Walk duration: 4 hours approximately
Travel time to trail head: 56 minutes (32 miles)
Travel south on 405 and turn west on Highway 26 for a total of 19 miles. Exit at Dersham Rd (Exit # 55) and head north for 13.2 miles. Dersham road turns into Mountaindale road within a half mile of the highway; proceed 1.6 miles to junction with NW Dairy Creek Rd. and turn north on that road. Follow NW Dairy Creek Rd. for 7.5 miles and turn right on NW Fern Flat Rd. continuing up the hill for about .7 miles. Take NW Greener Rd (stay left) north for another 2.8 miles to a blue logging road gate (Longview Fibre property) situated on an open slope to the right of the road – nearly at the end of the road.
Elevation change: Total climb is 830 feet. Trail access off greener road is at 1325 feet in elevation, and high point is 2153 feet in elevation.
Brief summary: This is one of my absolute favorite hikes on a clear day because of the splendid view from Rim Road. I often hike this trail to the summit, but return the same way since the Panther Creek portion of the trail passes through some damp areas that are a bit boggy in the wet season.
Trail Log: Arriving at the usual blue gate 13.2 miles north of US 26, we park near the gate, but not obstructing access should the Longview Fibre foresters need access. The trail ascends through a newly replanted (2005?) clear cut in a northeasterly direction for about a quarter mile before switching back and traversing the slope for another half mile in a southeasterly direction. Below us to the west we can see the upper reaches the North Fork of Dairy Creek and beyond that a long ridge extending across the horizon in a southwesterly direction from Tater Hill, past the mountaintop community of Bacona to Hoffmann Mountain and beyond.
The slope we’re looking at was what early pioneers had to ascend to reach the emerging pioneer settlement of Vernonia. During the late 1800’s access to Vernonia from the Tualatin Valley was achieved by means of the “Mountaindale road” that ascended the forested slope from Snooseville (on the Dairy Creek Road) to Crest of the Ridge at Tophill. The original settlement of Mountaindale was situated on Denny Creek, a tributary to Dairy Creek. From this remote mountain community a rough track ascended the ridge. From there the pioneer road probably traversed the ridge top in a westerly direction along the southern slope of Hoffmann Mountain to the crest, at Tophill. From there the route probably descended into the top of the beaver Creek watershed, but then crossed eastwards into the Pebble Creek watershed where it descended into the Upper Nehalem Valley.
In the definitive history of this area, The Nehalem River Valley: Settling the Big Timberland, Lesta Garner describes how her grandparents entered the valley in 1874:
“Mother…and her family walked in with pack horses from Mountaindale which is near North Plains. The road, if you can call it a road, followed Pebble Creek Road and they forded Pebble Creek 13 times”,
as they descended to ultimately settle on Rock Creek. For the first few months they lived under a giant cedar tree which,”was so big and the branches so thick that it turned the rain, and they stayed comfortable and dry”until her grandfather completed their cabin.
Turning back to our own ascent, we continue up the hill for about 3/4 mile (from the gate) to where the road crests the ridge and begins to descend on the far side into a slight hollow at the base of the upper slope. To the east we can see (at the time of this writing) a row of tall trees marching down the ridge like some line of sentinels barring our passage up the mountain. We can also see the high-power electric transmission lines that carry power northwards along the spine of the Tualatin Range. And as we pass these trees we can look up into the bowl that we will traverse to enter the forest and the heights beyond.
From here the road leads down into the hollow. On the far side the road splits (.95 miles from gate) with the right hand branch continuing on around the circumference of the bowl. But we will ascend the clear cut slope until the road enters the tall timber at the head of the slope (1.45 miles from gate).
Pausing as we enter the forest, we take a moment to appreciate the panoramic view behind us. To the west we can see Hoffmann Mountain and Green Mountain forming a ridge that descends down into the Tualatin plains. To the left we can see across the clear cut to the ridge line that we are ascending. But directly to the south of us we can see Pumpkin Ridge marking the eastern edge of Dairy Creek Valley.
It has been suggested by the historian, Robert L. Benson, that the name Pumpkin Ridge has nothing to do with pumpkins, but rather it is a corruption of “panaxtin”, the name of a Tualatin village thought to have been located near Mountaindale. Mr. Benson pointed out that to an English-speaking ear, the Tualatin would sound something like “punuktin”, which in turn could have suggested “punkin”. Since this area has no particular historical association with pumpkins this interpretation of the name may indeed be right.
Once inside the forest, the road makes single switchback (1.6 miles) to climb the hill to its crest. Scattered around in the forest one can see examples of burnt tree stumps that were set ablaze probably before the arrival of the settlers. It was customary for the Indians to set the ridge tops on fire to create areas of open land that would produce fodder for the elk and deer populations. And consequently they would return to hunt the game in these areas.Early accounts of the Willamette valley indicate that by late August the smoke from the many fires was so thick that visibility was noticeably affected. To the north the Indians that navigated the Puget sound refused to cross the open stretches of water in August for fear that the omnipresent forest fire smoke would obscure the land and cause them to get lost.
Before reaching the top, there is one side spur road on the right that hugs the western slope of the hill and emerges under the power lines further down, but we will take the left hand turn to climb the last few feet of the hill and emerge under the high- voltage power lines (1.9 miles) that straddle the Tualatin Range as they carry power northwards.
Crossing under the cracking power lines we re-enter the forest on the other side and quickly arrive at the Rim Road (2 miles) which weaves northward along the spin of this range. Take a left hand turn and follow the Rim Road for about .4 miles to reach one of the most wonderful viewpoints in this area.
The view from the great Divide:
The view is quite remarkable from several perspectives. First, it’s just an exhilarating panorama to take in. Stretched out before you is the whole of Dutch Canyon with Bald Mountain and Buck Mountain on your left. In the distance below is Scappoose straddling the near shore, and beyond is the mighty Columbia. On the far side the Ridgefield Natural Wildlife refuge continues the green landscape – and in the distance is Mt. Adams. Glance to your left and you will see both Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. To you right you can see Mt. Hood and all the mountains are evenly spaced like some line of giants marching across the horizon. In the distance, if atmospheric conditions permit, one can actually peer up into the Columbia River Gorge – almost all the way to Cellilo Falls.
Cellilo Falls brings me to the second reason why this spot is so special. These falls were where the lower Columbia tribes traded with the inland tribes, and was therefore the boundary between the lands of the inland Indians with their horses and nomadic ways and the territories of the Canoe Indians that dominated the Lower Columbia. The falls were literally the demarcation point for the edge of the western Oregon tribes’ world.
If, after appreciating the eastward view, we continued up the trail for almost another mile we will come to a westward facing viewpoint. On our way there we pass through a boggy clearing before ascending the ridge through stands of 30 year old timber to the high point along the way. This area is good for hunting chanterelles and the esteemed Pine mushroom (aka. Matsutake). On the north side of the hill the road begins to slant down eventually emerging from the forest at the top of a ridge that descends towards the west. But stopping near the top we take time to gaze westward seeking out landmarks and searching out the significance of this place.
In the distance you can spot (on a clear day) the twin peaks of Saddle Mountain, which to any Indian would instantly signal the edge of the coastal plain, and the beginning of the Clatsop and Tillamook territories. Beyond this point other cultures, other food sources, other myths and other languages held sway. This ocean-facing world was as alien to the Canoe Indians’ perspective as the dusty perspective of the desert-dwelling Paiutes or Klickitat Indians. In effect, these two almost simultaneous vistas would have let a Lower Columbia “Canoe Indian” see to the very edges of his world.
And the significance of this magical place does not end here. Even within his world this place would hold a special meaning for our Indian, because of the way that the water runs off this hill. To the east it flows down the steeps slopes of Dutch Canyon into South Scappoose Creek eventually spilling into the Columbia river. That was the lands of the Chinookan Indians led by Chief Casino. But just a half mile back from the Rim Road viewpoint, the water flowed down off this hill into Panther Creek and Dairy Creek. These streams would eventually flow into the Tualatin River, which was itself a tributary of the Willamette River. And those were the lands of Apanaxtin, the closest tribe of Calapuyan Indians that lived alongside Dairy Creek. To the north, the waters that flowed off these slopes into Elk Creek and from there into the East Fork of the Nehalem River, which flowed into the Pacific ocean nearly 100 miles away in Nehalem bay. The northern Nehalem valley was home to the Klatskanie Indians. This tribe had arrived in North America over 12,000 years ago during the migration of what are sometimes called the Clovis people. Originally, they were thought to be the first emigrants to this continent, but more recent archeological finds suggest that migrations may have begun earlier and from different regions. But eventually, facing food shortages in their traditional lands around the Chehalis and Cowlitz rivers, they crossed the Columbia and established southern branch in the vicinity of Westport. Following the Klatskanie River into the interior they soon were hunting the byways of the Nehalem River and its many tributaries. On the lower reaches of the Nehalem River, some Tillamook bands set up villages in the interior. But the Upper Nehalem was Klatskanie country and the watersheds that fed those streams were under their writ.
So this inauspicious peak was not just a vantage point from which to survey the entirety of the western Oregon Indians’ universe, it was also a key marker that divided the River Indians from the upland Calapuyans and the downstream Klatskanie Indians.
But let us move on. Having paused enough to appreciate the row upon row of distant blue-green mountains extending all the way to the coast, we can either retrace our steps and return by the way we came up the mountain, or we can proceed down the slope and return by way of Panther Creek.
Going down the ridge (.4 miles to the bottom) takes us through an area recently clear cut and still relatively open. The road switches back to the North to descend into an intersection of several recently built logging roads that congregate around the base of this ridge. After descending we will circle around the base of the ridge moving in a generally southwesterly direction. To avoid this detour to the north side of the ridge it is also possible to bushwhack off the road (from where it turns northwards) to intercept this lower road on the southwestern flank of the ridge – thus avoiding the additional hiking to the north.
Whichever way works for you, we follow the road around the base of the ridge and head into the top of the Panther Creek watershed. Following the main road in a southwesterly direction you will encounter a side road that veers off to the left at almost exactly 4 miles from the start of this hike. This side trail heads back along the side of the slope and heads into a heavily forested area along the base of the hill. We will follow this secondary road into the forest as it parallels the southern wall of this valley. Though little used, this road does get some vehicular traffic and most of the obstructions have been cleared away at this upper end. The forest is mostly a mix of hemlock, Alder and some Douglas Fir. Along the way you’ll see boggy areas to your right, and later a rough track leads off to the right to connect with some of the logging roads that serve the clear cut area on the north side of the valley. Continue down this forest road, past a spur (4.57 miles) that leads up the hillside on your left. As you descend you will encounter more obstructions with alders blocking the way, etc. At 4.75 miles (from the start of the hike) you should be passing under the power lines, but unless you look up to spot them you wouldn’t even notice them.
Along the way, you will note Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management tags affixed to a tree indicating the boundary of a no-cut area. You may also spot timber survey markers (pink plastic ribbons) on the north side of the trail.
By now you should be in a deep forest at the bottom of this narrow valley. The trees around you are probably in 60-70 year old range, comprised mostly of Hemlock, Douglas Fir, and Cedar. The trail is quite old and poorly maintained at this lower end of the valley with lots of downed trees across the trail. The area is quite wet even in the summer, when this forest resounds with the sounds of frogs.
A bit further along (5.18 miles) the trail ends at a large log that blocks the road. Climb over it and proceed about 50 feet further to get to the end of the logging road that serves the land owned by Mike Jamieson – whose “No Trespassing” signs abound along the lower portions of this road. The main logging road that you now encounter comes straight up the valley floor towards us, but turns and climbs up the slope just beyond the log barrier. We will follow the lower road back to its source on NW Greener Road. At first the road is not much used with salal bushes pressing in on both sides as it passes through a young conifer forest. Along the way we pass by recent clear cutting to the north and a side spur road that comes off that slope. The road continues along the bottom of the narrow valley with increasing signs of horse and vehicular traffic as it nears Greener Rd. Finally we arrive at the Yellow forestry gate (5.75 miles) adorned with numerous “No trespassing” signs.
Once on NW Greener road turn left and proceed the final quarter mile back to the logging road entrance where you parked the car (6.06 miles).