I first noticed Tomlike Mountain on a backpacking trip decades ago. For a modest peak in the northern Oregon Cascades, it was wild-looking. For some reason, I skipped Tomlike on my way to Benson Plateau. I found great views elsewhere but always wondered what I’d missed. On Labor Day of 2015, I found out. Yes, it was worth the wait–and the drive.
A long hike up Herman Creek or some other point 45 miles or so from Portland would make the climb a solid twenty mile round trip. My gray hairs would need an extra day to recover from that. No thanks. A longer drive to Wahtum Lake cut the hike by more than half. It seemed a no brainer, so packed a bag and headed for Hood River. When I finally got to the trailhead, a few clouds hung overhead, and the brush in the lower elevations was still wet. I had to hope the clouds would clear. The walking was easy, as the trail arced around Wahtum Lake to meet with the PCT. I found no hikers until I neared the Tomlike herdpath peeled off of the Herman Creek Trail.
Shortly after departing the main trail, the forest started opening up, the surface vegetation diversified, and the trail got rougher. This is not an official path, but it is relatively easy to follow. There is some thick brush, a few dead end spurs, and some rocky patches. It’s exactly the kind of hiking I enjoy–especially when the views started getting sublime. Herman Creek’s large canyon dropped away to the right, with the tiny puddle of Mud Lake at its base and rockslides scarring the canyon walls. As I climbed, I got a few views towards the summit, but it was a long and winding path to get there.
The views continued astonishing me when I was fully above treeline. I enjoyed views in all directions, gawking back at Mount Hood’s majesty as well as tracing with my eye the route I’d followed years before to Chinidere Mountain and the obvious pancake spot of Benson Plateau along the mighty PCT. To the north, over the shoulder of a far ridge, the impressive mass of Mount Adams loomed in a fresh white coat of snow. I continued climbing, huffing and puffing just a bit. Tomlike Mountain’s summit was quiet and calm. I’d thought I’d need my jacket, but I remained in shirtsleeves. I contemplate the massive drop off to the west that felt like the escarpment on a much larger peak.
As always, I was supremely content while sitting on that summit. THe views, the air, the earth beneath me all seemed so right. I had to get up for work at six a.m. the following day. There were bills to pay and chores to complete. For a few hours, however, not a bit of that mattered. The world was wild and beautiful and I was close to its essence. The movement of muscle, bone and tendon over mountain terrain is still invigorating even as it fatigues me more than in decades past. Tomlike Mountain charged my batteries for the week. This was a very satisfying hike.
Descending a minor peak can be boring, especially when one is tired. That’s one reason I took a variation, the Anthill Trail, to return to my vehicle. Thankfully I was rewarded with a couple final wonderful photos opportunities. This is definitely an area to explore, with several other minor peaks nearby. For now, however, it’s back to work.
I stayed up way past my bedtime Saturday night. That’s okay, it was in support of the great Fernando Viciconte and his band of merry men rocking their way through the night. He has an album coming out later this month featuring heavy hitters like Peter Buck of REM. You should check it out if you like rootsy rock with a twist. He happens to be one of the nicest guys I know too.
So that’s why I was tuckered on Sunday, and my hiking ambitions started to lag. I can be pretty lazy if I allow doubts to linger. The forecast called for more heat. Bagging a peak would be nice, but nothing within a 90 minute drive sounded appealing. I decided to fall back on an old standby and headed to Timberline Lodge, which was having its last day of summer skiing–actually early for them due to the unusual heat.
I had no particular plan, but ended up choosing to ad lib an adventure along the upper reaches of White River Canyon. The entire area is above treeline, so navigation is both easy and difficult. I started going straight up a ski lift acess road, which was a mistake in that I was now far from the trail I wanted to be on. So I sidehilled across multiple small drainages, finding the last remants of natural snow, mostly buried beneath a coat of dirt, presumably windblown.
Strange piles of dirt in the bottom of the drainages that seemed to have been the subject of violence. Large cracks crossed the deep brown soil. I surmised it might be from soil once blown atop snow which later melted, undermining the dirt, creating the cracks. Just a theory, and probably not a very good one.
The weather was not terrific, with rain falling briefly and winds buffeting me almost constantly. Still, the temperature was comfortable once I’d donned a shell. I climbed slowly, and was slightly depressed when a younger man toting a couple ice axes passed me. By the time I turned around, I was probably lose to 8000 feet, and as a lowland dweller now, the altitude taxed me more than it used to.
Skiers and snowboarders were enjoying their last turns for a while. I watched them for a while, but ultimately found White River Glacier and White River Canyon more fascinating. My descent was easier than the climb, although I was reflecting on the unique dynamic of hiking in wild environs not far from a ski lift. I was a speck on the horizon to them, but they were omnipresent to me. Had I ventured to a similar alpine area on any other side of the mountain, it would be an all day affair rather than the few hours I spent above Timberline. That’s the trade off.
I had lots of ashy soil to pour out of my boots when I was done, and I was glad to get back to a place where the water actually looked clear.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.