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Hardy Ridge Loop

Logging remnant, I presume

Logging remnant, I presume

I might make some Oregonians mad, or they might think I am mad in a different sense of the word when I say that the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge is better for hiking.  Of course, that’s coming from the perspective of someone who craves heights and dramatic views.  I actually like both sides.  The waterfalls on the Oregon side are great, and the greenery can be stunning, but if you like views and rugged terrain, head to the Washington side. Consider Dog Mountain, Wind Mountain, or Hamilton Mountain.  That was my thought process when I climbed Hardy Ridge yesterday.

Easy walking for a couple miles

Easy walking for a couple miles

The parking lot known as the equestrian trailhead in Beacon Rock State Park is a mile or so off the highway. The trail is really an old road blocked off by a gate, so the walking is easy.   There are various junctions, but all are well signed.   It is possible to start from here and go east to Hamilton Mountain.   Perhaps another day.  I opt to continue with the Hardy Ridge Loop.

An odd boot shaped rock atop a stump

An odd boot shaped rock atop a stump

I had recommendations to go both directions, but I went counter clockwise, and that worked out well.  After an hour the road peters out, and from there it is but ten or fifteen minutes to the open ridge crest.  I pause for an energy bar and a few pics.  The day is cool, but I am a heat machine, so I am tad sweaty.  Keeping a good temperature is always tricky for me.  I use a bandana to dry off the back of my head and neck so I don’t get chilled on the breezy ridge.

Looking south to Hood

Looking south to Hood

An unofficial trail heads north on the ridge for three quarters of a mile.  It is easy to follow if fairly rugged in a couple spots.  After the first seven or eight minutes, the views are constantly with you.  Life is good.

River, rock, moss, tree

River, rock, moss, trees

The maw of the gorge is below, a snowy Mount Hood peeking over the peaks of the Columbia Wilderness.  To the east, Hamilton Mountain looks surprisingly small.  Even Table Mountain looks relatively modest.  I have climbed higher than I thought.

Hamilton Mountain et al.

Looking down at Hamilton Mountain.  Benson Plateau behind it to the left.

The ridge alternates mossy areas with brush, stands of trees, and rocky patches.   Fending off some tight brushy spots reminded me a little of a minor epic bushwhack on Signal Buttes a few years ago.  Hardy Ridge is definitely easier, and I would not consider it off trail hiking.  It’s a lot more accessible, too, but the open ridge feels similar.

Love the colors.  Looking west

Love the colors. Looking west northwest

This moss was wild

This moss was amazing

I hung out on top for a long time soaking in the views, contemplating my quiet life in a loud world.   Another person sat a hundred yards past me, seemingly meditating.   Nice spot for it.

Looking over at Table Mountain

Looking over at Table Mountain

The rocky ridge on top--and Mount Hood to the south

The rocky ridge on top–and Mount Hood to the south

The herd path appears to keep going to a lower east west ridge to the north.  I envision a more difficult hike, linking this ridge to Table Mountain or Hamilton Mountain.  Hmm.

Looking down the ridge

Heading down the ridge, the sun glare bombing  the river

My descent is uneventful apart from one steep section on the west side trail where I slipped.  My round trip, including a least a half hour slounging on top, took four hours.   My legs are bit stiff from walking non-stop on the way back.  Once again, the Washington side of the Gorge again satisfied my need to get out and stretch my legs.

Pleasant woods on the descent

Pleasant woods on the descent

Fireball sun behind the trees close to the bottom

Fireball sun behind the trees close to the bottom

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

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.

Descending

Descending

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!