In The Name of Freedom

We drove out to Cougar, Washington in search of adventure, discovery, and older women that are totally into younger guys. Although the lady who made my sandwiches at the town shop was married, and a successful business owner in her own right, I am still in search of adventure and discovery. This trip my buddy Jordan is with me.

I’ve been anticipating this trip for a week now as everything else I’ve been doing has been short day trips that weren’t really that interesting and combing multiple stories in one article didn’t seem that attractive to me due to the timeline being scattered. You can email me and tell me if you’d like me to write about those stories, because I will if I know someone wants to read them. Last minute a comedian and new friend was suppose to join us but had to bail as quickly as he had joined. C’est la vie!

If you know me you know I’m like a pediatrician, as in I have very little patience, so when July 3rd rolled around I woke up ready to go by 9am, but Jordan had some errands to run before leaving town so I had to wait – which can be beneficial since I have previously written about always forgetting at least one thing so this gives me a chance to double and triple check. Tent? Check. Sleeping bag? Check. Camera? Coffee? Bug out bag? Check check check.

2pm rolls around and we’re on the road highway trying to head out of Portland toward Washington, and this is a Monday but it’s an extended holiday weekend so the roads are littered with people in our way, although I’m sure I am part of the problem as well. To be fair the traffic clears up as soon as you get to the other side of the bridge across the Columbia and into the state named after our first President. The best kind of road trips with another person can go one of two ways, while in the car, you either don’t feel the need to turn on music because conversation is just easy and flows or the music is perfect and everyone is just vibing and enjoying the experience. On this trip we enjoy both of these.

In North Carolina everyone drives to South Carolina in order to buy fireworks due to the relaxed laws on them in the south vs the north part of the Carolinas, and similarly people tend to drive into Washington to buy fireworks because of the same reason, so as soon as we see the first mega-sign that says ‘FIREWORKS THIS EXIT’ we take it. Unbeknownst to me it was the next exit and I was just over eager so after navigating some back roads we make it to the fireworks stand. I’m 31 years old and I’ve never bought fireworks before, and I’m southern, from where Patriotism and love for country is at an all time high so it’s weird that I’ve never partaken in this practice. Maybe it’s because I expect everyone else to have them? Who knows.

About $70 later split between both of us we get out of there and back on the highway to find these older women that want us, or the wild animals that will maul us to death. Kind of the same thing and both are just as welcome in my world. Cougar is a small town with just 2 or 3 small stores, a last attempt to save your ass if you came with no food or beverages like we did. The population was 122 at the 1990 Census, when it was still incorporated as a town, but disincorporated before the 2000 Census. Cougar is the nearest community to Mount St. Helens, which lies 11 miles to its Northeast. The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcano in the history of the United States.  My brother was born in 1981, so this volcano happened not too long ago compared to most other volcanos in the world.

Stopping in at Lakeside Country Store we pick up a few items including sandwiches, ice and wieners for the fire. Asking some of the people I pass I find out there are cougars in the area, hence the name, but so far nobody has married them or been mauled to death so that’s good news either way for us – depending on which we end up finding.

From our town to our campsite is 29 miles and takes about an hour to drive as it’s up winding National Forest and logging roads. For it to be 4th of July weekend it’s not very busy, although there are cars around and a few campsites and campgrounds crowded. I am notoriously cheap but that’s not the reason I frequent BLM land for camping, it’s because I want away from people and to really camp, not just stuck in an RV hiding from the elements. I want to see things off the beaten path. Multnomah Falls is popular because it’s so accessible, but if it was a 20 mile hike very few people would go, and those are the places I seek out.

Once getting to our site we unload, set up our tents, and grab firewood for the night. We are about a mile from the nearest stream of water and I’m not really impressed with that but I have a gallon jug I can fill up and filter if necessary, although I prefer having it right by me for convenience. Someone left a bunch of empty tin cans in a previous campfire and covered it with branches. People like that are the reason why BLM campsites are harder and harder to come across. I wish I could publicly shame them but unfortunately I don’t have any names.

We head back down the mountain to Muddy River,  a river we crossed over on the way up the mountain. Once we park and find our way to the river we start walking north to see what kind of sights we have while the sun is setting. It’s absolutely beautiful. The PNW lacks the color that the east coast has in terms of nature, but it sure does make up for it in every other way. The stretches of green from the trees contouring with the blues and pinks of the sky reflecting off the crystal clear water makes for a perfect evening.

Suddenly we realized we should camp here, but our stuff is set up a few miles up the mountain and the sun is already behind the trees. Do we have enough time to make it? What about our campfire?  We found a perfect camping spot and it’s only 100 yards from where I parked, although it’s a hike through a dry water bed now littered with sand and bulging rocks which can make it a mildly annoying 100 yard hike, especially when in a hurry. Can we make it to our campsite in time?

My foot becomes a bit heavier than normal due to the race against time, but with the little traffic that I’ve passed I feel slightly confident, even if it’s misguidedly so, in my eratic driving skills to get up to this campsite. Once there we rush to take down our tents and pack up our things. What about our firewood we maticulously collected?  We decide to take it, which is silly in hindsight due to all of Washington legitimately being covered in firewood and my car is even currently still covered in crumbled branches and stripped bark.

We end up getting our tents set up and campfire started before it got dark in our new river – front location. While standing on the edge of our spot and lookout at the river we start discussing ideas for photo projects through the night because we know what lies ahead, so getting the plan out into the universe is good for a call back in our minds to keep us motivated.

Before no time I’m locked into the campfire and discovering patterns and universes inside of a flame and several small pieces of wood. The intricate designs revealed the truth of multiverses and intergalactic shenanigans. I’m kidding.

We hike up the river a little ways and try to get some photos of fireworks reflecting from the water, and the results were ok but it was my first time shooting fireworks and under the influence so my skills and creativity were a bit fuzzy. After a few attempts we had back to camp for a few more ideas before settling in for the night.

I’m lying in the tent dozing off under the beautifully decorated sky filled with diamonds and glitter.  I am still actively tripping and I keep hearing noises. My main concerns are things that can eat me or murder me and that’s pretty much one in the same. We’re 100 yards off of a road but this is still nature and we are still in the middle of her.

Woke up at 830 still alive, and awake before Jordan I drank coffee, did some push ups and checked on my car. Jist tryin to get my energy started and motivate myself so we can get a head start on the day.  I enjoyed my morning, woke up Jordan, packed out and went to Lower Lewis Falls.

From our camp site to Lower Lewis is an hour drive without the stops we make in between for snacks and drinks, aka breakfast, from a small convenience store just before we get to the falls. Once at the parking lot for the falls I notice it’s a small circular area and not a lot of room for parking considering how big these falls turn out to be. There might be better parking elsewhere, but the hike from car to viewing point is maybe 60 seconds. It takes less effort to walk it than for Multnomah Falls, if you’ve been there reference.

I’m told by locals that this beautiful and quite powerful waterfall actually looks better during lower water periods, that when the water is high, a solid wall of water crashes into the large pool in spectacular fashion, but during low water periods, the falls look more graceful and calmer. The water was lower during my visit, luckily, and it was a decently warm day so the cold water on my feet wasn’t excruciating. I also found river shoes beside, well, the river and while they were 2 sizes too small I still made it fit as all I had with me were boots that weren’t very waterproof.

The river is fed by glaciers on Mt. Adams. The falls have created a nice plunge pool, perfect for swimming in and while there i saw a few kids swimming and another pair of adults fishing. I’ve read that a group of 5 people were climbing around on the rocks beneath the base of the falls, not a very smart thing considering this is a glacial river, and one wrong slip could end up sending a person into the powerful undertow beneath the falls, which would almost definitely be fatal. The falls are accessed from the Lower Falls Recreation area, which features a nice campground, a good starting point for exploring the numerous other waterfalls in the area.

Unlike nearby Lewis County and Fort Lewis the Lewis River was not named for Meriwether Lewis, but rather for A. Lee Lewis, an early settler who homesteaded near the mouth of the river. After exploring the area I walked back to my car to find a parking ticket. As a matter fact most of the cars had parking tickets. Not my favorite thing to return to but what can I do?

We head south to Big Creek Falls. I don’t have signal on my phone but I had downloaded an area of the map we were going to be in just in case we got lost and needed directions, so by doing that it was able to log some areas that I could able lap GPS and Big Creek Falls is one of them. It’s only 6 miles back the way we came and so we head off to discover another area. This is my favorite thing to do: have very little information and blindly go somewhere. It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.

Well something went wrong. Not immediately, but it did, so bare with me on this story. We take a leisurely hike on an old logging road to what we expect to be a beautiful waterfall as we started from the small parking area, that is now closed off with posts forcing you to park along side of the road. As we began our trek we pass a couple of dispersed camping sites and come to a junction with the trail branching off to the left and staying on a relatively flat, rocky trail that heads through quiet forest. Moss-laden birches, western red cedars, and western hemlocks tower over you. We have to duck, jump, crawl, scoot, and walk across several enormous trees that lay across this forgotten path.

Along the trail, Taylor River rushes past you, and craggy Garfield Peak plays hide-and-seek through the trees. Near a creek crossing, the forest opens up, offering hikers a glimpse of a spire of Treen Peak. The whole time you can hear the what sounds like applause but is a giant waterfall that we can vaguely see but is mostly hidden by tree branches and young saplings beginning to grow as tall and it’s predecessors.
We stopped hiking after about 2 miles and after coming up on a second waterfall. We got discouraged, we felt like this was abandoned for a reason as it offered nothing promising anymore. Apparently I was wrong because after three miles you come to a large bridge spanning roaring Marten Creek. A boot-path veers off to the left just before the bridge – a mile’s hike up this primitive, overgrown trail takes you to Marten Lake.

I read that after crossing roughly ten drainages you come up on the turn-off for Otter Falls and just passed the turnoff for Otter Falls and around the corner, you then find yourself at Big Creek Falls, visible from the second bridge on your hike, a large concrete affair, another remnant from the days of logging in this area. I wish we didn’t turn around.

I took a break from posting last week due to several random day trips that were hard for me to put into a story, and in the middle of my 4th of July hike I got a call from my mother telling me my brother was in a car wreck with 4 of his kids and they flipped into and river upside down. Thankfully they’re OK but I had to take some time to keep up with them and process everything.  He has surgery today, Tuesday July 11, in Roanoke, Virginia and being 3000 miles away there’s not much I can do. Thanks for understanding and I’ll be back with a new post in a few days!

If you’ve been to this area I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Everyone has a unique experience to themselves and I would love to hear yours!

2 thoughts on “In The Name of Freedom

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