Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hiking Silver Star Mountain: Above it All

The road to Silver Star Mountain is not for the faint of heart or low of undercarriage.  I wince while negotiating potholes the size of small lakes on the rough dirt road up to the north trailhead, wondering if the punishing drive on my car is going to be worth the trip.  

We soon find out that it is indeed worth every bounce and scrape. Just don't take a regular passenger car if you don't want to risk losing your muffler.

While this hike in the Cascade foothills northeast of Vancouver, Washington, is popular in the summer for its stunning volcano views, on a misty late fall day I say it's equally stunning.

Plus you'll have more solitude.

With low clouds and mist hovering overhead, we start up the Silver Star #180 trailhead late morning this December day. On our way up, we passed two cars coming down (two gals said they never found the trailhead and turned back...glad we persisted) and just one other is here.

After a short flat stretch, the trail switchbacks a short distance up a mild grade until we emerge out of the trees and onto the beginning of what is essentially a long and varied ridge.

The Silver Star trail along the ridge, which can be accessed from the south, east, and north, traverses an ancient, extinct volcano. (My brother remembers studying the Silver Star granodiorite at the University of Washington Geology Department.) Remnant exposed rocks and bluffs add to the drama up here.

 On a clear day I'm told the views of the Portland, Oregon, metro area and surrounding volcanoes (Hood, St. Helens, Rainier, Adams) are magnificent. But I think there's enchantment in the mist that rises and falls for much of our hike.

Ultimately we gain a little over 1,000 feet in elevation before reaching the summit, but it's all pretty mellow. Not long before reaching the saddle between the false and true summit,  we descend a bit into a subalpine fir forest.

While we don't have any views from the summit (marked by the concrete foundation of a former fire lookout), we get a peak-a-boo view during the approach.

True summit to the right.
On the summit as we toast a great day with pieces of Fran's Chocolates (thank you Bob!), a chill descends and it starts to snow.  It is December. In years past this spot would be covered in several feet of snow by now.

Marley does his best Rin Tin Tin imitation at the summit.
I welcome the snow, but the flakes dissipate as we descend.  By the time we get off the summit and start down the ridge to our cars, the sky is clearing. With the late afternoon sun this close to the Solstice, there's some drama in the interplay of light and clouds.

An especially cool phenomena is a halo effect, which isn't easily captured in photos.  I try, however.  Each one of us sees our shadow encircled in a halo (or maybe we're all just saints :).

My halo.....
We get back to the trailhead with just enough time to enjoy a beautiful sunset as we pack up and head back down. 

Perfect ending to a perfect afternoon hiking.

Have you done this hike? Would love to hear in the comments below about your trip there, other favorite hikes, or whether you're familiar with the halo phenomena. 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
According to other guidebooks, trip reports, and trail signs, we hiked about 5.5 miles to the summit and back from the north trailhead. The elevation at the summit is about 4,364 feet above sea level. Here's a link to a map of the area. I recommend checking out a guidebook or Portland Hikers.org website for specifics on the hike and getting there.  It didn't seem that far, but perhaps we were just too exhilarated by the beauty around us.  The road up there is quite rough, so be forewarned. But it's a lovely drive out from Battleground up the East Fork Lewis River.


Mab said...

wow, that was a great blog, felt like I got to go up to Silver Star with you. Lovely halo effect too.

Suezy Proctor said...

WOW! Phenomenal photos and narrative. Solid perspectives and advice to future hikers. All the photos are magnificent but the halo???? You nailed it! I've never seen that before. Like you, the mists suck me in even further than if I see beyond it. What a cool post Jill!

jill said...

Thanks Mab and Suezy! Yea, that halo was really interesting. Was fun to wave our arms and see it reflected in the halo across the valley in the mist.