SNOW SHOES TO TRILLIUM LAKE
Grant McOmie has discovered several local wintertime destinations where the recreation adage goes: “If you can walk, you can snow shoe;” it’s an easy sport that’s close at hand in the Mt Hood National Forest on the trail to Trillium Lake.
Jeff and Emmi Nishimura love to play in the snow: it keeps them feeling young and active in winter – plus it’s a fun adventure to explore someplace new like the Trillium Lake Trail in the Mt Hood National Forest.
The couple recently discovered that snowshoes don’t slow them down but have opened up the outdoors to new adventures in the winter months.
Emmi noted, “They’re so easy to walk in, they’re not heavy at all and it’s really beautiful out here in the winter. I never knew it could be so much fun to hike in the snow – or rather, on top of the snow.”
They’re not alone – thousands of folks have discovered that Oregon’s winter landscape is inviting and easy to travel through with a pair of snowshoes strapped to their boots.
Drew and Emiko Hall decided to get away from it all on a day long adventure to Trillium Trail because it’s easy to reach just past Government Camp along State Highway 26.
“We love to hike but we’re not really into skiing or snowboarding,” noted Drew. “We figured get out here during the winter months. It’s the fresh air, the scenery, and fewer people out on the trails.”
His wife, Emiko, added, “ If you’re a true Oregonian, a little rain or winter mix won’t throw you off – just go do it.”
If you’ve never done it before – you might stop in and chat with an expert before you go – someone like Erin Harri at REI in Hillsboro.
Erin really knows snowshoes – she’s been enjoying the sport the past decade and said that the shoes you choose have come a long way over the years:
“Lightweight aluminum has made all the difference. Plus, the latest flexible plastics have made the uppers and the bindings fairly malleable and yet they withstand frigid temperatures.”
Harri advised that you look for a “one step” binding system that allows you simply step in and pull one strap to tighten your boot into the shoe.
A word about those boots – think waterproof! You will be in snow after all, so keep dry is critically important.
“If you are doing recreational light hiking, wear light hiking boots,” added Harri. “If you’re running and racing in your snow shoes, wear water proof running shoes. But above all, it’s critical to keep the water out.”
Clothing is critical too! Harri advised layering with synthetic-based clothing that wicks moisture away from your body – never wear cotton but wear a synthetic base layer, then an insulating layer of fleece or down and then top it off with a waterproof or windproof jacket.
“Layering is all the difference because you’re working up a sweat while you walk so as you get warmer, you can remove a layer, then add it back when you stop for a break.”
She added that many local outdoor stores – including REI offer snow shoe clinics that will teach you more about the shoe styles, proper fit, clothing options and places to go.
That brings us back to Trillium Lake – according to Harri it is one of the best beginner sites around:
“It’s a pretty good decline as you’re heading in (about two miles) so a bit of elevation on the way out but around the lake it is fairly flat and wide all the way around.”
If you are a beginner, allow a full day for your hike into Trillium Lake.
Bring a lunch, energy food and lots of water – as aerobic as it is, you lose a lot of water – it is important to remain hydrated.
There are many places for newcomers to try beyond the Trillium Trail in the Mt Hood National Forest. Consider Frog Lake, White River Sno-Park and the Tilly Jane District at Cooper Spur on the north side of Mt Hood.
Something else to keep in mind – Harri noted that this winter has been called “weather fickle!” That is, the snow level has risen and fallen up thousands of feet each week, so check on the snow conditions and the weather forecast before you go.
When you’ve a “Heritage Tree” in your line of sight – and you’ve a camera in hand - you better have it in clear focus.
Steve Dierckx and Michael Horodyski are landscape photographers who say their eyes open wide with wonder and pride when a real giant comes into view: like the giant sequoias that line the walkway to the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro.
Steve noted, “They act like sentinels; very scenic, picturesque.”
Michael added as he took a quick photo, “These century-old trees are not only unusual – they are in rare company across the state too.”
They join more than fifty other trees called Oregon’s “Heritage Trees.”
They are part of a unique program sponsored by the Oregon Travel Information Council that was established in the mid-90’s to recognize Oregon’s special trees.
You may have seen some: like the “Hager Pear Tree” at the hectic junction of I5 and State Highway 22 in Salem. Planted in 1848, the old tree was part of a huge orchard that supplied fruit across the state. It’s the only one left.
Or the "Waldo Redwood" in downtown Salem: although small in acreage, it is a huge park in stature that’s located right next to the capitol building.
Or inside Willamette Mission State Park: home to the oldest cottonwood tree in the country.
Paul Ries, the Oregon Dept of Forestry representative to the Heritage Tree Committee said, “This tree is not only old – 225 years or more – but you or I could not get our arms around this tree- we’d need, 5,6,7 more of us just to do that.”
Ries added that Oregon’s Heritage Trees are living legacies; often planted by pioneer ancestors and they are links to Oregon’s rural roots.
“We really take trees for granted,” said Ries. “They provide us so many benefits: clean air, clean water, lumber products, places to recreate, but there is also that personal connection we have with trees – they help make that connection to the things that have happened in our past and help us understand the present.”
Ries was quick to note that the entire program owed a huge debt of thanks to one man who made it all possible: life-long Salem resident, Maynard Drawson.
“Maynard Drawson had such a passion for trees!” said Ries with a knowing smile. “And that’s really a benefit to the program because every tree has a story to tell and although his profession was a barber, he was a story-teller at heart.”
Stories like the “Nyberg English Chestnut” located at the Nyberg Road exit off I-5 in Tualatin, Oregon.
He was a man who said “No” to progress so to save a very old and very significant chestnut tree.
John Nyberg was a simple but brave farmer at the turn of the 20th Century.
In 1903, he planted an orchard of more than 150 trees that grew tall and gorgeous – the orchard included several stately English Chestnut Trees.
But in 1954, bulldozers were building the interstate highway and the big old trees were in the right of way and they were coming down at break-neck speed.
150 had fallen on the Nyberg farm - many were planted in the 19th century.
Grandson Arne Nyberg said that most had fallen and there was just one tree left – this one - when his grand-dad said “No more.”
“The D-9 cat was pushing them over right and left and that’s where he where he took his stand – he literally stood in front of the cat and stopped it from bulldozing down the last chestnut tree. Imagine that! He was a small but brave man and what a rare Oregon story about how a citizen can save a tree.”
Heritage Trees don’t have to be the oldest or the biggest or even a native tree but the candidate for consideration sure needs to have a good story.
Like the story behind the “Student Planter’s Grove” in the Tillamook State Forest; a grove of Doug firs planted by children nearly 60 years ago.
Ries explained: “The story of the Tillamook State Forest is a story of rebirth and renewal and that grove signifies that. – many of the trees were planted by school kids following several devastating fires that burned much of the forest to the ground. It’s an amazing story.”
The “Valley of the Giants” is an amazing heritage deep in the Oregon coast range, where you can walk among 500-year-old Doug fir trees.
“For those that make the effort to get there it is an amazing remnant of what was once here throughout much of Oregon, noted Ries. “It’s a small valley of giants trees and you feel very small against some of the big trees that grow in the place.”
Back at the Washington County Courthouse, Steve and Michael agreed the giant sequoias are not only super models – but the stories in the trees will teach you much about our state.
“I love trees,” said Horodyski. “ I mean that’s one of the great things we’ve got in this state; so many trees and so many varieties and so many great stories.”
SANDY RIVER STEELHEAD
A fishing trip on the Sandy River with longtime guide Jack Glass starts with a boat ride that is fast and certain.
As we sped upriver from Jack’s river front home – not far from Lewis and Clark State Park boat ramp that’s located a stone’s throw upstream from its confluence with the mighty Columbia River – Jack told me that he had been prowling the Sandy River since a boy.
Now, some forty-plus years later, he knows the water well, especially the nooks and crannies where the steelhead swim:
“I think we’re in for a really good return of fish this year – especially in late January and February – all the signs point to it.”
The “signs” that Jack regards so well include a “bumper crop” of younger steelhead that appeared a year ago and often herald a much larger run the following season – plus, a huge return of Coho salmon had appeared in the Sandy River this past fall fishing season.
I joined Jack and state fishery biologist Todd Alsbury on a recent bone-chilling morning.
Daylight found us motoring through a dense fog bank that loomed over the water and reduced visibility to little more than a few hundred feet.
Alsbury had taken a rare morning off from his normal duties to join our crew for a morning of casting and exploring the lower reaches of the Sandy River.
As we rounded a bend in the river, Jack slowed the boat: “Ah, this spot here is what we call ‘Powerline Drift,’ noted Glass. “A real sweet steelhead spot – kind of shallow with a little bit of an island, but an all gravel bottom – perfect spot to intercept a steelhead.”
Steelhead are ocean-going rainbow trout that can reach twenty pounds or more!
Anglers prize them for strength, stamina and endurance – there’s simply no finer fish on hook and line.
Many devotees call them the “Street fighters” of the anadromous fish world because they often travel the furthest and endure the harshest environmental conditions in order to reach their spawning areas that are located high in the watershed.
We cast small egg clusters matched with small, colorful and buoyant lures called “cheaters” and also four-inch long pink worms on four-foot leaders with a small amount of lead weight.
Glass likes to employ a fishing technique called “side-drifting.”
“We use a spinning rod and reel, cast close to shore and then drift along the bank in the boat. We really use the boat to present our baits. The more water you cover the more chances you have of presenting it to more fish, so this method of moving downstream presents your gear to more and more fish. That adds up to more catching!
I asked Jack how I ‘d know if I hooked up with a steelhead.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, Grant,” noted Glass with a chuckle. “These fish give you little choice – a steelhead will grab that bait pretty hard – you just need to remember to hang on to that rod.”
There are few fish species that drive sport fishermen wilder than the pursuit of winter steelhead. The ocean-going trout can be hard to catch and anglers will often go the extra mile to catch one.
Our challenge was a bit of an endurance test as the morning’s temperature hovered near freezing and the raindrops grew larger and louder, sometimes seeming to “pop” when they hit the river.
Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable sound of Todd’s spinning reel drag. It "zippp-zippp-zipped" the drag as monofilament line played out - he had hooked a feisty steelhead.
“There he is! Good job Todd,” exclaimed Glass.
The fish rushed up and down the stretch of river that Glass had chosen for us. Todd held the rod tip high as the reel's drag applied just the right amount of pressure and the fifteen-pound test line held tight.
He soon had the fish under control and near the boat. Jack slipped the net under the fish and brought it aboard. It was a dandy eight-pound hatchery steelhead.
How could Alsbury tell the fish was born in a hatchery?
"All of the hatchery fish have their adipose fins (a smallish, half-moon shaped fin located between the dorsal fin and the tail) clipped before they're released from the hatchery as babies,” explained Alsbury. “So look back by the tail and you can see this fish doesn’t have one – so it’s a hatchery male steelhead and it's absolutely gorgeous."
At about that time, Jack’s son, Brandon Glass, arrived on the scene in his look-alike jet boat with a crew of three fishermen on-board. Each of the anglers wore mile-wide smiles. It was obvious that they had already experienced a great morning of fishing.
Brandon reached into an on board aerated tank and lifted up what seemed a giant silvery fish – it was a fresh and wild winter steelhead that looked to be nearly 20 pounds.
“Oh boy,” cried Jack “You guys have been busy.”
In fact, Brandon had two wild fish in his boat. Normally, anglers are allowed to keep only the hatchery steelhead, but the father-son team participate in a unique program that allows them to keep wild fish alive in a huge aerated holding tank on the family homestead’s property.
The Sandy River Broodstock Program is now eight fishing seasons old and offers participants a true “hands-on” experience to catch wild fish so to build a fishery future.
The “hands-on” opportunity means to capture and spawn 18 pairs of steelhead; a small percentage of the wild fish that will replenish the genetics of the hatchery run salmon.
That’s where Brandon and his dad come in – you see, they’re out on the river each day, often with their angling clients trying to catch “broodstock” wild steelhead so to keep a steelhead sport fishing future alive.
It’s a “hook and line” capture program that supports the genetics of the hatchery fish.
Biologist Alsbury explained: “At one time, the Sandy River had huge runs of steelhead because it was heavily planted with fish from other river basins. Well, that was wrong!
We’re correcting that mistake now by using only native Sandy River steelhead for all future runs – we just need to get our hands on the fish.”
The wild fish will be the broodstock parents for a new generation of baby fish.
When an angler hooks a wild steelhead, Jack or Brandon carefully scoops the fish out of the river with a net and places it into a specially designed aerated holding tank on-board his boat.
Then it’s a quick boat trip to the family homestead that’s perched about the river.
From there they quickly carry each wild steelhead across a mooring dock, up a forty-foot wooden ramp and deposit the fish into the large tank.
Jack Glass added, “We really can have a harvestable fish run and still protect the protected wild stocks which we all recognize as very important.”
Brandon noted that the program is important because it will keep sport fishermen casting on the Sandy River.
“Anglers understand the importance of this and what it’s going to give to our future.
They love it and I think it’s great – we can take a nice picture of the fish and we know we’re doing something good for the river system.”
As we continued our fishing trip, Jack told me that the Sandy River offers good bank access for anglers too. That’s especially true at parklands like Dabney State Recreation Area and Oxbow Regional Park – and even further upriver.
Jack insisted that boaters should practice good sportsmanship and allow bank fishermen plenty of elbowroom.
I wondered aloud how an angler knows when the river is prime to cast and catch fish.
“I watch the freezing level at Mt Hood,” said Glass. “If it’s 4,000 feet and higher, say 5 to 7 thousand feet and raining all day, the river’s going to blow out – but if it’s 4,000 feet or lower, it can rain all day and the river will hold it’s color. For the anglers that want to come out here, I always tell them to look at that – then you’ll know if the river’s going to be in shape.”
The Sandy River is born high in the glaciers of Mt Hood and it is a river that keeps boaters on their toes because river safety is critical
“Quite often there are trees that come down because of wind storms or freezing weather conditions,” explained Glass. “They can even block entire channels, so you’ve got to be aware all of the time whether you drift or jet boat the river.”
He added that folks who choose to ride with him play it safe by wearing inflatable PFD’s throughout their trip. The PFD’s are so lightweight; you hardly know you’re even wearing one.
Alsbury added that the best of the winter steelhead season is yet to come; up to four thousand hatchery steelhead and 2,000 wild steelhead return to the Sandy River. The run peaks in late February and early March and it continues into early May.
Most of all, the Sandy River, like the nearby Clackamas River, are urban streams that seem a million miles away from city noise and hubbub. Yet, each stream is just thirty minutes from downtown Portland.
“Quite often, you’re going through heavy traffic to get out to these rivers and then you get out here and you forget all about that,” confided Todd. “It’s so nice to live close to Portland, but then you’re able to access some of the best steelhead fishing in the state.”
Within moments of Todd’s comments, Jack’s rod doubled over and throbbed with the pulsing fight of an eight-pound, nickel-plated steelhead.
“Ohhhh, nice fish...man oh man it’s gorgeous,” Jack yelled, as monofilament screamed off his reel. “I’ve got a real barn-burner on my hands.”
Todd smiled, I laughed and Jack seemed a bit nervous. He did not want to lose this fish.
“Boy Jack, that rod tip just buried,” I said. “I watched that fish hit it once and then hit it again - and BOOM: – fish on.”
And within moments, Jack played his fish well and it was within Todd’s reach with the net.
Sensing his excitement and with my tongue firmly planted in my right cheek, I asked Jack, “Do you ever get tired of catching steelhead?”
“Ohhhh – are you kidding?” he bellowed. “Nooooo – I get excited everytime – can’t you see my knees shaking. That’s why we’re out here winter steelhead fishing – you just never know – that next one could be a really big one or a great fighter. It’s such a neat thing to enjoy this. I love it!”
Local licensed anglers also have a chance to assist in “hook and line” steelhead capture program during an upcoming “Fish-A-Long” trips sponsored by the Sandy River Chapter of the Northwest Steelheaders
A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
If a community’s wealth can be measured by its wildness, Washington County must be one of the richest places around.
That’s especially true at two wildlife areas: Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve near Hillsboro and the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge near Sherwood.
Both sites are wonderful examples of the adage: if you build the habitat, the wildlife will come and stay and thrive.
People come to visit too because both areas offer exciting Walks on the Wild Side, that are close to home and yet a million miles away from the city hub-bub, pavement and noise.
What you may enjoy the most is how easy each of these wildlife areas is to reach from any corner of the Portland-Metro region.
Wildlife can be seen along the hiking trails at every turn: from a solitary eagle perched on watch, scurrying shorebirds probing muck of the marshes or v-shaped flocks of geese winging their way from this place to that.
Both wildlife areas are getaway escapes that you’ll be eager to explore – from the rush of city life to the rush of wings.