Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sunny Sunday

After several weeks of less-than-stellar weekend weather, Sunday's forecast finally promised clear skies.  I wasn't going to pass up a sunny dry weekend day - probably the last for a long time.  I emailed my friend John and asked him if he was interested in a hike.  John, always up for a romp in the woods, responded with an enthusiastic yes.

What a beautiful trail sign!

Where to go?  The higher elevations were all snowed in, restricting us to somewhere in the Gorge.  Then I remembered hearing about the Cape Horn trail.  It's a relatively new trail on the Washington side of the Gorge.  Rumor had it this route promised spectacular Gorge views from a recently constructed overlook.  It was a path I'd yet to hike, so I convinced John to make Cape Horn our destination.

My companions hit the snow

Cape Horn is a prominent bluff that towers high above the Columbia River. US Highway 14 climbs over Cape Horn, and clings to the side of its rocky cliffs. The great thing about this place is it's very close to the Portland Metro area.  A thirty minute drive places you at the trailhead.

The mountains have white flocking

Sunday dawned clear and sunny, as promised, but cold!  After braving intermittently icy roads, our group arrived at the Cape Horn trailhead. In addition to myself, John had rounded up three of his friends (Steve, Barry and Kelly) to accompany us. I, of course, had brought my dog Bear. There was no way he was letting me go without him!

Mushrooms growing out of a tree

The trail entered the woods and immediately began to climb, heading for the bluff's summit. Our group wound through the mostly-barren maple tree forest until we hit patches of snow. Although we'd bundled up against the cold, it wasn't long before everyone, warmed by the uphill trek, began to shed layers.

Makin' tracks through the snow

As we trudged up to the top of Cape Horn, small gaps in the trees gave teaser glimpses of nearby snow-flocked mountains.

My party enjoys a sunny moment

And then suddenly my group reached the top of the bluff and the first of three clifftop viewpoints.  The grand panorama of the Columbia River Gorge spread out far below us.  Wow!  It was an incredible sight!  I was so glad to be visiting on a clear day - it would be a shame to climb this far and not be able to take in such a view.

New Cape Horn overlook

My hiking group (aka "John and friends") followed the trail as it skimmed along the top of the bluff, pausing at each of the viewpoints to take in more breathtaking vistas and Kodak moments. 

What a view!

After leaving the summit of Cape Horn, and following a series of trails and abandoned roads, the trail led us to the newly-constructed Cape Horn overlook.  The viewpoint consists of two circular rock walls atop a clearing.  The overlook was constructed to honor Nancy Russell, the founder of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.  Nancy fought to save this beautiful area from development, and was able to preserve Cape Horn in its natural state for all to enjoy.

A cold windy lunch

Standing atop this overlook, gazing out over the Columbia River, I was grateful for Nancy's hard work and determination.

John braces himself against the wind

Our hiking group took advantage of the rock wall seating areas for a snack break.  Although the sky was sunny, the temperature was anything but warm.  And away from the forest's protection, the wind was howling mightily.  It was a cold place to rest, but you couldn't beat the scenery!

Incredible Gorge panorama

If it wasn't for that pesky wind, my group probably would've stayed at the overlook all day.  But the roaring gales forced a retreat back into the woods. 

Barry and I pause from our photographic duties (photo by John)

From the overlook, the Cape Horn Trail descended quickly through a forest of large, moss-clad trees.  Before we knew it, our group arrived at the junction with Hwy 14.  The trail continued on the opposite side of the highway, necessitating a wait for a gap in traffic, and then a speedy scramble across!

My happy pup

The best part was yet to come.  The second, lower loop of the trail wandered along the portion of the bluff below the highway.  It followed spectacular cliffs lining the Columbia River.  There were more great viewpoints, impressive talus slopes, and even a waterfall or two.

Cigar Rock (Can you guess how it got it's name?)

But, oh was the wind strong down here!  At every clearing, we had to steady ourselves against the buffeting gusts to get photographs.  I tried to gain some stability by leaning against a nearby tree, but the tree was blowing around so much it was no help.  To steady our cameras, John and I finally ended up leaning against each other.

The last of the fall leaves

But despite the wind and cold, the viewpoints down here were incredible!  The eastern Gorge spread out before us, with sights all the way to Beacon Rock.  The mighty Columbia sparkled a pretty blue, punctuated by frothy whitecaps.  The basalt cliffs of the Gorge rose up from both sides of the river, the upper elevations wearing a frosty cap of snow. The mid-afternoon sun lit up the scene nicely.  It was worth battling the chilly gusts for some photographs.

Wispy waterfall

After climbing up and down the cliffside path, our group came upon a thin, wispy waterfall.  It was spraying over a tall basalt cliff.  What a beautiful sight!

Can you see the rainbows?

A point in the trail provided a nice overlook of the falls.  And the sunlight was at the perfect angle to create not one, but two rainbows.  This isn't the greatest photograph, but I was pleased the rainbows showed up.  Can you spot both of them?

Barry and Bear walk under the falls

And then the trail led you right underneath the fall's drizzly cascade.  Super cool!

US Hwy 14 perched high on the cliff

One final amazing sight awaited us.  The last leg of our hike was a one-mile walk up a paved road.  Following asphalt is not how I usually want to end a trip, but we passed a clearing with a fantastic view up the side of Cape Horn's rocky cliffs.  You could see the underside of Highway 14 perched precariously mid-slope.  This was a view of the road most people don't get to see.  It must've been a tremendous engineering feat to construct the elevated bridge and retaining walls that hold up the highway.

Sun-streaked leaves

A few yellow fall leaves still clung to the trees here, creating a narrow tunnel around the road.  Although we weren't walking on a trail, the final mile was a pleasant enough end to this spectacular hike.

Back at the trailhead John told me "Thanks, Linda for the suggestion to come here."  John said he's fallen in love with this new trail.  It's become one of my favorites too.  A great hike for a sunny fall day!

Happy trails!



  1. I wish I had been there with you, Barry, and the rest of the gang. Great photos!

  2. They were right about the views

  3. you go to some great places I am always excited to see where you go next.

  4. Now I have found your blog too - makes mine look like Mickey Mouse :) Your photos are lovely. Looking forward to reading thru your archives.

  5. Wow. That looks amazing. What is the distance of this hike? I will have to put it on my "to do" list.

  6. Hello Hiker Mom - The Cape Horn trail is about 7 miles long and 1300 feet of elevation gain. Hope you're able to come and hike it someday!

  7. That looked like a wonderful hike and I really liked the double rainbow in the waterfall. Thanks for sharing such a great day!


Don't be shy! Please leave a comment.