Tamanawas Falls

  • Date: December 28, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood
  • Start: East Fork-Tamanawas Trailhead
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Duration: 2 hours 34 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Map: Adventure Maps: Mount Hood Area
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Outdoor Project

Evergreens coated in powder. Fields dotted with marshmallow boulders. Frozen crystalline features dangling from cliff faces, fallen logs, and tree limbs. Majestic waterfalls cascading down into icy blue rivers. Mount Hood National Forest is a winter lover’s dream. Despite the unfortunate low snow year, it still managed to enchant us on our brief pit stop heading back from Smith Rock State Park.

We arrived at the trailhead sometime mid-morning, still sleepy-eyed (with the exception of Cassie, who was ready to get the hell out of the car) from our early morning alarm. Being the middle of the week, there was only one other car parked. Another uber-popular hike to enjoy without the crowds! We took our time getting dressed for the snowy conditions having just come from the high desert, but a quick jaunt on the first several yards of the trail indicated that we wouldn’t need snowshoes, just our microspikes. This was both a depressing revelation (so little snow compared to the same time last year!) but also a relief (no cumbersome gear attached to my feet).

The first part of the hike on East Fork Trail #650 parallels Highway 35. Once we turned onto the Tamanawas Trail that sign of civilization fell away as we ventured deeper into the wintry forest. The foreboding, dark waters of Cold Spring Creek rushed alongside us as we walked. Snow fell from the trees with the warming temps, sometimes as gentle sprinkles, other times as heavy snowballs. Cassie loved this and bounded ahead to chase the falling snow on a few occasions. One such occasion forced us to put her back on leash though after she chased some falling snow off the trail and sprinted into the woods. I panicked as we searched and shouted for her, nearly breaking down in tears until I heard Mack yell back to me that he’d gotten ahold of her (10-15 minutes after she’d run off). We’ve been pretty flexible with Cassie over the past year, allowing her off leash in places where it’s okay (i.e. no regulations in place and generally uncrowded) because she’s always remained close to us and has exhibited good recall. This was a necessary reminder that she’s still an animal and will get distracted when we least expect it.

Licking the ice rather than drinking the water
Alongside Cold Spring Creek
So many marshmallows

I was a little on edge and working to normalize my vitals following the Cassie fiasco. Tamanawas Falls turned out to be the perfect remedy for my anxiety. When we turned the corner and the waterfall came into view I was immediately awestruck and pleasantly surprised. I had actually expected it to be smaller based on photos I’d seen! I was of course ecstatic to see how truly spectacular these falls were in person. We carefully picked our way down the icy trail to the creek for a better vantage point then proceeded to hop through the field of frosted boulders until we reached a clear boundary where the surrounding snow was tinged with a glacier blue sheen, a color made even more brilliant by the juxtaposing dark hue of the creek and the cliff from which the falls tumbled. It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but more hikers were starting to make their way to the falls. It was time to relinquish our prime spot(s) and give other visitors a chance to explore.

First view from the trail!
View from the creek

Family portrait

On the return hike, we made time to stop and explore some of the more simple delights along the trail. There were several mini-falls to be enjoyed within Cold Spring Creek, a few of which cascaded into one another through a mesmerizing series of aqua-colored pools. There was so much to see on this short hike!

Can you see the tiered formation?

Icicles

The sun came out as we turned back onto the East Fork Trail, filtering warmth and light through the trees and making the snow on their limbs melt increasingly fast. We spent a good part of the hike back keeping our eyes and ears alert for these snow bombs, doing our best to dodge them whenever they happened to fall. Nonetheless we enjoyed the peaceful forested snow stroll, as well as the small sunbursts and patches of blue sky that greeted us through the trees every so often. On the final footbridge crossing before reaching the parking area, I lingered a few extra moments. Gazing out over Hood River, now a brilliant shade of blue thanks to the sunlight, I couldn’t help but reflect briefly on the soon-to-be-over year 2017 and all of the wonderful adventures and experiences that came with it. What does 2018 hold for our little family?

Sunny and snowy forest walk

Hood River from the footbridge
Another view of Hood River
What a multi-sport trip (with Cassie) looks like in my car

 

 

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Lewis River Trail

  • Date: November 25, 2017
  • Location: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Start: Lower Falls Day Use Area
  • Distance: 8.8 miles
  • Duration: 4 hours 55 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Washington Trails Association

I hoped for a fast-paced, epic sufferfest (or something along those lines) to cap off our Thanksgiving Break. As luck would have it though, bad weather crapped all over that plan. Too lazy and defeated to come up with a plan B, we opted for something simple but scenic: a waterfall tour along the Lewis River. We arrived at the leisurely time of 9 am to a surprisingly empty lot. Despite the forecast, I’d still expected to see a few cars given the popularity of the hike we were about to do (not that I’m complaining). We’d have the trail to ourselves for the time being then!

From the parking lot we walked a short ways to the Lower Lewis River Falls viewpoint. These falls are the primary attraction, as well as the most accessible, of all the falls along the trail. It was easy to see why and so great to finally see them in person! They were also particularly voluminous and heavy (as were nearly all of the falls we saw throughout the morning) due to recent rain. We continued north, passing numerous structures (staircases, boardwalks, picnic tables at a campground, etc.) indicative of how busy this area usually is. We still hadn’t seen another person though.

Lower Lewis River Falls
Stairs leading down to the river
Heading into a grove of alders
Small seasonal waterfall

After the campground and footbridge crossing, the frontcountry-esque structures disappeared and we enjoyed a peaceful walk through the forest. A short detour due to a landslide that has the main trail closed took us up to the Middle Falls Trailhead and quickly back on the main trail past the washout. From here we hiked by two more waterfalls. First came spectacular Copper Creek Falls. After crossing the bridge above the falls there’s a short but steep side path that leads down to an amazing viewpoint. Middle Falls came shortly after. It didn’t quite have the same ‘wow’ factor as Lower Lewis and Copper Creek, but it was still a worthwhile side trip.

Cassie enjoying some off-leash time since no one else was on the trail

Copper Creek Falls from aforementioned viewpoint

Middle Lewis River Falls

Back on the main trail, we passed beneath moss-covered rocky cliffs and stopped for a snack break when we reached an area dotted with a handful of towering old growth trees. I’ll admit our primary reason for stopping here was so I could get a picture of the tallest tree I could find. Fitting it into the frame proved to be quite difficult and took several attempts at various angles. I think the final product (see “old growth” picture below) turned out nicely though.

Old growth
Begging for (human) treats

Just around the corner from the old growth section was the second to last waterfall, Upper Lewis River Falls. We picked our way carefully over slick rocks to stand on the river’s edge and get a good look at these thundering giants crashing dramatically into the Lewis. Even though we were standing a fair distance away, the mist coming off of them managed to soak us quickly. Ready to dry off and warm up, we returned to the main trail and finally got a small dose of uphill hiking (everything before was relatively flat). We made it to the Taitnapum Falls viewpoint high above the river before turning around. On the way back, we made one final side trip to the Upper Lewis River Falls viewpoint to experience a slightly different perspective from above the falls.

Upper Lewis River Falls

Taitnapum Falls
Upper Lewis River Falls from the designated viewpoint

We hiked back out the same way, enjoying our favorite waterfalls (Copper Creek and Lower Lewis) for the second time. Our few hours of solitude had come to an end though. Now that it was early afternoon more and more people were starting to make their way down the trail to admire the waterfalls and possibly walk off their Thanksgiving feasts from two days prior (like we were trying to do). It certainly pays to get up and drive out before sunrise sometimes.

Back at the Lower Lewis River Falls viewpoint, before turning off to head back to the car, we finally took our much anticipated cocoa break. We huddled together on a downed tree, gripping our cocoa-filled Nalgenes to warm our hands. Despite the occasional hikers passing by a few feet away on the trail, only the sound of the rushing Lewis River filled the air. A calm, peaceful end to an eventful Thanksgiving break.

Cocoa break before heading back to the car

 

Cape Horn Loop

  • Date: October 28, 2017
  • Location: Columbia River Gorge
  • Start: Cape Horn Trailhead
  • Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Duration: 3 hours 50 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 1300 feet
  • Type: Loop
  • Map: Green Trails Map 428S: Columbia River Gorge-West
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland by Paul Gerald; Washington Trails Association

Since getting more into trail running this past year, day hiking has become less and less common for us. However, with our last race of the season coming up the following weekend and a busy weekend of work events preventing us from doing anything too long, strenuous, or far from home, we decided to head out to Cape Horn with Cassie to make the most of the surprisingly nice fall weather forecast.

The trailhead was packed and we ended up parking a short ways up the road since the lot was full. With so many closures on the Oregon side due to the damage caused by the wildfire, I imagine Cape Horn is now more popular than ever. Despite seeing numerous groups as we started out, we still managed to find some solitude every now and then. The first part of our hike (we started with the upper section) had us climbing switchbacks through a forest bursting with fall colors. I actually completed this hike the previous year with a few friends (no Mack, but Cassie was with me). We went in late November after Thanksgiving, so the fall brilliance had come and gone. It was nice to come back at the height of it all.

After just over a mile we were rewarded with our first view overlooking the gorge at Pioneer Point. Patches of golden orange dotted the usually green landscape as we looked east toward Hamilton Mountain and Beacon Rock. Even the Oregon side looked stunning. From a distance (and with the sun shining so brightly), the scorched land wasn’t as evident. The trail dropped down soon after and met up with an old wagon road so heavily blanketed in fallen leaves that I could hardly see my boots as we walked through.

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View from Pioneer Point

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Idyllic fall setting

After crossing Strunk Road, we continued onto a gravel lane surrounded by green fields and a few houses. A short, pleasant countryside amble before ducking back into the forest. We reached the Nancy Russell Overlook (named for the founder of Friends of the Columbia Gorge), characterized by a beautiful stone amphitheater and a sprawling view of the gorge. I feel a little silly that I didn’t take a picture to include for this post, but it was incredibly crowded and we didn’t stick around very long. We headed back into the peace and quiet of the forest, basking in the increasingly vibrant fall colors. The trail descends down to Hwy 14 and (to avoid having hikers risk becoming roadkill) crosses it by way of a tunnel beneath the road.

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It looks like she’s playing with the leaves, but she’s actually eating her favorite jerky

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The views became more abundant on this half of the hike now that we were on the lower section and switchbacking down alongside the cliff. We passed several vistas along the way that offered expansive views of the river, as well as lonesome Phoca Rock and the strange basalt column, Cigar Rock. This section did have it’s downsides though. The wind was incredibly strong, making it difficult to take any sort of break at the viewpoints we came across. In addition, now that it was getting into the afternoon, there were a lot more people on the trail, some of whom weren’t so great about practicing basic trail etiquette. My penchant for picture taking often times meant we just let people pass us until we were left alone, garnering us a few more moments of solitude.

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Cigar Rock
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Walking along one of the talus slopes with a view of a waterfall (not sure if it’s Cape Horn Falls)

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I was especially happy to experience solitude when we arrived at the wooden footbridge in front of Cape Horn Falls. With no one around, we were able to take the short side trail up to the falls and have the spot all to ourselves for a few minutes. The falls weren’t anything spectacular (at least when we were there). They were more of a trickle really. Being in an isolated spot away from the increasing foot traffic (with a nice view of the footbridge down below and the river beyond that) was the primary appeal. After crossing the bridge, we began a steeper descent to the end of the trail, where we were spit out onto Cape Horn Road.

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Cape Horn Falls

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Bridge in front of the falls

The final 1.3-mile uphill stretch was all on road (save for a very brief section of trail right before the parking lot). Thankfully, we still had some lovely views along the way combining the steep forested hillsides and basalt cliffs that characterize the gorge with the simplicity of the countryside-esque properties that we passed along the road. All in all it was a morning (and partial afternoon) well spent and a lovely return to our original adventure of choice, day hiking.

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Elkhorn Crest Trail

  • Date: July 21-23, 2017
  • Location: Blue Mountains (Eastern Oregon)
  • Start: Marble Pass Trailhead
  • Distance: 27.6 (not including hike up to trailhead)
  • Duration: 3 days
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • References: Backpacking Oregon by Douglas Lorain; Outdoor Project

Since Mack and I began backpacking together over two years ago, it’s always been just the two of us. Hell, even a majority of our day trips (hiking and trail running) are done alone without the company of other friends. At the end of last summer, we and a couple of friends, Kaylyn and Evan, threw around the idea of doing a trip together in the future. By January of this year, we’d figured out dates, picked a location, and solidified the route!

Two weeks before our adventure was to begin, we found out that Gothic Basin (near the North Cascades), our intended destination, was still under quite a bit of snow. Neither of us wanted to haul snow gear up to camp nor deal with sketchy trail conditions/navigation for this particular trip, so I frantically searched for another option. Just like two years ago when Mack and I were turned down for the Wonderland Trail and looking for another option, Douglas Lorain’s Backpacking Oregon saved the day. The Elkhorn Crest Trail, a point-to-point route along the Elkhorn Mountains (a subrange of the Blue Mountains) in Eastern Oregon, presented itself as the perfect alternative.

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Day 1: Marble Pass Trailhead to Twin Lakes (4.8 miles, plus additional 3-4 miles hiking up to the trailhead; 4 hours 18 minutes, breaks included)

On Thursday afternoon, less than 48 hours since returning from Glacier Peak, Mack, Cassie, and I made the long drive out to Anthony Lake. Our trip didn’t officially start until the following morning, but getting a few hours of sleep in the car sounded far more appealing than driving out at 2 or 3 am in order to make an 8 am shuttle pick-up. Kaylyn and Evan opted to do the early morning drive and at 8 am we all piled into the shuttle that would take us to Marble Pass.

It probably sounds a little ridiculous that we decided to hire a shuttle, especially since we had two cars to work with. However, the forest road leading up to the trailhead is notoriously rough and steep. Neither of our cars seemed suitable and we didn’t want to take the chance of bottoming out on the way up or back down this road. Ironically enough, our shuttle ended up breaking down just as we were starting up this section! We ended up with a few extra miles tacked onto our low mileage day, so it wasn’t too bad for us. Unfortunately, our poor driver (with no food or water, low battery on his phone, and no other coworkers to come get him) had to hike back down in search of a ride to get back to work! (We found out after the trip that he didn’t have to hike too long before getting a ride)

After just over an hour and a half of hiking, we finally reached Marble Pass TH around 11 am and took shelter from the sun below some trees to enjoy a short lunch. Less than five miles until our destination for the day!

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An unexpected part of the day’s route: the road to Marble Pass

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Although walking along this completely open ridgeline meant full exposure to the hot sun, it also meant stellar views as we hiked. Since the trail stays primarily on the west side of the Elkhorn Crest, the most prominent views for the day were of the Sumpter Valley and Phillips Lake to the southwest. We continued at a leisurely pace, watching our footing on the loose volcanic rock comprising much of the trail surface. A few patches of snow served as a small reminder of the long, harsh winter that had hit this area earlier in the year. Cassie, being the snow-loving dog that she is, seized every opportunity to roll around in them to cool herself off.

The four-ish miles to the junction with Twin Lakes Trail went by fairly quickly (most likely due to the lack of elevation change). The cool, sparkling waters of the lakes in the basin below beckoned to us after hours in the sun. At the junction, we also got our first taste of the high mountain goat population in the area! Just as we were approaching the junction, Evan spotted one a few yards in front of us. Fortunately, these goats appear to be less habituated to people (unlike those in the Enchantments) and it quickly scampered off when it saw us. We made our way down the switchbacks of Twin Lakes Trail, eager to make camp and check out the lakes.

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Looking back at Marble Pass

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It was a little toasty outside
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First view of Twin Lakes (with Rock Creek Butte towering in the background)

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It was just before 1:45 pm when we finally made it down and finished our hiking for the day. We set up our camp within a small grove of trees then walked down to Lower Twin Lake, the larger and more accessible of the two lakes. We saw at least three mountain goats on the opposite side of the lake. One stood/sat perched on a rocky overlook as if to oversee the goings-on of the lake below. Another two or three walked along the edge of the lake, grazing here and there along the way. I don’t recall ever seeing this much wildlife on any of our trips so it was pretty exciting to experience!

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Guardian of Lower Twin Lake (can you spot it?)
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Lower Twin Lake

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After getting some relaxation time down at the lake, we returned to camp for dinner. Mack and I went about our semi-lazy routine of heating water in the Jetboil to throw on our instant mashed potatoes. Kaylyn and Evan actually made an effort and brought along a delicious mixed vegetable chili that they cooked/reheated in a pot! They were kind enough to share some of the chili with us. It tasted fantastic mixed in with our mashed potatoes. As much as I hate cooking (both in the outdoors and in everyday life), that chili had me reconsidering my “cooking takes too much effort” stance.

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Always sleeping

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Camp vibes
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Goat hair!

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Mack, Cassie, and I decided to go for an evening stroll around the lakes area. Although we hadn’t seen too many goats since being down at Lower Twin Lake earlier, we did see the same goat several times throughout the afternoon wandering through the campsite areas. This time, it was grazing along the shore as we walked. Surprisingly, Cassie did not seem too bothered. After reaching the far end of Lower Twin, we decided to walk back up and see the more hidden Upper Twin Lake. The rocky cliffs above Upper Twin blocked out the sun, making the area more cool, shaded, and moodier compared to Lower Twin. All the visitors to the basin stayed down near Lower Twin, so Upper Twin remained calm and quiet, completely void of people with the exception of me and Mack.

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Getting some dinner along Lower Twin Lake
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Upper Twin Lake

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Back at camp, our curious goat friend returned again and again, sometimes sneaking up on us while we were lost in conversation. Despite its persistence, it always ran away when we shouted at it or tossed some stones in its general direction. I did take advantage of the fact that it kept returning and snapped a few photos (from a good distance away I should add, zooming in with my camera). Not sure when I’ll get to see these magnificent creatures up close again! We turned in for the night and kept our fingers crossed that our food bags would still be in tact when we woke up.

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A frequent visitor

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Day 2: Twin Lakes to Summit Lake (12.8 miles; 7 hours 15 minutes, breaks included)

Despite knowing that our second day would be our longest, we decided to take our time in the morning. Why rush? We had all day to get to camp afterall. We didn’t start the hike out of the basin until 9:15 am. Just like the day before, the sun was shining and the sky was clear. Another fortunate bluebird day on the trail!

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Prior to the trip, we’d discussed the idea of scrambling up Rock Creek Butte (the highest point in the Elkhorn Range at 9,106 feet), but with the late start we decided against it. It was difficult to pass it by and not give it a go though. Maybe next time! A little over five miles into our hike we arrived at the junction with the Pole Creek Ridge Trail. It was 11:45 am and this junction would be the only one until the junction with Summit Lake Trail (still another 6.6 miles away). We settled down here for a few minutes to eat some lunch and take in the view of the Blue Mountains stretched out before us.

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Rock Creek Butte

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Pole Creek Ridge Trail junction

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After our lunch break, Mack and I noticed Cassie becoming more and more lethargic. We’d been giving her water and snacks regularly, but Cassie is picky sometimes. She really only likes to drink water from streams, creeks, puddles, and ponds,–basically anything that’s not her water bowl–so sometimes when we tried to give her water, she refused to drink. Her energy level continued to drop dramatically and she was breathing heavily. Any time we walked through an ounce of shade, she would plop down, sprawl herself out on the ground, and refuse to budge. Concerned that these were the first signs of doggy heat stroke, we removed her pack, allowed her several minutes of rest each time we reached a shady spot, doused her in water to cool her down, and even carried her in our arms when she didn’t want to walk. Although Cassie has dealt with heat before and completed far more strenuous hikes, climbs, and trail runs, this was the first route we’d done with her that lacked water sources. Thankfully, after we’d made it through (very slowly I might add) a majority of the 6.6-mile stretch, we came across an ice cold spring. Cassie immediately sat down in the water, drank to her heart’s content, and stayed there the entire time we filled up our water bladders and bottles.

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So many wildflowers!
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She was so hot 😦
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Hitching a ride with Mack
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A well deserved dunk in the spring

The next section of the trail was one of my favorites. Although volcanic rock still made an occasional appearance, granite was now far more prevalent. We were also walking beneath more trees, and through more grasslands and sections bursting with wildflowers. It also felt like we had traveled deeper into the mountains. The valley and farmland below that we were able to see earlier was no longer in sight. Now it was just green, forested mountains. Cassie’s spirits seemed to be lifted after that dunk in the spring, so we were able to move at a quicker pace then we had been. Before we knew it, we’d reached the junction with the Summit Lake Trail.

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I’m carrying Cassie’s pack so she didn’t have to wear it

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We walked beneath granite cliffs, then descended into the cool shade of the forest. I’m quite certain this was the first time we’d entered a legitimate forest since beginning the trip! In addition to the relief it provided from the sun, we were also rewarded with a couple more water sources. We exited the forest shortly after and looked down below on Little Summit Lake, initially thinking it was Summit Lake (which would’ve been disappointing considering this lake looked more like a bog). A quick map check reassured us that Summit Lake would be on the other side of the trail and above us (not below us). As if by the power of our collective wishful thinking, we found ourselves gazing out over the true Summit Lake just a minute or two after the map check.

Not only was the lake itself enchanting, but the basin that holds it, surrounded by unnamed, 8,000+ feet granite peaks, stopped me in my tracks multiple times while we sought out a campsite. As soon as we found a site large enough to accommodate both of our tents, we dropped our packs and walked out to the water via a rocky peninsula jutting out from the camp area. The granite peaks at the southern end of the lake were perfectly reflected in the calm, still water. It was 4:30 already, so enjoying a swim in the lake now made more sense than setting up right away. Cassie, on the other hand, had no interest in getting in the water. She stayed nearby and curled up beneath a tree, falling fast asleep within seconds.

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Granite cliffs
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Summit Lake

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The rest of the evening passed quickly since we arrived later in the day. We spent much of it around the fire ring talking, eating, chasing away pesky ground squirrels. I hadn’t experienced such a socially involved backcountry trip since my NOLS course two years ago, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until now. Before this trip, Mack, Kaylyn, Evan, and I hadn’t spent much time together outside of infrequent social gatherings, and yet here we were getting to know one another in a far more vulnerable setting. I was actually pretty amazed at how well it was all going!

We continued to enjoy solitude as the afternoon melded into the evening. Although I did see one or two other people at the southern end of the lake, not a single person came out to the northern tip where we were camped. We had the place entirely to ourselves on a beautiful summer night. A perfect ending to our final full day in the Elkhorns.

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Summit Lake at sunset

 

Day 3: Summit Lake to Elkhorn Crest Trailhead at Anthony Lake (10 miles; 5 hours, breaks included)

In an effort to make it out by noon and avoid hiking in the heat of the day, we departed Summit Lake at 7 am, stocking up on water at the creeks we’d passed in the forest the afternoon prior. Despite experiencing slight confusion at a four-way junction near Columbia Hill (after getting back on the Elkhorn Crest Trail), the rest of the way was straightforward and easy to navigate. We skirted the west side of Mount Ruth, another stunning, pyramid-shaped granite peak, and dropped down to Lost Lake Saddle, where we enjoyed mountains views, as well as a view of Lost Lake down below. We ended up seeing quite a few lakes on our final day!

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Following the junction with Lost Lake Trail we continued along the west side of the crest, still gaining elevation and wondering when we’d finally get to the downhill section. After Cunningham Saddle, the terrain to the west of us transformed from mountains to spacious meadow. It looked so clean cut I thought we’d stumbled upon a golf course in the middle of Wilderness. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t think to take a picture here.

At Dutch Flat Saddle/Dutch Flat Lake Trail junction, with only 3.5 miles remaining, we took a break in the shade to load up on whatever snacks we had left. As soon as we started walking again, we ran into several people and three or four dogs coming down from the saddle near Angell Peak (our final climb of the day we found out!). It was the most people we’d seen since hiking to Twin Lakes two days earlier and reminded us that we were basically back in the frontcountry. Solitude was officially over. Thankfully, the final trek down from the saddle was one of the most beautiful sections of the entire hike that day. Fields of granite boulders, forested mountain slopes, and the prominent Van Patten Butte rising high above the slightly hidden Black Lake comprised the picturesque landscape before us. After reentering the forest area adjacent to Black and Anthony Lakes, we were back at the car in 20 minutes or less. It was exactly 12 pm when we stepped into the parking area.

We treated ourselves to pizza and beer at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort (which is where we ran into our shuttle driver from Friday) before making the drive back to Portland. Although we didn’t discuss it, I can definitely see all of us plotting out more backcountry adventures together in the future. As much as Mack and I love adventuring alone, going with friends brought even more joy to the experience than I thought it would. A pleasant surprise that I hope we can make happen again.

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Table Mountain

  • 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.

Signage

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.

View of our destination and the Rabbit Ears (i.e. Sacajawea and Papoose Rocks)
Doesn’t promote LNT ethics, but still kind of cool to see
Hiking on the PCT
New signs!

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.

Getting close!
Pups getting ready to tackle the talus slope

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.

Table on Table Mountain

Meadow covered summit slope
Cassie was scared
Looking down the cliff

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.

Summit selfie

Looking out at the gorge from a perch on the summit
Mount Hood is right behind those clouds

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.

Rocky scramble descending to the PCT

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.

Pups leading the way back to the car