|Sunlight filters through the forest|
Precipitation has been miserly, showering the mountains with token amounts of snow - only to be washed away by rain a day later. December temperatures hovered well above normal, assuring that whatever snow survived wouldn't stick around long. So far this un-winter has wreaked havoc on the local snowpack. With minimal amounts of the white stuff, skiing hasn't been great.
That's why when the forecast one mid-January Saturday predicted warm temps and more dry skies, I opted to skip the slopes for a hike in the Gorge.
|A slight sign alteration...|
I sent out email invites to both Catherine and Young, thinking one of the two would accept. But - surprise, surprise - both of them replied yes. Not only my two girlfriend hiking buddies, by the time Catherine and I met Young at the trailhead, we found she'd also invited her hubby John, and friends Steve and Joel. Yahoo - the Dog Mountain Group was back together again! And, to round out our merry band, Steve and Joel brought along their long-time friend and neighbor Don.
|Modeling my new backpack|
Santa had left a fat REI gift card in my stocking. I cashed it in for a brand-new backpack, and today would be it's maiden voyage (or hike). My companions oohed and aahed in admiration - except for John who jokingly said my pristine backpack needed some dirt rubbed onto it (and offered to do the honors).
|A quick break|
With the Oregon Gorge hiking trails still closed, I again looked to our northern neighboring state. Hardy Ridge, on the Washington side, became the day's destination. A wonderful scenic ridge run, I'd hiked it plenty of times in the spring and fall. But today would be my first wintertime visit.
|Made it to the sign!|
Our group started out on an old abandoned road, climbing a gradual uphill. Lovely bright sunlight filtered through the trees, warming the air. Thinking we'd encounter cold temperatures, I'd dressed in my warm ski clothes (this was January after all). It didn't take long before our entire crew took it's first "clothing break" to strip off a layer.
|The views begin....|
We continued to the first trail junction, where a snack and second clothing break were in order. I always take photos of the trail signs and while focusing on the one marking our junction, noticed a slight alteration. Someone had painted over part of the "w" in "lower loop" so it now read "lover loop." (Tee-hee!)
|Admiring the fabulous sights|
Up another road our happy hiker group climbed, through more beautiful forest. Although the deciduous trees were stark and leafless, numerous conifers provided plenty of green. Plus the forest floor was full of ferns, and bright green moss covered adjacent rocks and branches.
Finally leaving the road for good, we hit the steep uphill portion of our hike. This trail rocketed upward, through multiple switchbacks. If we weren't hot already, this climb did the trick. I stripped down to my long sleeve base layer, chiding myself for not slipping a short sleeve t-shirt underneath. And wearing my insulated hiking pants was also not the best decision. (Who would've thought we'd get such warm temperatures on a hike - in January?)
|The men walking through a bare, mossy patch|
After quite a bit of elevation gain (and lots of sweat) my friends and I reached the beginning of the ridgetop, and our first viewpoint. And it was a grand one! The Columbia River, shining like a blue ribbon was far below, nestled in the green cliffs of the Gorge. The day's relatively clear skies meant views stretched far east and west. It was Catherine's first time on Hardy Ridge, and by the huge smile on her face, I could tell she was enjoying herself.
|The Columbia River far below|
But we weren't done yet. My group followed a unofficial scramble trail that roller-coastered across Hardy Ridge, dipping down and clambering back up a few small forested knolls.
|One last ridge to climb|
Breaking out of the forest for the final time, the last half mile of our hike was across a wide open ridge, showcasing the adjacent scenery. More grand Gorge views, plus Table Mountain and the tip of Mt Adams. But the best was yet to come.....
|Up we go!|
Our final climb was a steep slog up a talus slope, with a few remaining snow patches to navigate. So weird to see this area nearly snow-free - in January!
|More views to admire|
But once we reached the top, it was an easy trek across the ridge to Phlox Point, our lunch spot.
Sunny skies, warm temps, no wind, and fantastic views of the Gorge and Columbia River. And no rain! (Or snow) Phlox Point remains one of my favorite places for an outdoor picnic.
|Enjoying clear skies and warm temps|
Can you believe this is January? It felt more like a day in late spring.
|The Gorge and river|
While the gang was refueling, I prowled along the ridge, snapping a few images of the fantastic panorama below.
|View to the west|
Still lots of green out there for winter - even the moss was vibrant!
|Walking the ridge|
After a relaxing break, it was time for my favorite part of the hike - the return trip. White-capped Mt Hood stood front and center, framing our view as we marched back across the ridge.
|Wonderful Mt Hood views|
Some of my favorite photos of the day came from this portion of the hike.
|Heading back down|
Slowly we wound back down, lingering at some of the more impressive viewpoints. It's a rare day to get clear skies and no wind on Hardy Ridge - especially in winter.
|One last glimpse of Hood|
For the return trip, my group opted to take a different trail that zig-zagged down through a dense forest. Not much to take photos of, so my camera remained stashed in its bag. That is, until we passed by the famous "boot rock." I pointed out this local hiking landmark to Catherine, who eagerly agreed to be my photo model.
|Catherine found "Boot Rock"|
The only downside to this hike is the final road walk seems endless (I swear it's the work of the "trail stretchers"). By now everyone was hot, tired, and more than ready for our traditional post-hike beer.
|Hiking through sunshine|
But the sunshine and warm weather were a welcome surprise on this winter's day. How often does one get to hike in their shirt sleeves - in January?