The Low Road to Cape Horn


Sometimes a Cigar Rock is just a Cigar Rock

There was some wind, and some walking.  More wind and more walking.  Did I mention wind?  It was quite the day on the Cape Horn trail.  Continuing in the recent vein of not letting the weather stop me, I picked one of the closest spots in the Gorge for a jaunt.  I’d been atop Cape Horn before, as documented on this site, but I’d never completed the loop.  Doing so became the goal for the day.  Of course that was before I go out of my warm car and realized just how windy the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge was.

The temperature was probably in the high thirties or low forties, but the constant winds made the windchill well below freezing at times.  Once I was on the actual trail, the views got fairly spectacular in a hurry.

I seemed to be the only human who opted to take the clockwise approach to the Cape Horn trail loop.  This is a popular spot, but the lower half seems shamefully under-hiked.  Finally I set out to hike this section, thanks to two underpasses and a road on which I walked without seeing vehicles for 1.3 miles, farmland beside me, and the cliffs and ridges of the Cape high above.  I had stashed extra warm layers in my pack.  In less than ten minutes, I had to pull out the gloves.

The topological and aesthetic surprises kept coming.  I have always been of the mindset to head to high ground for the best adventure, but in this case, it was almost the opposite.  The high ground on Cape Horn offers a few nice viewpoints, along with open fields, but the most unique features were on the lower section, close to the river, with up close and personal views of the cliffs from below, along with stunning Gorge views.  In addition , there was more of a wilderness feeling at the lower elevations.   Eventually, of course I had to start climbing.  This began gradually and then started in earnest with switchbacks.  I kept thinking I must be close to the highway, but it took longer than expected.  I got a few nice sights in right before that with another stellar viewpoint, a small waterfall, and lovely brook.

After the trail  ducks back under the highway, it starts climbing a ridge.  Suddenly there is an oddly-built shack beside the trail, as if it were a homeless camp or hunters hideaway.  Strange.  The path continues uphill at a mild grade through attractive woods.  In half a mile or so, after a significant amount of elevation has been gained, there is another spectacular viewpoint.  A quartet of bundle up hikers hunkered below a gray masonry wall to avoid the vicious wind.  I took in the expansive views of the Gorge behind them, snapped a couple photos, then continued walking.  It was no place to dawdle.  Not today.

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Away from the gorge rim, the open land is gently sloping.  A few homes are visible.  The trail crosses a field, then hops a road and heads back into the woods.  I started seeing lots of hikers and a few runners too. The numbers surprised me a little bit.  Either I’m a bit wimpier than I thought, or other people are a little tougher than I thought.  Both?  With the exception of a quick photo op at the Fallen Tree Viewpoint, I boogied on down the trail, raising an eyebrow at runners in shorts, one of whom had music blaring from his backpack.  I didn’t care for that (artificially flavored pop), but at least it warned me he was coming.  All told, I hiked almost 7.5 miles, saw many stupendous views, and fully enjoyed a chilly half day in the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge.



About Josh Baker

"The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” ― John Muir

Posted on December 1, 2015, in Adventure, Cold weather hiking, Flora and Fauna, General Hiking, Mountains, Outdoors, Solo Hiking, Uncategorized, Waterways and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Looks like a beautiful day even though chilly.

  2. Love the Larch Mountain shot and you with pooch. Way too cold for me–I was moseying about the neighborhood and found even that darned chilly!

  3. OK this is funny…I decided to hike this today and just logged in to blog about it and what do I find? You were there earlier in the week! We pick the same hikes all the time – cracks me up. My photos won’t be as beautiful as yours but always nice to see great minds think alike.

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