Friday, June 8, 2012

Three Corner Rock - Mud and Fog

I'm fortunate to have a flexible work schedule, with every other Friday off.  These Fridays are regarded as "bonus days" and thus I make sure they're used for fun activities (no wasting them doing chores!).  This past Friday found me with a day off but no plans.  Time for a hike!

My well-worn hiking bible

As some of you know, my long-time goal is to hike all 100 hikes in William L. Sullivan's "100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon" book.  I bought his first edition back in 1994.  Although the book has been updated several times since then, I still use the original first printing as my guide.  Friday I consulted with my "hiking bible" for another hike I'd yet to complete.  Three Corner Rock popped to the top the list. 

The muddy road

The trailhead for this hike is located on the Washington side of the Gorge, near the town of Stevenson.  After crossing the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods, and turning off on a road that passed Skamania Lodge, Sullivan's directions led me to a long, winding gravel forest service road.  The trailhead was near a junction, 9.5 miles down this road.  At first, all was fine.  My Subaru Outback loves gravel roads, and easily churned through the thick layer of aggregate a road grader had just spread.  The road kept gaining elevation, sometimes rather steeply, but my car climbed it no problem.  The scenery was beautiful, and I had the place to myself.  All was right with the world.

Nice forest path

Then, about six miles later, my car encountered what I thought was another deep gravel layer.  I soon discovered it was not.  Attempting to climb through the muck, my Subie lost traction and started to slide, fishtailing as it struggled to regain a grip on the road. This wasn't gravel - it was mud!   Thick, sticky mud. Uh-oh!

Thanks to all-wheel drive, I powered through the boggy mess.  Thinking maybe this was an isolated incident, I continued on.  But no, around the next corner another mudpit awaited.  And another slip-n-slide to get through it.  This pattern continued for several more miles.    

The avalanche lilies were out in force!

I began to get worried.  There I was, all by myself, on an extremely muddy road. Not seeing anyplace to turn around, I had to keep going. I told myself "whatever you do, don't get stuck." I didn't have cell reception, and it was a long walk out.

But my Subie performed amazingly.  It muscled through that mud no problem.  I kept driving further down the road, hitting more and more deep pockets of slime.  But my car cut through it like butter.  It started to feel like I was in a Subaru commercial!  (Subaru, if you're reading this, give me a call)

Pretty bleeding hearts

I hit the 9.5 mile mark, but the junction was nowhere to be found.  I had to keep driving, as there wasn't anywhere to turn around (and I didn't want to get stuck trying!).  I must've driven another half mile at least, getting more and more worried, when I finally came upon the much-anticipated fork in the road.  Just a short half mile down a secondary gravel road - and there at last was the trailhead.  Yahoo!

Rain-speckled trillium

My car was the only vehicle in a small parking pullout.  The sky was thick with clouds, the fog rolling in.  It looked like it could rain at any minute.  Thinking of the boggy road I'd just driven to get here (and would have to drive again on the return trip) I realized more precip would likely make it impassible.  If it started raining, I'd probably be stuck.

Still snow on the trail

To hike or not to hike?  I thought long and hard. With so much time and effort expended to reach this point, it would be a shame to turn around and leave right away.  And I really wanted to check this hike off my list.  I finally shouldered my pack and started up the trail, promising myself to turn around if any rain began to fall.

My pup in the flowers

The trail began in a lovely forest, dressed in its best spring green.  Although the climbing began right away, the path was well-graded and never became too steep.  The wildflowers burst out of the forest floor from the get-go - frilly white avalanche lilies, trilliums, and deep pink bleeding hearts.

Amazing flower patch

But thick fog descended almost immediately, and didn't let up the entire way.  After a mile, I passed a side trail to what looked to be a viewpoint.   Sadly, there was nothing to see but white.

Foggy steps lead to the top

About a half mile from the spur trail to the summit, Bear and I encountered our first snowbank.  It's been a cold spring here in the PNW, and the snow has been slow to melt.  As I climbed closer to the summit, the snow patches became more numerous.

Views?  What views?

Finally, I reached an old road that would lead me to Three Corner Rock's summit.  The ancient track was a mixture of snow and deep, slimy mud.  Arrghhh!  Not mud again!  And this time I didn't have my Subie.  But we were too close to stop now, so Bear and I waded through the muck.

Nothing to see here

The top of the mountain was in a thick fog bank.  Landmarks were hard to discern, and it was a little difficult to determine Three Corner Rock's summit location.  Luckily, I had my map and guidebook, otherwise I think I'd have missed the trail.  I found the trail hewn through the rocks, and then steps concreted into a boulder field that got me within 12 feet of the summit proper.

The sky began clearing as I hiked back down

Hooray!  Success!  I scrambled the final 12 vertical feet to the very top of Three Corner Rock.  But my victory was for naught.  Due to the fog, there were no views to be had that day.  No reward for my climb through the forest, snow and mud.  I was left admiring the foundation blocks from a long-gone fire lookout tower. 

Love this ultra-green forest

So after a quick lunch break, and a couple of self portraits in the fog, Bear and I headed back down.  Following the foggy road, I almost missed the return trail turnoff.  If it wasn't for Bear starting down this path as I marched on by, I would've missed it entirely.  My dog is better than a gps!

One final trillium

Traveling back through the forest, I noticed the sky beginning to brighten.  The fog started to lift.  By the time I reached the viewpoint again, there was actually a view to see.  And it was some great scenery.  The forest stretched out for miles, and I could now see the distant green hills.  Too bad things couldn't have cleared off while I was sitting on top of Three Corner Rock.

Another hike checked off in the book!

I made my way back to the trailhead, where I discovered another car - a Prius of all things - parked next to my Subie.  And I thought, if a Prius can make it down that nasty, muddy, road I should have no trouble getting back out.  And I didn't.  But, boy did the bottom of my car get coated with mud!  Back at home, I spent the better part of 30 minutes spraying it out of my wheel wells.  Then it took another half hour just to clean all the mud off the driveway!

No matter, it was a good adventure.  And another hike to check off in my book.  I'll have to make a return trip someday, to see the views I missed.  But I think next time I'll wait for drier weather.  :)


  1. As always beautiful photos. I love all the wildflowers and I think your pup looks like he was loving the hike too!

  2. I've been reading your blog for over a month now and I eagerly await each new post. Your photography and writing style, transport me to your amazingly beautiful state. Todays shots of the wildflowers are no exception.
    So glad the day ended without being stuck in the mud.

  3. How gorgeous. I have family in OR and WA and my nephew is an avid hiker in WA. We are headed to OR in a couple of weeks for vacation. Can't wait. OR is God's country to me. Love it there. Thanks for linkin up!

  4. Years ago, we lived in SW Washington -- your photos and descriptions brought back many, many nice memories. Wonderful post :)


  5. Hi Christy - Good to hear from you! Gail and Elaine - welcome! Thanks for your great comments. Hi Helen - thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you're enjoying my blog - I love creating these posts and am happy people are reading them. Thanks everyone for stopping by! :)

  6. Your forest pictures are stunning. Yeah on Nother hike dibe


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