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.
The Columbia Gorge seems to have enough gorgeous waterfalls to satisfy any aquaphile. I keep finding new ones, and this week was no exception as I visited two new falls for me, including one not too many folks approach: Mist Falls. It’s not far from the tourist destination of Multnomah Falls, and it’s one of the highest falls in Oregon, yet there is no official trail climbing there. The trailhead is little more than a short pullout just west of Wahkeena Falls. A minute up the trail, where it still feels like a trail, one comes to the brink of a creek. Across the creek is a stone chimney, the last remnant of the aged Multnomah Lodge.
From there, what passes for a trail is really more of what I would call a talus thrash. The slope is steep and the footing is anything but solid. It would have been a good place for trekking poles, but knowing it was relatively short, I wasn’t worried. IN fact, in less than ten minutes, I came around a moss encrusted rocky shoulder and got my first glimpse of the falls. There has been very little precipitation in Western Oregon for a coupe months, so I was hardly surprised to see the falls looking rather thin. The water drops in two stages, the first a long dramatic and misty airborne plunge from a cliff, the second a lower angled cascade in the center of a broad rocky bowl.
I scrabbled up a steep shoulder on the left side of the falls where I was able to look back and see a bit of the Gorge but not as much as I’d hoped. The depth of the falls was clearly visible here, as were some of the geologic layers, columnar basalt wedged between more chaotic forms of erstwhile lava. The bowl itself was dramatic and looked ripe for exploration with the right equipment. A dark inset to the right of the falls was particularly intriguing to me, but the rock was steep enough that I didn’t want to venture up there solo without more preparation. If it’s a cave with Neolithic paintings or pottery fragments, their discovery will have to wait for another day.
The hike up to Mist Falls was short but challenging, and the little amphitheater was well worth exploring. This is good adventurous trek to appease adrenaline junkies bored by casual looks at roadside falls. While not for inexperienced hikers, mountain goats would surely love this hike.
Angel’s Rest is a great short hike ending on a spectacular promontory. It can also be overcrowded. Nearby Devil’s Rest, on the other hand, is less well known, and the trails have relatively few hikers. It is accessible from Angels Rest, but I chose to hike from Wahkeena Falls. The trailhead there also experiences crowds, but once above the falls, they gradually decrease. I’d hiked the lower portion last year, but I’d never climbed Devil’s Rest. Ten days ago, I finally made it to a completely underwhelming summit.
Luckily, there are great vantage points along the way, and very pretty forests for hiking. The upper portion of the climb was fairly taxing for me There were two great viewpoints looking across the Gorge. The summit consisted of two separate jumbles of mossy boulders in the trees. My pup and I sat there for ten or fifteen minutes relaxing, and then we descended via a loop trail connecting to the Angel’s Rest trail. The forest was very different: deciduous, muddy, and open. Once I reached the springs near the Wahkeena trail junction, I was in cruise mode. This hike has a nice balance of exercise (a bit over seven miles), solitude (on the Devil’s Rest trail proper), and beauty. It’s not a wish-list hike, but the details add up to a very nice experience.
Coyote Wall is a volcanic escarpment in the eastern Columbia River Gorge. I had seen it for years while driving on the Oregon side of the river. To me, it looks like the sloping end of a laminated layer of earth, and I always thought it looked like it would be an amazing place to hike or mountain bike. Somehow I never investigated further until recently. It turns out I was right; it is a great place for those outdoor pursuits.
The trail starts on an old roadbed skirting the base of the cliffs. East of the cliffs, views open up to the mighty Columbia. In short order there is a junction and most of the hikers and bikers peeled off to the left. Junctions are not marked, but there appeared to be only a couple main options. Both climb up in sinuous curves, which seemed to suggest that mountain bikers spurred the development of the area. That and the deep ruts in certain curves…
The day was almost perfect for hiking. There were blue skies, and the temperatures were moderate. I enjoyed open terrain with stupendous views the entire time. There were plenty of other hikers and bikers, but because it was open terrain, it didn’t cramp my style. I was too busy gawking in all directions and getting a decent workout.
After forty or fifty minutes of uphill walking, I was skirting the edge of the cliff. The views kept getting better, but eventually, I decided to stop climbing. There was no official summit, so felt good turning around at a small dip in the trail, especially when I got a late start. Most others had stopped below. Jackie Chan the wonder dog took the opportunity to go nuts a little.
What a treat to have continuous views on the descent! I veered into the area known at the Labyrinth, where the trail darts across a creek and along a few different undulating hollows between small crags. Perhaps because the terrain was not as lush as the usual environments around Portland and in the Cascades, each splash of green, each little rill, each colorful flower was a visual treat.
This was a terrific place to visit, and I definitely want to return, perhaps with a mountain bike. Coyote Wall is another reason for outdoor lovers to visit the wondrous Columbia Gorge.
After working 18 days straight thanks to pressures associated with the upcoming holiday, I finally got a day off today. I helped my broken-footed wife get set for the day in her arts shop, then took my faithful canine pal, Jackie Chan, to the Columbia Gorge for a stroll in the forest. It was chilly and cloudy, so I decided the famed Eagle Creek trail wouldn’t be too overcrowded. Normally I avoid popular trails, but there’s a reason this trail is so well known in in the area. It’s easy, and it’s beautiful. The round trip to High Bridge is a casual afternoon at 6.5 miles. There were plenty of people on the trail, but it never felt crowded. I hadn’t been here in a couple decades, and I was pleasantly surprised to find new spectacular features unfolding the entire way. By the time Jackie and I returned to the trailhead, I knew I would not wait two decades for another hike up Eagle Creek.
I am not always a view seeking hiker, but when I am, I go to the Columbia River Gorge for quick views. Indian Point is best accessed from the Gorton Creek Trail a few miles east of Cascade Locks. It involves almost 3000 feet of elevation gain, so it’s a good workout, but the mileage is only 8 miles round trip, meaning it’s only a half day affair.
The hike through a Douglas Fir forest is pleasant but unexceptional. There are no significant views or landmarks as the path steadily climbs. Just less than four miles uphill, I was ready for a view. An unofficial spur trail leads downhill to Indian Point. This is where things start getting good, although it is definitely not for inexperienced hikers. The trail drops steeply, but not for long, and then it winds out to a narrow talus ridge with a rocky point capping the end. The point is comprised of shattered loose basalt. Jackie Chan and I opted to hang out in rocks below and enjoy the views. It was gorgeous and serene.
Looking upstream a bit toward Wind Mountain and Dog Mountain was spectacular. In the distance to the north, Mt. Adams looked huge. I could have stayed there forever. When I heard a couple people descending from the main trail, I knew it was time to go.
On the descent, I looped back via the Nick Eaton Ridge trail. It offered some nice steep meadows with views towards Mount Hood. Other than that, it was not graded as well, and I slipped on some steep gravelly terrain. By then, I just wanted to get back to the car. And so I did. Mission accomplished. I was pleased to find yet another hidden gem in the Columbia River Gorge. Indian Point is a keeper. As I headed back towards the Portland metro area, I felt rejuvenated by my hike.
It’s finally summer, and I am ready to hike. A year ago I looked at hiking to Wauna Point, but it didn’t pan out because I didn’t have a good map or guidebook. This year, that wasn’t a problem. As I am working a new job that only allows me one day off a week right now, I was very focused on getting in a good hike today. It had been far too long. I took my faithful canine hiking companion Jackie Chan with me and headed to the majestic Columbia River Gorge. Unfortunately, I was delayed by a traffic problem. Two lanes of the three lane highway were closed. It was backed up for three miles. Ugh. Still, I managed to be at the Tooth Rock trailhead by noon.
I opted for a simple route via an access road past a couple junctions. The road curves about two casual miles uphill to the old Tanner Butte trailhead. I’d climbed Tanner Butte as a teenager. Now it’s a sixteen mile adventure. Not for everyone. Wauna Point, on the other hand, is a relatively modest ten miles, the last leg of which is very rugged. More on that later. Beyond the old tiny trailhead, a path continued upwards, briefly following a beautiful stream. Multiple wispy cascades drape the drainage within a quarter mile, after which the trail veers away from the small canyon.
The landscape along the trail is typical western Cascades: lush, green, and viewless in the lower elevations. It is also relatively people free. One guidebook as well as a hiking website refer to the Tanner Butte trail as steep. It certainly forges uphill steadily, but it rarely felt steep. That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging. Whooee, my legs are gonna feel it, I recall thinking. Eventually, after climbing to a landscape of salal and fern undergrowth with stately evergreens overhead, the trail flattens briefly at a junction. To reach Wauna Point, one goes straight ahead on an unmaintained trail. Due to dense damp ferns encroaching on the path, my boots and legs were soaked in a few minutes.
Despite the dampness, this secondary trail seemed easy. It descended the far side of the ridge, dropped beneath a rocky rampart, and then plunged down a very narrow ridge via some very steep, scrabbly and muddy spots. This is not for the casual hiker. Good traction and balance are necessary. I used my hands a few times. As always, descending a steep bit is the tricky part. Once I was down into a little saddle, the rest was relatively easy. I eventually sat on an airy perch, the Columbia River undulating like a shiny snake 2500 feet below me. I kept Jackie close by my side. Wauna Point is not a place for a pup to be a squirrel chasing spaz. It is fairly rocky, and only a few feet wide, with some exposure in places plunging hundreds of feet.
Wauna Point is a notch below the best viewpoints of the Gorge, largely because its views are dotted with manmade structures like Bonneville Dam, the Bridge of the Gods, and the buildings of a couple towns. Still, it was pretty great, especially the unique horizontal perspective of the bare, steep flanks of Munra Point, which faithful readers may recall I climbed last July.
The way down was quiet and relatively quick. In all, I took just over 5 hours for the round trip of 10 miles, with some extended relaxation on top. I might be a touch sore tomorrow. This was a great first serious hike of the year. Hopefully there will be many more great hikes forthcoming. Ah, summer!
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)