Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trail Report: Abiqua Falls and Butte Creek Falls

Abiqua Falls

Abiqua Falls has been on my list of waterfalls to see for quite a while. I finally got there, and it was just as spectacular in person as I thought it would be. However, getting there was another story. Although I'm usually a good planner, I ran out of time to research the falls, which is my own fault. I assumed it'd be one of those falls where you drive up to a nice trailhead and then walk a short distance to the falls. Nope.

The road to the trailhead was full of potholes, and I eventually parked in an ATV staging area off to the side and walked the rest of the way down. Trucks and Jeeps made it down the rest of the road, but it got worse after I parked and my city car would probably have gotten stuck. I ended up having to walk two miles to the trailhead - which didn't have a sign saying it was for the falls. Instead it was a sign about entering private property and using caution. Luckily I ran into a couple that said this was the entrance to the trail.

The "trail" was down a muddy and slick hill through the forest down to the river, and then it continued right along the rocks near the river. A lot of the time was spent walking on the steep river bank. There were several sections where a rope had been tied onto a tree and extended down the trail 10-20 feet because it was so steep and muddy that you had to use the rope to get up or down that section. It was treacherous, but fun.

Part of the trail - the muddy section in between the logs

Another part of the trail - the muddy section going up and behind the tree

Gorgeous river - at times the trail went right next to water

Had I read about the trail and the falls beforehand, none of this would have come as a surprise. Luckily, it was fine. If I had been in a more adventurous mood and knew that this is what I was getting into, I would have enjoyed it more.

That said, the falls were beautiful and absolutely worth the long walk there. The gorgeous basalt amphitheater was what had attracted me to these falls. I wish I had been there at a time with better lighting (I was there around 1pm, when the sun washes everything out), so I will have to go back again someday in better conditions. My photos are not anywhere near what I wanted them to be. (Google image the falls and see what they're supposed to look like.)

Pretty mossy tree near the river

Upper & Lower Butte Creek Falls 

Upper Butte Creek Falls

Lower Butte Creek Falls

I almost didn't see these falls, because they were just a few minutes drive from the road that I had to take to get to Abiqua Falls, and I didn't want to deal with another potholed road and a difficult trail. I decided to try it and turn around if things got rough. Fortunately, the road to the Butte Creek trailhead was much better and there was an actual trailhead with a sign/information and a nice, short trail to the falls. I'm glad I decided to try getting to these falls, because this was a beautiful area and the falls were gorgeous.

Pretty trail to the falls

I liked how this dead tree looked among the rest of the trees

I also got lucky because the falls were quite full. When looking at pictures of the falls on Google images, I can see they're smaller during other times in the year. However, I would like to go back in the fall as the colors look gorgeous then. I highly recommend these falls to anyone who visits Oregon!

Upper Butte Creek Falls

Lower Butte Creek Falls

Monday, March 20, 2017

Trip Report: Silver Falls State Park

Throughout my time browsing Instagram, I kept seeing amazing waterfall pictures and when I looked at the location, many of them were from Silver Falls State Park. I put this park on a list somewhere and then kind of forgot about it. I kept seeing pictures from this park and then remembering that I meant to visit someday, so this year when I did all of my trip planning, I made it a point to finally visit this park - and I'm glad that I did! It's now one of my favorite parks and I feel that everyone should visit it at some point in their lives.

The park is known for an 8.7 mile trail called the Trail of Ten Falls, in which you can see 10 different waterfalls on the trail. In reality, there are more than 10 falls. There are several more miniature waterfalls along the trail - the park is full of them! The miniature falls are most likely dependent on the amount of rainfall though, and I suspect most of them don't exist in drier months. I was at the park in early March and it rained the entire first day I was there, so all of the falls were completely filled out.

I figured I was coming to the park to see waterfalls and that that would be the highlight of the trip, however, the trail itself is beautiful and worth seeing even if the waterfalls didn't exist. The trail follows a stream with a pretty blue color which winds its way through a gorgeous forest. Moss covered trees line the banks of the stream and the bright green moss pops against the darker green forest and the brown and red leaves. I can't speak to how it looks during the rest of the year, but the rainy and foggy Pacific Northwest weather in March gave the scenery a mystical appearance. Also, the moss covered trees are insane. They're some of the coolest trees I've ever seen in my life - totally wicked and they make for some interesting pictures. I enjoyed the trail and the surroundings just as much as I enjoyed the waterfalls!

Fern covered boulder

Now for the falls: the first one I encountered was South Falls at 177 feet tall, one of the bigger and more popular falls due to its proximity to the day use area and South Falls Lodge. It's a short walk from the parking lot to get here, and this is also one of the falls that you can walk behind. It is quite difficult to photograph a waterfall from behind, as there is a tremendous amount of spray and mist that covers the camera lens. For this same reason, it's also difficult to stay dry when walking behind a waterfall!

The second waterfall that I came to was Lower South Falls at 93 feet, and it was another waterfall you can walk behind. This was one of two of my favorites to walk behind (the other being Middle North Falls) because the trail was narrow and cut just a few feet behind the falls. Walking behind a waterfall is a life experience that I highly recommend everyone have at some point. It's exhilarating to be so close to something so powerful. The water is so strong and loud, and it's a unique experience to see all of it rushing past you with a force that could crush anything in its path. It's mesmerizing. I could stand behind a waterfall all day.

The third waterfall was Lower North Falls at 30 feet. This was a pretty and powerful waterfall right along the trail.

The fourth waterfall was Double Falls at 178 feet. It was loud and angry and difficult to photograph due to the amount of spray and mist it was throwing. I had to back up a bit to get a shot. This waterfall was a short detour from the main trail.

The fifth waterfall was Drake Falls at 27 feet. It could be seen as I passed by it on the trail, but this was one of the more difficult falls to see, as there was no clear viewpoint from directly in front of it, behind it, or above it.

The sixth waterfall was my other favorite to walk behind - Middle North Falls at 106 feet. The trail also cut quite close behind these falls and I took some time to just stand there and watch. Being behind a huge wall of water is amazing.

Approaching Middle North Falls

The seventh waterfall was Twin Falls at 31 feet. This was right along the path but didn't have a straight on view.

The eighth waterfall was North Falls at 136 feet. I enjoyed this one a lot because of the awesome walkway behind it, and also because I was glad to get out of the rain for a while. These falls had a long pathway deep behind them, which almost felt like being in a cave. It was such a cool (and dry) area that I was tempted to not leave, haha. I kind of wish I could live under there.

View from behind the falls

The ninth waterfall was Upper North Falls at 65 feet. This was another waterfall that required a short detour from the main trail, but was easily visible from the trail.

The tenth waterfall was Winter Falls at 134 feet. This also required a detour from the main trail, but offered a connecting trail back to some of the other waterfalls on the first half of the trail. These falls were tall and since the trail was close to them, I had trouble getting the entire thing in the frame.

Bonus falls! These didn't have names (that I'm aware of), but they're all the mini falls that I encountered along the trail.

Non-nature things: The day use area was nice, and I appreciated the South Falls Lodge and Cafe. I got a veggie panini after my long walk to see all the falls, and it was nice to sit somewhere warm and dry with a fire going after being out in the rain and cool weather. They also had plenty of coffee and hot cocoa drinks. There is no cell phone reception anywhere in the park, so I was appreciative of the free Wi-Fi that the lodge offered so that I was able to check in with family and post a few photos.

Lodging: The park has a few different options for lodging, and I chose one of the Upper Smith Creek cabins. The campground wasn't open yet, which would have been my first choice, so I went with the next most rustic option. These cabins have a sink and toilet in them, but have a shared shower available in a building nearby. You also have to park and walk to the cabins.

Getting to the park once the sun was down was challenging. I forgot how truly dark it is without any lights. I could see some in front of me due to my car's headlights, but when I looked in the rearview mirror - nothing. Pitch black. I made one wrong turn in the park, and it was difficult to see where to turn in the first place. After another wrong turn into a parking lot, I found the office that had the box with an envelope with the cabin keys in it. Luckily they included a map with a highlighted route to where the cabins were. Once I was there, getting from the car to the cabin was another story. Each cabin had some lights outside of it and the numbers had lights shining on them, so that was helpful. But the pathways to the cabins were dark, and I had to wait for my eyes to adjust so I wasn't stumbling over things. Next time I will have a flashlight in the car! I appreciated that they kept the porch lights on on my cabin so I could see where I should be heading.

The cabin is one of the most adorable things I've ever seen. It was small and cozy - just enough room for a full size bed, cabinet to put luggage, a tiny bathroom containing only a toilet, and a sink outside of the bathroom. I thought it was cute and rustic and perfectly sized. They also had the heat on, so it was nice and toasty when I got there. I slept well, probably because there was no light or noise pollution. Living in a city, I never experience what it's like for it to be truly dark and quiet. Once I turned off the lights, that was it. There was no adjusting to the dark - it was pitch black and stayed that way. It was also dead silent, except for the squirrel/bird/bat which was crawling around in the roof. I'd say this is a good step between camping in a tent and camping in a fully modern cabin or a hotel.

I highly recommend that everyone visit this park at some point in their life. It's truly a magical place!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Race Recap: Lake Sammamish Half Marathon & Hot Chocolate 5k

Lake Sammamish Half

This was my second half marathon ever and it was a great course along the Sammamish River Trail, through Marymoor Park and then on the East Lake Sammamish Trail to Lake Sammamish State Park. The trail was flat, and it was advertised as a fast course. I could see how this is a good choice for a half marathon to attempt a personal record. There was also plenty of room on the trail - it never felt crowded or like I had to struggle to pass someone.

It was supposed to rain, but the weather turned out gorgeous - sunny and not too cold.

My first mile was right around my goal pace of 10 minutes per mile. My second mile was faster at 9:33. I figured if I could maintain that I'd definitely do better than my last half and would possibly get 2:10 or under, but I knew that was me starting out too fast and being unaware of my pace. I knew I couldn't sustain that, and it proved true as each mile inched back towards 10 minutes per mile. Then around mile 6, my IT band issues flared up. Usually they're only in the left leg or most severe in the left leg, but this time the right leg started first and ended up being the worst of the two. I felt like I was being stabbed in the outside of both knees, and like I had a knife stuck in one of my hamstrings.

We all look like we're walking - I guess we're just trotting. I was having IT band issues at this point.

Since I had run an entire 10k with severe IT band and knee pain from the start, and since I had run the last 8 miles of my first half marathon with IT band pain, I knew I could finish the race even though this had flared up. The disappointing thing was that I wouldn't be able to stay on track for 2:10 and I wasn't sure what my chances were of doing any better then last time. I had to pull over and stretch a few times, but it didn't help much. Towards the last 4 miles, I just wanted to be done. I managed to pick up the pace for the last mile, and I ended up finishing 4 minutes faster than my last half marathon - 2:12:06 vs. 2:16:27. After a stressful week and my IT bands flaring up, I'll take it! This is one of the things I love about running - as long as you do better than you did last time, that's enough.

My official chip time was 2 seconds slower at 2:12:06.

I really enjoyed this race. Parking was plentiful and convenient. I've never been able to park that close to the starting line for such a big race. The course was beautiful, flat, and fast. I want to do this race again next year with hopefully more long distance experience and try for 2:10 or less.

I also liked that the finish was on the same path where I'd previously run a 10k, so I knew what to expect. It also finished near where I used to live, and the East Lake Sammamish Trail was something I used to run on, so it was easier to pick up the pace when I knew the end was near and I was almost "home". Apparently they took a video near the finish line - I'm in the bright purple/blue shirt:

The finisher's medal

After the race there was chili and potato chips available, as well as bananas. Since my first half marathon is where I discovered the tasty Clif Mocha energy gels, I was excited that they were going to have those same gels at this race so I could try another flavor. Midway through the race, I took a gel from someone holding out "Razz" (raspberry flavor). It was delicious, so now Mocha and Razz are my go to energy gel flavors and I bought a box of both shortly after the race.

I really liked the shirt we got! I wore it the next day to the Hot Chocolate 5k.

Hot Chocolate 5k

This race was the day after my half marathon, and I knew it was not going to go well after my IT band issues had flared up. Fortunately, I didn't have a long drive to get to this one. It was convenient - just a 20 minute walk from my apartment. I've never walked that far to the start line before, but I thought it was a great way to warm up and I'd like to walk further to more start lines if possible.

Why? I don't know. But I loved it!

Somehow I ended up in corral A, which was right up by the start line. I did have to provide proof of my usual pace time - maybe most people didn't do this? I don't know how else I could have ended up in a corral that close to the start. Starting in waves helped - I never felt like I was dodging a ton of people or like it was too crowded.

I made it almost a mile in (going much slower than I normally would for a 5k) before my right leg and knee started acting up. It wasn't so much pain this time as it was feeling like my knee/leg was weak and was going to buckle. It was more annoying than anything, because pain I can push though, but feeling like my leg is going to give out at any time is more difficult to ignore and keep going. There was one point where it felt like someone was cutting the tendons/ligaments in my outer right knee with a blunt scissors, but I survived. I was super slow - 11 minute pace for my 2nd mile. I knew it was going to be one of my slowest 5k times ever, which was frustrating because the course was fun. There were some downhill and uphill parts, but my favorite part was running on 99 through the tunnel. It was interesting running right near where I live, because with the issues I was having I thought "Can I stop and just go home? It's right there."

My official chip time was 31:01.

I said this was going to be my last big, for-profit race, but I really liked it and I'd love to do this race again. However, I don't think I can if it falls on the same weekend as the Lake Sammamish Half. I'm hoping next year I'll be better off when it comes to running and should have my IT band issues under control and be able to handle a 5k after a half, but we'll see.

I'm the short one in bright red.

The finisher's mug at the end was the best part. I knew we were getting hot chocolate, but I didn't know we were getting melted chocolate that we could dip cookies and pretzels in as well. That was my favorite part. I wish I could have this food after every race! The volunteers handing out the finisher's mugs were super nice. They asked if it was my first time doing this race and if I had fun.

As I was leaving, I was passing by some other finishers and another woman pointed to my shirt, and then to hers, and said "I'm not the only crazy one!" She was also wearing the Lake Sammamish Half shirt that we got yesterday at the race. :)