Falls Creek Trail and nearby points 11-11-20

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Falls Creek Trail and nearby points 11-11-20

Post by bobcat » November 16th, 2020, 3:56 pm

Falls Creek Trail from Falls Creek Horse Camp

I spent a couple of different days exploring the Falls Creek Trail recently. First, I hiked a section that I had never done, from Falls Creek Horse Camp down to the big swamp where Falls and Black creeks come together east of Falls Creek Falls.

This trail is mostly a gradually descending meander through different ages of forest. It crosses several roads and is now used mostly by mountain bikers. There were some big hunters’ camps in the area. The first interesting feature is a slight detour to the Falls Creek Cave, actually three collapsed sections of the same lava tube. Those exploring the cave descend into the second collapse and take the second (southern) entrance to pass through the third collapse, a sheer sided hole with its own maple ecosystem. From there it’s over a mile of clambering on breakdown to the end of the tube. I did not go in (NOTE: Caving is not a particularly smart activity during COVID as cave air is often stagnant and doesn’t circulate unless there are numerous vents.)

Falls Creek, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Upper stretch of Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Entrance to Falls Creek Cave, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Third collapse, Falls Creek Cave, Falls Creek Trail.jpg

From these collapses, it’s another mile or so on the trail to another sinkhole right next to the trail. Then after crossing FR 67, I took the mountain biker’s route, now considered the legitimate trail, that winds long a lava rim that offers several viewpoints. (The old route, which is what shows on topo maps, followed a now mostly decommissioned road bed. I hiked this option on the way back because it’s shorter.) There are several rim viewpoints, usually augmented by pika alarm calls, on the newer route. Views extends from Red Mountain and Big Huckleberry Mountain to Mount Hood. The final viewpoint looks directly west to Termination Point and Mount Saint Helens.

The south collapse, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Ropy lava, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
View to Red Mountain, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Mt. St. Helens and Termination Point, Falls Creek Trail.jpg

The trail hooks back below the rim to join the old trail above the big swamp, which seemed quite dry a couple of weeks ago, but there was a good view to Red Mountain. I’ve been here before, well into the rainy season, and there was a sheet of black water where the brown sedge expanse was.

Junction sign with old trail, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Alder-spiraea wetland, Falls Creek Trail.jpg

Falls Creek Falls

I motored to the Falls Creek Trailhead on Veterans Day, getting there early enough to have the Falls Creek Falls Trail mostly to myself. This waterfall is always impressive, no matter what the season. (Ran into @mattisnotfrench for the second time in a month on this trail.)

Suspension bridge, Falls Creek Falls Trail.jpg
Falls Creek above the bridge, Falls Creek Falls Trail.jpg
Big Douglas-firs, Falls Creek Falls Trail.jpg
Cliffs on the Falls Creek Falls Trail.jpg
Second and third tiers, Falls Creek Falls.jpg

Then I took the cutoff up to the Falls Creek Trail and hiked east. I took detours to two clifftop viewpoints. The first offers a vista across the valley to the upper and middle tiers of Falls Creek Falls, both partially obscured by trees (you can’t see the uppermost tier from below). From the second viewpoint, you can’t see the falls, but you can scramble down to the lip of the upper falls. It’s about 1 ¼ miles from there to the swamp, where I turned around.

Second viewpoint and South Butte, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Top tier of Falls Creek Falls near second viewpoint, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Clifftop lookout, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Lip of the top tier of Falls Creek Falls.jpg
Falls creek above Falls Creek Falls.jpg

I hiked the Falls Creek Trail (not the Falls Creek Falls Trail) back along the north side of the creek to the lower footbridge (near the now decommissioned horse trailhead) and turned back to the parking area.

Autumn forest, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Footbridge over Falls Creek, Falls Creek Trail.jpg
Falls Creek above the footbridge, Falls Creek Trail.jpg

Lava Butte

The Lava Butte Trail is too short for a separate trip, so I tacked this one on. It is accessed from the Paradise Creek Campground. There’s no parking for the trail inside the campground, so you park in a big pullout near the campground entrance on Wind River Road. The campground itself is closed for season, and it’s lovely walk under big old-growth to the trailhead. The big obstacle on the trail is the Wind River, where the bridge, which lies against the bank downstream, was ripped off its alignment a few years ago. I could have forded, but the temperature was around freezing, so I headed about 70 yards upstream, where I found two slippery logs that I very gingerly balanced across.

Beginning of Lava Butte Trail, Lava Butte.jpg
Destroyed footbridge, Lava Butte Trail.jpg
Upstream log crossing on the Wind River, Lava Butte.jpg

From the river, the trail simple traverses quite steeply up a forested hillside and then switchbacks on a ridge to reach the now decommissioned road that led to the summit. On both the trail and the road, there were a few trees down, nothing that was a great obstacle. At the summit area, I found a path leading to the south side of the hill. Here there were views from a steep meadow down the Wind River valley.

Slope forest, Lava Butte.jpg
Old summit road, Lava Butte.jpg
Hills southeast of Termination Point from Lava Butte.jpg
North Butte, Wind River valley, and Paradise Hills from Lava Butte.jpg

Plantation Spacing Study and Ponderosa Pine Study

These two very short loops are on the potholed road to the Falls Creek Falls Trailhead. Both are long-term Forest Service research projects that were begun in 1925.

The Plantation Spacing Study takes you through several plots of Douglas-firs that were planted different distances apart. The spacing ranges from 4 feet to 12 feet. Among the tangle of brush and other trees that have grown up (allowing natural understory regrowth, I assume), it would be hard to tell one plot from another were each plot not clearly signed. Conclusions so far suggest 10 feet apart is optimal spacing. This allows for rapid growth in addition to more robust trees that suffer less winter damage.

Trailhead sign, Plantation Spacing Study.jpg
Initial spacing 12' x12', Plantation Spacing Study.jpg
Spacing and tree growth, Plantation Spacing Study.jpg

The Ponderosa Pine Study involves plantings of different “races” of ponderosa pines from various western states, ten “races” in all. Douglas-firs seem to have taken over the area, but there are scrawny ponderosas in among them and their provenances are labeled. The general conclusion seems to be that those races from similarly low-level environments (western Washington, the Willamette valley) are likely to grow better in the Wind River habitat than pines imported from high elevations in South Dakota or the California Sierra. (I guess I would have thought this would be a no-brainer, but it needed to be confirmed empirically.)

Trailhead sign, Ponderosa Study.jpg
Carson NF planting, Ponderosa Study.jpg
Ponderosa races, Ponderosa Study.jpg
Ponderosa pine, Ponderosa Study.jpg
Deschutes NF planting, Ponderosa Study.jpg

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Re: Falls Creek Trail and nearby points 11-11-20

Post by justpeachy » November 18th, 2020, 4:14 pm

Neato! I didn't know about some of those trails.

On the Falls Creek Falls Trail I remember seeing some really great vine maple in fall color some years back and hoped to make it there this year to see the show again, but the stars didn't align. Maybe next year.

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