Portland Walks and Urban Hikes

"The Settling of the West," 1936, by Edward Quigley, one of several WPA murals inside Portland's Irvington School

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MAX and the Mountain: Riding the MAX Green Line to a Mt. Talbert Hike

In my years of exploring so many great places in the Portland area I've discovered it's easy to scratch the explorer’s itch without a long drive.
This hike is green in more ways than one: leave your car behind, and hop on your bike or MAX to get to 200 forested, mountainous acres. You’ll very likely be amazed at the beauty that exists just a yodel away from Clackamas Town Center.

This hike takes you from transit stop to wilderness in a surprisingly short time. It illustrates beautifully the benefits of preserving close-in greenspaces.

  • Restrooms are in Clackamas Town Center at the walk's start/end and on Mt. Talbert at the Mather trailhead (south side).
  • Elevation gain is about 550 feet: 200 feet at the end of the MAX Green Line, and 750 feet at the top of Mount Talbert. Route length varies depending on how much of Mt. Talbert you explore. It's one mile from the Green Line to the entrance to Mt. Talbert.
  • Eating and drinking places abound at Clackamas Town Center.
  • The hike is muddy in winter and spring; I recommend keeping your shoes clean by doing it barefoot.

    Start anywhere MAX runs and get yourself to the MAX Green Line. http://trimet.org/maxgreenline/routemap.htm. The I-205 Bike Path runs along the Green Line's route, so you could bike to the start of this hike instead of taking MAX. The 11-mile I-205 bike path is maintained by ODOT, and was built in the 1980s. It’s the antithesis of scenic, but it’s flat and gets you out there efficiently. The Green Line ends at Clackamas Town Center, right on the I-205 bike path. More on CTC at the end of the trek.

    From the Clackamas Town Center MAX stop, it’s one mile to the entrance to Mt. Talbert. Walk or bike south on the bike path. Cross Sunnyside Road at the crosswalk and continue south on the path. Cross Sunnybrook Road and turn left on it (east). Cross over I-205. Turn right at 97th and left at the first left, Talbert Street. Go to its dead-end, an entrance into the Mt. Talbert forest.

    Before you enter the park, scrape your feet on the boot scraper: this is one of the most ivy-free places around, and helping keep seeds out (which can ride in the cracks of shoe soles) will keep it free of ivy and other invasives.

    From this entrance, one of several, follow the trails to the summit. At each intersection they’re marked. One trail seen on the maps, the North Loop Trail, is closed because when the land was surveyed and trails laid out, parts of this trail were mistakenly thought to be within the park. Metro and the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District are working to acquire more land to bring this trail totally within the park. It is signed now as "Closed."

    Seen and heard on a rainy but balmy February day:

    On the West Ridge Trail: this trail is noisy, being the closest to I-205. Hundreds of slender young Douglas fir trees rise above a green groundcover of lacy sword fern, reminding me of the 7-year old legs of my classmates and me, rising skinny and straight above our fringed white anklets in our First Holy Communion photo. The area was last logged in the 1950s.

Siberian miner’s lettuce, a food reputedly consumed by starving goldminers in California.

Soft paths, ideal for running barefoot. I’ve run barefoot this winter in temps as low as the 40s, on trails in the West Hills. Try it! Until things dry out, the fir cones are squishy, little branches in the path saturated, and the muddy trails allow your toes to dig in and grab a bit of the earth. It’s one way to strip it down and be a child again. But beware: I didn't see it in February but poison oak is rampant, according to Tonia Burns, Natural Resources Coordinator with North Clackamas Parks and Recreation. She says they cut it back regularly but...if you're worried, the barefoot idea/with shorts may be best saved for a place without the poison.

Girdled Douglas firs. Girdling (cutting through the cambium layer) kills select trees so the slower-growing Oregon white oak can thrive here. Native
Americans managed many of the Willamette Valley forests similarly, but by burning the firs, creating vast savannahs of oak and grass.

A bridge over Mt. Scott Creek. It flows into Kellogg Creek just below North Clackamas Park. Kellogg Creek flows into the Willamette at downtown Milwaukie. For photos of Mt. Scott Creek's headwaters and confluence with Phillips Creek, see http://www.ncuwc.org/content/mt-scott-creek-sub-watershed-photo-gallery

Visit the park again with Metro naturalist and Portland author James Davis on Saturday May 15 from 9:30 a.m. to noon. He’ll talk about the songbirds of Mount Talbert (chestnut-backed chickadee, pileated woodpecker, olive-sided flycatcher, red-breasted sapsuckers and more). Register at North Clackamas Parks and Recreation or call 503.794.8092. James says about the park, “It is awesome for mushrooms in the fall. Another fungus fan here at work and I have a list of about 75 different species so far.” For more info on James's hike, see http://www.oregonmetro.gov/greenscene. Metro has another link, of a map and text for a Mt. Talbert exploration at http://library.oregonmetro.gov/files/mounttalbert.pdf

Come down off the mountain and back to suburbia at Clackamas Town Center. See http://www.clackamastowncenter.com/dining-entertainment for restaurants in and around the mall. Clackamas Town Center opened in 1981 with an ice rink where Tonya Harding practiced on her trajectory toward the 1991 World Figure Skating Championship, at age 21, and her later debacle at the 1994 Olympics, a night which ranks as one of the most memorable evenings I have ever spent in front of the television. The rink closed in 2003.

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