Category Archives: Winter hiking

Fire Lane Hiking

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I’m waiting for the game with hours to kill.  The weather is spectacular for February in Cascadia.  Must be time for a hike!  I have been fairly lazy about getting my hiking fixes lately, focusing more on other writing and creative endeavors (follow me on Instagram) but I was happy to hit Forest Park today with my canine pal, Jackie Chan.  The parking areas on Germantown Road were packed, which is normal on a weekend, especially when the weather is nice.   I parked on the shoulder and headed down a nearby fire lane.  People flock to the Wildwood Trail, but there is a lot more solitude on most Fire Lanes in Forest Park.  Fire Lane 10 dives down the side of a canyon, crossing a nice little creek.  Everything is green, which is more spectacular when the mossy edge of a tree limb are backlit.

Beyond the creek, there is some work to do. The fire lane climbs to the Linnton Trail, where I started seeing other hikers or runners.  The Linnton Trial is not too steep, but it’s all uphill for about a mile until it meets the Wildwood Trail.  From there I could meander back towards Germantown Road and my car.  Now I’m ready for the game.  Go Broncos!

Snow Stroll in the Hood


A tiny island in the Sandy River

On Sunday, I returned to my old stomping grounds at the foot of Mt. Hood with bittersweet feelings.  First, I attended a celebration of life for a long time community volunteer and fine man.  I was able to visit many of my former fire department brethren.  Then it was time to go.  I had no plan, but wanted a walk in the woods knowing there would be snow nearby. Less than two miles up Lolo Pass road, snow was starting to pile up on the side of the road.  Hmm.  Could be interesting, I thought, especially without four wheel drive.   I pieced a pullout near the Sandy River and tromped through the woods.  There was no goal but to get in touch with nature.  It felt good.  Just what I needed.

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Walking by an Olympic Tribute in Portland

Walking by an Olympic Tribute in Portland

Significant snowfall can make an adventure out of any neighborhood walk. So it was this afternoon in the Rose City. I loved seeing the Olympic Rings in the snow nearby. Jackie liked it too. We’re not as excited about the freezing rain that is coming….  Stay warm, everybody.

White River Snowshoeing Memory

It was perfect day to get out on the snow

It was perfect day to get out on the snow

Today I stumbled onto a batch of photos from a few years ago.  Here, my stepson Casey and I are snowshoeing along the popular White River below the magnificent Mount Hood.  I recommend cross country skis to make the return trip faster and more fun.  You can go miles up the canyon before the terrain gets tough, and it’s mostly wide open.  Sadly, there isn’t that much snow this year.  Perhaps I shall return when more snow comes.

Pre Winter Winter Walking

“Baby, it’s cold outside.”   Even in Portland.  It’s not subzero here like Prineville or Butte, but it’s pretty cold for Cascadia. Getting motivated to go outside is a bit more challenging.  A few nights ago, I got a flat tire after dark, as the cold hit.   I had the wrong shoes on, my old Converse low tops.  Bad idea.  Inclement weather makes emergency planning that much more crucial.

Jackie in his tweed as the cold begins

Jackie in his tweed as the cold begins

The ground is hard and flecked with white

The ground was hard and flecked with white on Friday

I plan to get out for a walk today.   I’ll be wearing boots and the scarf my almost daughter in law knitted.  Tonight it will be below 20, unusual for Portland, so times a wastin’.  Stay warm, my friends, and keep moving.

A Chilly East Tiger Mountain

While on a trip to Washington last week, I managed a nice hike in the famed Issaquah Alps.  I’d vaguely heard of Tiger Mountain, a famous destination in an area draped with trails, thanks to my sister who once lived nearby.  The peak usually climbed is West Tiger #3.  My approach would instead be from the east to scale East Tiger Mountain, which sounded easier at about four miles one way but still tips the scales at over 3000 feet.

Frozen puddle on the way up

Frozen puddle on the way up

From the obvious parking area on the side of Highway 18, a dirt road wound slowly up the mountain.  I figured the road was for fire access, but as it turned out, it was for cell tower workers.  Three Ericsson trucks passed me at various points.   Ah, life in the land of 4G.  The smooth surface made for easy walking, and I tried to make tracks, as it were, since I needed be back in Federal Way before 3 p.m.

Jackie Chan telling me to hurry up

Jackie Chan telling me to hurry up

Jackie Chan and I didn’t stop until we ran into another man about my age with his own dog.  Mine’s friendly.  Mine too.  Sniff sniff.  We walked a bit faster than them and continued upwards.  After two intersections, the trail headed upward in earnest and snow appeared on the sides of the road.   The walking surface itself  got that crunchy permafrost feel, slick in spots. I motored through the cold on that north side stretch, trying getting the blood flowing.   Jackie was a trooper as usual.

A fantastic nurse log along the path.

A fantastic nurse log along the path.

It was a gorgeous day for a walk

It was a gorgeous day for a walk

I arrived on top in about an hour and a half.  The summit  was not exactly wilderness, with the cell and radio towers, but there were still nice views, and blue sky above felt like a treat for a November day in the Cascades.  Jackie sniffed about a bit but was mellow while I took photos.  Then the other dog arrived and the romping began, Jackie trying to engage the other dog in a serious game of tag.   He’s a funny little pup.

Most of Mount Rainier.  I love to blue gray hues in the foothill ranks

Part of Mount Rainier. I love the blue gray hues in the foothill ranks

The sunlight on top warmed us up, but I still wore my beanie and gloves.  Once I headed down the shadowy road, I felt quite chilly, but
I ignored it, although I kept remembering Marine Corps boot camp and how we didn’t put our hand in our pockets.  That would be using “Army gloves”.


I wore my gloves now, no problem.  As I descended the first section, I passed a group of older folks decked out in serious gear, all gaitered and wearing heavier boots, while I wore trail runners. The snow never really stuck to the path, so I had no problems, although the cold did make it a bit more of an adventure.

Nice forested slope  below

Nice forested slope below the road near the bottom

East Tiger Mountain is a nice area, and I’d recommend it for an easy walk any time of year, although visitors should know that the single track trails were closed to prevent damage to the trail, so mountain bikes may be on the road.  It is surprisingly close to Federal Way, too.  I got back to the hotel in less than forty minutes.

Hamilton Mountain is Gorges (take that, Ithaca)

Columbia River Gorge

The western end of the Columbia River Gorge is home to many fine destinations. One of them is the Hamilton Mountain Trail in Beacon Rock State Park.  My friend Rich and I headed out there yesterday on an unusually warm February day.  As soon as we arrived, I realized that warmth would be tempered by a typical Gorge wind.

The trailhead was full of cars, so I knew this would not be a solitary wilderness experience.  No worries.  I had done the trail years ago with my wife during the summer, and I knew there were some great views.   It offered a two thousand foot vertical gain, which seemed solid, but not extreme, even in February.

We started up the trail quickly, and I found myself puffing pretty hard.  Soon however, Rich started having problems with his feet, and our pace slowed. He taped up his heel and donned different socks, and we continued.

Falls above the trail

Falls above the trail

Hardy Falls was a nice first stop on the route.  Rodney Falls was above the trail, while Hardy was below.

Hardy Falls

Hardy Falls

There were multiple platforms from which to take photos, although it was nigh impossible to catch a clean look at the longest drop.

Lovely stream between cascades

Lovely stream between cascades

The trail climbed in earnest after a junction above the falls.  We opted for the shorter route with more switchbacks.

Cliffs we would have to skirt on our ascent

Cliffs we would have to skirt on our ascent

Rock formations soon loomed above, and after some sweat, we were atop a steep promontory surveying the gorge.  There were another ten people in the same area, including a woman whose snappy comments to her kids suggested she was afraid of heights.  There was, indeed, a long drop if you really took a misstep, but we felt safe.

Looking toward Bonneville Dam

Looking toward Bonneville Dam

Crowded viewpoint

Crowded viewpoint

Narrow cleft. Note my shadow

Looking down a narrow cleft. Note my shadow.

That spot was spectacular enough to be a destination for the less motivated, but we continued.  There were more tremendous views, mostly to the south and west.   At one point, we stopped for a drink and snack at a grassy spot looking over a steep drop to a mossy talus slope, a second tier of cliffs to the east.


Looking down to Beacon Rock

Upper tier of cliffs

Upper tier of cliffs

Shortly thereafter, we fell into line with a large group when the trail became intermittently covered in snow.

Two runners passed us, the second one of whom wore no shirt.  I told him he was an “animal.”  He grinned and said “you too.” We both knew better.  Still, in five minutes we were all atop the breezy peak.  It was crowded, but the views were spectacular, with Adams to the northeast and Hood to the south, the river below, and snow-covered foot hills everywhere, notably Table Mountain and its impressive cliffs.  I could see the outline of  Angel’s Rest to the west and Wind Mountain to the east, fondly recalling my recent hikes there.

Crowded summit

Crowded summit

Hamilton MOuntain

Rich on the summit

Mount Adams

Mount Adams beyond Table Mountain

The descent was much faster than the ascent, and we joked about how sore our quads would be. This is a first class hike with unique geological features and truly stellar views, offering weekend warriors a great workout, even when there is snow on the last section of trail.



Do not slip.  Fractured fins found on the way down

Fractured fins we found just off the trail on descent

Once back down on flat ground, we stopped for a beer in Stevenson, a quaint hamlet a few miles east.  Walking Man Brewpub was jammed, so we opted for the nearby Big River Grill.  It turned out to be a fine choice itself, with a fun atmosphere, notable for many old personalized license plates decorating the walls, along with other outdoor memorabilia, such as a sturgeon painting, cross country skis, snowshoes, vintage signs, and a crosscut saw.  The Walking Man IPA was delicious, and the sturgeon spread we shared was excellent too.  Ahhh.

Later, as we headed home to our city lives, I felt very satisfied.  Topping it all off as we drove by Beacon Rock was the one of the most spectacular pink and purple sunsets I ever have seen.  What a day, and what a place!

Cape Horn or bust!


Cape Horn is perched near the western end of the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side, of which I am becoming more enamored.   Trail pup Jackie Chan and I drove out there this morning hoping it wouldn’t be too cold.  The temp seemed okay, but after I passed Washougal, I could see branches swaying in a strong wind.  I knew it would be a factor.

Jackie Chan is a black belt with orange sweater.

Jackie Chan is a black belt with orange sweater.

There is well-signed and appointed trailhead just off SR 14. (decent porta-potty on one side and an informative kiosk including a map on the other).   The wind was fairly screaming so I Jackie’s sweater on him (very preppy, I know) on and added a layer myself.   I knew up higher the wind chill would be worse.

The trail starts casually in a hardwood forest reminiscent of the Appalachians. Strangely, there were no Doug Firs or Western Red Cedars in sight. After   crossing a tiny creek, the frozen trail began switchbacking gradually up the slope.  It was not yet eleven, and the sun created shadows and interesting light effects behind the trees.

Cape Horn Forest

Lovely deciduous woods

I saw only one other hiker on the way up.  I wondered if I’d be by myself.   I did not push the pace but enjoyed the intermittent views through the trees. I tried to spy Hamilton Mountain or Larch Mountain, but that would have to wait.

Gifford Pinchot foothills

Peekaboo views to the north

Half an hour up, the trail came close to a powerline road, and I ducked into the open for a photo looking toward Silver Star and Baldy, where I’d been last August.  Snow started to appear on the ground in patches, but nothing like my Wind Mountain adventure a few weeks ago.

Silver Star Skamania County

Silver Star, Baldy, and friends

Finally I clambered up to the first couple of viewpoints.  The wind was in fine form, probably gusting between twenty five and forty miles per hour and there were a few icy spots.   The views from the first clifftop bluff were great, but the windchill was not inviting, so I moved on to a more secluded spot and took a few more photos, worried about Jackie the whole time.   He’s very bright, but he doesn’t exactly know what it means to fall down a cliff (Note to self: teach Jackie physics).  As I had other tasks to accomplish at home, I opted to head back to the car rather than push on to another viewpoint a mile ahead.  That could wait for spring.


Columbia River Gorge

Looking upriver into the haze

On the shady side of the ridge, there was more snow, and Jackie loved to romp in it.  He had been staying by my heels or just in front of me most of the time, but in the snow he got goofy.   I wish I could have captured his exuberance, but any time I pulled out the camera, he struck a serious pose.


I descended partway by the powerline road, which made a nice shortcut, and there I admired the crystallized snow and frost on plants.

cape horn powerline road

Plant matter’s winter coat on the dark side of the ridge

As it neared noon on my descent, I started passing people regularly, bundled up and smiling. Everyone was having a good time.  Well, we were smiling, because we’d left the worse of the wind behind.  Jackie was tuckered. He napped most of the way home, then tried to lick my face off while we waited for the Interstate Bridge to lower its deck.

The Cape Horn Trail has a loop, part of which is closed part of the year for peregrine falcon nesting.  That is the section below SR 14.  This is the closest significant trail to the Portland area on the Washington side of the Gorge, and it’s easy to find.  Those factors alone recommend it for weekend warriors, but it is a lovely spot as well, and the loop possibilities are intriguing.  Highly recommended.

Wind Mountain in the Sun


When I saw a sunny day forecast late December, I knew the hiking doldrums were over.  It was time to climb!  My goal was Dog Mountain, and my partner was my puppy Jackie.  Perfect.  Except the thermometer reading.

As I drove out the Columbia River Gorge, I realized there was more snow than expected.  Dog Mountain would have some healthy snow.  I modified my goal and opted for nearby Wind Mountain, which is just under 2000 feet.  The peak rises straight out of the Columbia River, its conical form obvious from Washington’s Highway 14.

I found the trailhead off the aptly-named Wind Mountain Road.  A sign pointed up Girl Scout Road, where I found a broad parking area at a saddle crusted in snow and icy puddles.  I was intrigued to find a boot scraper at the trailhead to prevent transplantation of invasive species.  A sign of things to come, perhaps.

I popped on a beanie before I left the car, and a few minutes up the trail I added gloves.  As the trail angled around the eastern flank of the peak, I hit patches of packed snow which made for slick walking.  I had to clamber over a number of downed logs, and under at least one, but it was manageable as long as I was careful.  I briefly regretted not having boot chains or microspikes.   Jackie had no problems thanks to his nails.


Naturally, with greater elevation came more snow, but it was drier snow and not as packed out; my boot lugs bit into it nicely.

The trail cut back on a ridge and meandered north beneath the summit cone, finally twisting south to the summit. There was a prominent sign about Native American rock work to beware and leave undisturbed.   It simply added another facet to the trip and the destination.


The views were great in multiple directions.  I had to scale a snowy crest to hit the summit proper, then I found a dry spot in some rocks, where I got some water and gaped at the massive southern wall of the gorge, Mount Defiance and its brethren enticing me.  To the east, Dog Mountain looked snowy indeed.


Looking down at the river, snowy tinted mountains rising steeply out of the mighty Columbia before me, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied.  Wind Mountain is nobody’s epic summit, but winter definitely made it interesting.


The sun warmed me even as a couple vision quest shelters nearby were cloaked in snow.  I’d felt wind most of the way up, but on the summit it eased and we were able to relax for a while.  What a day.  Jackie was a real trooper for only his second real summit. With this great reminder of the wonders in the Gorge, we will definitely have to return in the spring.