the state park of the same name. This was actually one of the very first hikes I did on O'ahu, but the resulting blog post sort of stalled out in a half-written state and I sort of forgot about it, as there was always something newer to write about instead. Since I'm currently stuck back in Portland, holed up from the ongoing global pandemic, it seemed as good a time as any to dig up this post and try to finish it, as a little memory of what the outdoors were like in the Before Times.

Anyway, one of the things I really like about hiking on O'ahu specifically is that many trailheads are easily accessible by public transit, so you can just can hop on a city bus, take a fairly short ride to the edge of suburbia, and wander off almost immediately into a dense tropical forest. Once you're in the forest it quickly feels like you're a few hundred miles past the back of beyond, but then you come to to a break in the trees, and there's a view of downtown Honolulu a couple of miles away, and sometimes a subdivision a few hundred feet straight down from you in an adjacent valley, and you'll likely never be out of mobile phone range, and a lot of other hikers turn out to be neighborhood residents on their daily dog-walking route. But the illusion is still pretty convincing, or at least it still works on me.

So with all that introduction out of the way, here we are at Wa'ahila Ridge State Recreation Area, above the St. Louis Heights neighborhood, which meanders up the lower ocean-facing part of the ridge. City bus #14 goes from Waikiki to just outside the park entrance (the Peter St. & Ruth Place stop, #3994, to be precise). Or you could drive there, if you don't like public transit for some reason; unlike a lot of area trailheads, there's plenty of parking available, and nobody's glaring at you for being the millionth tourist parking in front of their house. The parking lot is within a large grove of introduced Norfolk Island pine trees, which give the area a cool, mountainous feel, although you're really not that high up and it's not that much cooler, but somehow it feels that way. Maybe it's just the power of suggestion, since you typically don't associate pine trees with tropical climates.

To a bit about geography. The Ko'olau Mountains are a long ridge along the east side of the island (the Waianae Range is a smaller and roughly parallel equivalent on the west side), with very different conditions on the two sides of the ridge. The windward side of the ridge is essentially a vertical wall (at least on s. part of the range), as seen here in the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens post a few months back. The leeward, Honolulu-facing side is not as steep and has a series of side ridges projecting out sorta-perpendicular from it, with valleys between them, and suburbia sprawling out into both. Which subtracts from the wild nature aspect a bit, but works to our advantage with ridge trails in that you don't have to hike up from sea level if you don't want to.

The tops of these ridges are quite narrow, sometimes just wide enough for a trail, and sometimes even narrower than that, with sheer drops on either side of you. There's literally nowhere to put switchbacks to get up the steep bits, and nowhere to reroute the trail around them. So when the ridge undulates, so do you, and this sometimes involves scrambling over boulders or relying on (but not entirely trusting) ropes left by previous hikers. That said, it generally looks more scary than it actually is, so long as you stay on the trail, though I've had my doubts now and then when a strong crosswind picks up.

The Wa'ahila Ridge Trail is pretty typical in that it follows the ridge up to the point it joins the main Ko'olau ridge. At that point you can admire the view off to the windward side, and then either go back the way you came, or turn left or right, follow the Ko'olau Summit Trail over to the next ridge, and make a loop out of it. The KST runs the whole length of the Ko'olau ridge, and yes, hiking the whole thing in one go is a thing that exists, though doing smaller segments of it between ridge junctions is much more common. The junction point for Wa'ahila Ridge is one of the higher points along the Ko'olaus at about 2500 feet, and it somehow picked up the absurd name "Mt. Olympus". Absurd because references to Greek mythology seem incongruous here, and it had already been called Awaawaloa for centuries before some 19th century students at a local private high school decided to start renaming things. Which isn't an authoritative source of place names, if you ask me. "Olympus" isn't even a very original name. Wikipedia actually has a list of peaks named Olympus, and it seems there are 8 of them in Greece and thereabouts, and 7 on the US mainland, others in Australia and Canada, and an enormous one on Mars. In short, I'm sticking with the real name of the thing.

Not that we'll be needing that name a lot this time around. As Wa'ahila was the first ridge trail I tried, and I'd gotten a late start that day, and frankly because I was a bit out of shape, I had a more modest goal in mind: Go as far as the trail junction with the Kolowalu Trail (an insanely steep trail up the side of the ridge, now closed indefinitely due to landslides), and take a photo of the back of the official End Of Maintained Trail sign, I guess in the spirit of the rarely-sung 4th verse of This Land Is Your Land So yeah, that's another fun detail: A fair number of popular & well-known trails on O'ahu either do not officially exist at all, or like this one officially end well short of where everyone knows the trail goes. I think this is largely for liability reasons, plus I'm sure it holds down the cost of trail maintenance a bit. Oh, and sometimes things really are closed due to being unsafe, let's not forget that little detail. The problem is that while many of these restrictions are completely ignored, others are strictly enforced to a almost absurd degree, most notably at the legendary (and long-closed) Haiku Stairs, which at times has had police at the trailhead 24/7, handing out $1000 tickets for trespassing. And knowing which category a given place falls into can be a problem, for locals as well as outsiders; rules may suddenly be enforced after being ignored for decades after someone gets hurt, or a local property owner complains, or sometimes for no reason at all. (Ticketing hikers is also a nice, cushy make-work gig for a chronically overstaffed police department, but that's a rant for another time.) I have no specific advice to offer about this situation, but it's something to be aware of.

I do have some advice on what to bring with you, which is more or less the same advice you'll see from everyone else: It's usually going to be hot, so bring water. Also sunblock, and more water. I brought mosquito spray when I did Wa'ahila Ridge thanks to my earlier misfortune on the Manoa Falls trail, but didn't encounter a single mosquito there, and that's been my experience with other ridgetop trails since then. Valley trails are another matter entirely, and you absolutely will be eaten alive by the little bastards if you don't take precautions. Oh, also bring food. I like to bring a bunch of apple bananas along; they're small and easy to pack along, and they're a tasty local item you can't find on the mainland. Depending on the time of year, there might be strawberry guavas growing along the trail. They're edible and fairly tasty, but they're also about 80% seeds. As you eat one you end up spitting out seeds constantly, and you quickly realize why it's such a successful invasive plant here. It's kind of the Hawaii equivalent of the Northwest's invasive Himalayan blackberry bushes, overall. The "annoying bush that will scratch up your legs" part of the role is played by the local uluhe fern, and some people recommend wearing long pants if you'll be hiking through a lot of ferns, though I generally don't do that.

Normally I'd have more of a detailed description of the trail here, beyond what the trailhead and turnaround spot are like, but I neglected to write that part before this post stalled out in Drafts, and now it's been too long to remember that level of detail. I do remember there was one spot early on in the hike where you have to make your way down a slope that's essentially just a mass of very slippery tree roots, with no dirt for traction. There might have been pine needles on top of these tree roots, unless I'm thinking of a different spot on a different trail; it's been a while. Anyway, I didn't like that part, and you might not like it either, but there's only one place like that and it's fairly short, and you miss out on the good parts if you turn around at that point. Anyway, in lieu of more of a proper writeup by me about the trail, here are a few links I liked from around the interwebs about the place. They probably explain it better than I would have done anyway. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Sandy River Delta

Next up, here's a photoset from a few hours wandering around the Sandy River Delta, just east of Troutdale, at the western edge of the Columbia Gorge. It's been public land since 1991 when the Forest Service bought it, but I'd never been there, so I thought I'd go check it out. It's basically 1500 acres of low, flat, and sometimes swampy land, with a trail network that OregonHikers rates firmly in the "Easy" category. The key thing to know about it is that it's essentially a huge off-leash dog park, so be prepared to say hello to lots of excitable, friendly, muddy dogs. Strictly speaking dogs are supposed to be on leashes within 100 feet of the Confluence Trail, but I didn't encounter a single person or dog obeying that rule. The area also allows horses on some trails, but I didn't encounter any the day I was there. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I ran across any horses on multiple-use trails that allow them. I don't know whether owning horses is less popular than it once was, or it's just due to chance and timing.

Anyway, as an unaccompanied two-legged visitor the main thing I wanted to see was Bird Blind, a Maya Lin art installation along the Columbia River, at the far end of the aforementioned Confluence Trail. Which gave me a rare chance to combine two of this humble blog's ongoing projects (which was nice since art posts have been pretty rare over the last year or two). So the art at the end of the trail is a small round structure, built in 2008 for the 200th-ish anniversary of the Lewis & Clark expedition, part of a larger series of installations between Astoria and Clarkston, WA. I didn't really notice a lot of birds there so I can't speak to its bird blind qualities; possibly the art and the dog park are working at cross purposes here. In any case, I took a batch of photos of it from various exciting angles, because Art, and continued on with my loop around the place.

Eventually I ended up at a viewpoint along the Sandy River side of the park, just in time for a bit of sorta-golden-hour light, with dark storm clouds rolling in off in the distance. (Note that "golden hour" meant about 3pm, thanks to the season and our, uh, tropically-challenged latitude here.) I liked how some of those photos came out, so I left the photoset in the reverse order Flickr gives you by default. So it starts with those, and then the art photos are more or less in the middle, and the others are sort of 'meh', quite honestly, so that would be today's protip if you have time to look at some photos from a random internet person, but aren't inclined to spend it lingering over each and every one of them.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Palisade Falls

Next up we're paying a visit to one of the Columbia Gorge's most seen but least visited waterfalls. If you're barreling along on I-84, as you pass the Crown Point area you might notice a waterfall tumbling down a cliff immediately east of the Vista House (unless it's late summer, when it usually dries up). That waterfall apparently doesn't have an official USGS-approved name, but often goes by "Palisade Falls", and is sometimes called "Crown Point Falls" for obvious reasons.

Until quite recently I thought Palisade Falls was completely inaccessible. There's no freeway exit for it like there is for Multnomah Falls. Nor is there a trail down to the top of the falls from the adjacent Vista House or anywhere nearby, and in fact the whole area above the falls is closed to all entry, with very stern but occasionally ignored No Trespassing signs seemingly every few feet. There also isn't a side road there, or an official trail that officially goes there, and I had never seen any photos of it up close, or even read about anyone going there. The only thing near the base of the falls is a railroad line, and it hasn't had an Amtrak route since 1997 when the Pioneer was discontinued, so I figured the only way to get a closer look would be to switch careers, join the Union Pacific Railroad, eventually get assigned to runs through the Gorge (which I imagine requires lots of seniority), and then catch occasional blurry glimpses of it while whooshing past at very-fast-by-USA-standards speeds.

A few weeks ago I was searching for something unrelated (and I don't recall what it was now) and ran across a 2016 OregonHikers forum thread with a couple of photos from right at the base of the falls, looking up. I'd wondered about this roughly since I was old enough to read a map, so it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to do whatever they did and go see for myself.

So the deal is that there is a trail there, or most of the way there. But it doesn't start where you'd think, and there is absolutely zero signage or any other indication that it goes anywhere interesting. If you're doing the standard tourist route along the old Columbia River Highway, Portland Womens Forum State Park is the place you stop for 5-10 minutes and take photos of the Vista House and the gorge, facing east. While you're doing that, directly behind you there's a locked gate, and behind it a gravel road meanders down toward the river. A trail detours around the gate, but no signs indicate where the trail goes, what it's called, or why you might want to go that direction, and I imagine upwards of 99.9% of visitors just ignore the whole thing. Turns out this is a very old road (by non-indigenous Pacific Northwest standards), connecting the park area (which then hosted the Chanticleer Inn restaurant) with the rail line down by the river; OregonHikers has a field guide page about the hike, calling it the "Rooster Rock Wagon Road". I gather it also went by "Chanticleer Point Wagon Road", I suppose based on which direction you were wagoning. It seems that passenger trains would let you off at a long-vanished station down below, and a horse-drawn wagon (or eventually a car) would ferry you up the hill for an amazing view and a chicken dinner. I'm going to guess the view was priced into the chicken dinner, because some things never change in the tourist business.

I'm not sure when the rail stop was discontinued, but the Chanticleer Inn burned in 1930 and was never rebuilt, which would have eliminated the road's main reason for being. Still, the mostly-disused road wasn't officially closed off until the late 1980s. (I have a very vague recollection of noticing when the gate went in, and not realizing there was a road there until that point.) In the intervening time, the road was a popular spot if you needed to dump a stolen car or a safe you'd just cracked, and remnants survive off to the sides of the old road, from the body of a 1949 Studebaker to the dashboard of a 70s Porsche 911. A few are visible from the road, while others require side trips; I wasn't there for the vintage auto/true crime history (and was kind of creeped out by it, to be honest), so this photoset is not a comprehensive catalog of everything that's down there. Another OregonHikers thread has photos of several of the cars and two safes, for anyone who's curious about that particular angle on the place.

What I do have are photos of the road/trail (since probably most people have never seen it), along with another unnamed waterfall you'll encounter on the way down & back. There are a few views of the Vista House around the top end of the trail, and views looking up at Crown Point and Chanticleer Point from the bottom of the trail, and a mysterious (and fortunately open) gate part of the way down, and eventually the trail peters out at the railroad tracks, where you're greeted by an ambiguous hardware-store-grade "No Trespassing" sign, and below it a painting of Portland's Steel Bridge painted on (I think) scrap metal, possibly from one of the junked cars uphill from here. The two seemed to be guarding a side trail to the west that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise; I heeded what I figured the sign was advising me about and didn't investigate further. On the far side of the tracks and just west of where the trail ends, a railroad service road covers the short distance over to I-84 -- I think, I didn't go any further in that direction -- and from there you can presumably make your way to the obscure & little-used Young Creek Trailhead along one of the Rooster Rock offramps. A page at Recreating the HCRH indicates the road we're on continued along to a salmon cannery near Rooster Rock before the freeway came along, and a WyEast Blog post has a few 19th century photos of the area, one of which shows Palisade Falls flowing into idyllic Echo Bay (now separated from the river by I-84 and renamed "Mirror Lake").

Anyway, here we are at the end of the trail, but there's no waterfall in sight, nor are there any obvious eastbound trails with signs saying "This way to the waterfall". Now what? Now you parallel the railroad tracks heading east for a bit, maybe 1000 feet to 1/4 mile or so. Not on the tracks, obviously, and further away is better, obviously, and what it boils down to is that I really don't want to be responsible for anyone getting smooshed by a train or tasered by security guards or whatever, so let's agree that the last leg of the journey involves dense GPS-jamming fog, a bit of handwaving, and a conveniently located personal jetpack that may or may not still be there when you visit.

Ok, so having landed next to the falls and set the jetpack aside to cool off for a bit, we can finally get a good look at the waterfall. You soon realize it's just a small stream that sort of burbles its way down the cliff face, and the steep V-shaped ravine above the falls (the off-limits No Trespassing area I mentioned) extends most of the way down from Crown Point so the falls aren't actually that tall either. Still, it's a pleasant spot, and -- more to the point -- it's a pleasant spot that nobody you know has ever been to (unless they're semi-adventurous and have a very specific hobby we'll get to in a moment), so by visiting you can obtain valuable Internet Points just like I'm doing right now. Note however that if you're doing this for Instagram, mere nature photos without people in them don't cut it anymore (ask me how I know this). As I understand it, full IG Internet Points are only awarded if you bust out some advanced yoga poses in front of the falls, or pose with an absurdly large gun, or maybe hike the whole way in a fursuit, or ideally all of the above simultaneously, while name dropping a long list of your brand endorsements and Patreon patrons. I'm not saying any of that is wrong, exactly, except for the gun part; it just seems like a lot of extra trouble to go to for a few more Internet Points, and if I was in that position it would quickly start to feel like a job, and a poorly paid one at that, with fairly bizarre hours and no benefits.

Enjoy the solitude and obscurity while you can, though; Palisade Falls may be less of a secret secluded spot someday, if current plans pan out. The Oregon State Parks Department adopted a new Master Plan for its Columbia Gorge holdings in 2015, and they have big plans for the old road. This is not the same thing as having money, blueprints, signed contracts, and a project schedule, but it's a start, I suppose. So the goal is to have an official route between Rooster Rock & the Portland Womens Forum viewpoint, based on the current route at least most of the way. They've broken it down into phases, phase 1 being official-ifying the road as far as the railroad tracks. It isn't clear what this would involve beyond putting up some signage and maybe a fence to keep people away from the rail line. Phase 2, which the plan implies is a distant-future, pie-in-the-sky vision, involves crossing the rail line in a manner acceptable to the railroad, and then onward to Rooster Rock. This is a separate phase because making railroads happy is expensive, and railroads hold all the cards thanks to 19th century federal laws. So the state will need a bridge over the tracks, tall enough to accommodate double or triple-stacked trains, or however tall the railroad supposes a future train might be someday, and enclosed so people can't throw anything onto the tracks. And the taller the bridge is, the more expensive it will be to meet ADA accessibility requirements, and on top of that there will be design requirements to satisfy due to being in a National Scenic Area, so it can't be ugly. To be clear, I am not arguing against any of these requirements, just pointing out there is a great deal of difference between just crossing railroad tracks, and doing so officially. Furthermore, the conceptual route maps in the master plan show the trail heading directly north to Rooster Rock after crossing the tracks, rather than east to the existing overpass at the Rooster Rock freeway exit. So this would seem to require a new pedestrian bridge over the interstate as well, though the plan doesn't mention this little detail. If I had to guess how this plays out eventually, I'd guess they'll route the trail over to the freeway exit, and build it in conjunction with replacing the existing 1950s or 1960s-era overpass (which is is bound to need replacing eventually, as nature bats last against midcentury rebar construction), so that part piggybacks on a freeway project, since there will always money for freeway projects.

The plan doesn't mention Palisade Falls at all, but it seems like the obvious candidate if you want the phase 1 trail to actually go somewhere, instead of just dead-ending at railroad tracks. I'm not the right type of engineer to be 100% certain of this, but it seems like there ought to be just enough space between the tracks and cliffs to build a nice official trail that isn't constantly pelted with falling rocks and also doesn't anger the gods railroad barons. It might even be possible to extend the trail around the far side of Crown Point and end up at Latourell Falls or points east from there. So that's suggestion #1. Suggestion #2 is that if you're rehabbing an old road, which is much wider than the typical Gorge trail, it would make sense to allow bikes on it, and ideally make sure it's usable by emergency vehicles. That last part might be my ongoing anxiety in the wake of the Eagle Creek fire, along with the global climate generally trending in a pro-fire direction.

Suggestion #3 is to remove the old cars. This may be an unpopular idea and I fully admit my personal biases here as a 1980s teenager, if you'll permit me to digress for a paragraph or so. Adults (including newly-respectable boomers) were absolutely convinced we were the coming doom of all that was good in the world. In particular, they were terrified of us turning 16 and semi-learning to drive, and inevitably denting the fenders of their precious BMWs. So we were made to watch roughly every single gory highway safety film ever made, including vintage pre-seatbelt ones with cars like the ones here. At least one of them was accompanied by a quadriplegic guest speaker whose message boiled down to "See? This is what happens if you ever drive drunk even once.", and who described his life-altering accident in excruciating detail. I had nightmares about it for weeks, and occasionally still do. I think we may have gotten an extra dose of vehicular doom awareness because my high school had a lot of rich kids (I was very much not one of them), some of them very much in the Brett Kavanaugh mold. I recall at least one instance where a classmate was given a Porsche for his 16th birthday by his parents, who then promptly decamped to their place in Palm Springs for the winter, leaving him to his own devices for several months. Their idea of responsible parenting involved getting him a Porsche 912, a short-lived model that looked exactly like a 911 but had an underpowered 4 cylinder engine and was slightly cheaper. Which I imagine meant everyone wanted to drag race you at stoplights, and you always lost. I suppose the school focused on the body horror angle because daddy's money and connections could make any legal unpleasantness go away, but daddy can't change the laws of physics or limitations of modern medicine. In short, I would be happier without the crashed vintage cars than with them, and thanks for listening.

Um, anyway, switching topics entirely, I'd mentioned earlier that there was one particular reason that your adventurous, outdoorsy friends might have been to Palisade Falls before. Every so often, not every winter but at least once every few years, the Gorge gets a serious cold snap, lasting from a few days to a few weeks. If it lasts long enough, waterfalls start freezing over, starting with the lower-volume ones like Palisade Falls where water runs down the rock face instead of launching outward from it. When this blessed event happens, the local ice climbing community (your more-outdoorsy-than-thou friend included) converges on the Gorge in a matter of nanoseconds, and the vertical wall of ice at Palisade Falls becomes the ice climbing route known as "Crown Jewel". Crown Jewel is popular due to its (relatively) moderate difficulty and its location as one of the closest ice climbing spots near Portland. I have never tried their sport, and let's be honest here, as a late-40s person without midlife crisis inclinations it's sort of unlikely I'll give it a try in the future. I do check up on them now and then because their geography of the Gorge is very different from anyone else's. Minor seasonal waterfalls that often don't even have official names become the, uh, crown jewels of their sport, like "Ainsworth Left" a few miles east of here in Ainsworth State Park, which is apparently so difficult that it was first climbed successfully in 2009 [???], and which is an otherwise unremarkable-by-Gorge-standards 700' cliff face the other 96% of the time when it isn't frozen.

In any case, here's a 2013 trip report with nice photos taken part of the way up the climb. One thing it mentions in passing, at the bottom of the post, is how to get to the falls during ice climbing season. I haven't seen any accounts about parking up above and hiking down; everyone parks at the Rooster Rock exit and heads directly to the frozen waterfall from there, and the most direct seasonal route involves hoofing it across frozen Mirror Lake. Which I suppose is something that doesn't worry you greatly if you're about to climb a frozen (and just barely frozen) waterfall that might "delaminate" (i.e. pop right off the rock face, taking you along for the ride) any minute. Another trip report from the same winter grumbles about being impeded by annoying stoners while trying to climb the falls. A Mazamas blog post from 2017 has mini trip reports from a few places around the gorge during a brief cold snap, Crown Jewel not included this time. And a 2014 OPB News piece speculates about what climate change means for the local ice climbing scene. (Spoiler: Warmer means less ice, and for ice-based sports this is a bad thing.). And finally, a mostly-unrelated Travel Oregon post that came up while searching the interwebs for "columbia gorge ice climbing". The author climbed Mt. Hood (where there was a great deal of ice), and went hiking in the Gorge the following day, thus satisfying the literal search terms if not the intent behind them. In any case, the post includes a lot of great photos he took along the way, so I figured I'd pass the link along even if it has nothing to do with the rest of this post. And with that, we're done here. I usually wrap these things up with a bit of is-it-worth-doing advice, but I'm not sure what to say this time. It was worth it to me as I finally got to satisfy a longstanding point of curiosity, but if you're coming into this cold it may not be quite as interesting. It does have one advantage in that it's a rare close-to-Portland trail that isn't swarmed with tourists during all daylight hours year-round, and a nice thing about having an obscure blog almost nobody reads is that I'm free to write about it without immediately ruining the place.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Instagram Cat Photos of 2019

Time for another annual tradition, a collection of all the Instagram cat photos I took over the past year. These are heavily weighted toward the beginning of the year because I was trying to do a "post a photo every day" thing, which lasted until about Valentines Day, at which point work took over my life again as it seems to do every so often. Which is also why I've had a record low number of posts here this year, and why Tumblr has completely fallen by the wayside. I did manage to meet the one-post-per-month-for-the-last-14-years bare minimum at least; you might notice that the sidebar shows two posts for September and zero for August, but that's going by Portland time, and it was still before midnight on August 31st in Maui when I posted that first "September" post, which totally counts.

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Daily photo. Extreme ear tuft action.

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Additional cat update: Zzzzzzzz....

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bonus floofage #catsofinstagram

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