Monday, May 7, 2012

Nesmith Point

Last weekend I had the most wonderful two days.  Saturday, my hiking buddy John invited me to join his group for a hike in the Gorge.  I haven't hiked with John in like forever, so the answer was a resounding YES.

Our day's destination was Nesmith Point - a steep trek up the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.  John's training to climb some mountains later this spring, and needed a good conditioning hike.  I haven't been up to Nesmith in many years.  All I remembered was a long, boring slog up a mostly viewless trail.

Hail, hail the gang's all here!

The opportunity for great company, not the trail itself, was my motivation for joining up.  John always gathers the most fun, interesting people for his hikes.  Today's group was no exception.  Along with my ski friends Young, John (another John), and Katie, were his climbing pals Terri, Debbie, and Ted.   A couple of these folks I hadn't seen for over a year.  It was great to reconnect.

Bear is ready to roll

John's hiking club also had a four-legged member.  After watching me pack up and leave for ski trips all winter, Bear was happy to finally be included.  He's missed romping on the trails, and took full advantage of this opportunity, running back and forth making sure his "herd" stayed together.  (I think he traveled at least double the distance we humans covered).

Gorge view in between the trees

The trail began climbing almost immediately.  Our group puffed up switchbacks, through a brilliant green forest bursting with new leaves.  Although cloudy, the weather was warm and humid.  It didn't take long for everyone to shed clothing down to their base layers.

Looking ahead to our destination

The majority of the group was on a mission - get to the top as quickly as possible.  They took off at a gallop.  But Young and I, the photographers of the bunch, hung back.  We took our sweet time climbing up the trail, capturing scenery along the way.

The trilliums were blooming!

Young and I discovered small patches of early wildflowers in the forest.  The trilliums were in full bloom mode.  Oodles of huge blossoms decorated the lower portions of the trail.  I've never seen trilliums so big!

We hit snow around 3000 feet elevation

At the top of the first ridge, the air began to feel noticeably cooler.   After pulling a layer back on, the group came across a snowfield.  No wonder the temps had dropped - it was still cold enough to keep snow intact.  We'd also gained quite a bit of elevation, climbing almost 3000 feet to the snowline.

Bear on the snowy trail

Everyone picked their way across the snow-covered trail.  The snow was firm enough to keep us on top, but the going was slippery.  I was glad for my trekking poles. 

Making our way through the snow-covered forest

The snowy trail seemed to go on forever.  I was getting tired of slipping and sliding, and longed for a return to the dirt trail.  I remarked to Young "We should've brought our skis!"

Foggy trail junction

But finally we climbed out of the snow onto a junction with an ancient road.  The forest here was in a fog bank, and the trees towered over us like eerie ghosts.

Old moss-covered sign

The mossy trail sign showed just how far we'd come.

Foggy road to the top

An easy trek along a old roadbed led us to our final destination.

A small peep of the Columbia River from Nesmith Point

Nesmith Point!  Today's low clouds and fog didn't make for much of view.  However, there was tiny glimpses of the Columbia River and Washington side of the Gorge peeping out between cloudbreaks.  After the monstrous climb, I appreciated any small reward I could get.

Lunchtime at the top

All the members of John's hiking group settled themselves amongst Nesmith Point's tiny summit to enjoy a hearty lunch.  Bear wandered around, giving everyone his most mournful look, hoping to score some sympathy food.  Katie gave him the most food and attention, so she became Bear's new best friend.  (On hikes Bear never goes hungry.  Lest you worry, I always bring a baggie of dog food and some treats for my pup.  And he usually ends up with a large portion of my sandwich).

John, Debbie, and Ted

The temps on top were chilly, and everyone bundled up, putting back on the layers we'd stripped off during the climb.  Many of us had also packed up thermoses of hot tea, which tastes great on a damp, cool spring day.

The whole group (minus Debbie who took the photo)

Before heading back out, I insisted we all pose for a couple of group photos.  Debbie was nice enough to man my camera, which allowed me (and Bear) to be included in a shot.

We discovered a newt in the snow

After such a long, hard climb, the first mile of downhill was a welcome treat.  We hit the snow again, and the march over the slippery white stuff was much easier than anticipated.  Towards the end of the snowpack, John discovered a little newt lying in the snow.  An unusual place to find animal life, we hoped it wasn't frozen.

John rescuing the newt

The newt appeared to still be alive.  After shooing Bear away, and getting a couple of photographs of the little guy, John rescued our amphibian friend from his chilly perch.  We left him in a snow-free patch of the forest floor to hopefully warm up and scurry to a lower, more temperate elevation.

Young and Bear on the trail

Everyone thinks climbing is the difficult part of hiking.  But the descent can be just as grueling.  Quads, calves, toes, feet and knees all take a beating from the constant downhill pounding.  About halfway down, with our legs growing weary, Young exclaimed "Boy, I wish we had our skis.  Skiing downhill is so much easier!"

Mossy trailhead water tank

As we descended in elevation, the air became warmer.  The layers came off once again.  Finally, we could hear sounds from the adjacent highway.  The ancient water tank located at the trailhead came into view.  Finally finished!  Time to head into town for some beer and grub.

Total stats for the day: 9.8 miles round-trip, 3800 feet elevation gain. 

But my weekend fun was not over yet.  Stay tuned for the next blog post - my wonderful weekend part two.


  1. Wow. Love the fog shots looks like a lot of fun

  2. What a gorgeous hike. Bear seemed to have fun.
    Newt in the snow? Somehow that does not seem to make sense to me. :)
    Love your pics.

  3. Foggy trail junction is an awesome photo. Also the water tank. Looks like it was a great day.


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