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Columbia River Gorge Tour #2

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The creek below Wahkeena Falls

Initially, Denise and I headed for Latourell Falls.  The sky was foggy, the temperature cool, so I was not overly excited, but I wanted to stretch my legs and take some photos with my new camera.   Once we got on the scenic highway at Corbett, plans evolved.  We stopped at first great viewpoint,  known as the Portland Women’s Forum Viewpoint.  Not a bad seat in the joint.  I’d never been to the far end to the parking lot before, with slightly better views of the river and a classic look at Crown Point.  From there, we drove to the nearby Vista House atop Crown Point, then dropped into the trees on the winding road to the first big falls of the Gorge.

For a few reasons, we didn’t set out on a real hike at Latourell Falls, which I’ve previously documented on this site.  Instead, we strode up the first steep pitch to a nice viewpoint of the falls, then turned back.  I was thinking Shepperd’s Dell would be our next spot, but I forgot all about Bridal Veil Falls State Park!  Silly me.  It isn’t dramatic from the road, but this is a hidden gem with two very different trails.  Since Denise had not seen the river overlook trail, we skipped the waterfall trail and ambled about the meandering flat trail.  There are views of the mighty Columbia in both directions, and great head-on looks at the Washington side of the Gorge in the Cape Horn area.

Shepherd’s Dell is not much of a spot to hike, but it has a cool falls, which is made more mysterious by upper reaches I’d never before noticed.   The watercourse almost corkscrews. Cascades are visible through the trees along the highway which are invisible from the trail itself.   This is a great little spot for a rest.

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Wahkeena Falls

Like its big brother Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls is a popular spot, and with good reason.  The falls is not one clean plunge, but a couple of horsetails and a cascade below to boot.  The base of the main falls is easily accessible by paved trail.

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Fern gully

Knowing this, we cruised up there.  It only takes a few minutes.   I was impressed by the flow and the breeze which that created.  I didn’t dally long by the falls proper, but continued past.  We hiked up about 11 switchbacks to Lemmon Viewpoint, which took perhaps 20 minutes.  I didn’t remember how tough the trail was, but it was easy, and the views were great.  It was a nice capper to another great tour of the Columbia River Gorge.

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Lemmon Viewpoint and Washington

Note:  In double checking spellings of a couple waterfalls, I stumbled on a cool site for waterfall lovers, Northwest Waterfall Survey.  I knew a number of the names, like Ecola and Mist, but was not aware of Dalton, Little Necktie, and a few others.   Just when I needed new ideas for local exploration!  Happy hikes, everyone.

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East to Beacon Rock

 

 

 

Off the Beaten Path Waterfall Stash

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On the hike up, I enjoy geology on parade

 

I just wanted to get out of the city on a hot afternoon. Without meaning to, however, I found a series of tiny cascades in the Columbia River Gorge.  The primary trail I hiked ends in a nice spot, but ever inquisitive, I wanted to see what was around the corner.  I continued up the bedrock of the stream.  There were a couple of herd paths around logs and tiny cliffs, but it was almost as easy to clamber over rocks and logs, or simply hike in the very shallow water.  Every turn offered a new gorgeous scene, with water, rock, greenery, and sky all vying for my attention.

Many of the spots seemed more dramatic due to the volcanic rock over which the water flowed, and on which I trod.  Eventually, I sat on a mossy boulder at one point and simply took it all in, walking down only after I’d enjoyed the quiet canyon for almost an hour. It may seem strange to not mention the name of the trail, but I’d like to keep this a hidden gem.  What about you?  Do you have special places in the wild you would prefer to keep secret?

Youngs Creek Bottomland

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It is not often one gets to walk on flat ground in the Columbia River Gorge. For an area with a wide river and mostly minor mountains, there’s few hikes without healthy elevation gain.  For those of you keeping score, that’s what makes it a National Scenic Area.  That and the countless classic waterfalls.  Sometimes, however, flat ground is the best spot of all from which to appreciate high ground.

Rooster Rock State Park has a hidden side, reached best from the east bound exit ramp from Highway 84.  A short access road drops down near Mirror Lake to a tiny parking area.  An obvious track leads east over mostly flat ground through a deciduous forest toward open land that does indeed offer great views of the surrounding hills.  The walking is easy for the first mile and a half.  After that, the land gets more brushy, and I had to exercise care to avoid thorns and stickers which seemed to possess varying levels of malice.  I still got some nice scratches on my calves.  Waaah.

The end goal of the Youngs Creek hike is a bridge over the modest creek.  I wandered around the area for a while, trying to get a glimpse of waterfalls above.  I could not, although I could see Angel’s Rest in the distance as well as numerous nearby cliffs before I plunked my pack down on the bridge and contemplated the noises of the sunlit world.  The highway is near to the north, and the railroad is just below the flanks of the hills to the south.  Yet I felt very serene in this so called bottomland, which would certainly look rather different in winter or early spring.  Today, however, it was a dry, yellowing land.   The forested areas felt very different, with tall grasses and bushes pushing into the shaded track.   Another good one in the books.

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There was magical light in this patch of forest, a fitting end to my afternoon

 

 

 

Gorge’s Greatest Hits: The Oregon Side

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It was a long week at work and I was exhausted, so I was slow moving yesterday morning.  In the afternoon, however, D. and I headed out for a Gorge exploration in my new vehicle.  We ended up hitting on a Gorge tick list of sorts, starting with the short hike to Bridalveil Falls, and ending in Hood River for a pint on a patio.  We had our son’s new dog, which kept things interesting but fun.  There were lots of clouds on the west end of the gorge, and we walked in the rain a bit at Bridalveil Falls, but we saw sunshine as we neared Hood River.  At Starvation Creek Falls and Mitchell Point it seemed especially bright.  It was a good afternoon and evening, reminding me how much I have to be thankful for.  I am a lucky man, indeed.

 

Herman Creek Pinnacles

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A volcanic spaceship emerging from below ground?

 

I have walked dozens of pieces of the Pacific Crest Trail, but it seems funny that I missed a nearby section until yesterday.  It would have been one of the last legs which Cheryl Strayed hiked on her now famous PCT adventure.  I started at the Herman Creek trailhead, where I have been a couple times (the starting point for an Indian Point hike), and once I veered off onto the bridge trail, I realized I had walked this route in reverse twenty years ago.  I had gone on a quick backpacking trip over Green Point Mountain and across to Benson Plateau.  I had completed a twenty five mile loop by descending steeply from the plateau to this point.  The creek crossing is lovely.  Not a soul in sight.  Serenity now.  It would not have been difficult to stay there for much longer, listening to the babbling brook.

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The trail climbs mostly gradually, but really meanders through the changing forest towards the PCT.  The trail junction there is punctuated by a fantastic splintered stump.  The walking was still casual, and still I had seen nobody since the initial junction on the Herman Creek Trail.  It was midweek, but the weather was absolutely perfect, so I was surprised at the solitude, but longtime readers will know I’m not complaining.  Heading north on the PCT, the trail soon crosses a rockslide.  Cliffs loom high above the trail.  The sun is barely hitting the trail due to the massive walls above.

After a second, wider rockslide, the trail ducks back into the trees, turns a corner, and then I could hear the distant whispers of a stream.  The noise soon increased.  I  looked up at the stream crossing.  The waterfall is partially hidden by some maples, so I scrambled uphill for an improved view.  Pacific Crest Falls is a lovely two step falls which few people probably see, and if you are headed north, it could be easy to miss, but it’s worth the hike.

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Pacific Crest Falls

 

Making the trip even better, a couple hundred yards down the trail, there is a series of odd rocky piles known as the Herman Creek Pinnacles.   Their fractured structure is fascinating, and I found decent views after scrambling up a rocky bump to the west, taking in the Columbia River, Washington foothills, even the white wall of a distant Mount Adams.

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This was a fascinating area to explore, from the water features to the incredibly lush flora to the rocks. The hike is probably less than five miles round trip, so it’s an easy half day venture, and one well worth the drive.  It’s also easy to connect with other short waterfall walks or explorations of Cascade Locks and Hood River.  Enjoy.

Gallivanting in the Columbia Gorge

DSCN4012As I have attempted to demonstrate in previous posts, the Columbia River Gorge is a pretty awesome place to play in the outdoors.  Today I took a tour of the Washington side with my wife and our faithful pup.  We began at the lower end of the Cape Horn area, where we walked through fern and moss draped trees to eyeball a beautiful cascade right below the rock and mortar protected outlook.  Good start.

After meandering past further road views from the Cape Horn area, we stopped at the St. Cloud recreational site, a pleasant surprise set in an old orchard on the bank of the Columbia River.   We walked through the orchard and down to the water for some close up views of the famous river.  Such views!

As we left, Jackie trotted by a great old log that seemed to me to have a leonine face on its end.   Soon, we drove by the famous Beacon Rock but didn’t dally long, then paused briefly at an historic marker pullout which referred to the Lewis and Clark expedition coming through the area.  A landslide 500 years ago came down from the area near Table Mountain and dumped debris in the river here. The spot also offered a unique view of Cascade Locks, where Cheryl Strayed ended her PCT hike (shameless attempt for search hits), and I was disappointed to learn that Char Burger is no more.

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Through the trees and across the Columbia at a narrow spot to Cascade Locks

Stevenson was next on the agenda.  This is a cute small town on its way to being a real destination.  It has good restaurants, a brewpub, some cute shops, and lots of waterfront.   Retirement spot, anyone?   Following Denise’s good instincts, we headed for the waterfront, and wandered by a restaurant and walked down a trail below a lodge.  Nice place to visit.  If only we had some spare cash for real estate investments…

 

When we left Stevenson I briefly contemplated a hike up Wind Mountain, but thought better of it.  Too chilly.   Go east, (not so) young man!  Coyote Wall was calling me.  So we headed to the area popular with mountain bikers and hikers alike.  The start may have been the best part in more ways than one.   The old road was easy walking, and within five minutes saw two bald eagles relaxing on a snag.  It was the best view I’ve ever had of an eagle.

Once we ventured off the road onto a rocky muddy trail, the landscape changed a lot.  The hills undulate, and there are cool rock formations.  I was slightly surprised that the area was quite green, but it is January.  The temperature plunged as cloud cover came in, and we decided to turn back, since we still had a long drive home.   It was a great day of walking and sightseeing with the fam.

 

 

 

The Low Road to Cape Horn

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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.

 

 

Finding the Rock of Ages

Looking east

Looking eastbound and down…

 

To heck with waiting for sunny skies.  It was time to climb.  So it was that I headed out the gorge last weekend, rain gear in tow.  I headed for a trail that is slightly off the radar for most hikers.  The Rock of Ages trail is unofficial.  It veers off of the Horsetail Falls trail just before Ponytail Falls, a nice hike I’ve documented in this cyberspace before.  What I couldn’t decide was how far to hike.  The views would come relatively early, but the trail continues for miles.  Because it is unmaintained, some of the route is a bit rough.  It felt steep and slick, with poor footing on occasion.  Of course, the ground and foliage were wet.  Under dry conditions, footing would have been much better.  As it was, I slipped a few times, falling on my backside at least once.   Keeping it interesting.

The route splits a couple times after rising above the top of Ponytail falls.  I took the first unmarked junction and headed for the ridge to the left.  Through the Douglas firs, there were a few nice views, but this was not what I came for.  Onward, upward to the Rock.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I was briefly concerned about my route, but it all worked out.

Rock of Ages is an arch of volcanic rock perched on the rim of a steep forested ridge in the middle of the one of the prettiest areas of the Northwest.  Emerging from the forest, one first sees a sort of steep amphitheater, decked in various hues of green and flecks of gold from the stands of alder and maple far below.   Then there is the arch, large enough to walk through to the cliff’s edge, where hikers can look out over the gorge and the massive Columbia River.  My eyes were drawn along the line of cliffs extending to the east, including St. Peter’s Dome, and across the river, the massive plug of Beacon Rock.  Even on a gray day, the views were amazing.

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After photographs and some philosophical contemplation, I continued upwards.  Shortly I found a rockpile to scramble which gave a new perspective on the area.  More fantastic vistas of rock and river.  From there, I headed into the woods, unsure how far I would get.  The way was not clear at multiple points, and I had to be careful, steep as it was.   One of my trekking poles broke after an especially firm use. It appeared I would then have to traverse a steep slope below a spiny ridge.  I knew the best part of the hike had probably already passed. It was misting steadily, and although I was not uncomfortable, I worried about my footing.  When hiking solo, especially off the beaten path, I try to minimize risks.  I decided to turn back, happy with what I’d already seen, but already planning a return on a drier day.

 

Aqueous Veil of the Bride

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls

Ho hum, another waterfall run.   The Bridalveil exit off Highway 84 eastbound signals the beginning of the Columbia River Gorge.  It offers immediate access to the old highway and a high density of mountain and waterfall hikes.   Bridalveil Falls had escaped my attention until recently.  A short downhill hike takes one to a viewpoint of the falls pouring into a pretty little canyon and a babbling stream.  For some reason, I only took a few similar photos.  Oh well.  Nice spot.

Back at the trailhead, a mostly paved path leads to bluffs overlooking the Columbia River.   I realized I’d seen the railings on the these bluffs from the highway, but never knew how to access them.  Now I know.

Multiple layers of lava rock: Washington

Multiple layers of lava rock: Washington

For some reason, I took a lot more photos on this casual walk than when I saw the waterfall.  Across the river, there is a cool perspective on the volcanic layer cake of the Washington side.  It’s funny to realize a railroad and highway are squeezed in there.

Just one of many moss covered promontories

Just one of many moss covered promontories

Great views are in abundance, especially to the west, with Sand Island in the river and Crown Point looming in the background.   Both of those spots I had seen recently from a different perspective on my Rooster Rock venture.  This was a nice visual cross reference.

Sand Island in the Columbia

Sand Island in the Columbia

The views are more open than most in the Gorge, and with little effort expended, so that was a treat.  An origami mobile hanging from a tree at one viewpoint prompted curiosity.    Who would have gone to such efforts and why?

Oregon origami, oh my!

Oregon origami, oh my!

Both paths at Bridalveil offer great walks for those who don’t want to put forth a great deal of effort, yet still want some great views.  For an introduction to the west end of the Gorge, one could hardly do better.

Rooster Rock and Points East

The state park's namesake

The state park’s namesake

Rooster Rock State Park is named for a volcanic plug with an easy if not highly desirable climbing route up its south side. The climb is a standard venture for beginners, which I first did when I was 15 or so. The area may be more famous to Portland residents as the site of a “clothing optional” beach.  But enough about that (awkward!)  I ventured there yesterday not to re-live teenage climbing glory, nor to investigate the nude beach, but to wander the low ridge to the east.  It seemed a perfect barrier between river and highway with potential views of both water and nearby peaks. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but the best part of the trip was walking along the mighty Columbia and eying the ramparts of its famous gorge.

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My stalwart companion Jackie Chan and I hiked east from the parking lot and found ourselves walking along a crazy disc golf course in the woods. It looked very difficult through the trees.  The trail stayed more or less level above the riverbank, but eventually dropped down after a mile or so and we emerged into a long meadow. Soon we arrived at the riverbank.  A family with young kids was playing in the water nearby.  We continued east for solitiude, meandering among sandy spots, grasses, and patches of forest.  Eventually the trail disappeared, and I reached a point where it got very rocky and narrow, so we turned back after checking out the avian wildlife on Sand Island.

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We climbed up a washout spot into a broad meadow, and I found an obvious trail up the edge of it into the forest above.  The forest was pleasant although the highway noise detracted a bit from my enjoyment.  At one point, for half a mile or so, I noticed a lot of horsetails and I found that interesting, as we were on a ridge.  I had thought of them as being confined to swampy areas.  Apparently not.  In a little over an hour total, I was back at my car. This is not a strenuous hike, but it was just the ticket for us on this weekday.  Afterwards, I drove west for a closer look at Rooster Rock itself and its big brother, the much more impressive Crown Point on the south side of the highway–another teenage climbing memory. Today I am content with a hike in the vicinity.

Looking up from the parking lot at Crown Point

Looking up from the parking lot at Crown Point