Hiking Among Frozen Giants

Summer Glacier Insights and Escapades

Sandy Glacier Cave. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Andrew Stohner. 

by Kevin Machtelinckx

Mountaineering evokes images of vast glacial flows nestled in high mountain valleys. Spring and winter are prime times to explore glaciers. Spring is a transition period where snowpacks begin to stabilize and snowbridges are still intact. Winter is a perfect opportunity to test your cold-weather gear, when crevasses are filled and the white beast is less likely to swallow you up.

Although many of us mountaineers in the Pacific Northwest choose to hit the alpine rock in the summer, as soon as the mountainsides are liberated from snow, it’s worth remembering that some glaciers are still around. While some of us see our main activity as hiking, we don’t necessarily see the fun in plunging crampons into the flanks of these frozen rivers in 5 degrees Fahrenheit on a winter night. Summer and early fall offer excellent opportunities to visit these glaciers in more agreeable conditions. We lay out a few of these slow-moving wonders that are well worth a summer escape.

Jefferson Park Glacier

As with the other glaciers on Mt. Jefferson, the Jefferson Park Glacier was named by Ira Williams of the Oregon Bureau of Mines in 1915 (Hatch, 1917). Of the approximately 35 permanent snow and ice fields on the mountain, Jefferson Park Glacier is set in one of the most spectacular alpine areas in the Oregon Cascades. The glacier rests between two parallel moraines, which are evidence of a massive glacial retreat that was documented as early as 1917 (Hatch, 1917). In the last two decades, climbing the glacier itself has evolved. The famed Jeff Park Glacier route to the summit has gone from a straight-forward glacier trudge toward the obvious saddle to what is now a navigational quandary through a labyrinth of crevasses and bergschrunds. And the glacier continues to break up.

Jefferson Park. Photo by Outdoor
Project Contributor Lance Beck.
However, one does not have to attempt the summit in order to experience the glacier firsthand. A highly rated option is to start from the Whitewater Creek trailhead (trail number 3429). This option allows for a very scenic hike toward the glacier and lakes surrounding the mountain. The trail takes you up through lupine and beargrass meadows lined with pine and mountain hemlock toward the plateau of the park itself. Once in these flatlands, formed from centuries of high mountain lakes breaking through their sand dams and flooding the areas below, some off-trail navigation is required to pick out and follow one of the many climber’s trails that head toward Jefferson Park Glacier. The hike is best done with good visibility, as you will want to set your bearings as soon as you get sight of the toe of the glacier. This is a strenuous and remote hike, and it is advisable to do it as an overnight trip, so as to leave plenty of time for exploration and navigation.

Sandy Glacier Ice Caves
Snow Dragon, Pure Imagination, and Frozen Minotaur. With names like these, the expectations should be high. These ice caves are found on Mt. Hood’s Sandy Glacier, about a mile uphill from the very well-known McNeil Point. In 2011, Eddy Cartaya and Brent McGregor, among others, documented and mapped the ice cave known as Snow Dragon. In the process, two additional caves were discovered, dubbed Pure Imagination and Frozen Minotaur. These are thought to be the most extensive cave systems in the contiguous United States (Chakalian, 2015). The ever-evolving tunnels of ice are being created and destroyed by the Sandy Glacier’s extremely hasty retreat from the sides of the mountain. These cave systems are temporary, and will undoubtedly succumb to the same fate as the ones in Mt. Rainier’s Paradise Glacier, which once held some of the nation’s largest ice caves before their roofs collapsed.

Sandy Glacier. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Tyson Gillard.
It should be noted that, because of how precarious and fragile these caves can be, entering them should be done only after very careful consideration. In fact, in 2015, the roof of Snow Dragon collapsed, marking a sign of the continuously-changing structure of the cave system. As the average temperature of our summers continues to rise, warm air makes its way deeper into the caves, creating new openings and destroying old ones. 

To attain the caves, or at least get a glimpse of them from a safe distance, it’s ideal to start from the Top Spur trailhead and follow the signs for McNeil Point. Once past McNeil Point, the trail continues upward onto an obvious rocky ridge with the trail eventually fading into the climber’s left side of the Sandy Glacier. Keep an eye out for openings in the glacier to spot the cave entrances. Getting to the caves will require knowledge in glacier travel and a sense of adventure. For most of us, seeing the Pacific Northwest’s (current) premier cave system from a respectable distance is a treat in itself.

One would be forgiven if the Wallowa Mountains in remote eastern Oregon did not come to mind when talking about glaciers. By definition, a glacier is a body of permanent snow and ice which experiences relatively slow movement, evidenced by crevasses, icefalls, and a constantly changing geometry and is formed by decades of snowfall exceeding the rate of snowmelt. A perennial snowfield, on the other hand, does not have the characteristic of movement. Oftentimes, a glacier will form if a snowfield grows large enough that part of it spans onto sloped terrain, initiating a very gradual movement of the snowpack and ice.

The Benson Glacier circa 1992. Photo: David Jensen.

By this definition, it is hard to imagine the Wallowas actually featuring any glaciers. However, among the Wallowa’s 131 snow and ice features, one of them is actually named by the US Geological Survey; the Benson Glacier. Situated on Eagle Cap, photos from 1920 show this glacier extending down the steep north east face of Eagle Cap and toward the aptly-named Glacier Lake. Crevasses are readily apparent in the convexities of the ice feature. A repeat photo from 1992, shows a dramatic reduction in size, with the areas that once showed gaping crevasses now only exposed rock (Skovlin, 2000). Today, the Benson Glacier is perhaps better defined as a permanent snowfield and is confined to an area of the Eagle Cap face with an abundance of shade. 

Scars of a miniature ice age full of glaciers are obvious throughout the wilderness area. Moraines, tarns, and rock fields sculpted by eons of glacial grinding has resulted in a pristine landscape filled with dramatic arĂȘtes, granite cirques and, appropriately, a number of permanent snow features feeding the Wallowa River. 

The true definition of the snow and ice feature adorning Eagle Cap’s sides is best left to those willing to make the trip to see it in person. The trip to Glacier Lake, from which the Benson Glacier can easily be seen, is a 13-mile one-way trip from Wallowa Lake. Of course, for the more adventurous, Eagle Cap can also be climbed by several largely non-technical routes, which requires a good degree of fitness if done in one day. 

Still alive and clinging on through torching summers, the glaciers of our beloved Pacific Northwest are as majestic as they are impermanent. Some are extinct, others are only remembered by the artistic remnants they have carved into the mountainsides we climb. If the summer heat has you thinking about calling off your hike, consider one of these cooler destinations. They offer routes to get your miles in and to appreciate the continuous battle for permanency these slow-moving ice giants wage on an annual basis. 

Chakalian, Paul. April 7, 2015. Ice Cave Collapses on Mt. Hood. tinyurl.com/maz-62017
Hatch, L., 1917, The Glaciers of Mount Jefferson [Oregon]: Mazama, v. 5, no. 2, p. 136-139.
Skovlin, J. M., 2000, Interpreting landscape change in high mountains of northeastern Oregon from long-term repeat photography: Portland, Or., U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.


Secret Local Watering Holes

Top: Siouxon Creek. Photo: Oregonhikers.org
Bottom Left: Buck Lake. Photo: Oregondiscovery.com
Bottom Right: Serene Lake. Photo: Jamey Pyles at nwhiker.org

by Karoline Gottschild

Most kids and adults agree that Portland's often brilliant July and August sunshine and heat are a divine and well-earned respite from the leaden winter skies and seemingly ceaseless winter rains. We also know that they reward us with the lush greenery, rushing rivers, and sparkling pools that we get to enjoy all summer long.

Many may lament the bygone years where Portland’s reputation for drear and drizzle kept much of the world away from its doors and shores. But it’s 2017, and we’re a bustling popular and ever-growing city, a mecca for all kinds, including ever greater numbers of outdoor lovers. Yet it’s still possible to evade the horrendous summer hordes. There are gems in the woods to be found, if you only go a little off the most beaten paths.

Following are few hidden gems just a drive, hike, and secret (sort of) jaunt away. Some are a bit farther away (but not much more than 2 hours), some are a bit more difficult or longer to get to, and some offer additional bonuses, such as mosquitoes, horse flies, or just plain frigid waters. Hey, it is precisely those natural features that help separate the cooler carriers from the Mazama hikers.
So go for it. Grab your lunch (or stop along the way and support a local business), remember your water (reusable bottle and water filter), sunscreen (biodegradable), sunglasses (polarized), emergency aids ... well, you know, your Mazama ten essentials. Leave some room for your frivolous favorites—a water toy, book, water shoes—and then head on out. If you are bringing along a friend with less fortitude (or you are just smarter), you may wish to consider a wetsuit. Whether you get out earlier or later in the season, beat the summer crowds and float leisurely in frigid snow-fed mountain streams and lakes while your friends barely break the water surface before scurrying, in a shivering self-embrace, back to the sun-warmed shores.

Serene Lake—Estacada Region, Oregon
Its relatively remote location from Portland and the almost 7 mile return hike from the nearest parking lot means Serene Lake is still one of the more peaceful swimming holes. The trek provides a wonderful way to combine a hike with gorgeous views of Mt. Hood, other volcanoes, and lakes. Add on backpacking, camping, and fishing, and you can create a multi-day adventure. If your idea of swimming fun includes jumping off rocks, try the south end of Serene Lake which is 25 feet deep (always check for safety first—rocks move and things change).
To get there, you can choose the 8-mile Serene Lake Trail or a shorter 6.6-mile hike that starts at 4,700 ft. at Frazier Trailhead, and still takes you through three beautiful lakes—Middle, Upper, and Serene Lakes with an elevation gain of 900 feet.

Drive from Portland: 2 hours plus. Timing: Summer–fall, with early summer having more mosquitoes, colder water, and fewer people. Hiking Distance: 6.6 miles. Permits: No fee. Fill out Wilderness Permit at Trailhead. Crowds: Little. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. For detailed hike info, and links to driving directions: tinyurl.com/serenelake

Buck Lake—Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Are you trying to convince your new mate to join the Mazamas? Are you still playing nice, and don’t want to shock them with a 10 mile hike to a freezing ‘swimming’ river? Then head to postcard-perfect Buck Lake for a more balmy water experience. At 4,080 feet elevation, Buck Lake is only 30 feet deep, often warming up to 72 degrees in August. It can be reached by a moderate ½-mile ascending trail. Depending on the sunlight, the water can look sparkling emerald to a more moss green; either way it’s fabulous. Usually only having moderate crowds, weekends in high summer might bring out a varied assortment of less than zen-like holidaymakers. So for romance and peace, go early in the day or early in the season.

Drive from Portland: 2 hours, 10 minutes. 61.5 miles east of Oregon City. Timing: Summer-fall. If swimming isn’t so important, or you are an ice bear, the maples in the area turn orange and red in the fall (it’s gorgeous and less crowded). Hiking Distance: 1-mile round-trip. Permits: No. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. Info and driving instructions to trailhead: tinyurl.com/bucklake

Siouxon Creek—Gifford Pinchot Park Area, Washington
Near Amboy, Washington, you can do it all—hike, bike, camp, and swim—and with your dog. A 9-mile hike will take you through mossy forest, along the cold and sparkling creek, and by 4 waterfalls. You’ll find numerous camping sites along the way, but all are in permanent shade, so bring the necessary moisture-proof gear. Some of the trail can be popular during the hottest and sunniest days, so be warned or go during cloudier and cooler times; carry a thermos with hot cocoa for your after-swim warm up. For hard core hikers, the trails are extensive, and you can easily hike for 10-15 miles.

Drive from Portland: 1 hour, 30 minutes near Mount St. Helens. Hiking Distance: 9-miles round trip. Permits: NW Forest Pass. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: No. Dogs: Yes. Directions: tinyurl.com/siouxoncreekhike

Alder Flats—Mt. Hood, Clackamas Area, Oregon
This hike is 47 miles east of Oregon City, and although many of the Clackamas area river spots are crowded, this one tends to be less so. The 1.9-mile return hike keeps the people volume down. You’ll walk through magical moss covered mixed old-growth forest (remember to bear right at 0.2 miles) to be greeted by fairly cold, clear moving waters, and some basic campsites right along the river, if you wish to stay the night. The current here is moderate to strong, leading to downstream rapids. Water levels can fluctuate dramatically, so do take care. Some shallows exist, and there is a 40-foot-long sandy swimming beach which makes for a nice place to swim.

Drive from Portland: 70 minutes. Hiking Distance: 1.9-mile round trip. Permits: NW Forest Pass. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. Directions: tinyurl.com/alderflatshike


Trailside Tasty Treats

by Wendy Marshall

When I was a youth, my kitchen creations of steamed stinging nettles and butter-sautĂ©ed shaggy mane mushrooms invoked a few raised eyebrows and hesitancy in my mom. But I still recall the excitement and pride I felt at having conjured a meal out of things I'd found growing wild in our forest. The idea of living off the land, eating foods you collect and prepare yourself, can be a romantic one. In this age of mass-produced everything, I've read increasing accounts by people who feel disconnected from nature, who wish to be closer to the land and water we dwell on, as well as better stewards of its riches. Not without good reason, either. With concerns about survival haunting our current mindset and issues cropping up daily about the hazards of corporate manufactured foods, there is a real practicality to cultivating a harmonious partnership with our native landscape. Not only rewarding and nourishing to body and spirit—such a relationship may solve a few of our modern troubles.

Besides eating organic, what if you're hungry on a hike? Instead of an invisible stranger, a plant by the path can becomplant for salvation. Other incredibly nutritious plants are as close as your backyard or readily available in meadows and woods: chickweed, purslane, and of course, dandelion. The roots of dandelion, burdock, and Queen Anne's lace—the ancestor of a store-bought carrot—can be stewed into a hearty soup. As spring ripens into early summer and beyond, fruits and berries pop up by the bushel, such as huckleberry, thimbleberry, and salal.

e a familiar personality, a helping spirit, and maybe even a part of your body. This time of year, you'll find some of our finest food plants disguised as irksome weeds. Stinging nettles, for instance, are tasty steamed like kale, but can be eaten fresh! Let the leaves wilt, rub them with a spoon, and they lose their sting. Nettle, which is high in iron, silicon, and potassium, can help those pesky allergies and arthritis, by cleaning your blood and lungs of toxins. Miner's lettuce is another example, easily spotted by the round, succulent leaves that encircle its stems. California gold miners, desperate for fresh fruits and vegetables, turned to this

I met John Kallas, director of Wild Food Adventures, at the Belmont Street Fair last summer. This wickedly humorous fellow presided over a beautiful display of native foods, from clams and berries to flour made from acorns. Kallas, whose 35 years of experience teaching about wild foods make my kenning of local plants seem a bit like child's play, presented a slideshow at the Mazama Mountaineering Center on March 8, where he signed copies of his new book, Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. From June 23 to 26, he'll be leading the GingerRoot Rendezvous intensive course in Silverton, Oregon. Participants will learn to identify and prepare edible wild plants from all over North America. However, Kallas, a trained botanist, isn't just an expert on plants. He also leads courses on edible coastal animals, such as razor clams, and ocean vegetables (seaweeds). Besides the intensives, Wild Food Adventures offers a range of affordable day classes throughout the year, which I look forward to exploring. Find out more at: wildfoodadventures.com.

As in any outdoor pursuit, harvesting wild foods comes with its own ethics. Herbalism has taught me that a group of wild plants is a family, part of a larger community. Wild communities can be irreparably damaged by someone who takes too much, as in the tragic case I read about a with patch of wild ginger—the razing or raping of a whole patch is definitely not a responsible approach. A good rule is to gather only one of every four plants in a particular species group, at most. This ensures a few always remain to produce future generations, resulting in more sustainable ecosystems. Remember you're consuming life forms, and they deserve respect.

Additionally, safety is a consideration. Some plants have serious attitude! The notorious poison hemlock is not, gram for gram, the nation's most noxious plant, but it is our top poisoner because it looks like a lot of other tasty herbs. It's no coincidence. Poison hemlock is in fact related to its look-alikes, including celery, parsley, dill, cilantro, and carrot. Again, an experienced teacher such as Kallas can help you make these critical distinctions. (For example, to distinguish poison hemlock from its Umbelliferae cousins, look for small maroon spots on its stems, and a musty smell.)

Mushrooms are a different matter. I mentioned shaggy mane mushrooms, a member of the Coprinus or "inky cap" family, and a good edible. But inky caps are only edible up to a point, and a similar species has a toxin that only activates when you drink alcohol! You'd need to stay dry for five days after this dinner. Many mushrooms, like chantrelles, are wonderful foods, while others have the wildest poisons in the woods. Fortunately, courses in Oregon mushroom identification are offered several times a year by Bark and other organizations.

I've found that learning about wild foods can be intensely fulfilling, bringing you more in tune with the outdoors as well as your own spirit. As participants in outdoor recreation, our responsibility as caretakers and advocates of wild places need not be a chore. Rather, it can be an excellent adventure, an ongoing and ever-deepening love affair with the earth that sustains us and with all the living things we meet along the way, through one of the most intimate connections we have—our next meal.
Wendy Marshall has been an amateur herbalist for seven years. In addition to mountain climbing and hiking, she is a perpetual student of life and periodically takes courses in curious things, such as how to make stone tools.


Pack-Training Your Pup

Tired of carrying Fido’s food on the trail? John Rettig shares a few tips for training your favorite four-leggeds to haul their own.

Edited by Kristie Perry

I have seen far too many people attempt to make a dog carry a pack for the first time right at the trailhead, and it looked very unpleasant for the dog. I have also twice found packs abandoned along the trails, and my assumption was that the dog ran off, squirmed out of it, and just left it there.
So when it was time to for my Siberian Husky, Leila, to start carrying her own kibble, I took a different approach:

I started her by having Leila wear an empty pack in the house for just a minute or two at a time, and rewarded her with treats and praise. After a few days of this, she seemed agreeable to wearing the pack for longer intervals, and stopped paying much attention to it when it was on.

Next, I took her for walks around the neighborhood with an empty pack. Like most dogs, Leila loved walks, and she started associating seeing the pack with having fun. That was the key, and from that point forward Leila donned her pack without protest.

After a couple of days of walking Leila around the neighborhood with empty panniers, I stuffed them with crumpled newspaper to bulk the pack up. Occasionally, I’d have to help her if she caught a tree with a pannier.

Once Leila became accustomed to the pack's width, I started adding a bit of weight, always being careful to keep the panniers balanced.

Within two weeks time, Leila was easily carrying five pounds—the equivalent of two liters of water, plus her kibble. So we hit the trails.

After a month of hiking every weekend, Leila was ready for Mt. Defiance. And she knew when she saw my pack and hers come out, fun was on the agenda.

The results of this gentle acclimation was that Leila took the pack for granted and never tried to squirm out of it—it was just part of the trail experience. The flip side: she also learned what it meant when only my pack came out and hers didn’t. She knew I was heading out, and she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t going. I suffered many a withering scowl, something Siberians are famous for.

Long-time Mazama member John Rettig has been a Mazama member since 1999. He is currently serving his third year on the Executive Council, where has also served as Secretary for all three years. He has completed the 16 Northwest Peaks, was awarded the Parker Cup in 2012 for service to the organization, and the Montague Conservation award in 2014.