Graduation vacation

Last Wednesday Liz finished her last final, the official end of her undergraduate career.  In celebration, we set off on a long weekend adventure, a big circle north into Washington and back.

Thursday, March 22

Left the house a bit after 2, stopping in Newberg to buy snowshoes that I found on Craigslist.  Picked up swarm lures at the bee store.  Delicious Thai dinner with friend Jess in northeast Portland before the Girlyman show.  They just keep getting better and better, and the Alberta Rose Theatre has great acoustics.  Someday I want to find the kind of creative, authentic expression of self that characterizes the Girlyman quartet.  Stayed with Jess at her new studio apartment.

Friday, March 23

Shared songs with Jess in the morning, then bought some needed supplies at outdoor shops while Liz finished her Food Corps application.  Set off around 3 pm for Ape Cave, a 2+ mile long lava tube on the south flank of Mt. St. Helens.  We elected to try the “more challenging” upper section of the cave.

Inside Ape Cave. Striations on the walls mark various lava flow levels.

Eight-foot lava falls - supposedly the most challenging part of the hike.

The sign warned us about the lava falls to climb and rock piles to climb over, but didn’t mention exactly how many or how large of rock piles. The cooled lava is very grippy rock, even when wet, so we didn’t have too much trouble though the going was slow at times.  The cave is a tube ranging from eight feet to over twenty feet in diameter, with interesting patterns on the walls and ceiling.  It is completely black inside, enough that our headlamps didn’t seem very bright.  Thankfully I bought an extra-bright LED flashlight in Portland that did a good job of lighting up the whole cave.

The most difficult part proved to be the exit, as the ladder/staircase led out onto steep, icy snow.  But with the help of grippy rock handholds and kicked steps, we joined Jupiter and Venus shining through the last light of day.  We camped at Seaquest State Park, arriving around 11 pm.

Saturday, March 24

While Liz caught up on sleep from finals week, I hiked the perimeter of the park – about three miles through mixed hardwood-conifer forest.  Seaquest doesn’t really have any natural attractions – it seems to exist solely to house the hundreds of campers that come to visit Mt. St. Helens.  Even so, it was a beautiful morning in a forest awakening to spring.  We left around noon, driving to North Bend, east of Seattle, and from there 17 miles up the most potholed gravel road I have ever seen.  In many places there were too many potholes to dodge them all, and we bounced along at 5 mph until the next open section.  I was glad to have the Subaru as we drove through deep snow and rocky washes that stopped smaller cars.

We were told to bring snowshoes, but earlier weekend visitors had packed the trail enough to walk without sinking in.  It’s 4.5 miles from the trailhead to Goldmyer Hot Springs, mostly walking up a closed road along the river, in the shadow of some amazing peaks.  The Cascades are much more rocky and jagged up here, compared to the tree-covered slopes of Oregon.

Trail to Goldmyer Hot Springs

Along the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River.

I was surprised to run into my old Carleton friend Jannel on the trail, hiking out with her coworkers from a wind energy company.  I would have loved to catch up a bit more, but with others waiting we continued our respective treks, Liz and I walking over deepening snow as we climbed farther up the valley.

This was my first time snow camping, but with the hard-packed snow and above-freezing weather it wasn’t much different than camping on solid ground.  Will, the hot springs caretaker, pointed us toward the campground and gave us a bucket to hang our food out of reach of bears.

Boiling tortellini for dinner.

We hiked up to the springs after dinner, joining about 6-7 others soaking by candlelight.  The main pool is in a cave extending 25 feet back into the rock, with the hot water emerging from the wall about half way back.  There is a wood bench at the far back – the best place to be as it is steamy but not too hot.  We sang John Denver and other songs with some folks from Seattle before sliding down the hill to our warm sleeping bags.  (I bought a new 15-degree down bag a month ago, and I came to love it on this trip.)

Sunday, March 25

Campsite in the snow.

Old-growth forest on the trail between the campground and hot spring.

Peering out from the cave entrance.

Mark in the middle pool.

We were the only ones at the hot spring when we hiked up in the morning, and we spent a good couple of hours singing in the resonant chamber of the cave – old A Cappellicans songs and other favorites.  Around noon we reluctantly bid farewell and began the long hike out.  It went quickly, despite light rain falling for the latter half of the walk.  We ate dinner with Liz’s aunt, uncle, and cousin in Renton, then drove up to the Fremont neighborhood to spend the night with Jenny (my cousin) and Ted.  They are retrofitting their basement as an apartment, so we had a whole floor and queen bed to ourselves which felt amazing after two cold nights in a tent.

Monday, March 26

After a few Seattle-area stops, we had lunch in Olympia and headed west to explore the Washington coast.  Unlike Oregon, where there are beaches and state parks every 5-10 miles, the southern Washington coast is mostly privately owned and inaccessible, so we continued on to Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River where we set up camp in light rain and walked a few miles along the beach as the rain and wind picked up.

Blue sand beach at Cape Disappointment.

Warning for fellow beachcombers.

Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River.

We were camped next to a drunk fellow, who kept us awake for a few hours with his loud coughing and throwing up.  He did eventually fall asleep, leaving us to rest peacefully until morning.

Tuesday, March 27

Heading south from Cape Disappointment, we crossed the four-mile bridge over the Columbia River and returned west to Fort Stevens State Park, an old military installation with many acres of mudflats where we found lots of shorebirds, three bald eagles, a great blue heron, and a small collection of bufflehead ducks.

Near the start of the four-mile Columbia River bridge at Astoria.

Elevated south end over the shipping channel.

The Flex Shine, an empty bulk ship heading empty to Portland to load grain bound for China.

Just south of the river mouth a 100-year-old shipwreck remains embedded in the beach.  Personally I found the sanderlings much more exciting than the rusted metal.  Sanderlings are one of the cuter birds, moving at double-speed on their little legs running up and down the beach with the waves.

Shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park.


I'm not sure what they were eating.

Posing with someone else's sand art.

After Fort Stevens, our next Stop was Ecola State Park, where we hiked a 2.5-mile loop to the top of Tillamook Head through old-growth Sitka Spruce forest.

Boiling sea, stormy sky at Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach.

Abandoned Tillamook Head lighthouse, 1.2 miles offshore.

Bald Eagle at Ecola Point, our fourth eagle of the day.

Wind-stripped Sitka Spruce with near-perfect symmetry.

South from there, we stopped at a few overlooks before ordering delicious pizza at the Pizza Garden in Nehalem.  The wind and rain really picked up as we drove the final 2 1/2 hours through Tillamook and back to Corvallis, where we stopped at Block 15 for a celebratory pint.

Chalk reflections on our journey at Block 15.

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