A few cracked pavement curves past an hour from Portland, hikers can find an easy trail meandering up one of the prettiest creek drainages in the Cascades. If you aren’t satisfied with tiny beaches along Siouxon Creek, wait a tick. A gorgeous emerald pool will be coming soon. If that isn’t enough, there are a handful of waterfalls scattered through the lush forest. Some of the campsites look rather idyllic, too.
I’d been meaning to visit this area for while, and I finally got around to it on Saturday after taking care of some business. The late start meant no peak climbs, but there was a lollipop style loop that seemed perfect for the old three hour tour. When I arrived at the trailhead, I was slightly surprised to see dozens of vehicles. The weather was nice on Saturday, so it should have been no surprise, but I’d barely heard of the place. That’s probably my Oregon bias. Yes, Washington, I love you, too.
The trail descends briefly in a typical Cascadian forest: lots of big and a thorough blanket of green at boot height in ferns, oxalis, and wild species of moss. It is the proximity to water and the loveliness of the stream itelf which earns its popularity. The trail crosses lovely tributaries with small cascades splitting mossy ledges, then meanders through pretty forests. I kept sneaking peeks at the stream, whose green tinted pool was stunning. That color!
After passing a few campsites as well as a couple side trails, I reached Chinook Falls, a 50 food plunge into a big pool flanked by a cliff. I had to decide if I wanted to continue on a loop which would involve a serious stream crossing or return the way I’d come. After reveling in the spot for a few minutes, I realized the decision was pretty easy. I will always opt for new territory and a taste of adventure, even if that term has become relative as I’ve hit middle age. Not exactly
So it was that I came to the icy ford below the side trail toward Wildcat Falls. Sullivan’s guidebook suggested the ford would be little more than a rock hop in summer, but dangerous in winter. This was in the middle. I would be getting wet. Off came the boots, up rolled the pant cuffs. Then I found a spot that seemed feasible. The water was almost two feet deep in spots, and it was as cold as I could remember wading through since I was a young buck. As I moved, careful not to stumble, I could feel my circulation slowing. Every year, people drown on hot summer days because, once immersed in cold water, their bodies shunt blood to the torso rather than the limbs. In this instance, the cold only affected my lower legs, and I was upright. I kept moving, careful not to stumble, and I made it to the far bank in a couple minutes.
As in many outdoor endeavors, the most interesting part often comes when we push the limits just a touch. Finding the balance point between ability, conditions, and desire can sometimes be tricky. Along the bank of Siouxon Creek, that balance point was relatively simple. I dried my feet off, laced up my old boots, and walked out a much more deserted path. I did pass a number of campers, but only one other group seemed to be hiking in. This was a great moderate hike totaling about eight miles. I would gladly return, but probably during the week. I might have to do that this summer to check out Wildcat Falls, which I missed.
Side note: as I write, my stepson Casey and his girlfriend Maya should have arrived in Yosemite for an early backpacking trip. I am so jealous, and so glad they find value in outdoor adventures. I am sure they are going to have a blast with their friends. Happy and safe hiking, everyone.
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.
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.
This is a sequel hike. I came up here last winter, but a prime time summer day is a different experience, especially when it’s with four other people. we came late in the day, and just blasted (okay, we walked steadily) up to the first few viewpoints. We encountered a woman wondering if we’d seen a friend of hers. He had just taken off running. First rule of hiking club: don’t leave your buddies. Second rule of hiking club: don’t ridicule those hikers who make foolish decisions. We found the guy later. All was well. Third rule of hiking club: don’t scare the heck out of your friends by leaning way too close to the edge of a cliff. Ah, what the heck.
We decided to turn around where there was a no trespassing sign that hadn’t been there in the winter. It would have been along walk to another pretty view and we were short on time. Still, a couple killer viewpoints and some good exercise with good company is about as good as life gets in my book. That and high quality chocolate ice cream.
When I saw a sunny day forecast late December, I knew the hiking doldrums were over. It was time to climb! My goal was Dog Mountain, and my partner was my puppy Jackie. Perfect. Except the thermometer reading.
As I drove out the Columbia River Gorge, I realized there was more snow than expected. Dog Mountain would have some healthy snow. I modified my goal and opted for nearby Wind Mountain, which is just under 2000 feet. The peak rises straight out of the Columbia River, its conical form obvious from Washington’s Highway 14.
I found the trailhead off the aptly-named Wind Mountain Road. A sign pointed up Girl Scout Road, where I found a broad parking area at a saddle crusted in snow and icy puddles. I was intrigued to find a boot scraper at the trailhead to prevent transplantation of invasive species. A sign of things to come, perhaps.
I popped on a beanie before I left the car, and a few minutes up the trail I added gloves. As the trail angled around the eastern flank of the peak, I hit patches of packed snow which made for slick walking. I had to clamber over a number of downed logs, and under at least one, but it was manageable as long as I was careful. I briefly regretted not having boot chains or microspikes. Jackie had no problems thanks to his nails.
Naturally, with greater elevation came more snow, but it was drier snow and not as packed out; my boot lugs bit into it nicely.
The trail cut back on a ridge and meandered north beneath the summit cone, finally twisting south to the summit. There was a prominent sign about Native American rock work to beware and leave undisturbed. It simply added another facet to the trip and the destination.
The views were great in multiple directions. I had to scale a snowy crest to hit the summit proper, then I found a dry spot in some rocks, where I got some water and gaped at the massive southern wall of the gorge, Mount Defiance and its brethren enticing me. To the east, Dog Mountain looked snowy indeed.
Looking down at the river, snowy tinted mountains rising steeply out of the mighty Columbia before me, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied. Wind Mountain is nobody’s epic summit, but winter definitely made it interesting.
The sun warmed me even as a couple vision quest shelters nearby were cloaked in snow. I’d felt wind most of the way up, but on the summit it eased and we were able to relax for a while. What a day. Jackie was a real trooper for only his second real summit. With this great reminder of the wonders in the Gorge, we will definitely have to return in the spring.