It’s finally summer, and I am ready to hike. A year ago I looked at hiking to Wauna Point, but it didn’t pan out because I didn’t have a good map or guidebook. This year, that wasn’t a problem. As I am working a new job that only allows me one day off a week right now, I was very focused on getting in a good hike today. It had been far too long. I took my faithful canine hiking companion Jackie Chan with me and headed to the majestic Columbia River Gorge. Unfortunately, I was delayed by a traffic problem. Two lanes of the three lane highway were closed. It was backed up for three miles. Ugh. Still, I managed to be at the Tooth Rock trailhead by noon.
I opted for a simple route via an access road past a couple junctions. The road curves about two casual miles uphill to the old Tanner Butte trailhead. I’d climbed Tanner Butte as a teenager. Now it’s a sixteen mile adventure. Not for everyone. Wauna Point, on the other hand, is a relatively modest ten miles, the last leg of which is very rugged. More on that later. Beyond the old tiny trailhead, a path continued upwards, briefly following a beautiful stream. Multiple wispy cascades drape the drainage within a quarter mile, after which the trail veers away from the small canyon.
The landscape along the trail is typical western Cascades: lush, green, and viewless in the lower elevations. It is also relatively people free. One guidebook as well as a hiking website refer to the Tanner Butte trail as steep. It certainly forges uphill steadily, but it rarely felt steep. That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging. Whooee, my legs are gonna feel it, I recall thinking. Eventually, after climbing to a landscape of salal and fern undergrowth with stately evergreens overhead, the trail flattens briefly at a junction. To reach Wauna Point, one goes straight ahead on an unmaintained trail. Due to dense damp ferns encroaching on the path, my boots and legs were soaked in a few minutes.
Despite the dampness, this secondary trail seemed easy. It descended the far side of the ridge, dropped beneath a rocky rampart, and then plunged down a very narrow ridge via some very steep, scrabbly and muddy spots. This is not for the casual hiker. Good traction and balance are necessary. I used my hands a few times. As always, descending a steep bit is the tricky part. Once I was down into a little saddle, the rest was relatively easy. I eventually sat on an airy perch, the Columbia River undulating like a shiny snake 2500 feet below me. I kept Jackie close by my side. Wauna Point is not a place for a pup to be a squirrel chasing spaz. It is fairly rocky, and only a few feet wide, with some exposure in places plunging hundreds of feet.
Wauna Point is a notch below the best viewpoints of the Gorge, largely because its views are dotted with manmade structures like Bonneville Dam, the Bridge of the Gods, and the buildings of a couple towns. Still, it was pretty great, especially the unique horizontal perspective of the bare, steep flanks of Munra Point, which faithful readers may recall I climbed last July.
The way down was quiet and relatively quick. In all, I took just over 5 hours for the round trip of 10 miles, with some extended relaxation on top. I might be a touch sore tomorrow. This was a great first serious hike of the year. Hopefully there will be many more great hikes forthcoming. Ah, summer!