Sat, Jun 30, 2012
The weather forecast in Washington was for drizzly conditions, overcast the entire day. Saving the better forecasted days for the harder peaks, we chose to tackle Buck Peak, the highpoint of Oregon's Multnomah County not far south of the Washington border. At under 5,000ft of elevation, we expected little snow and little trouble other than a bit of rain. The peak is located on the border with Hood River County, tucked away in the dense forest northwest of Mt. Hood near the aptly name Lost Lake. There is a trail going to the summit, about five miles in length starting from the lake. Aside from the fee to enter the park that surrounds the lake, Adam noted that an alternate route might be found off a side road that lands within 3/4 mile from the summit. We investigated this route first, noting that it would require about 2,000ft of elevation gain cross-country.
I'd done some cross-country in the temperate rain forests of the PNW in the past and knew it was both possible and arduous. It was unlikely to save us any time however. I intimated this to Adam who thought it might be rather mild, given his experience mostly in California where cross-country through forest is usually open and relatively easy. Here, there is little open ground as the extra water affords ample means to sustain ground dwelling plants and shrubs that need little daylight to not only survive, but thrive in the understory. It was a tough call, but one I was happy to leave to Adam to decide - I'm usually up for a good bushwhack.
And so we decided to take the "short cut", starting along the road at a point where initially we had a wide, lichen-covered boulder field to start up on. This made for a good scramble initially, giving us some hope that things might not be so bad after all. The scramble ended soon enough, devolving into a very steep slope of dense trees and brush. One might describe it as class 3 through the roots of the large trees that surrounded us. We had little hope of making the direct assault up the southeast-facing slope to the summit which was choked with stuff we couldn't hope to get through. We turned our attention to the left where we hoped more north-facing slopes would prove easier to get us to the ridgeline and the trail we expected to find above. Though less than a mile in length, we spent an hour and a half ascending through brush and thicket, some of it with nasty, thorny plants that slowed us or re-routed us entirely when it became too overwhelming. Flowering plants found along the way offered visual respite from the thornier stuff that antagonized us.
The trail, also part of the Pacfic Crest Trail, was not located where indicated on the GPS, but several hundred feet higher, closer to the crest. But find it we did, and to no small relief to both of us. Though we expected to find no snow, there were lingering patches that seemed to cling most directly to the trail itself, making sections somewhat precarious - but still far better than the bushwhacking route we'd already travelled. Half an hour after landing on the trail, we found the junction with the narrow side trail that leads to the summit of Buck Peak. No Trespassing signs were found regularly along the trail. As part of the Bull Run watershed, leaving the trail seems to be a strict No-no - precisely what we had spent the first hour and half doing. Why had there been no such signs along the road we started from? The No Trespassing signs continued right to the very summit where a beaten up sign indicated the location of the 4,751-foot summit. Though there is an opening through the forest looking southeast towards Lost Lake, by now we had found ourselves deep in the cloud layer and were afforded no views. A short break later, we started back down again.
Because of where we parked, we were committed to a cross-country return on the descent. As we plied the trail along the ridgeline heading south we spied boulder fields that we thought would make for an easier descent route. There was some trouble in locating these as we got closer, the views squashed by the dense forest understory. Our descent route followed the small creek that cut the steep canyon to the east, but proved no less brushy than the ascent route. We got separated for the middle third of the descent as I moved south to what I hoped was going to be easier ground but proved otherwise. We could hear each other thrashing through the thickets some 30-40 yards apart, thinking the other must surely be having an easier time as we struggled in our own little hells, only to find there was no significant advantage to either route.
Finally, sometime after 1:30p, or some four hours after we'd started out, we completed our little hike. We had no more enthusiasm for chasing additional peaks, so we set our sights much lower. Adam has a hobby of collecting stamps from the various visitor centers at national parks, monuments and historical sights. We stopped at several places along the Columbia River Gorge on our drive west, viewing the popular waterfalls along historic US30 (and collecting a stamp). Our drive took us up and over Crown Point which is said to have a spectacular view of the river gorge. We'd have to take it on faith because it was raining outside and the visibility was somewhere around 100 yards. But we counted it as a summit, one of the lower ones in the county at a mere 731ft above sea level. Adam got another stamp here as well. Our odyssey continued west, eventually crossing the river into Washington at Vancouver. Here we visited the Fort Vancouver Historical Site, arriving not three minutes before the visitor center would close at 5p. Adam jumped out of the car as I pulled up to the entrance, he ran in, got his stamp, and walked out smiling with a big grin on his face. We parked the car and made the effort to see if we could get a quick tour inside the old fort, but alas they had closed the gates on schedule. We got a glimpse through a small opening in the wooden gate, took a few photos outside, and left. It was all so comical.
We took a room at the Motel 6 in Woodland along Interstate 5, not too far north of Vancouver. The next day was also expected to have poor weather so we planned for another CoHP outing. Such is life in the Pacific Northwest...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Buck Peak
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