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Along the Sandy to Sundial Beach

Jackie Chan, my faithful canine hiking pal, has been sick for some time, so a hike the other day was the first time he’d joined me on a real hike since his megaesophagus diagnosis.   I opted for a casual hike to Sundial Beach near the mouth of the Sandy River which I’d found online.  It’s directly across the river from the delta where I had walked multiple time before, but Sundial Beach has considerably fewer hikers.  The trailhead is along Graham Road across from the Troutdale Airport.   The paved path heads onto a long dike, apparently guarding the airport and nearby industrial concerns from flooding.  It is also one section of the Portland area’s 40 mile loop trail, a clear dividing line between the urban world and the natural world, a line on which I enjoy walking.

 

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Unsigned side trails drop off the dike and give access to the banks of the Sandy River.  I followed a few in search of beauty, which I found, along with other walkers and swimmers. Plenty of dogs played in the water and on the sand.   I continued on, seeking the Columbia River.  The dike and parallel trails curve north and west, and high energy power lines dominate the scenery at points– both practical necessity and visual disappointment, like so many things in our world.  For a while, the towers reminded me of the Tripods in the dystopian fantasy series The White Mountains (highly recommended for tweens).

It was pretty hot for much walking, but Jackie and I made the best of it.  Finally we reached the real beach on the Columbia, which seemed mammoth due to low water levels.   This would be a great spot for a picnic.  A kayaker came down the Sandy, wondering if he’d reached confluence.  I suppose it was a bit hard to tell with many sandbars and such in the low water.  On the return leg, I saw a raptor guarding its nest atop a “tripod”.  I think it was an osprey but could not be sure.  The paved path started feeling like an oven, and Jackie started slowing down, so I was glad to get back to my car with its air conditioning.  Besides, the tripods could not follow us there.

 

Gorgeous Day in the Columbia Gorge

It had been a while since I’d had a real hike, so today I went out the Columbia River Gorge with Jackie Chan.  We started on the crowded parking lot below Wahkeena Falls.  This time we continued past the falls, and soon found a great viewpoint. Continuing uphill, the trail follows a rushing, noisy creek, and eventually passes Fairy Falls on a tributary.  There were plenty of hikers on the trail for a Friday.   Many paused at various cascades and whitewater splashes, and I kept passing them. I continued up into a pretty forest.

The trail flattened out near  a junction where I could have headed west to Angel’s Rest.  I headed the other way toward  the Vista Point trail, where a group of people gathered at the junction.  Just beyond the intersection was the uphill trail to Devil’s Rest.  I debated the climb, but since I knew it was not an earth shattering summit, I opted to descend.  The Vista Point Trail felt steeper, with fewer switchbacks than the Wahkeena Trail.  A quick descent brought me back to Fairy Falls and the gorgeous creek on the Wahkeena Trail, where I started bumping into people regularly.   Many of them commented on how cute my dog is.  Many said nothing to me even though I tried to make eye contact.  That rarely happens  on wilderness trails.  Near the spot where the trail becomes paved again, a side trail leads to Monument Point.  I found it is more of a bushwhack with loose scree, limited tread, and various obstacles.  Of course, that makes the hiking more fun, but I wouldn’t take my mom on it.  The views we discovered at the point were worth the challenge.  It was a great way to wrap up a good hike.

Cherry Orchard Tease Hike

The Columbia Gorge is more diverse than some people realize. People who rarely stray from the Portland metro area are missing out on many worthy trips. The eastern end of the Gorge is drier, rockier, and more open, and trail signs there alert hikers about snakes, ticks, and poison oak.  Unlike trails near waterfall central, there is a viewpoint every other switchback on trails east of Hood River and Bingen. I was reminded of this after the wife and pup and I drove up to The Dalles following our adventures along the Deschutes River .

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While sitting at a park chomping on some unhealthy food (sorry, Ma), I looked across the mighty Columbia (rolling on, of course) and I saw a massive basalt escarpment I’d noticed before. I mistakenly thought this was the Coyote Wall I’d heard of as a hiking and biking destination.  It seemed a good spot for a hike, but we ended up somewhere else entirely.  Life is like that.

The Lyle Cherry Orchard trailhead is a broad pullout a mile or so east of Lyle, Washington.  The trail itself begins right beneath a rocky tower.  We knew we were in the right place because we saw dozens of cars.  As it turns out, there is a group called Friends of the Gorge and they organize group hikes.  We quickly met a couple dozen people descending the trail.  Everyone was smiling—a good sign.

We gained elevation rapidly, soon meeting the old roadbed of highway 8, a predecessor to the current highway.  At a flat spot, there was a signpost with waivers to fill out, as the trail goes through private land.  Fair enough. Above that, the trail switchbacks through scrub oaks and small crags, then comes out onto grassy benches rimmed with cliffs. There are stellar views of the gorge, both east and west.  Even with a few clouds in the sky, it was a sublime place to relax for a few minutes.

The trail shifts its approach, and beyond a stile, climbs steeply across an open slope.  A fall here would not be pretty, so we didn’t fall.  Coincidentally, I bumped into a man I knew from Portland.  It was no place to chat, so we moved on, climbing out of the steep stuff into an undulating oak forest.   No cherry trees yet.  Along the way, the trail passed two seasonal ponds, along with a skull and skeleton of a critter.  The last mile of the trail is rather humdrum in comparison to the first mile, but it’s still enjoyable.   After turning onto an old road, the trail opens up in the meadow of an old homestead site which offers a great picnic spot.  We found no cherry orchard, but there were more amazing views. Taking in the breeze, sun, and views was enough for us.

Jackie Chan met a few ticks on the descent, which I quickly dispatched with ninja swiftness.  Other than that, the hike was smooth,  and we were happy to get back to the car and think about cold beverages.  It was a very nice hike overall.  People with less time could stop at the upper grassy bench and be very satisfied.

Sun, sky, water, and you

When the sun hits this time of year in Portland, you can’t wait for permission to get outside.  Someone once said of western Oregonians that we don’t love the rain, but it’s easy to celebrate sun chooses to grace us.  Wednesday was such a day.

Nice day for fishing on the Columbia

Nice day for fishing on the Columbia

I debated heading solo to the Gorge for a new hike, but the morning was chilly and the gorge would be shady, so I hedged.  My wife finally said she’d go with me, but she needed to finish some paperwork.   We got out of the house in the middle of the afternoon and headed northwest to Sauvie Island–NOT for the “clothing optional” beach, but just for a nice walk.  I hadn’t been out there in years.

Looking back upstream

Looking back upstream

We had a false start on one trail that was shut down to protect wintering birds. Ultimately we drove all the way out Reeder Road, where there are many places to stop along the Columbia River.   We walked for a while at beachy areas that seemed artificially enhanced by the look of the heavy equipment tracks.   We were not alone.  Lots of sun worshippers were out.

Tracks all over the place

Tracks all over the place

Where there was no sand, the shore was somewhat mossy in the way of Old Maid Flats on Mount Hood.   There were some great raptor nests atop power poles in the area, but I saw no eagles.

Nest atop the pole

Nest atop the pole

The beaches did not feel satisfying , so we returned to the car and drove all the way to the end of the road.  Right away I saw a trail closure for vegetation rehabilitation.  This was going well.  Sarcasm aside, we could still walk along the bank of the river, which wasn’t half bad.

Everyone's favorite topless volcano near the topless beach

Everyone’s favorite topless volcano near the topless beach

At one point the bank had completely washed away, right next to a barbed wife fence.  I was getting really frustrated, as though the hiking gods (I suspect Loki is involved) were saying, “Yo, a good hike ain’t gonna happen.”  Okay, that was Loki filtered through Jesse Pinkman*.

Jackie Chan relaxing after a nice stick chasing session

Jackie Chan relaxing after a nice stick chasing session

After a few moments, we hopped the fence gingerly and continued.  We spied couples canoodling and enjoying the sun, wearing shorts no less!  Californians and Floridians might not appreciate how surprising that is, but it’s kind of a big deal.  Our dog chased sticks repeatedly.

Quiet spot on the Columbia

Quiet spot on the Columbia

The river was right below us all the while, and great views ranged from Mt. St. Helens to Hood, and I even caught a sliver of Mt. Jefferson’s’ craggy summit.  It was a gorgeous afternoon.  On the return leg, I really appreciated the way the light hit the water so it almost seemed metallic.   It was the kind of walk that accrued pleasure over time.  There was no dramatic climb or wilderness feel, but it was perfect spot for a walk on a preview-of-spring day.

Shadows and  unique water light

Shadows and unique water light

Hiking Multnomah Falls from the East

View of the Columbia River from the Gorge Trail.

View of the Columbia River from the Gorge Trail.

Early in January, a falling boulder seriously damaged the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls east of Portland.  Naturally, when I headed to the gorge Sunday for a hike with my pup Jackie Chan, I forgot this.  Why does it matter?  It matters because you cannot take the traditional trail to the top of Multnomah Falls, and hikers have to be happy viewing the falls from below with the tourist hordes or hike to the top from a different direction.

The lodge and falls from below

The lodge and falls from below

Instead of linking Multnomah with Wahkeena Falls, where I been relatively recently, I drove further east, almost to Oneonta Gorge.  An obvious pullout lets you access Gorge Trail #400, which traverses the base of the gorge hills for miles. I walked west on that trail until it connected to the Multnomah Falls trail in a mile or so after some pleasant wandering through the woods.  All of it is mostly a mellow grade after the climb away from the road.

I quite liked this mossy oulder field

I quite liked this mossy boulder field

From the trail junction, the trail went through about a mile of switchbacks to the top of the ridge, a bit further than I remembered, although it is not very far in the greater scheme of things, and it is never difficult.  There are a couple nice views of the falls along the way.  Eventually a short offshoot takes one to the lookout spot, nicely fenced in for Jackie, so I didn’t have to worry about him.

View of the lodge from the top of the falls

View of the lodge from the top of the falls

The switchbacks are relatively easy since they are mostly paved.  They are also numbered, which I found amusing.  Eleven.  Then you pop over the top of the ridge and into a lovely creek drainage.  I saw no other hikers on the ascent, which I am sure would not be the case when the Benson Bridge is open.

The creek above the falls.

The creek and lush foliage above the falls.

I admired the view for a few minutes and gave Jackie a snack.  I decided the mini falls fifty feet above the big boy plunge were quite lovely.  I passed two guys on the return leg and made it back to my car in plenty of time to get home before the Super Bowl.  I would recommend this hike to someone who wants a moderate hike with some elevation gain.  It will probably see very little traffic until the bridge is fixed.

The mini falls.

The mini falls.

(I know the hues in my photos are too far toward the blue end of the spectrum. I’m not too clever with the camera sometimes.)

Marine Drive Borderlands

Delta Park East has plenty of ballfields, as I found out recently when a new friend played in a softball tournament.  It also has access to the bike path along Marine Drive.  I headed west with Jackie one fine day on said path.  It’s an interesting borderland for some urban hiking.

Approaching I-5.  Very noisy

Approaching I-5. Very noisy

Ah, Portlandia, the liveable city!

Ah, Portlandia, the livable city!

Traffic and the freeway seem everpresent for a while. The heat and concrete were not very motivating, and I was not very excited about our prospects.  After a while, however, the roadside debris and odd architecture became interesting in a odd way.

World's largest portable carport, I presume

Imagine Crocodile Dundee saying , “Now that’s a carport.”

The spot where the path gets interesting.

The spot where the path gets interesting.  Hiking is a gateway experience.  Never know what it’ll lead to!

Same spot as above, but angling along the path

Same spot as above, but angling along the path

Soon enough, however, we reach the glory of the Columbia River, one of the greatest American rivers.  Even beyond the famous gorge, it’s a powerful, amazing body of water.  The juxtaposition of roadside junk and ospreys soaring was quite something.

Roll on, Columbia!

Roll on, Columbia!

The bike and pedestrian path travels along the skinny part of the Columbia here, with Hayden Island across from us, and it’s still pretty.  I found it interesting to see how the development on Hayden Island stops west of the railroad bridge.   The western part of Hayden Island could hold some untold wild treasures!

Not the bird prey on the snag.  Osprey, I presume.

Note a bird of prey on the snag (old piling?). Osprey, I presume.

It was a hot day, and Jackie, as my regular readers know, is a bit of a wimp in the heat.  Not that he’ll complain, but he loses energy, and I worry about him getting seriously dehydrated.  We walk as far as the railroad overpass by Portland Avenue, probably a mile or so from the start.  The next cool spot will be another mile or so at least, and it doesn’t seem worth it.

Bird in flight, a beautiful sight

Bird in flight, a beautiful sight

After gawking a bit at the river and blackberry bushes, we headed back, checking out birds more on the return leg.   This is not an earth shattering walk, but given that you could keep walking on one path to Smith and Bybee Lakes or Kelly Point Park, it’s definitely worth investigating west of I-5.  It is probably even better on a bike, so you could bypass the industrial areas quickly.

Some lovely color scattered here and there

Some lovely color scattered here and there

Dog Mountain Daze

The view from the trailhead bodes well despite the clouds

The view from the trailhead bodes well despite the clouds

Dog Mountain is a near legendary hike in the Columbia River Gorge.  If it is one tier down from Mount Defiance and Table Mountain on a list of training hikes for mountaineers, it may have more bang for the buck than any other peak in the gorge for its spectacular upper slopes, its tremendous views of the Cascades and the gorge that splits them, as well as the challenge of its trails.

Putting in the work

Putting in the work down low

The Dog Mountain hike isn’t an endurance fest, clocking in at less than seven miles round trip, but the uphill offers plenty of challenge.  I got a very late start after dealing with some business, so I was surprised to see only a few other vehicles in the lot.   According to high level research, no rain was in the forecast in Portland, but a lot of clouds were moving in uninvited.  Quickly, Jackie Chan and I got on the move.   The trail climbs immediately into a series of switchbacks, with a few nice views in a pleasant oak forest.

Junction city

Junction city

In a bit over half a mile, the trail splits.  Challenging myself, I took the route marked “most difficult”.  Silly monkey.    There were no views now as the forest tightened up under heavy leaf and needle.   The path is attractive, but sections where it climbs relentlessly make you forget about the lovely flora beside and above you.

Nice lush forest on the climb

Nice lush forest on the climb

A few raindrops found their way through the forest canopy to my arms.    When the pitter patter on leaves got heavy (a lovely sound when you are sheltered) I huddled beneath a giant maple, staying dry.  That gave us time to recharge metaphorical batteries with food and drink.  Jackie was finicky:  you can lead him to water, but….

Luckily the rain ceased and we started up another steep slope.   I used the My Tracks app on my phone to keep track of my distance and elevation, which I rarely do, but I was curious especially about the elevation gain.   It totaled about 2800 feet, which is very solid for a three and half mile hike, almost on a Mount Defiance pace.

Switchback showing a bit of the steepness

Switchback showing a bit of the steepness

I was very happy when the trails reconnected.  Shortly thereafter, after another unofficial rain delay, we broke into the open, gradually traversing a massive open slope.   Dog Mountain is famous for wildflowers, but it was a touch late in the season for the grand displays that must be here in May and June.

Jackie Chan the wonderdog approves

Jackie Chan approves of the view toward Hood River from the turning point up high

The trail splits again below the summit at a slight promontory.  This time I made the right choice and stayed left.  The views are so tremendous that I stop thinking about fatigue.

Looking up toward the summit

Looking up toward the Dog’s head

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Looking back at the trail from close to the summit

One hiker passed me at the end, where I was busy snapping pics (and yes, huffing and puffing).   We saw no other people up high.   The views were simply stunning, the world at our feet.    Simple tremendous views lie in almost all directions.

Little old Mount Defiance a hop and skip across the gorge

Little old Mount Defiance a hop and skip across the gorge

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Mount Hood peeking over the shoulder of Defiance

Fellow hiker soaking in the view from the top of the pup

Fellow hiker soaking in the view from the top

Lovely flowers above treeline

Lovely flowers above treeline

The upper slopes offer tremendous views of the Columbia Gorge, looking both east and west, along with a tremendous frontal view of the Mount Defiance escarpment.   To the north, there is a nice view of Mount Saint Helens. beyond some foothills.

Looking north to my favorite volcano

Looking north to my favorite volcano

I sat on a grassy hummock  for some time, absorbing the splendor.   It’s always bittersweet to leave such a perch.  But the sun was moving down.  Time to go.

Tiny glimmer of beauty high on the peak

Tiny glimmer of beauty high on the peak

Wind Mountain looks tiny from here

Wind Mountain looks a bit insignificant from this vantage; what a spot!

Curiously, on the descent, I encountered multiple groups of hikers descending.  I guess they didn’t want to get all the way to the top.  The rest of the descent (I took the alternate route) was smooth.  This is one of the more outstanding hikes to be had in the Pacific Northwest for an afternoon’s work.   Highly recommended.

Note: remember money for the tolls at the Bridge of the Gods or the Hood River bridge. 

Before the Fireworks: A Columbia Gorge Adventure

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July Fourth is an interesting holiday.   Some people like to stay at home, so they can spend their money on smelly, noisy, and colorful flashbangs in the neighborhood and drink a favorite beverage, perhaps eating some grilled meat along the way.   For some, it’s a good day to get outdoors and enjoy mama nature.  Call me crazy, but I like to do both.

It had been too long since I had had a tough hike, but I only had half a day.  After some research, I picked Munra Point in the Columbia Gorge, accessed off exit 40 on highway 84.  It sounded spectacular and challenging for a short hike, and so it would prove to be.

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Trail 400 is just a wee bit overgrown with thistles and blackberries.  Yay.

Trail 400 is just a wee bit overgrown: lots of thistles and blackberries.

The trailhead is the same spot as the Wahclella Falls trail.   Munra Point has an unofficial trail that peels off of Trail 400 just over a mile to the west, shortly before it crosses Moffett Creek.  While unmarked, the junction feels relatively obvious.  Thirty or forty feet up the trail, there is a sign on a tree saying “trail not maintained”.   At first, the Munra Point trail climbed steadily like a normal trail, but as it steepened, some of the switchbacks had some slippery to their slope.

Fellow traveler in the woods

Fellow traveler in the woods

Unfortunately, people have taken shortcuts, which has made a mess of things in a couple spots, so it’s hard packed dirt with ball bearing grit on top, and the tread is not always flat.  Once you break into the open, there is less chance for this, as the trail gets so steep, there may be only one route possible, and it is much rockier.

If you don't want to scramble, don't try this

If you don’t like scrambling, don’t try this route

I had to use my hands to clamber over more than a few boulders and short rocky pitches.   Trekking poles be nice in certain areas, an encumbrance in other spots.  The trail breaks out into the open with views in multiple directions, from Beacon Rock and the River to the west toward Table Mountain, Mount Adams to the Northwest, and what I believe is the mass of Tanner Butte to the south; it is all lovely.

The town of North Bonneville way below

The town of North Bonneville and Hamilton Mountain across the Columbia

Looking toward the Columbia.  The trail drops down the rocks here

Looking toward the Columbia. The trail drops straight down the rocks here

Lovely Oak grove

Lovely grove of oaks

The typical Douglas Fir forest shifted into scrub oak on the more open craggy terrain.  Unfortunately, there is also poison oak.   The trail is steep, but my pace felt slow.   I was pleased to surmount the final rocky gully.  Above it, the trees vanished.  The trail traverses a narrow grassy ridge to Munra Point proper.

View up at the point after coming into the open

View up at the point after coming into the open

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Looking at Munra Point from a subpeak to the northeast

One trip report on Portland Hikers Field Guide suggests the final point is too dangerous to attain, but I did not find this to be the case, although I had to find a spot to sit in a saddle below.   Photo opportunities abound.

Looking to the northeast point

Looking toward the northeast sub-peak, Bonneville Dam below and Mt. Adams on the horizon

Looking west, a few flowers waver in the wind

Looking west, a few flowers waver in the wind

The narrow ridges heading to sub peaks to the northeast and to the south are each trickier, and not for those subject to vertigo. They are well worth investigating for views and geology, or perhaps you’ll enjoy watching and listening to the swallows cruising overhead, whipping back and forth across the ridges.

The narrow ridge south of Munra Point

The narrow ridge south of Munra Point, accessible from the far end

Looking north from the sub peak to the south

Looking north from the sub peak to the south

Naturally, the descent is much faster.  Trekking poles would have come in handy here.  I slipped in a few spots, incurring a gash to my hand near the bottom.  Independence requires a price.  This one is small.

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Munra Point is a great short hike for the adventurous, a good start to a day when we all might contemplate our own independence.

Beach Walking at Kelley Point and more

Kelley Point Park lies at the confluence of the mighty Willamette and Columbia Rivers, and while nobody will confuse it with a hiker’s paradise, it’s a nice place to get away from the rat race  in North Portland. As I was reminded by the helpful Portland Hiker’s Field Guide, it’s a great place to walk on the beach, so I went back out there a couple days ago with some neighbors.

First walking down the Willamette, then up the Columbia, there is probably at least a half mile of beach walking, which is unusual this side of the Oregon coast.

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Headed downstream along the Willamette on a perfect morning

Crazy roots just above the sand, like a mangrove

Crazy roots just above the sand, like a mangrove

We occasionally passed fishermen and gawked at powerful tugboats and freighters in the river.

Seagulls on old pilings right off the point proper

Seagulls on old pilings right off the point proper

Looking down the Columbia

Looking down the Columbia–notice the pilings from the previous photo below the ship

One recommendation:  don’t make the  mistake of parking at the first little pullout once you’re on the park road.  Park at the second obvious lot, where a paved path begins.  Create your own loop between paved path, beach, a dirt road near the northern parking lot, and a great meadow.   It makes for a pleasant half hour or forty minutes of walking if you have no particular place to go.

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If that isn’t enough of a hike, Kelly Point is about five minutes from the Smith and Bybee Lakes trailhead.  You can walk further there, or get out the kayak.

Kayakers at Smith and Bybee Lakes

Kayakers at Smith and Bybee Lakes

On a sunny weekend, these two spots make a great combination of destinations.   Just remember that no dogs are allowed on the trail at Smith and Bybee Lakes.

Sandy River Trail and beyond

Looking downstream from a favorite Cascade haunt

Looking downstream from a favorite Cascade haunt

The Sandy River trail connects two popular recreational spots on the west side of Mount Hood: Riley Horse Camp and the Ramona Falls trailhead. The trail cuts through a forest that has unique soil due to a volcanic eruption on Hood just prior to Lewis and Clark’s passage nearby on the Columbia River. People scavenge for mushroom, camp, ride horses, and hike as much as they like in this section of the Mount Hood National Forest. Solitude is a rare quality here. Yet I find that it is possible with a little off trail travel in the relatively flat environment below the Ramona Falls trailhead.

Sandy River Trail

Sandy River Trail

After dealing with a pseudo retirement party Friday night, we spent Saturday doing paperwork and visiting a friend who is fighting cancer with a powerful will.  I have no doubt she will win.  Afterward, a serene trip to the woods was in order. The Sandy River Trail cuts across the main access road at one point, and we parked nearby. The walking is casual, the ash and mudflow soil apparent at various points where it is very soft and gets rutted easily in heavy rains.

Denise and Jackie cruising along

Denise and Jackie cruising along

Our destination was a stretch of open riverbed not far from the trail.  Multiple channels cut through rocks and sand, the water too high for us to channel hop. There were glimmers of sun as we enjoyed the noisy company of the Sandy River and a view of the lower stretches of Mount Hood. We threw sticks for Jackie, soaked in the natural environment, and came away feeling rejuvenated.

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Bigger trips are soon to come with summer weather.  This was a nice stopgap stroll.   For now, back to the city, work, and life.

Yours truly with the best dog in the world.

Yours truly with the best dog in the world.

Curious forest floor flora

Curious forest floor flora (say that three times fast!)