Run Oregon: Kings Mountain, Tillamook State Forest

13 Nov

Do you want to run a negative split on a trail run? Then the Kings Mountain trail in the Tillamook State Forest is for you.

Of course, that’s because the trail to the summit is straight up, and the return trip is straight down.

The trailhead starts at an elevation of 735 feet (according to my Suunto watch) and the summit sits at 3,245 feet, a gain of 2,510 feet. There are very few spots in that 2.6-mile stretch where you’ll enjoy a level or downhill spot. And in fact, there are some places where it’s steep enough that you’ll be hoisting yourself over rocks with your hands on the ground, boosting yourself up like you’re climbing a ladder.

kings-mountain-elevation-profileBut reaching the summit will give you some great views of the surrounding Coast Range. On the October Saturday that I ran, it was rainy and overcast, but many of the surrounding mountains could still be seen.

I had considered doing the loop from Kings Mountain around to Elk Mountain and then down the Wilson River trail back to the start. But if the portion up to Kings Mountain is steep, then the trail just past the summit is REALLY steep. The rain was leaving the rocks and dirt slippery, and I bailed on the idea of running the entire loop about three-fourths of a mile past the summit. The trail looked like it would be fun, but I just didn’t feel safe.

kings-mountain-locatorGetting there: If you’re coming from Tillamook, the Kings Mountain trailhead parking lot is just east of mile marker 25 on Highway 6, the Wilson River Highway. If you’re coming from the east from Portland, it’s about three-fourths of a mile past mile marker 26. It is also located about 3 miles east of the Tillamook Forest Center.

Staying there: Several campgrounds can be found in the Tillamook State Forest. This recreation guide lists them, as well as locates the trailheads.

 

Hike Oregon: Matthieu Lakes Trail

26 Oct

The only thing more stunning than the panoramic view of Oregon’s volcanic mountain peaks from the Dee Wright Observatory … is the view of the Sisters that smacks you right in the face as you crest the PCT near South Matthieu Lake.

The observatory sits atop McKenzie Pass in the Cascade Mountains, along Oregon Highway 242 about 15 miles west of Sisters, OR. Overlooking the lava flow that poured from nearby volcanoes thousands of years ago, the observatory was built of lava rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

Towering over the lava fields — both eerie and awesome on their own — is one of the most spectacular displays of mountains in Oregon. On one side, the Three Sisters — North, Middle and South — loom. On the other side, Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack, among others, sit in the middle distance, while in the far distance, Mt. Hood can be seen on a clear day.

The peaks of Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson can be seen from the PCT on the way to South Matthieu Lake.

The peaks of Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson can be seen from the PCT on the way to South Matthieu Lake.

We began our hike on the Pacific Crest Trail that crosses the lava fields. Find that trail by going about 200 yards west of the last observatory parking lot and on the south side of the highway (the PCT does cross the road).

The trail winds across the lava field — amazing in its own right — for about a mile. Shortly after leaving the lava field, the Lava Camp Lake trail meets the PCT. Take a right on the PCT to head to the Matthieu Lakes loop. In a half-mile, you’ll reach the junction of the PCT and the North Matthieu Lake trail. We followed the PCT up to South Matthieu Lake and returned on the North Matthieu Lake trail.

The trail makes a steady but middling climb for about 2 miles, when you’ll see the peaks of Washington-TFJ-Jefferson to the northwest. Soon, you’ll see North Matthieu Lake below. And just a bit further, you’ll clear the trees and face the Sisters. Just a bit further on the trail and left at the next junction will bring you to a stunning view of the North Sister towering over South Matthieu Lake.

Matthieu Lakes Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness

Matthieu Lakes Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness

To reach North Matthieu Lake, backtrack to the junction and follow the North Matthieu Trail to the lake below. After exploring the lake, follow the trail back down the mountain, returning to the start of the Matthieu loop. The trail stays close to the lava flow, and on the October day when we hiked, the trail was occasionally flooded by runoff, but these spots were easily skirted.

Instead of re-crossing the lava field to reach the observatory, we took a right at the PCT-Lava Lake trails junction. It was a short walk to the Lava Camp Lake trail parking lot, and a left turn returns you to Highway 242. We walked the shoulder to return to the observatory parking lot.

It was cloudy the day of our hike, but the sun was burning through the clouds at the same time we were emerging, lining the ridges of the snow-dappled Sisters in bright light.

Getting there: The Dee Wright Observatory is about 15 miles west of Sisters. It’s 22 miles east of the Highway 242/126 intersection — a narrow, winding climb of 4,000 feet or so — or 76 miles east of the Eugene intersection with I-5. Highway 242 is not open all year, and the narrow road is devoid of shoulders over the pass.

Staying there: Several campgrounds can be found on the west side of the McKenzie Pass, most at lower elevations. But we stayed at the Forest Service’s Cold Springs Campground, just 4 miles west of Sisters. It featured pit toilets, water and cost $12 a night. 

Three Sisters from the trail above South Matthieu Lake.

Three Sisters from the trail above South Matthieu Lake.

Hike Oregon: Metolius River

25 Oct

A crisp, sunny fall morning was perfect for a leisurely hike along the Metolius River, which magically emerges from a spring just south of Camp Sherman in central Oregon and flows nearly 30 miles before entering Lake Billy Chinook.

We were among the first visitors to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery on an early Saturday morning in October. We toured the hatchery grounds a bit, marveling at the fish and watching them swarm the pellets we fed them.

wizard-falls-fish-hatchery-locatorAnd then we headed to the trailhead, located adjacent to the visitors parking lot across the lane from the hatchery. For the two miles from the hatchery to Gushing Springs, we had the West Metolius River Trail practically to ourselves. The well-maintained and generally flat trail stays within view of the river the entire way. At times, it’s right on the river bank; at times, it’s slightly uphill from the river. But there are gorgeous sights the entire way.

A sign at the hatchery said the river stays at a fairly constant temperature of 50 degrees year-round, thanks mostly to its spring-fed origins. Plenty of fishermen were getting ready to test their luck on the river, which was prominently marked for fly fishing only.

At the Head of the Metolius, roughly 6 miles south of the hatchery, the river flows from the hill-side springs at the rate of 50,000 gallons per minute. It’s an amazing sight to see forest understory at one point and a full-flowing river just yards away!

And Gushing Springs, its white water flowing from the springs, surrounded by the yellows and greens of the fall foliage and making the short drop into the blue-green pool of the river, was one of the prettiest sights we saw all weekend.

Following closely on the heels of our most recent organized trail runs, we made a leisurely hike out of the 4-mile round trip. But the trails could easily be run instead of hiked, and a trail on the opposite bank could be added in for a 6.5-mile loop.

Getting there: Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery,

From the junction of Highway 20 and Forest Service Road 14, follow the Forest Service Road north just over 10 miles to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery. Cross the Metolius and park in the visitors parking lot. The trail begins on the south side of the parking lot.

Staying there: We camped in the Eurovan at the Forest Service’s Smiling River Campground, about 4 miles south of the hatchery. It is one of several Forest Service campgrounds in the area, and there are a couple of private campgrounds in Camp Sherman, too. Smiling River had pit toilets and water hydrants. In October, the campgrounds were all just one-quarter to one-half full, and we got our choice of riverside spots. I would guess that all the campgrounds are very busy in the summer. Cost was $14 for the night.

Gushing Springs emerges from the hillside about 2 miles south of the hatchery.

Gushing Springs emerges from the hillside about 2 miles south of the hatchery.

 

 

Run Oregon: Pioneer-Indian Trail, Mt. Hebo area, Siuslaw National Forest

28 Feb
The clouds were rolling in at the summit.

The clouds were rolling in at the summit, which sits at 3,153 feet — a climb of about 1,400 feet from the Hebo Lake Campground.

There were some wet, sloppy areas along the Pioneer-Indian Trail on my late February run, but this is definitely a trail worth visiting.

Hebo, Oregon, is just 30 minutes or so north of Lincoln City, and the trail takes off from the Hebo Lake Campground, just a few miles further up Forest Road 14.

The Pioneer-Indian Trail runs 8 miles from the campground to South Lake, which offers dispersed camping. I ran just 5 miles of the trail, making for a 10-mile out-and-back workout. I’ll have to run the entire length of the trail another day. The trail never strays too far from Forest Road 14, and many folks leave vehicles at both ends to avoid the out-and-back hike.

Mount Hebo vertical

Mount Hebo elevation profile

From the Hebo Lake Campground, the trail climbs steadily for 4+ miles, winding through Douglas fir that were planted in 1912 after a massive fire. The trail is mostly single track, covered alternately in rocks, roots and forest trash. Hikers do share part of the trail with equestrians.

I saw just a couple patches of snow, but they say that the roads can become impassable due to snow in the winter. Traffic signs say the road is not maintained in the winter. Officially, the high point is 3,153 feet, although my GPS registered 3,159. The campground was situated at about 1,750 feet, which means the trail averaged a 6.5% grade.

Forest Service map, Mt. Hebo area trails

TRAIL MAP

Lincoln City to Hebo map

LC to HEBO

The top of the mountain features a long, open meadow; the temperature dropped noticeably, and there was nothing to stop the wind.

The trail itself gets its name because it was originally the route for Indians and then settlers to cross the Coastal Range from the Willamette Valley.

On a clear day, you can see the Cascade Mountain Range to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west or Tillamook Bay to the north. But there were enough low-hanging clouds during my visit that the view was limited.

Getting there: To reach the trailhead at Hebo Lake Campground, head 24 miles north of Lincoln City to Hebo. Turn east on Highway 22 and go just .2 miles to the Hebo Ranger Station. Turn right before the Ranger Station, and take the winding Forest Road 14 a little more than 4 miles to the campground. On the day I visited, the campground was closed, so I parked along the road, and ran to the trailhead, which was only about a quarter mile.

 

 

Steady rain changes trail, but training run still possible

15 Feb
Cummins Creek Trail on Jan. 23, 2016, (left) and on Feb. 14. A little rain turns the trail into a shallow creek.

Cummins Creek Trail on Jan. 23, 2016, (left) and on Feb. 14. A little rain turns the trail into a shallow creek.

It’s amazing the difference a little rain will make on an Oregon coastal trail.

I made my second visit to the Cummins Creek Trail in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area in the past month (the first run can be found here). I had planned a different trail run for Sunday, but there was a fairly steady rain overnight — nothing heavy, just the typical Coastal Oregon rain. And since it was still raining in the morning, I decided to revisit a trail I did know rather than risk a trail I didn’t know.

The narrow, rocky single-track near the highpoint of the Cummins Creek Trail was running with water on Feb. 14, 2016.

The narrow, rocky single-track near the highpoint of the Cummins Creek Trail was running with water on Feb. 14, 2016.

It misted or sprinkled on me throughout the run, but for the first hour or so, the trails didn’t really show any negative effects. Under the towering pines, the forest floor was needle-covered and soft. In flatter areas, the water accumulated in a series of small puddles. But in the steeper sections, the elevation change resulted in water running down the middle of the narrow, rocky, single-track trail.

In fact, one area (shown in the photo above) had turned from a rocky trail in January to a shallow, rocky stream in February. Faced with a 20-yard stretch of rushing water, I wasn’t sure how I’d get down the trail and stay dry. But I found a nearby branch — like a walking stick — and I thought I could pick my way across the high spots. And that worked for about two steps, until the branch shattered, plunging me into the running water. Oh, well. If you’re worried about getting wet, you’re in the wrong place.

I’m learning more about the navigational abilities of my Suunto Ambit2. If you can find GPX versions of your trails, you can download those onto the watch, and let it guide you. TrimbleOutdoors has been a good source of GPX files; I had to sign up for a trial membership to download a few, and I haven’t yet decided that I want to pay the $30 annual membership. AllTrails.com might be another good source, but it, too, has a membership fee.

Cape Perpetua vertical

Cape Perpetua elevation profile, Cummins Creek loop

 

A trail runner in Oregon striving to be an Oregon trail runner

1 Feb

Running has been a big part of my life for a dozen years or so, but in the past two years, I’ve become hooked on trail running. I love the variety of the trail itself, the challenge of the elements and the beauty of the outdoors.

Until two months ago, Keokuk, Iowa, was my home base. I spent countless hours running the hills along the Mississippi River, and recently, I added the trails at Geode State Park, which offer some fun single-track around a scenic lake. From this training, I was able to run several 50-mile races, including one in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, and a 100-miler, as well as a number of marathons.

But my new home in Lincoln City, Oregon, will take my training to a new level. Today’s run in the Drift Creek Wilderness illustrates the difference in the two locales. A 7-mile trail run around Lake Geode in Iowa resulted in about 875 feet of vertical — 125 feet per mile. Today’s 7.5-mile run on the Horse Creek North Trail was good for 1,700 feet of vertical — 225 feet per mile.

Horse Creek vertical

Horse Creek elevation profile

Geode vertical

Geode Park elevation profile

And while the total vertical is one thing, the sustained ascents and descents are an even bigger difference. The trail around Lake Geode constantly rose and fell, but it was difficult to find a sustained climb of more than a half mile. Contrast that with Horse Creek, which dropped — and subsequently climbed — 1,400 feet in 2.25 unbroken miles.

If you’re training for a mountain trail race, which is my favorite kind of race, you need to prepare for unrelenting climbs or descents.

The first time I ran the 50-miler in Wyoming’s Bighorns, I was unprepared for the vertical. The first 18 miles is a steady downhill, and one climb rose 3,000 feet in about 3 miles. You can’t train in Iowa for those conditions. The following year, I added plenty of repeats on the biggest hills that I could find, but it was still a poor substitute.


So while I explore the many trails of Oregon — and particularly those in the nearby Oregon Coast Range — I’m learning many lessons that will help me become a true mountain trail runner. Today’s lessons included:

  • Being ready with a back-up location. I had planned a run around Olalla Reservoir, owned by the Georgia-Pacific lumber company. But when I arrived, I found the gate was locked and a sign warned off visitors due to a low water level at the reservoir. Uncertain if the prohibition extended to the surrounding trails, I headed off to another location.
  • Following a route on my GPS watch. Last week, I missed two turns while running the trails at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. This week, I had downloaded the GPX file for the run to my watch. The Horse Creek trail is an out-and-back trail that is easy to follow, but it still gave me a chance to work out the kinks in following a route on my Suunto Ambit2.
  • Embracing the rike. Yes, “rike” — part run, part hike. There’s no way I’m prepared for a 2-mile uphill of 1,400 feet. And frankly, after a 10-week layoff in training, I’m not even ready for an uninterrupted run of 6 or 8 miles in the mountains. But a steady rike keeps me on the trails and extends my distance.

I’ve taken a number of hikes in the surrounding mountains since my arrival in mid-November, but today’s run was just my second true trail run. And all I can say is: Bring on the Oregon mountain trail runs and the lessons that come with them.

For an animation of the run, which also includes some photos along the way, watch this:

At long last, let the Oregon trail runs begin

26 Jan
The ridge along the top of the Cummins Loop Trail at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats.

The ridge along the top of the Cummins Loop Trail at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats.

Never did I imagine that it would take me 10 weeks to recover from my first 100-mile ultramarathon, but — maddeningly — it has.

I moved to Oregon just two days after completing the Tunnel Hill 100 on Nov. 15, and at that time, I thought I would be cruising the Oregon trails within 3 weeks, 4 weeks tops. In the meantime, I have taken a number of gorgeous hikes — like Drift Creek Falls and Harts Cove — and a few short runs on the streets of my new home of Lincoln City. But I haven’t hit the trails in earnest … until this weekend.

Finally, my muscles and joints no longer ached, and the ligaments in my knee were less inflamed — not perfect, but good enough to test on the trails.

For weeks, I’ve been like an impatient child paging through the Sears Wish Book and pining for Christmas day. Except in my case, I’ve been clicking through digital calendars of Oregon trail races. As a child, I’d write out my Christmas wish list, complete with corresponding page references in the Wish Book. In the past couple weeks, I put together an Apple Notes listing of area races, complete with dates and distances. Talk about growing older but not up.

Located on the Pacific Ocean, Lincoln City offers 7 nearly uninterrupted miles of beaches that invite walkers and runners, and I have done a couple of beach runs. But it’s the adjacent Oregon Coast Range, covered in Sitka spruce and Douglas fir, that has been my siren song for 70 days.

It was hard to pick among the many options, but the 26 miles of trails at the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area held the most allure, plus they were in an area that I had not yet explored. And they did not disappoint.

Forest Service trail map

Forest Service trail map

Cape Perpetua is located about 52 miles south of Lincoln City on Highway 101 and 3 miles south of Yachats (pronounced, Yaw-hots).

South of the Visitor Center, there are several looped trails, offering different choices. I headed south on the Oregon Coast Trail and then went east/inland on the Cummins Creek Trail.

The Oregon Coast Trail parallels Highway 101 and offers glimpses of the ocean crashing against the rugged shore. Pine trees provide a canopy above and a tangle of roots cover the single track below.

The Cummins Creek Trail also accommodates mountain bikers, so it’s wider and rock covered. I didn’t see any bikers on my run, but I saw a number of hikers. According to my Suunto Ambit2, the trail rose from a low of 23 feet above sea level to nearly 1,240 feet in about 3 miles, with most of that climb coming in the last mile or so.

Including the extraneous jog down the coast, the trail measured about 9.6 miles.

A few words of caution about the trails:

First, the trails are fairly apparent, but route-finding can be a bit tricky at times. I missed the turn from the coast trail down the Cummins trail, heading too far south along the coast. If you’re heading south from the Visitors Center, it makes the turn east on the Cummins trail on a small rock road. There are signs at most trail intersections, but still…

And second, there are enough interweaving trails that it’s easy enough to take a wrong turn. I read about another hiker/runner who took a wrong turn and went several miles out of her way. I, too, took a wrong turn and headed back down the Cummins Creek Loop Trail — when I actually meant to head north and hook up with the Cook’s Ridge Trail. The resulting mileage was about the same for me, but I did more of an out-and-back run than I had intended.

Despite a couple of unintended challenges, the many trails at Cape Perpetua offer a variety of options, and I look forward to exploring every one of those options in the coming months.

♦ ♦ ♦

There’s a parking area at the Visitor Center, but it is a $5 fee for a day pass. For $35, I purchased an annual Oregon Pacific Coast Passport, which is good for many sites up and down the coast, including Drift Creek Falls, Yaquina Head and Marys Peak. I’ll be frequenting all of these spots, so the annual pass makes sense for me. There is also a small, free parking lot up that rock road where the mountain bike trail begins.

On the trip home, I stopped for a burger and beer at Brewer’s on the Bay, located inside the Rogue Ales Brewery on the Newport bayfront. Great beer, great burger, great service. This is one reason I run — and I’ll run even more if it means a return trip to Brewer’s and Rogue beers.

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