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Cape Horn of Plenty

The Columbia Gorge from Cape Horn

The Columbia Gorge from Cape Horn

This is a sequel hike.  I came up here last winter, but a prime time summer day is a different experience, especially when it’s with four other people.   we came late in the day, and just blasted (okay, we walked steadily) up to the first few viewpoints.   We encountered a woman wondering if we’d seen a friend of hers.  He had just taken off running.   First rule of hiking club: don’t leave your buddies.  Second rule of hiking club:  don’t ridicule those hikers who make foolish decisions.  We found the guy later.  All was well.   Third rule of hiking club:  don’t scare the heck out of your friends by leaning way too close to the edge of a cliff.    Ah, what the heck.

Cape HOrn views

Denise, Jackie Chan, and friends at a dusty viewpoint over the Columbia River

We decided to turn around where there was a no trespassing sign that hadn’t been there in the winter. It would have been along walk to another pretty view and we were short on time. Still, a couple killer viewpoints and some good exercise with good company is about as good as life gets in my book.   That and high quality chocolate ice cream.

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.