Friday, November 23, 2012

Rain-Free Day on Cape Horn

Luck was with me last Friday.  Not only was it a day off from work, but the weatherman predicted a break in the rain that had been falling nonstop all week.  Of course, you know what I did....

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Mossy forest

Yep, high time for a hike.  Last year in late November, I'd hiked the Cape Horn Trail on the Washington side of the Gorge.  (You can read all about it here.)  It was such a wonderful area, I'd been wanting to visit again. 

Remains of long-fallen leaves

Cape Horn is a tall basalt bluff that towers over the Columbia River.  The views from on top are impressive, extending for miles east and west down the Gorge.  A fairly new trail, my trek of choice looped around this bluff, past clifftop viewpoints, through mossy woods, under the highway, across riverside bluffs, and by a wispy waterfall.  So much variety, this trail offers something for everyone.

Gorge from first viewpoint

The trailhead was dry but extremely windy.  The overcast skies meant not the best summit views.  No matter, I'd come to hike and a little clouds and wind weren't going to change my plans.

Electric green forest

The trail begins in a lush forest of mossy bigleaf maple trees and abundant swordferns.  Although most of the leaves had already fallen from the trees, the green moss and ferns made up of for the lack of fall color.

Climbing up the bluff began immediately.  A narrow, leaf-strewn path switchbacked for a mile until reaching the first of three viewpoints.

Moss-capped fence post

All three viewpoints are spectacular.  Precariously perched on cliff edges, they offered birds-eye glimpses of the Columbia River for miles in each direction.  The Gorge mountains rising up from the river were cloaked in thick white foggy clouds.  But considering today's overcast skies, sights were much better than expected!

Trees silhouetted against the sky

The blasting wind kept me from venturing too close to the bluff edge.  After the requisite photos, Bear and I headed back into the woods to escape the gusts.  Our track dived into a thick forest, glowing green with moss and ferns.

Nancy Russell overlook

After crossing a country road, and trekking across a broad grassy plain, we entered another maple forest.  The trail resumed here, leading visitors to a wonderful new overlook, named after Nancy Russell, a fierce champion of Gorge preservation.

Tea and cookies - hiking staples

The overlook consisted of two circular rock walls, placed in a clearing.  What trees remained had been trimmed to allow visitors to take in the vistas looking east.  The views here were especially grand, with the entire eastern Gorge spread out before you.  Even though the skies were cloudy, it was still a magnificent sight.

Bear wants a cookie too

I broke out my lunch, and perched on one of the low rocks walls to enjoy a bite.  Of course, no hike is complete without tea and cookies, and I made sure to get my daily recommended allowance of both.

Hiker tunnel under Hwy 14

The wind and cold shortened my lunch hour considerably.  It didn't take long for my hands to get chilled.  Time to get out of the wind again.  Bear and I headed downhill towards Highway 14.  On this trail, we ran into a man and his dog (coincidentally another Border Collie), the only other person I saw the entire day.  Reaching the highway, I was delighted to find the trail now crosses under the road via a brand-new tunnel.

Clifftop trail

Although the path over the bluff is wonderful, the portion of the trail below the highway is by far the best part.  After descending from the highway, it comes out on top of a high cliff overlooking the Columbia River.  Although the views on top were good, seeing the Gorge from riverbank-level was even better.

Birds-eye view of railroad tracks

I'd heard there was an overlook where one could look down on the railroad tracks as they exit a tunnel.  Last time I hiked here, my party somehow missed this viewpoint.  But today, I luckily stumbled across it.  And even better, the sun peeked out from a gap in the clouds right after my arrival.  I waited around on top for a couple of minutes, hoping to see a train.  But a brief sunbreak was all I got (not that I'm complaining!)

Magnificent Gorge view

Heading back from the train track overlook, I came up the most stunning cliff top viewpoint.  The Gorge's vertical walls lined up for miles upriver.  They looked like tall, blue ghosts, keeping watch on the Columbia.  The river spread out, sparkling with foamy whitecaps (it was still quite windy).  And, best of all, the sunbreak I'd enjoyed was still going strong.  The sun's rays lighting up the scene produced vivid colors - icing on the cake.

Cigar rock

One of the tall basalt cliffs sported an unusual rock formation, called cigar rock.  As you can see, it's not hard to tell where that name came from!

Ferns sprout from the rock slope

Leaving the viewpoint, Bear and I wandered across a large rockslide, the path through it lined with neon green ferns.  We came upon a tall, wispy waterfall spilling down a massive rock wall.  There was still a bit of fall color on the adjacent trees, which provided the perfect accent.

Wispy waterfall

Past the waterfall, our path continued through the remainder of the woods, finally coming out on a local road.  The only monotonous part of the hike, I had to follow it for 1.3 miles, before crossing the highway via another awesome tunnel back to the car.

A great day to be outside, revisiting a favorite trail.  And I escaped the rain once again!

Hiking stats:  7 miles round-trip, 1300 feet elevation gain.

Linking to:  Sunny Simple Sunday.


  1. One of the things I most appreciate about your love for hiking is that you hike even when your weather conditions aren't perfect. These pics are beautiful even amongst the overcast skies and believe me, I know that hiking in the wind is rarely pleasant. But it's still better than sitting at home, or heaven forbid, going to a mall!!! My favorite pic is the Clifftop photo. Bear is looking back at you like, "come on, mom...enough with the pictures!" Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

  2. Beautiful pictures. Such a pretty place to hike and your photos are always so excellent.

  3. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. I love how you took your tea and cookies with you! Great pictures!

  4. Is there any chocolate involved with those cookies? And I'm a big fan of hot tea. Another stunning hike!

  5. Beautiful photos of the Gorge. I love the scenery there. Loved Bear. He is a cool looking dog.

    Yael from Home Garden Diggers

  6. Enjoyed going along with you on the hike. How great to have the company of Bear. Thanks for visiting my site. I think the word 'snap' is appropriate now that I have seen your blog!

  7. Looks like a nice hike -Bear seems to enjoy the views as Kelley does.

  8. What a great hike, lovely photos. And I agree with you about enjoying a Porter, although I try to avoid beer these days because of the calories and carbs.

  9. Beautiful. Hope bear got some cookie


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