Columbia River Gorge Triple ‘D’

  • Date: November 25, 2018
  • Start: Wahkeena Falls Trailhead, Starvation Creek Trailhead, and Dog Mountain Trailhead
  • Distance: 26.6 miles
  • Duration: 11 hours (commute time between trailheads included)
  • Elevation gain: 10,000 feet
  • Type: Loop (Devil’s Rest) and out-and-back (Defiance and Dog)
  • Map: Green Trails Map 428S: Columbia River Gorge-West

A glimmer of daybreak shone faintly in the distance as we moved like shadows through the darkness. I don’t generally like running during non-daylight hours, but the paved, even trail leading to the top of Multnomah Falls presented no threat to my footing and I was able to move with confidence and certainty. We paced ourselves as we climbed switchback after switchback, reminding ourselves that we still had a number of miles and a good chunk of vert ahead of us. Afterall, this was only the beginning of a beautiful first weekend back on some of our favorite gorge trails on the Oregon side since the devastating wildfire over a year prior. What better way to celebrate their reopening and continued healing than with a little adventure run?

Devil’s Rest (8 miles; 2 hours 44 minutes, breaks included)

The Columbia River Gorge Triple ‘D’ challenge has been on our ultra-running bucket list since before we had even completed an ultra distance! We put off doing it for the longest time though because the gorge is our “backyard” and using our precious weekends to head there instead of a place we’d never explored seemed silly. We took this beautiful place for granted, and it took the Eagle Creek Fire sweeping through this beloved area for us to realize it. Dog Mountain remained open of course since it’s located on the Washington side, and Mount Defiance eventually reopened in the spring or early summer, but Devil’s Rest remained the missing ‘D’. Then, the day after Thanksgiving, we got the good news. After a failed attempt Saturday–which at least allowed us the chance to run up Angel’s Rest–we returned on Sunday determined to push on and put it all together.

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The run up to the top of Multnomah from the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead brought us into the first moments of daylight as we crossed the culvert bridge over the creek. We continued through Dutchman Tunnel and up past Weisendanger Falls, struck with sadness by the sight of the scorched landscape, yet amazed and overjoyed by the vibrant signs of recovery. The gorge was still the gorge, resilient and adaptable in the face of human-induced trauma.

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Above Weisendanger we turned onto Wahkeena Trail for a brief stretch before the gradual ascent to the summit via Devil’s Rest Trail. Upon reaching the treed in high point–characterized by giant, mossy boulders and a seemingly unofficial wooden sign hanging off one of the nearby trees–we grabbed a quick selfie then proceeded to enjoy the long, rewarding downhill back to the car, pausing every so often to savor some sorely missed gorge sights, especially the quaint but magical Fairy Falls. By mid morning, just as many others were beginning their hike up, we were back at the car and ready to tackle the next, and most difficult, ‘D’ of our challenge: Mount Defiance.

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Mount Defiance (11.76 miles; 4 hours 50 minutes, breaks included)

At 4,960 feet, Defiance is considered to be the highest point in the Columbia River Gorge. By itself, it comprises nearly half of the elevation gain for the Triple ‘D’ challenge! We were extremely pleased to be starting the route at a reasonable late morning time. As anticipated, there was very little running involved once we left the Historic Columbia River Highway. The gain was mild at first past Lancaster Falls and through the powerline corridor. Then we entered the forest, where the trail’s notoriety truly begins. It’s unrelenting steepness made even power hiking a struggle at times. Mack and I had only ever hiked Defiance once nearly three years prior. Within those three years I’d somehow managed to downplay the difficulty of the route in my memory.

A couple miles into our crawl up the mountain, we met a hiker coming down and casually inquired about the conditions further up. His response: at least a foot of snow–likely more than that–in the last mile or two before the summit. Oops. I looked down at my blown out Altras covered in holes and also remembered that we’d left our microspikes in the the car. We continued up anyway since we hadn’t reached the snow yet. No point in turning around until we absolutely had to. What started out as a light dusting further up very quickly turned into well over a foot of relatively fresh snow. Fortunately for us, hikers from the past couple of days had packed down a pretty decent boot path that we were able to walk/run on even without the aid of microspikes! Nonetheless it was another important reminder about being better prepared with potentially necessary gear and research regarding snow levels.

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The views over the the final couple of miles were just as stunning as I remembered, especially with Pahto standing guard to the north and Wy’east practically glowing beneath the early afternoon sun to the south. The wintry conditions made things slow going since we weren’t able to run even some of the flatter sections in the deep snow but soon enough the out-of-place radio tower came into view, signaling the end of our second big climb of the day. Our feet were soaked and freezing as we jogged the last few feet to the summit. Our breather at the top lasted all of 30 seconds–enough time to take out my camera and snap a selfie–before we hightailed it out of there, excited to reach dry trail again and warm up/air out our cold, wet shoes, socks, and feet.

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The struggle of the steep climbs and deep snow were forgotten as we flew down the trail with reckless abandon, filled with endless stoke about having completed our second summit. Only one more to go! We were doing it. We were finally doing it. The fog from earlier in the day had lifted at last as we re-entered the powerline corridor. I looked out across the Columbia to the Washington side. The unmistakable bare summit of Dog Mountain was staring right back at me. I smiled and held my gaze. Just a couple more hours.

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Dog Mountain (6.9 miles; 2 hours 9 minutes, breaks included)

The parking lot was nearly empty as we pulled in. Sunset was scheduled for something like 4:30 or 4:40 pm. It was nearing 3:30 as we laced up our shoes for the last time and started up the trail. Our legs were pretty shot by this point, having covered nearly 20 miles and over 7,000 feet of gain since 6:30 am. Our power hike was more of a desperate crawl but at least we were making steady progress. Within the first mile, we passed most of the remaining Dog Mountain hikers as they were descending to their cars. One of them was actually the hiker we’d run into on Defiance who had warned us about the snow! He recognized us and congratulated us on our efforts that day.

Daylight was fading fast at the lower viewpoint, so I decided to snap our “summit selfie” here in the event it was too dark for a real one at the top. It had been a long time since we’d done an adventure that both started and ended in the dark. There’s something so fulfilling about being outside from dawn until dusk, pushing your limits and making every second count. In the final minutes before sunset, we were en route to the summit on the last exposed and winding stretch along the dry meadow grasses.

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Blue hour descended upon us as we completed the last hill and stepped onto the summit. We took a few minutes to let our accomplishment soak in as we stood side by side in complete solitude, reflecting on the millennia of cataclysmic events that led to the remarkable landscape that now lay before us, and how this place will continue to survive and adapt to our constantly changing world long after our generation has passed. How fortunate we are to be seeing so much of it while we’re still here, I thought.

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It wasn’t quite dark enough to warrant headlamps as we began our run down the mountain but we put them on anyways to avoid further breaks and stops. Although the Dog Mountain Trail isn’t nearly has “polished” as the switchbacks heading up Multnomah, I still felt that same sense of security and confidence that I’d experienced in the morning, even when complete darkness finally set in and we were picking our way over rocks and roots. We arrived back at the car within the hour (of leaving the summit), thus concluding our first–of hopefully many–full day run-ventures in the Columbia River Gorge.

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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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Coyote Wall-Labyrinth Loop

  • Date: April 23, 2017
  • Location: Columbia River Gorge
  • Start: Coyote Wall Trailhead
  • Distance: 8.25 miles (according to Mack’s Garmin)
  • Duration: 1 hour 35 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Type: Loop
  • Map: Green Trails Map 432S: Columbia River Gorge-East
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Washington Trails Association

Since Havasupai, all of our weekends have been spent in the Tillamook State Forest training for our upcoming 50K. This past weekend, we wanted a change of pace. Our original plan had been to take Cassie on her first Cascade volcano climb on Mt St Helens, but that fell through the night before due to increasingly terrible weather conditions. We threw around the idea of running the 22-mile Wilson River Trail before falling asleep Saturday night, but then we didn’t wake up until after 8 am the next morning. Too late to start Wilson River, especially since we’d have to do a car shuttle. We sat in bed for awhile trying to think of a shorter, less strenuous route that would only involve taking one car. My anxiety worsened as the minutes passed and we didn’t have a plan in place. I experience a sort of writer’s block when it comes to thinking up last minute trips where the details aren’t hammered out the night before. Mack, ever the optimist, reassured me that we’d figure something out soon enough.

I remembered reading in some recent trip reports that the Coyote Wall/Catherine Creek area in the gorge was now snow-free and had wildflowers popping up, so I got out the map and quickly traced out a route that would take us through the Labyrinth, Catherine Creek, and Coyote Wall. Finally a semblance of a plan! We packed up our running gear, slathered some tick prevention oil on Cassie (the area is notorious for them), and hit the road just before 10 am, arriving at the trailhead shortly after 11:15. As expected, the parking area was packed, but we managed to snag a spot near the highway. The trails here are a popular mountain biking destination. As we started down the paved road leading to the trails, we noticed tons of bikers, but only a handful of hikers. No runners.

After passing the Coyote Wall Trail (our return route), we took the next left, heading uphill on the Labyrinth Trail. Mack and I have not spent much time in this part of the gorge, so the landscape was so foreign to us. We’re used to hiking through dense forests on the western side, so running up rocky mountain bike trails and scrambling over basalt protrusions with completely uninhibited views of the Columbia River behind us was a new experience! A short ways up, Labyrinth Creek came into view and Cassie dragged me down to take a dip. The creek tumbles down multi-tiered Labyrinth Falls further upstream (which I neglected to photograph because Cassie kept trying to pull me into the water again). After a brief side trip to see the falls, we continued up the winding trail, passing through grassy meadows as we climbed. I was grateful for the overcast skies. Complete exposure to the sun would’ve made the elevation gain feel a lot worse.

Cassie wanted to go for a swim!

If I’m being completely honest, I was finding it difficult to enjoy our run. We were experiencing perfect weather, running through gorgeous scenery, and getting outside as a family. What’s not to enjoy? As it often does, my mind drifted into more negative thinking: Why am I so weak and sluggish on these hills? If I can barely make it up these, how am I going to survive the numerous hills on the Tillamook Burn course next weekend? At the rate we’re going, are we going to be able to complete this 13-15 mile route? I can’t believe we started so late! Ugh, there are so many user paths in this section! Are we even on the correct one? God, I hope we’re not lost… (The list goes on)

This area is stunning though. It definitely softened the blow of some of my pessimistic thoughts. Some of our favorite aspects of the Labyrinth were the groves of oak trees we passed through. Their mostly bare, scrawny limbs and often crooked, angular trunks added a striking contrast to the blossoming meadow landscape. Eerie, but equally beautiful. The diversity was a pleasant, unexpected surprise!

Running through a grove of oak trees on the Labyrinth Trail

We continued on what appeared to be the main trail, running up and across more expansive fields dotted with trees every so often. We climbed up hills, plateaued in spots, stepped off the trail when bikers came roaring down the steeper inclines, and always had a view of the river stretched out before us. The crisscrossing user paths continued to confuse us though. Most of them lacked signs, which led me to believe that a lot of them were probably social, unofficial trails. With numerous signs asking visitors to stay on the ‘trail’ to avoid harming fragile vegetation, Mack and I avoided these paths. However, after one final climb, we came to a signed junction indicating we had reached Atwood Road Trail. Damn.

Our goal had been to run to the Catherine Creek TH so we could get in some longer miles, explore the Catherine Creek area, and THEN meet up with Atwood Road Trail to continue to Coyote Wall. Somehow we’d missed a junction (with the Rowland Basin Trail I think?) and gone up the Upper Labyrinth Trail. Needless to say, I was annoyed. I knew Atwood Road Trail could still take us to Catherine Creek and we could just run the section in reverse, but it was clear to me that neither of us knew the area all that well. Since we’d started late, we decided it would be better to just continue to Coyote Wall from the junction and explore Catherine Creek another day. Sadly, this cut our mileage nearly in half. Better safe than sorry though.

*In retrospect, the reason (I think) we missed the junction is because we didn’t know that the Rowland Basin Trail was the name of the trail that would eventually take us to the Catherine Creek TH. Both of us thought the Labyrinth Trail continued to Catherine Creek. There’s a good chance we probably reached a signed junction but disregarded it because Rowland Basin Trail wasn’t even on our radar. Sigh.

I was pretty reluctant about having to do a shorter run, so I wasn’t in the best mood as we completed our short stretch on Atwood Road Trail. When we arrived at the junction with Old Ranch Road Trail (sometimes referred to as “Old Jeep Road” in various hike descriptions), we turned left onto this track and descended a grassy hillside. After all the climbing we’d started with, running downhill felt so good. Balsam root was more common in this section, too. The bright, yellow blooms were an instant remedy for my current sulky disposition.

We ran all the way down to the junction with the Coyote Wall Trail and turned right to head back uphill. There are a few different paths that head up and crisscross in this area. We stayed on the one(s) closest to the edge of the basalt cliffs to take in the view of their mighty presence as we ran.

Running alongside Coyote Wall

Our turnaround was going to be the upper viewpoint (which, after re-reading the hike description, is marked by a large ponderosa pine). I’m not entirely sure we made it there, but we did get pretty far up. We turned around after seeing a boundary sign. Perfect timing actually. The clouds rolled in and it started to rain. At that point, I didn’t feel bad that we’d decided to ixnay the Catherine Creek portion of our route. We began the descent back to the main road.

View of Coyote Wall looking north
Looking south

The rain let up for a little while as we descended the Coyote Wall Trail, so we decided to make a few stops to take in the view and photograph the balsam root and desert parsley, which were incredibly abundant along the trail. Of course the rain didn’t cease for very long. After reaching the junction with the Old Ranch Road Trail, we continued our descent through a maze of trails (though I’m pretty sure we were basically on the Little Moab Trail) that eventually spit us out onto the paved road leading to the parking lot. The rain was falling harder and harder, so I guess we finished at just the right time. Not everything went according to plan (I mean, even this plan wasn’t according to the original plan), but we rolled with the punches and ended up having a fantastic day in a new area of the gorge.

Had to stop and smell the flowers

So much balsam root!

 

Ornament Trail

The Ornament Trail is an unofficial, semi-secret spot located in the Multnomah Basin. I first learned about it a couple years back and have been itching to do it since. Despite the fact that it contradicts Leave No Trace principles (which I work hard to uphold and promote on any outdoor adventure), the idea of Christmas ornaments lining a mysterious trail in the forest just sounds so magical. Christmas Eve seemed like the most fitting time to visit. It fell on a Saturday this year, so it worked out perfectly! I also realized that it would probably be quite a popular hike to do that day, so Mack and I decided to turn it into an adventure run in order to finish earlier and hopefully avoid the inevitable crowds.

The parking lot was empty when we arrived around 8:30 am. Score! Although there was already a group of people hanging out on the Wahkeena Falls viewing platform getting ready to begin, we were still able to hit the trail first. Conditions were sketchy as we switchbacked up the first half mile to the base of Wahkeena Falls. Much of the trail was covered in hard-packed, icy snow. We wore microspikes to keep us grounded, and, after watching her skid a couple of times, Cassie stayed on-leash for safety.

Wahkeena Falls

We continued past the falls and up Wahkeena Creek, crossing below Fairy Falls after a few more switchbacks. Between the relentless elevation gain and the uneven, snowy terrain, our very first trail run in the gorge was quite the challenge! I’ll admit this section was more of a run-hike alternation. We took Cassie off the leash for a short while, but when she started chasing birds on the slick trail (with steep drop-offs on the downhill side) we decided it was too risky and put her back on.

Hiking along Wahkeena Creek
Fairy Falls

We finally moved past the switchbacks once we reached the junction with Angel’s Rest Trail. There was actually a bit of elevation loss as we headed toward Larch Mountain Trail (about 1.2 miles away). Unfortunately, it was difficult to take advantage of the downhill. In many sections, the snow on the trail hadn’t been packed down enough to create a flat surface. On the contrary, it created a slope that flowed straight into the downhill side of the trail. Slipping in any of these sections would send a person shooting down a steep slope. I was incredibly grateful for previous hikers who had kicked steps into the hard snow.

Shortly after turning onto Larch Mountain Trail, we crossed an old footbridge to begin another uphill stretch alongside Multnomah Creek.

Running in hard snow, uphill, with heavy microspikes attached to your shoes, does quite a number on your energy level. My legs were definitely tiring out. However, I got my second wind (and breathed a sigh of relief) when we reached the junction with Multnomah Basin Road. The Ornament Trail was close now!

Running up Multnomah Basin Road

The Ornament Trail turn-off isn’t marked on a map, so we weren’t sure how far we’d have to run before seeing it. Fortunately, the road is fairly level, so we weren’t exerting ourselves too much while we scanned for the first ornament. A light, but wet, snow began to fall as we continued the search. Despite our lack of waterproof layers, it was nice to experience a Christmas Eve snowfall for the first time. After a few minutes, Mack shouted with excitement: “I found it! I found it!”

First ornament!

Mack and I refrained from running so we could take our time to enjoy this magical little spot. Numerous ornaments of all shapes, sizes, colors, and materials dotted the trees and brush lining the trail. A variety of garlands and lights were strung across the trail in some sections, creating festive archways above us as we walked along. The whiteness of the snow covering the ground further enhanced the colors popping all around us.

My favorite spot was near the end (or at least where we ended up turning around). A large, overhanging tree branch strewn in a variety of quirky ornaments, including a pickle, a carrot, and a toothbrush (an homage to the lesser known name of the trail and where the tradition of hanging ornaments originally comes from). At this point, our fingers and toes were starting to go numb, so we thought it would be best to start running again.

My favorite spot

The run down Larch Mountain Trail went a lot faster now that we were losing elevation. It was the first time I was able to stretch my legs and get some longer strides in. We ran into a lot more people on the way back. Thank goodness we started at the time that we did!

An example of the trail hazards due to the heavy snowpack

The only uphill section we had left to contend with was on the Wahkeena Trail before the Angel’s Rest junction. This was the area we were practically tiptoeing through because of the steep snow slopes. Once we were past that it was smooth sailing down to the parking lot, which had completely filled up. Hard to believe it had been empty just a couple of hours earlier!

Wahkeena Falls from the viewing platform down by the parking lot

A Christmas Eve run in the gorge was the perfect way to kick off the holiday weekend. Maybe this will become a new tradition!

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