This extreme letterbox requires treacherous travel on a working forest road, as well as hiking a trail that is vertical in two places. Most important: Do not underestimate the hazards of traveling un-maintained forest road, especially when there are trucks barreling up and down it. Great White Hunter went with me to plant this box, and his advice was invaluable. We had no cell phone signal after the first couple of miles traveling on the forest road, and none on the hike, either. I encourage you NOT to do this hike alone, be sure someone knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Be sure you have a full tank of gas in case you do get lost, at least one spare tire, and plenty of water, food, and warm clothing.
In addition: dogs are welcome on the trail, but much of the trail is roadbed material. Keep your pooch’s paws in mind before you decide to bring him or her hiking on broken up basalt.
There is Beargrass EVERYWHERE on the way to the summit. If you like Dog Mountain in the spring, you will LOVE Silver Star Mountain in late June. And this is only 5.6 miles (round trip) of hiking! Bring your camera!
Silver Star Mountain Trail is located in the southwestern corner of Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It is recommended that you obtain a map of the forest roads for this part of the forest. I got mine at http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/trails/maps/mta-silver-star.shtml . This is the Grouse Vista trailhead map, but it includes Silver Star Mountain and the roads you will travel to get here. You can also obtain maps of the forest roads at the USFS office in Orchard, WA.
Directions to the trailhead, as published by Paul Gerald in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles (3rd Edition). Thanks to Future Librarian for introducing me to this hiking resource!
“From Portland on I-205, drive 5 miles north of the Columbia River and take Exit 30/Orchards. Turn right onto WA500, which turns into WA503 in 0.9 miles (follow signs for Battle Ground). Stay on WA503 for 9 miles to its intersection with WA502 in the middle of Battle Ground. From here, travel 5.7 miles north on WA503, then turn right onto NE Rock Creek Road, which turns into Lucia Falls Road. After 8.5 miles on this road, take a right onto NE Sunset Falls Road, follow it for 2 miles, and turn right onto NE Dole Valley Road. Go 2.4 miles on this one and turn left onto Road L1100, which is marked (in bright orange paint) with “1100” on a tree and (maybe) a sign for Tarbell Picnic Area. On this road, stay straight at 2.2 miles, bear left* (downhill) at 4.3 miles, then turn right (uphill) at 7.7 miles (I found this to be a lot more like 6.3 miles). The trailhead is 2.6 miles up, at the end of this narrow, bumpy road.”
*Note at 4.3 miles: we saw a construction sign turned backwards with hand-painted lettering “Follow A Truck”. If you see this sign here, or on any forest road, pull over and wait for a few minutes. Watch for a telltale cloud of dust to let you know that a truck is coming toward you. They will probably follow the road to your right; but wait. The driver will turn around and go back—the same way you are going. This is when you get behind the truck. Anytime the truck pulls over (on the left side of the road), YOU pull over behind him to let oncoming trucks pass you both. He or she will be driving FAST; stay as close as possible. When you reach the rock quarry (the road turns left and goes across a bridge, quarry is on the right), give the driver ample room to back in. You will receive a brief wave from the driver and once he’s backed into the quarry, you will have plenty of room to go by him.
You may not see any construction signs, in which case it is okay to assume that you won't be meeting any trucks out here.
When you get to a four-way intersection (at about 6.3 miles) turn right and drive up the hill. This is FS Road 4109. Do not follow 4109 straight! Turn right, you will see 4109 emblazoned on a tree. If you thought the road was bad before now, that was just a warm-up for this 2.6 mile stretch! Culverts and washouts are abundant, my advice is to drive SLOWLY to avoid damage to your vehicle. The road finally ends at the trailhead—whew!!!
I was going to advise you to only attempt this in a truck or SUV, but we saw a total of three station wagons at the trailhead. It can be done, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Now the fun part, the hike! Walk past the trailhead map to the right, this is Silver Star Trail 180. Hike .9 miles through switchbacks and arrive at a scenic overlook. You can see Mount Hood “peaking” from between two distant ridges. Look to your right, you’ll see Ed’s Trail (180A) following the ridge toward the west. Follow this ridge trail for 1.5 miles, past a high cave, under a stone arch and past a low cave. When climbing opportunities become mandatory, make like a Billy goat TWICE to continue on the trail. Finally, the trail will take you past a Beargrass meadow and through a lush forest. There’s a trail junction at the top; follow the roadbed trail (summit trail) to the left for Ľ mile.
Pass the firepit (yes you can camp here) and arrive at the next junction, where we saw what Great White Hunter told me is a ‘moral compass’—a pile of rocks with a log ‘pointing’ the way left/uphill. You’re almost there! At the saddle between the two peaks, the true summit is to the left. The few people you may see on this trail will ultimately end up there, so you’re going to head right, to the false(?) summit, instead. As you look toward Mount Hood (east), head toward the craggy outcroppings in front of you. As you head down toward them, the trail gets very steep and you may slide on the rocks. At this point, turn to 200 degrees and follow this loose, rocky trail a couple of feet down around a rocky point/handhold. Now go a few more steps at 230 degrees to a second rocky point. The Silver Star Mountain Letterbox is just below it, under 4 oxidized rocks that have been carefully puzzled together. Stamp is 4x4. Be careful, the gravel you tread on is loose and it’s a long way down! Please be sure you replace the puzzle on top of the letterbox so it remains hidden and protected.
You can hike back the way you came, or take the easier trail on the opposite ridge. Head back down from the saddle, then instead of turning into the forest on Ed's Trail, stay on Silver Star Trail 180. You will emerge in the clearing where you picked up Ed’s Trail earlier. Follow the trail back to the trailhead.
When driving back past the rock quarry, stop there and determine if the trucks are still running. If there’s a Caterpillar or other heavy equipment working in the quarry, the trucks are still on the move. Use the same strategy to return as you did to get here: wait for a truck to drive the same way you are going. Be sure to back up from the quarry so the truck you are waiting for can back into the quarry when it arrives. From this direction, the trucks seem to have the right-of-way; we passed by two other trucks stopped in the same places we had to stop on our way out here. Stay close to the truck you are following, so that the drivers of the stopped trucks don’t pull out before you get past them.
Please let me know how you liked the journey to arrive at this letterbox! Also please let me know if you found my clues too difficult or unclear—I didn’t bring you all the way out here to make the box difficult for you to find.