Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dog Mountain in November

While hiking Hamilton Mountain, I received a text from my friend Young asking "We have a group hiking Dog Mountain tomorrow, want to join us?"  Hmmm......two days of hiking in a row.  Could my foot (and my body) hold up?  It might be pushing things a little.  But I hadn't hiked with Young for weeks and really wanted to reconnect with my friend.

You probably know what I decided!

"Let's go!"

So I spent that night hastily drying my boots, pack, and hiking clothes.  The next morning I re-loaded backpack and camera bag while waiting for Steve and Joel, part of the day's hiking group, to pick me up.  We met up with Young and her husband John at the Dog Mountain Trailhead, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.

Carpet of fallen leaves

Dog Mountain is an extremely steep trail, best known for it's amazing wildflower displays in the spring.  (Check out photos of the bloom here)  Without fail I hike it nearly every May, but have never even thought to visit any other time of the year.  Certainly not on a cloudy, gray, mid-November day.

Mossy forest

The trail began with a bang, shooting nearly straight up from the very beginning.  After slogging up it's relentless switchbacks for a long half mile, the trail comes to a junction where hikers have the choice of either taking the "difficult" or "more difficult" path.  From many trips up the mountain, we all knew that the "difficult" route was also much more scenic.

Snack break below the summit

Young along with the men - John, Steve and Joel - kept up a strong pace.  Not wanting to fall behind my photo breaks became few and far between.  But we all stopped for a snack break about a mile below Dog Mountain's summit and I snapped a couple quick shots of the surrounding forest.  Dense, moss-covered trees seemed to lean in, closing off any views of the sky. 

Coming down the Augsberger Trail

Not that views mattered much on this gloomy day.  As my group climbed the last few hundred feet to the first viewpoint, we discovered the river below cloaked in dense clouds.  Not much to see here.  I marveled at how different the famous flower meadows looked in late fall, the balsamroot stalks shriveled and brown.

Talus slope

Our group continued the steep climb to Dog Mountain's summit proper.  Although the initial plan was to eat lunch on top, strong cold winds made us reconsider.  Steve suggested we retrace our steps and take advantage of calmer winds at a lower elevation.  So the decision was made to follow the Augspurger Mtn Trail until we came upon a wind-sheltered area. 

Wonderful golden leaves

We found lunch spots to be few and far between.  Hungry and ready for a break, my group finally ended up sitting right on the trail.  Although on a busy spring day, this wouldn't have worked very well, today's hiker traffic was light enough that we only had to move out of the way twice.  Everyone pulled out their thermoses of hot tea - except for Joel who enjoyed a very delicious-smelling chicken tortilla soup (made my mouth water!)

The photo ops were many!

Then it was down, down, down the not-as-steep Augspurger path.  The men surged ahead, while Young and I took our time, occasionally stopping to admire the fall leaves (and take a few photos).  They were quite colorful!  I wasn't prepared to see such nice autumn foliage.  What an unexpected surprise.

One more leaf image

When we caught up to the men taking a break, I whipped out my camera and took as many photos of the bright orange and yellow hues as I could manage.

The guys take a break

Returning my camera to it's bag, Young and I continued to chase the guys downhill.  I marveled at the beauty of this nearly bare forest.  I'd only ever seen it in the spring, green with new growth and wildflowers popping out everywhere.  But this fall version was just as wonderful.

Colorful oak leaves

I passed a huge patch of golden oak leaves.

Looking down towards the Gorge

At one overlook, the clouds parted just enough to give me decent views of the Columbia River and steep cliffs of the Gorge.

Lone backlit leaf

This last little leaf appeared to be hanging on for dear life.

Young admires the colors

I caught Young admiring a brilliant yellow tree whose color appeared to light up the entire forest.

The Columbia River is in view

The last mile is always the toughest, and Young reminded me of our mantra - "Think of the beer!" The promise of our customary post-hike brewpub stop got me through the final downhill shuffle.  By now my sore toe was beginning to ache (two days of hiking in a row was a bit much I guess).

Beer time!

Beer tastes best after a long tough hike!  And it's even better when shared with good hiking buddies.  Thanks everyone for a great day in the woods.

Stats:  7 miles, 2900 feet elevation gain

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rainy Day on Hamilton Mtn

I either like hiking in the rain or I'm a glutton for punishment.  Or maybe after being on "light hiking duty" for most of October, was so desperate I didn't care about the weather.  Whatever the case, not only did I decide to hit the trail on a day when rain was forecast, I also convinced my friend Catherine to join me.

Foggy forest

After beating the weather odds at Cape Horn the week before, I was optimistic we'd get lucky again.  I chose the next trail east on the Washington side of the Gorge, Hamilton Mountain.

However, driving to the trailhead in a monstrous downpour brought out the doubts for both of us.  To delay our start, we stopped in Cascade Locks for coffee and cookies.  Finally arriving at the trailhead, we sat in the car, sipped our drinks, and watched fat raindrops hammer the windshield.  I joked to Catherine she wouldn't want to hike with me anymore after this.

This way to Hamilton Mtn!

We got lucky again - our coffee break killed just enough time to allow the shower to pass.  Things cleared up just as we were readying to hit the trail.

Spooky woods

Hamilton Mountain is another classic Gorge hike.  Climbing 2000 feet in an 8-mile round trip, it passes by a unique waterfall, ascends a cliff edge with some amazing Gorge panoramas, crosses an open saddle boasting mountain views, and finally winds back through a lovely alder forest.

The rain catches up to us

Catherine and I began our hike in thick, foggy woods.  Although dark and spooky, the atmosphere made for some great photo ops.

Pool of Winds overlook

After about a mile, we came upon Rodney Falls and the unique "Pool of Winds."  As Hardy Creek drops over a tall basalt cliff, it's flow becomes momentarily trapped in rocky cavern.  The swirling water creates it's own wind, roaring out of the confined space.  It's quite a sight!  See the video below to experience it for yourself.  (Although not as good as being there in person)

After several days of rain, the water was absolutely gushing down the rock walls.  Not wanting to drench my camera, I opted to use my waterproof GoPro to capture the action.  But even that camera got soaked in the process.

Woods below the falls

After taking in the wet, but mighty sight of this unique water feature, Catherine and I retraced our steps to the bottom of Rodney Falls, crossing it's base on a large log footbridge.

Footbridge below Rodney Falls

We also stopped to admire the falls from this lower vantage point.

A very nice sturdy bridge!

About this time, the "liquid sunshine" decided it wasn't done with us yet, prompting Catherine and I to pull up our jacket hoods.  Perfect opportunity for a "hiking in the rain" lesson for my friend - wear gaiters, waterproof boots, and invest in a rainproof cover for your backpack (I also place my gear inside a dry bag that goes into my backpack - just in case the rain cover fails).

Nothing to see but clouds

From the falls, our trail climbed steeply up the side of Hamilton Mountain, following a ridge that usually provides stunning views of the Columbia River and Oregon side of the Gorge.  Well, not today.

Thick fog envelops the forest

Thick fog and low clouds obscured most of the scenery.  We were left to imagine what things looked like down below the white muck.

One fleeting view of the Oregon side

At one point, a rare clearing gave us quick glimpses of the scenery we were missing.

Lots of golden leaves

Although just shy of two miles, the steep trek up to Hamilton Mountain's summit seems to take forever.  The switchbacks were endless.  Hungry and wet, Catherine and I were more than ready for a break.

Leaf close-up

Another lucky break - by the time we reached the summit the rain had stopped.  My friend and I enjoyed a dry lunch, sipping hot tea and munching on tasty treats.

Mossy branches

That lunch break was just what we needed!  Batteries recharged, Catherine and I were ready to tackle the rest of the trail.  From Hamilton's summit, we elected to do the loop, winding down through a lovely, mossy forest, full of colorful yellow leaves yet to drop.

The saddle almost completely socked in

Then we crossed an open saddle.  Usually the views from here can't be beat - nearby Table Mountain and Mt Adams fill the skyline.  But not today.  We could barely see our hands in front of our faces.  Oh well, at least it wasn't windy.

Leaf hanging on for dear life

From the saddle, I directed Catherine down "Don's Cutoff Trail" that zig-zagged steeply through a thick, mossy forest until we reached an old road.

Mid-trail outhouse!

Along this road is the best surprise - an outhouse!  Out in the middle of nowhere!  How often does one find a potty in the woods?  Of course, I had to take advantage of these luxurious facilities.  This privy was fully stocked with tp - even the hand sanitizer dispenser was full.  (A gal could get spoiled real quickly....)

Picnic area by Hardy Creek

The ancient road led us to a crossing of Hardy Creek and a lovely picnic spot on it's banks, complete with a table.

Wonderful fall forest

Then it was back into the woods again via another trail.  The forests here are my most favorite of the entire hike.  Thick alder trees line both sides of the footpath.  Although many leaves had fallen, there were plenty still clinging to partially bare branches.

A bit of red-orange

Lots of photo breaks may have happened.......

This was the best fall colors of them all

Finally our path intersected back with the main Hamilton Mountain trail.  From this point, it was a quick hop, skip and jump back down to Rodney Falls and the lovely log footbridge.

Enjoying the splendor

Of course the rain wasn't done with us, and returned with a vengeance.  Our jackets and backpacks, partially dried from the weather break, were instantly soaked once again.

Back to the bridge

Oh well, it was only a mile or so back to the parking lot where dry clothes and a warm car awaited.  And the wet, foggy forest was really lovely.  Not only that, the crummy weather kept the crowds at bay.  We only saw a handful of people all day, on what is normally an extremely popular Gorge trail (even more so now, since the Oregon trails are still closed from September's big fire).

A fine day!

Catherine and I survived our wet outing (and I think she's still willing to hike with me.)  Best of all, my injured toe did wonderfully - no pain whatsoever!  Yahoo!

Another great day to be out in nature.  A little rain never hurt anyone, right?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Raindrop Dodging at Cape Horn

The first Sunday in November dawned gray and drizzly, although the forecast promised midday clearing.  Hungry for another fall color hike, I decided to try for a late morning departure, after my Sunday morning weight class at the gym.

Wet, mossy forest

My hiking buddy Catherine visits the same gym (that's how we met!).  Hoping she'd be attending today's class, I toyed with the idea of inviting her along - It's always more fun to have a companion on the trail.  However, I was afraid it might be too short notice.

As luck would have it, Catherine did show up.  After casually mentioning that I was thinking of fitting in an afternoon hike, she replied "I don't mean to invite myself, but I'd love to come along!"  Well....sometimes things just work themselves out, don't they?

Brief sunbreak

So after class I raced home, changed clothes, and stuffed my backpack with water, hot tea, and ample snacks.  The skies appeared to be clearing as I drove to our designated meet-up spot.  Maybe we'd escape the rain after all.

Due to the late morning start, I chose a location as close to Portland/Vancouver as you can get - Washington's scenic Cape Horn Trail.

Columbia River from on high

Due to September's devastating Eagle Creek Fire, most of the Oregon Gorge trails were still off-limits.  Lucky for us hike-deprived Oregonians, the Washington side offered quite a few good choices, Cape Horn being one of my favorites.  A fairly short trail, it packed a lot of scenery in it's 7-mile loop.

Looking towards the Eastern Gorge

After a dry drive to the trailhead, Catherine and I were just about ready to shoulder our packs when the clouds opened up and began dumping rain.  Huddled under my Subaru's rear hatchback door, we dubiously eyed the skies.  Was this just a quick shower or would it continue all afternoon?  Was this hike really a good idea?  After waiting five minutes with no sign of letting up, we finally decided to bite the bullet and get on with our plans.  After all, that's what raingear is for.

Forest on top of the cliff

The Cape Horn Trail starts in a lovely bigleaf maple forest.  Although by now most of the leaves had dropped from the trees, bare mossy branches and plentiful ferns made up for any lack of green foliage.  As we traversed the first switchback, the rain miraculously stopped.  We even witnessed a few fleeting minutes of sunshine when the sun quickly peeked through the clouds.

Nancy Russell viewpoint

The trail's first mile climbs steeply up the side of a ridge before leveling out on top of a high cliff.  Three dizzying viewpoints provide breathtaking birds-eye views of the Columbia River Gorge in all directions.

Fantastic views from here!

It was here Catherine and I got our first good look at the fire-damaged Oregon side.  I was relieved to see many large green patches of forest had survived.  Although it appeared the blaze hop-scotched across the Gorge's steep cliffs, we were able to recognize a few areas that looked pretty toasted.  The Angel's Rest Trail looked particularly hard hit.  Probably no hiking there for awhile.

Fire damage on the Oregon side

After soaking in the views - which, considering the cloudy, wet weather were not too shabby, Catherine and I followed a woodsy path off the summit and down an abandoned road.  We passed a couple of private homes, crossed a country lane, and plunged back into another mossy forest on the other side.

A mosaic of color

A half mile past the road crossing we came upon the best viewpoint of the day.  A large stone amphitheater, created in memory of superstar Gorge preservationist Nancy Russell, provided hikers visual access to amazing Gorge panoramas.  Not only was it a great place for photo ops, Catherine and I also took the opportunity to sit down and enjoy some of the snacks we'd packed, including a thermos of my favorite coconut truffle tea.  During our break, a few groups of hikers stopped by and Catherine enjoyed getting to know their dogs (one handsome pooch was even was sporting a raincoat!).

Peaceful woods

Energy restored, it was time to follow the trail as it plunged downhill towards the crossing of highway 14.  The woods here were especially colorful.  A carpet of fallen leaves in orange and yellow covered the trail, while quite a bit of yellow foliage still clung to nearby branches. 

Huge maple leaf!

Catherine won the "big leaf" contest, finding the largest maple leaf of them all!

Explosion of yellow

Although most of the forest was decked out in yellow, I did find a rare tiny bit of red in one area.

I spied some rare red leaves

Although the distance between the overlook and highway was only a half mile, it seemed to take a long time to traverse.  The path twisted and turned, crossing a couple of small creeks before finally reaching the fancy new road undercrossing. 

Highway 14's fancy undercrossing

The first time I'd visited this trail there was no bypass - hikers had to dart across the highway.  It was much nicer now to be able to saunter safely through this beautiful rock-faced tunnel.

Cigar Rock

I love everything about this trail, but the portion on the north side of highway 14 is by far my favorite part. The path roller-coasters through more woods, popping out at a couple of wonderful viewpoints.  Instead of being high above the Columbia, the trail is now down near river level, offering an intimate look at the Gorge.

Ominous view of the river

Not only are the eastward views fantastic, one narrow ledge offers a grand glimpse of cylindrical Cigar Rock.

Crossing the talus slope

Of course, Catherine was enjoying all of this spectacular scenery.  A new trail to her, she was already making plans to take her daughter back for a repeat visit.

Mighty Columbia through the trees

Below the highway, our path snaked along the Columbia's banks, sometimes turning and running in the opposite direction for a short distance, then switchbacking and heading where we'd been.  We crossed a mossy talus field, with some final views of the river and Oregon side of the Gorge.

Wispy waterfall

The grand finale - crossing below this tall, wispy waterfall spilling from high atop a basalt cliff.

Admiring the beauty

Our day's journey ended with a 1.3 mile road walk.  Not exactly a great way to finish such a wonderful trail.  However, this was where having a companion really helped eased the monotony.  Catherine and I chattered away, and before we knew it, the road crossing and parking lot came into view.

Great day to be outside, taking in the views and fall colors.  And aside from the soaking rain shower at the very beginning, our entire hike was dry.

(P.S.  For you photo buffs out there, all these images were taken on my new Fujifilm XT-1 mirrorless camera)