My recent adventure included an old pipe, technology, an ice-cold river, a kick ass waterfall, some mines, some harrowing adventure, sadistic stairs, and a darn good time.
My life has been pretty crazy lately. I have found myself in a new job, moving to a new house across town, trying to train for a triathlon and just general life. Due to all these things I have not had a chance to get out and have any adventures lately, so last Saturday I was determined to go to the woods and clear my head. I also recently got the Garmin Fenix 2 and was looking for a good chance to test it out, so, I grabbed The Professor and headed out to one of my favorite places to explore, the Mt Hood Forest east of Estacada.
For quite a while now I have wanted to find an old abandoned mercury/cinnabar mine just downstream of Lake Harriet on the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas River. I have been out there once before trying to find it and had no luck.
This seemed like a great time to test out the geocaching function on my Fenix 2. There just happened to be a geocache at the mercury mine so I loaded it into the watch before we left and then used it to find where we were going once we got up in the woods. It never hurts to have a little GPS technology help you find things, especially if you are a gadget nut like me.
I knew that the mine was somewhere near the old PGE pipeline that runs from below Lake Harriet to the Clackamas River. I am not sure why the pipeline is here or what it was created for other than it is part of the PGE Hydroelectric something or other from way back in the day. I do know that it is really cool and it is interesting to stumble across it out in the middle of the woods. As we explored around the pipeline we mused that it would be fun to cut holes in the top and turn it into a giant water slide, or put some kind of go-cart in it and see how far you could go.
Shortly after the pipeline we ran into the river. I had gotten this far before but was unable to find any of the markers that let me know the mine was nearby. How I missed them the first time I am unsure because I quickly discovered that I could see the roof of a nearby structure through the trees on the other side of the river, and then I could also see a piece of abandoned equipment on the other side of the river as well.
You may notice a theme in all the things I have just mentioned… that is; they are on the other side of the river. This posed a small problem as we were at the top of a small waterfall, which offered no viable crossing options, and since it is springtime the water was quite high, fast and cold.
We considered trying to wade across the river in a more shallow section but after attempting it we (well more I) quickly decided this was not going to be a good idea. We decided to head upstream to see if maybe there was a shallower section, or maybe some sort of log or something to cross the quickly moving, ice-cold river.
Unfortunately as we went upstream we didn’t really discover any easier way to cross the river. There was a spot that we might have tried to jump across but since there was no bank on the other side and neither of us really wanted to jump in to try and save the other from an icy wet death. It just didn’t seem like a good time.
Finally we decided to give up. It was quite frustrating as we could see our destination mere yards away from where we were standing but we had no safe way to get to it. I had once again failed to reach my destination.
When we got back to the pipeline we decided to walk down it for a while. During my last visit here I had found a neat spot downstream (when I had read the directions wrong and taken the wrong road…) that I figured we could check out again.
We made our way down the pipeline to the next trail to take to get down to the river. As we walked along the pipeline, I dreamed about building a cabin up in the woods somewhere, or how nice an area this would be to camp. The Professor, dreamed about cutting a section out of the pipe and dragging it home to make a root cellar…
Once we were off the pipeline we headed down the trail to the river. I love this section of the river. It is a lot calmer and there are some deep pools that would be perfect for swimming on a hot summer day, and a nice bank that would be perfect for a nice camping area.
As we looked around this area we thought that maybe we could find a crossing here and head upstream on the other side to get to the mine. We hiked up the bank, which on this side was not as easy going, as it would be on the other side but it paid off; soon we found a way across.
We saw a log bridge. We were unsure how it got there and are still speculating if someone made it or if we just got lucky and nature happened to arrange things in just such a way that favored us. Either way we were happy to have a way across and quickly took it.
We then started to work our way upstream again. It was pretty easy going for the most part. We did have to create our own bridge at one point to get across a section that was too deep and there weren’t enough rocks to walk across to keep from getting a little wet. Really, it was no big deal.
Eventually we got to a section where the bank disappeared and we were left with two choices. We could either give up and head back, or we could scramble up the hill and try to cut across and then scramble back down the hill when we got closer to the mine. Fortunately, we had the Fenix 2 to tell us when we would need to cut back down the hill and end up where we needed to be so it took some of the guesswork out of it.
So, since neither of us was willing to give up and since The Professor is part mountain goat we headed straight up the hill. I mused, as we headed straight up a hillside, that these climbs are much easier now than a year ago when I weighed a good 40 lbs. more.
We finally got to a section where we could head upstream again with little effort. We walked across the top of the chasm that held the river and hopefully some treasures not yet discovered by us. Eventually my Fenix 2 said we were within 200ft and as we looked down we saw the top of a structure. We were almost to our destination. All we had to do at this point was find a way back down.
There was a small stream that headed down the hill towards the river that we knew led to a bank on the river near where we needed to go, so we decided to find a way down near that. Again, Mr. Mountain Goat Professor just headed straight down the hill.
He picked a path that was not too bad but it still ended up getting the nickname, “The Stairway to Hell.” It was fun, but not so much fun that I wanted to try to do it again. I was also not stoked about the fact that we were eventually going to have to try to climb back up this same path to get back to our bridge across the river.
We put these thoughts out of our head momentarily as we finally got to the bank of the river and found that we had finally gotten to where we wanted to be. There were plenty of things to explore around here, and we did. It started to rain pretty good so we sought some shelter under one of the structures and then, once it let up, we started looking for the actual mine shaft.
I wasn’t sure where the mineshaft itself was so I headed down to the bank of the river, figuring that would be as good a place as any to start. We didn’t find the mineshaft there but got a good look at the waterfall from the bottom. It was not the biggest or tallest waterfall that I have ever seen by far but I really liked it. One of my favorite things when it comes to waterfalls is the ability to get up and close and this one let you do that.
We hung out at the falls for a few minutes but then had to get back to our task at hand. There was a mineshaft to be found and explored and we had come this far, we weren’t going to give up.
We headed back towards the hill and finally stumbled across the shaft up in the hill. We climbed up and entered the shaft. Unfortunately the shaft was blocked off with metal bars and a steel cable net. Looking at the surrounding area to the mouth of the mineshaft and shining my light back into the shaft, it is probably a good thing that it was closed off. It didn’t seem like it was the most stable or safe place to go exploring. We then realized there was a second opening in the side of the hill just towards the river a little ways. It however did not go back very far and was even less climactic than the first mineshaft.
Since we were pretty much done exploring the mines at this point we decided we should probably start heading back. We were both getting hungry and thirsty and we hadn’t brought anything with us from the 4Runner as we didn’t expect this adventure to turn out so… adventurous. I was really not keen on hiking back up the “Stairway to Hell” and was willing to revisit crossing the river at this point. It still wasn’t our favorite option but it really didn’t seem as bad as heading back up and down the hill.
So… we found some good sturdy sticks for balance, stripped down to our underbritches, tied our shoes and pants around our necks and crossed the frigid waters. I have to say that it wasn’t the worst experience I have ever had but it was far from the best. That water was cold, cold, cold. By the time I got to the other side my legs hurt and I was shivering, but I quickly warmed back up.
Both of us made it across with no incident and were both glad that we hadn’t chosen to take the hilly torture route to get back across the river.
After we took some time to warm our legs back up some more we headed back to the 4Runner and ate use some lunch. It was nice to sit there and enjoy the silent surroundings. Living in the city it is sometimes hard to remember how nice and peaceful it can be when it is just silent.
After lunch we headed back towards civilization. We still had plenty of time left to adventure around so I had heard of this cool stairway that I wanted to try to find. I knew that it was somewhere near Three Lynx, (this little PGE town up in the woods) and fortunately there was a geocache there so I could use my watch to direct us there.
We drove up to a small road that was gated off, so we parked and headed down the trail. It didn’t take long and we found the staircase. It was quite the staircase. I am not sure how long it was or what the elevation gain was but it had to have been quite the feat to build, and if you had to climb those stairs on any kind of regular basis you would have the legs of Superman.
We hit the stairs, pretty much in the middle. There was an aqueduct next to the stairs that we had to cross to get to the actual stairs but it was a pretty easy feat to accomplish. Once we were on the stairs we had a choice. Up, or down. Of course, because we are insane, we chose up.
The interesting thing about these stairs is, that they are pretty steep as it is, but the further up you get, the steeper they get. Whoever the sadist was that built these stairs needs to be commended because climbing these stairs is a special kind of torture by the time you get to the top. I will say that the climb is well worth it. The view from the top is one of the best I have seen in a while and given the chance to go up there again… well I would take the road.
Fortunately after we got to the top we discovered that there is a small path that leads to a road. This road led us back down to where we had parked the 4Runner so we didn’t need to destroy our knees hiking back down the stairs.
An interesting note about the structure at the top of the stairs, it appears this is where the pipeline from Lake Harriet ends. Having discovered this we would like to some day plan a hike the pipe day and follow the pipe from Lake Harriet down to the PGE building. I am not sure how far this is or if it’s even possible but it seems like a fun idea.
We finally had had enough adventure for the day and were getting pretty tired so we headed back down the hill, via the road, to the 4Runner to head home.
It had been a great day of adventuring and we had found some pretty cool stuff. We were content with our explorations for the day.
For more information on the mercury/cinnabar mine you can click on these links:
I haven’t been able to really find any information on the pipeline or the stairs but I haven’t really looked all that hard yet.
If you would like to find the geocaches I was using for reference here are the links to them.
I think you may have to be a premium member to view them however.
I hope you have enjoyed this adventure. There will be more soon!