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)


  1. ...what hike, thanks for taking me along.

  2. A very scenic trail despite the slightly dodgy weather. The new camera seems to have performed very well too.

  3. Hello, Gorgeous views of the Columbia River. That maple leaf is huge, very pretty. I would love this hike, gorgeous photos. Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

  4. Uma bela caminhada por paisagem de fazer para a respiração pela sua grande beleza.
    Desejo à minha amiga um bom fim-de-semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa

  5. Can see why you love this trail.. the views are breathtaking, as are your captures.
    Glad the showers let up.
    Great post!

  6. I'm a wanna be photo buff but I certainly appreciate your fall photos and all the chatter that goes along with them.

  7. What an awesome hike! I've not heard of this one before. SO it looks like the road portion is on Cape Horn Rd so at least it's not a super busy highway. I think we need to do this one next time we are in Portland!

  8. Like the Cigar Rock shapes and the River Gorge views. Must be a different American mind set over there- I do walking to avoid going to a gym. Never dreamed anyone would be keen enough to do both at the same time :o)

  9. It does look a little damp out there! But spectacular scenery!

  10. Your new camera takes lovely photos, Linda. The misty autumn views are all so beautiful. I'm always sad to see burned trees, but then I know fire can also be beneficial to forests. That maple leaf that Catherine found was GARGANTUAN!!! I would want to frame it.

  11. Spectacular - I think the rain enhanced these moody photos.

  12. Despite the rain you got some terrific views.

  13. What a gorgeous area the Gorge is. I love that big maple leaf! The hanging clouds and mist really add to the photos.

  14. Great pictures - where would we be without rain! We had two months worth this weekend! (really!)

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  15. Some great images there, autumn moving towards winter

  16. How nice to have a hiking partner! This looks like a great loop trail; I'll have to add it to my hiking bucket list.


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