- Date: November 19, 2016
- Location: Columbia River Gorge
- Start: Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa
- Distance: 9.6 miles
- Duration: 5 hours 30 minutes (breaks included)
- Elevation gain: 3350 feet
- Type: Balloon
- Map: Green Trails Map 428S: Columbia River Gorge-West
- References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Oregon Hikers
I usually write about new hikes, but Table Mountain is actually one that Mack and I completed last Fall. Unfortunately, the weather was so terrible that by the time we reached the summit, we were in a cloud getting pummeled by heavy rain and strong winds. We still had fun, but I decided not to post about it since I didn’t get any photos that encompassed how incredible the summit was. In fact, I was worried we would run into the same scenario this time around. The forecast called for rain all weekend. However, on the drive to the trailhead, consistent sun breaks and blue skies behind the clouds kept my hopes up.
We parked at Bonneville Hot Springs and waited for some new friends (yay social media!) and their two pups to join us. In addition to hiking with new people, we were also starting from a different trailhead than the year before. The more official starting point for this hike is the Bonneville/Tamanous Trailhead, but it tacks on about 6 miles roundtrip. Since we were all planning on attending Portland Alpine Fest’s Summit event later that evening, we opted for the shorter hike starting from the hot springs resort.
We started our hike together just after 10:30 am. I was a little worried about navigating the beginning stretch. The descriptions provided by the OregonHikers website and Paul Gerald’s book make it seem complicated and warn that the section is not well marked. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find lots of less official signage (see below) that made getting lost very unlikely.
After we picked up the trail in the forest, we let the dogs off leash. Although Ali and Brad were used to having their dogs hike with them unleashed, this was our first time letting Cassie do so. I was anxious at first (just thinking back on prior experiences with my childhood dogs), but I definitely wanted Cassie to experience a little more freedom and get a chance to socialize with other dogs. Mack and I were both pleased with how well she did! She never strayed too far (except once when her and one of the other dogs went down a side trail) and she constantly checked on us or waited for us if she felt we were too far behind. I swear she was smiling the entire time! In addition, she got along incredibly well with Fiona and Kaya (especially Fiona, the more adventurous of the two). After a couple of easy miles in the forest (with one open area where you can see Table Mountain and the “rabbit ears”/Sacajawea and Papoose Rocks in the distance), we turned onto the PCT for a short stretch until reaching the junction with Heartbreak Ridge Trail. The signage here had also recently been updated since our last hike. I didn’t even know the name of the trail last time! Now there was an easy-to-spot sign just a few yards up.
The Heartbreak Ridge Trail is notoriously steep (1600 ft in 1.2 miles). It’s basically a slip n’ slide in wet weather, so I was anticipating the worst with all the recent rainfall. To our surprise, the terrain was completely stable. I don’t think any of us slipped once! We did get our calves burning though. The trail eventually popped us out at the base of a large talus slope (meant to keep hikers from trampling through fragile alpine meadows). Last year, Mack and I bushwhacked through what we assumed was an overgrown trail and popped out 3/4 of the way up the slope. This time there was better signage (little wooden plaques marked with a broken heart) to keep us on the correct path. We took our time scrambling to the top, turning around every so often to take in our first spectacular view of the gorge. It was fun to watch Cass mountain-goat her way up. She was the first one to reach the top, where the trail re-enters the forest. I made sure I was a close second so she didn’t get tempted to bolt down the trail before we all reached it.
The remainder of the trek to the summit was relatively easy going compared to the steep stretch at the beginning and the talus slope we’d just climbed. When we reached the top, I hardly recognized it. It had been completely shrouded in fog when we’d hiked it last. This time I was able to appreciate the sweeping meadow, expansive views in all directions, and vertigo inducing drop-offs.
We headed toward the southern viewpoint that overlooks the gorge (including Mount Hood on a cloudless day) and other sheared cliff faces off to the side. For the sake of time, we only explored this viewpoint, but the northern end of the plateau offers views of the Washington volcanoes.
Rather than doing an out-and-back, we decided to take a right at the junction just below the summit, which would eventually drop us onto the PCT about a half mile up from the Heartbreak Ridge junction we originally ascended. We figured it would be easier than descending that talus slope again. We were wrong. Instead, we ended up switchbacking down along a very exposed ridge comprised of smaller loose, wet (i.e. slick) rocks. I definitely would’ve preferred the talus slope. Once we were back in the forest and walking on packed dirt, our pace quickened and we reached the PCT junction in no time. This final stretch was definitely a lot less steep than the Heartbreak Ridge descent we would’ve endured if we’d done the out-and-back.
The rest of the hike passed quickly as we hurried back to our cars to escape the rain (falling pretty lightly at this point) and, more importantly, to get back to Portland in time for PAF. We reached the parking lot a few minutes after 4 pm. Although we ended up having to rush getting ready for the evening when we got home, I’m so glad we ended up hiking. Not only did Mack and I finally get to fully appreciate Table Mountain’s summit, we also made new hiking friends and introduced Cassie to new doggy pals and off-leash hiking. All in all, I’d say it was a worthwhile and successful day outside.