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Cape Horn or bust!


Cape Horn is perched near the western end of the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side, of which I am becoming more enamored.   Trail pup Jackie Chan and I drove out there this morning hoping it wouldn’t be too cold.  The temp seemed okay, but after I passed Washougal, I could see branches swaying in a strong wind.  I knew it would be a factor.

Jackie Chan is a black belt with orange sweater.

Jackie Chan is a black belt with orange sweater.

There is well-signed and appointed trailhead just off SR 14. (decent porta-potty on one side and an informative kiosk including a map on the other).   The wind was fairly screaming so I Jackie’s sweater on him (very preppy, I know) on and added a layer myself.   I knew up higher the wind chill would be worse.

The trail starts casually in a hardwood forest reminiscent of the Appalachians. Strangely, there were no Doug Firs or Western Red Cedars in sight. After   crossing a tiny creek, the frozen trail began switchbacking gradually up the slope.  It was not yet eleven, and the sun created shadows and interesting light effects behind the trees.

Cape Horn Forest

Lovely deciduous woods

I saw only one other hiker on the way up.  I wondered if I’d be by myself.   I did not push the pace but enjoyed the intermittent views through the trees. I tried to spy Hamilton Mountain or Larch Mountain, but that would have to wait.

Gifford Pinchot foothills

Peekaboo views to the north

Half an hour up, the trail came close to a powerline road, and I ducked into the open for a photo looking toward Silver Star and Baldy, where I’d been last August.  Snow started to appear on the ground in patches, but nothing like my Wind Mountain adventure a few weeks ago.

Silver Star Skamania County

Silver Star, Baldy, and friends

Finally I clambered up to the first couple of viewpoints.  The wind was in fine form, probably gusting between twenty five and forty miles per hour and there were a few icy spots.   The views from the first clifftop bluff were great, but the windchill was not inviting, so I moved on to a more secluded spot and took a few more photos, worried about Jackie the whole time.   He’s very bright, but he doesn’t exactly know what it means to fall down a cliff (Note to self: teach Jackie physics).  As I had other tasks to accomplish at home, I opted to head back to the car rather than push on to another viewpoint a mile ahead.  That could wait for spring.


Columbia River Gorge

Looking upriver into the haze

On the shady side of the ridge, there was more snow, and Jackie loved to romp in it.  He had been staying by my heels or just in front of me most of the time, but in the snow he got goofy.   I wish I could have captured his exuberance, but any time I pulled out the camera, he struck a serious pose.


I descended partway by the powerline road, which made a nice shortcut, and there I admired the crystallized snow and frost on plants.

cape horn powerline road

Plant matter’s winter coat on the dark side of the ridge

As it neared noon on my descent, I started passing people regularly, bundled up and smiling. Everyone was having a good time.  Well, we were smiling, because we’d left the worse of the wind behind.  Jackie was tuckered. He napped most of the way home, then tried to lick my face off while we waited for the Interstate Bridge to lower its deck.

The Cape Horn Trail has a loop, part of which is closed part of the year for peregrine falcon nesting.  That is the section below SR 14.  This is the closest significant trail to the Portland area on the Washington side of the Gorge, and it’s easy to find.  Those factors alone recommend it for weekend warriors, but it is a lovely spot as well, and the loop possibilities are intriguing.  Highly recommended.

Angelic Views at Angel’s Rest


Looking over the Columbia River to Washington

One of the best short hikes in Oregon lies at the west end of the Columbia Gorge.  After spending a night in the city, I decided to take a gander at one of my favorite hikes from my college days, Angel’s Rest.  It had probably been at least 15 years since I hiked it, and I was curious to see if it was enjoyable as I remembered.

Looking north to Silver Star Mountain in Washington. Fond memories.

The trailhead is easily found just off Highway 84 at the Bridalveil exit.  There’s no need to disguise it, as this area is obviously no secret.  I was there at 8 a.m. on a Sunday, and there were already seven or eight cars there.   Not exactly undiscovered, but still a gem.

I passed one couple on the way up, enjoying the cool morning.  Somehow, although I almost felt underdressed, I was sweating.  I soon got views through the trees and spots where the trail opened up on old mossy rock slides.  Below me lay the mighty Columbia River, one of the largest rivers in North America.   An impressive sight, indeed.

Turning the corner into the sun. Welcome warmth

The trail soon crosses a creek, then grinds through some relatively painless switchbacks up the ridge. There are various views along the way.  Eventually a rocky brow appears above the switchbacks, but it still takes a while to get to the top, including crossing a broad rockslide decked out with two improvised rock shelters.  No, I am sure these are not the remnants of a paleolithic society.  A more likely scenario: a hiker had way too much time on her hands.

Bigfoot’s lair?

I reach the top of Angel’s Rest in an hour.  It is a spectacular rocky spur jutting out over the Gorge, its open nature reminiscent of much higher alpine spots.  There are great views to the north, east, and west.

Jackie and I have the rocky ramparts to ourselves until the couple I passed walks by with a nod.  They meander to the far end of the promontory, where they soak in the views.

View from the top.   The only other people on top take in the view.

I am glad that the top is warmer than the woods.   I relax for a while, but I need to get back to business.  It is over an hour home and I have work to think about and bills to pay.

Jackie’s first summit.

So: onward and downward.  A lot more people were hiking up now.  Some seemed ill-prepared, but so it goes on a trail close to the highway.  A number of hikers had dogs.  To avoid hassles, I put Jackie on leash for most of the descent.   He is an easy pup to control, and our descent was smooth.

We got back to the car by 10:30 a.m., having hiked 4.6 miles, pleased with ourselves.  Jackie would sleep well on the way home.  And yes, the trail is as good as I remembered.

Crown Point doesn’t seem that big from here

Silver Star Mountain: disoriented but dazzled

How I got so turned around enroute to Silver Star Mountain, I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s because I spent the night in a hotel.  Perhaps it’s because I had my stepson’s turntable fixed that morning (kudos to Audio Specialties Ltd. for the quick service) and then returned it.  Casey was happy, but I was leaving Portland for the Southwest Washington Cascades two hours late than planned.  Perhaps the trouble started when I ignored the detour sign for Washougal River Road.  It could have been the countless gravel switchbacks leading to the trailhead.  Maybe it was a simple but crucial navigational assumption as I set out.  After the fact, truly horrible signage in the area may have exacerbated the situation.  At any rate, I was forty plus minutes into my hike when I had a revelation: I was on the wrong trail.   Oops.

I need to go which way? Silver Star in the left background.

Frustrated, I headed back to the trailhead, ready to call it a wash.  Once there, however, I quickly realized my navigational mistake and found the right trail–on the other side of the road.  Doh!  It was almost three o’clock, and I wasn’t sure if I had time to reach the peak, but what the heck.  The Grouse Vista Trail headed uphill from the road, quickly veering to the right from the Tarbell Trail–without a sign.  In half an hour, the views picked up, ranging from Sturgeon Rock to the northwest to Pyramid Rock in the foreground, forested ridges climbing toward Silver Star’s summit.  Open wildflower slopes were reminiscent of Bald Mountain near Mount Hood.  This was more like it.


Pyramid Rock looms large along the Grouse Vista trail, Silver Star behind it to the left.

At an unmarked junction (notice a trend?) close to a saddle, I popped over the ridge to see an impressive view into the next drainage to the east.  I returned to the main trail and continued climbing in the heat of the afternoon.  The trail got rockier for a stretch before ducking back into the forest.  I passed two more junctions, the second of which was marked by a cairn.  I could almost smell the summit.  That’s when my phone blurted “Droid.”  Hmm.  Apparently I’d gained enough elevation to get cell service.


Washingtonian for ‘trail sign’

It was after four thirty, and I had a reminder text about a meeting I was supposed to attend.  Uh oh.  Did I mention things had not gone as planned?  I was at least three hours behind schedule now, and in all the hassle and sweat, I’d spaced my fire department officer’s meeting.  It was an hour down to my car and a ninety minute drive from there if all went well.  My head hurt, but I knew I was close, so I continued climbing–quickly.  Anger and guilt grew until I saw the stunning views from the top. Then for a few minutes, nothing else mattered.

The world falls away to the left.  Lower summit to the right.

The mountain fell away into a tremendous gorge, and the mostly open ridge beyond was spectacular.  This did not seem like a peak under 4500 feet.   Views were far ranging, stretching to Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and beyond. The rich green of the grasses contrasted with the tan of the ashy soil, the soft afternoon light, and the deep gorge below.  It all added up to a gorgeous view from one of the more dramatic small peaks I have seen in the West.

View to the east from Silver Star’s summit.

A man and a woman in their thirties chatted on top, looking very relaxed.  We talked for a few minutes, discussing where to hike on Mount Hood besides Ramona Falls and Mirror Lake (try Palmateer Point).  I took some photos, then turned around, driven by self-imposed guilt to race back, even if it was too late to rectify my mistakes.  As I plunged back down the hill without sitting for a moment, the pair probably thought I was a tad wacked. Truth hurts.


Looking roughly north from the summit

I flew downhill as fast as my stub factor legs will go, alternately checking my watch and my phone, meanwhile trying to avoid numerous rocks and roots.  I finally got service two thirds of the way down. I quickly called the chief and offered an apology, knowing I would not make it by that point.  As always, he took it in stride.  This was not an emergency, just a mistake.


Even when stressed, pause to admire beauty

To put it in the context of the world’s most interesting man, I don’t always make mistakes, but when I do, I make the greatest mistakes.  Seriously, the dazzling views made everything worthwhile, and because I was so late, I timed it perfectly to meet my wife for dinner near the airport.   Serendipity lives.  Hey, there are plenty of meetings in this life, but there is never enough time for the people you love.

SS Trailhead

Go that way. Trust me.

Next Week:   Part one of a trip to the Wallowas