Bluegrass Ridge Trail Clearing, 7/8/21

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Bluegrass Ridge Trail Clearing, 7/8/21

Post by wnshall » July 10th, 2021, 11:21 am

It was funny that Don posted a TR from a hike to Bluegrass Ridge earlier this week, since I was planning on a hike there this week too. I first hiked BR last year -- it had been on my to do list for a while, and the middle of a pandemic seemed like a good time to do it, as it nearly guaranteed solitude. While Don accessed BR from the Elk Cove TH at Mt Hood Meadows, I did the longer hike from the Pollalie TH, near Tamanawas falls.

The field guide lists the BR trail as "off trail" and warns it's difficult to follow. This is primarily because of a 1-2 mile section near the top of the ridge at the edge of the 2006 Bluegrass Ridge fire, where the shrubs and overgrowth along with abundant blow down makes following the trail difficult.

It's a shame because the ridge, which has been opened up because of the fire, is a wildflower bonanza and the views of Mt. Hood, Elk Meadows, Lookout Mtn, and the valley below are fantastic.

In an attempt to keep this trail alive, and as my good deed for the summer, I decided to take saw and loppers and try to clear out some of the overgrown trail. There is (was!) an especially overgrown section about 1/4 mile long starting on the northern boarder of the burn area that I wanted to focus on.

Starting from Pollalie TH, you take the Elk Meadows trail (the northern end) for about 2.5 miles, on well-worn, nicely graded trail through the woods, then turn off onto the Bluegrass Ridge trail. You dip down to Cold Spring Creek and make crossings of two branches of the creek.
First creek crossing
The second branch is the wider of the two. There's this log for crossing, which while doable is a little daunting.
Second creek crossing
However, there's a much better crossing just a couple hundred feet upstream on a use trail. Look closely at the picture and you'll even see rope hand rail!
Better crossing -- note the rope hand rail!
This picture shows concrete footings for a bridge. It's too bad we couldn't get something put in here -- even just a couple large split logs would be nice.
old concrete footings
After a short steep climb to reach the ridge crest, it's a well-graded climb through lovely, although insect infested (from the look of the blow down), forest. The trail is almost complete free of blowdown, and it looks like it even has seen recent clearing.

About a mile and half in, and about half way to the edge of the burn, there start to be intermittent areas where young trees are growing in and encroaching on the trail. I couldn't help myself from clearing some of these areas so the trail doesn't disappear. I spent 3 hours traveling about a mile clearing some of the worst areas.
I finally reached the edge of the burn, and the overgrown section of trail. After a little lunch, I tackled the shrubs!

It took me 3 hours to clear the 1/4 mile of the worst overgrowth. I got a little sloppier towards the end, but the trail should be much easier to follow. After this point, the trail is still surrounded by shrubs, but it's mostly clear where the trail goes. To really preserve the trail, this section needs some clearing too, but for now it's passable.
Clear trail!
Of course there's still tons of blow down along this section and you'll still be hopping up and over huge logs what seems like every 10 feet. But at least you can find the actual trail. It'd be great if someone would get up there with a saw and was able to clear out some of the worst of the blow down.

Once you're through this section, you get out onto the open with views of Mt. Hood, and huge fields of Lupine, Columbine, and Paintbrush. The trail traverses the open east slope of the ridge, slowly gaining elevation until it reaches the ridge crest. From here are amazing views all around. There's about a mile of ridge to explore. Despite the number of downed trees, it's pretty easy to get around.
Mt Hood from Bluegrass Ridge
I reached the ridge at 7 pm, and after the exhausting day, decided to return the way I came rather than complete the loop. Plus, this way I got to enjoy the fruits of my labor. It took me 7 mins to traverse the quarter mile section I had worked on!

There are a lot of options when hiking BR. The full loop up BR and returning via Elk Meadow trail is about 16 miles. You can make a shorter hike of about 12 miles by doing an out and back as I did. (Of course, the shortest access to BR is by the Elk Meadow TH that Don described, at only 7-ish miles.) This is a great less-visited hike with rewarding views of Mt. Hood, with a little sense of adventure due to the trail conditions. I hope more folks go check it out so we don't lose this trail!

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Chip Down
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Re: Bluegrass Ridge Trail Clearing, 7/8/21

Post by Chip Down » July 10th, 2021, 1:39 pm

As I was reading your report, I wondered if you spotted the concrete bridge footing. Yep, there they are!

I'm pleased to see there's a safe log crossing now. The first time I encountered that creek, I was short on time, the creek was raging, there was no way across, and weather was deteriorating (thunderstorms). I was greatly relieved that I was able to bushwhack to roads that led to hwy 35.

I agree the worst section of trail is about 1/4 mile, but I was surprised when I mapped it. It sure felt like much much longer.

Kudos on your volunteer efforts. That's a beautiful trail, well worth preservation.

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Re: Bluegrass Ridge Trail Clearing, 7/8/21

Post by bobcat » July 11th, 2021, 4:22 pm

Many thanks for your efforts! I plugged away at the trail from the Cold Creek side a few years ago, clearing some downed trees. Trail seems in better shape than it was then although the young larches are probably several feet taller.

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Re: Bluegrass Ridge Trail Clearing, 7/8/21

Post by Splintercat » July 12th, 2021, 9:09 pm

Wow! Nice work and very much appreciated! I'm going to share this over in the private TKO crew leaders forum as a crosscut opportunity, as we have crews working other trails on Mount Hood this summer... lots of blowdown!

Really great to see you pitching in -- that's how these old gems get saved, most of the time! The bridge foundations are interesting, too. MHNF has (in the past) taken a fairly extreme position on bridges in wilderness for a variety of reasons, but fact is, they are routinely built and maintained in wilderness areas all over the country (and even a few within MHNF), so it really comes down to the will of the local Forest Service staff. TKO can work that angle, too.

Thanks for sharing! Made my day!

Tom :)

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Don Nelsen
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Re: Bluegrass Ridge Trail Clearing, 7/8/21

Post by Don Nelsen » July 13th, 2021, 10:45 am

Nice work! Thank for the pics, your work on the trail and especially for documenting the bridges. Since my trip up Bluegrass Ridge last week turned out so well, I've planned a full Bluegrass Ridge-Elk Meadows loop from the north, with the same starting point you used but wasn't sure what the stream crossings were like. Your post cleared up the state of the first one on Cold Spring Creek above Tamanawas Falls. I wondered what the other looked like on the Elk Meadows Trail, which would be my return route. I went up there yesterday to do a re-con.

I checked out the bridges you reported on and saw that the bigger log you mentioned, a couple hundred feet upstream is an easy crossing and hiked another 1/2 mile up the ridge and enjoyed the nice old-growth. I headed back and near the junction with the Elk Meadows Trail I met a young woman who said she couldn't find the Elk Meadows Trail after the crossing due to blow-down. Now I really had to get up there to check it out!

Arriving at the crossing, about 6/10 mile above the junction, I could see what she was talking about. There is no bridge where the trail should, or once did cross and a large log jam a few feet downstream. I was relieved though, to find that the log-jam is easy to cross. With a short bushwhack back to a spot opposite where the the trail reached the creek on the other side, I found the continuation of the Elk Meadows Trail to be in great shape.

So, my planned trip is on, with no worries about getting across creeks and streams.


Log jam crossing:

Step one:
Step two:
Continuation of the Elk Meadows Trail:
"Everything works in the planning stage".

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Re: Bluegrass Ridge Trail Clearing, 7/8/21

Post by TwoPaw » July 13th, 2021, 1:54 pm

MHNF has (in the past) taken a fairly extreme position on bridges in wilderness for a variety of reasons, but fact is, they are routinely built and maintained in wilderness areas all over the country (and even a few within MHNF)
Splintercat: I'm glad to hear MHNF is in your opinion taking an extreme position, and one that IMO is strangely at odds with the needs of a large, growing, recreation-oriented population an hour or so away that really needs more reasonably safe opportunities to spread out and enjoy the woods.

One approach could be seasonal bridges that can be deployed after the worst runoff has occurred in the spring. I'm sure there are other tactics that can avoid expensive rebuilding of bridges with stout stone endpoints.

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