Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Hike Through the Burn Zone

Regular blog readers will remember my posts about the Eagle Creek Fire, which devastated the Columbia River Gorge in September of 2017.  (For more info see this Wikipedia Link).  Many of my favorite hiking trails in the fire's path sustained severe damage and had to be closed.  However, due to some hard work from Forest Service crews and many volunteer organizations, these trails have been slowly reopening.

Fire aftermath

One of the first trails to be opened to the public was the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Cascade Locks south.  Although it had been cleared and deemed safe for access since June 2018, I chose a rainy mid-January day to finally check things out.

PCT trailhead at Cascade Locks

Only a short distance from the start of the Eagle Creek fire, the small town of Cascade Locks was greatly impacted.  With the fire literally licking at it's outskirts, a large portion of of this sleepy burg was evacuated for weeks.  Although thankfully no homes or businesses burned, the forest surrounding Cascade Locks took a direct hit.

Lots of brown and black

I began my reconnaissance at the Cascade Locks PCT trailhead adjacent to the famous Bridge of the Gods.  After darting across the busy road leading to this bridge I followed the trail as it ducked under I-84 and climbed a local road to the trail's "official" beginning.

Glittering raindrops

The fire damage started almost immediately.  Blackened trunks lined the trail, with countless downed trees littering the forest floor.  Many homes bordered this wooded area, and I was stunned to see how close the fire had come to their back doors.

A few spots of green

Lucky for me, the rain let up soon after I started my journey.  But the damp weather created a thick fog that hung in the forest.  With a backdrop of black, ghostly trees it created a downright spooky environment.

Foggy, ghostly forest

After winding through grove after grove of dead, black tree trunks, I started seeing small patches of white on the forest floor.  Snow!  Remnants of the last bout of freezing precip it created a tiny bit of beauty in an otherwise dismal scene.

A bit of snow

Despite the charred forest, I managed to find a bit of beauty in the raindrop-spangled branches drooping over my trail.

Raindrops sparkle from bare brances

And I was happy to find a few moss-covered trees that were somehow spared from the flames.

Not all the moss got burned

The untouched portions of this forest were wearing their best mossy winter green.

Snow and moss

Loved this tree's mossy branches

However as I approached the turn off to Dry Creek Falls I came upon a section of forest totally destroyed by the fire.  Truly heartbreaking to see!

Utter devastation

The PCT intersected with a wide road.  A quarter mile romp up this road led hikers to Dry Creek Falls.

Dry Creek Falls

This lovely cascade plunges 74 feet from an impressive basalt cliff into the creek below.  With the Columbia River Gorge boasting so many beautiful waterfalls, Dry Creek Falls often gets overlooked.

Proof I was there

I was lucky that day and had the area to myself for nearly an entire half hour.  Enough time to take lots of photos (and a couple selfies to prove I was there). 

Dry Creek near the PCT

When another party showed up, I took this as my cue to move on.  Since it's only two miles to Dry Creek Falls from Cascade Locks, I decided to continue southward on the PCT.  The Pinnacles, an unusual rock formation, was another two-ish miles away.

More blackened forest

Returning to the PCT from Dry Creek Falls side trail, I crossed the creek on a nice wooden bridge (which was somehow spared from the fire).  However, it didn't take long before I was back in the burn zone, trekking through more forests of blackened tree trunks.

Toasted tree roots

One poor tree had it's roots totally exposed and burned.

Lone tree with a black base

Many trees only had their bases burned.  Not sure if they'll survive or not.

Finally the Pinnacles!

Having hiked to the Pinnacles once before, I thought they were only a short distance away.  But the "short distance" seemed to take forever to reach.  About the time I was seriously considering turning around, I spotted their rocky peaks between the trees.

Green trail

These tall moss-covered rock formations are a unique landmark.  I was happy to see healthy, green forest surrounding the area.

The Pinnacles close up

After a quick snack break, I headed back, retracing my steps through the forest (or what was left of it).  I found a few dented PCT trail markers that had survived the inferno. 

Surviving PCT marker

Rain was threatening again, so I made haste back to the trailhead.  Not many photo breaks on the return trip, but I'd pretty well documented things with my first pass.

PCT bridge over Dry Creek

It was a great day to be out in the woods!  Although the fire damage was sobering, I saw signs of recovery, from ferns poking up through the underbrush to moss beginning to re-coat tree trunks.

Hike no 2 done!  Nine miles through the always scenic Columbia River Gorge.


  1. Oh dear the poor trees but I love the raindrops. they are like diamond drop ear rings.

  2. It will be interesting to see how quickly the forest recovers, though I rather like some of the spooky shots you've taken.

  3. A gloomy, damp day might well have been the best day to return to this devastated area of the Columbia Gorge.

  4. I think it will be neat to see your documentation of the forests recovery over the next few years. Love the photo of the exposed roots and contrasting green. The pinnacles are cool too!

  5. Hello, looks like a great hike. It is sad to see the burn area. The waterfalls is gorgeous. I love the mossy trees and the foggy scenes are pretty. Happy Monday, have a great day and new week ahead!

  6. should be interesting to see spring forth with new life!

  7. Good to see signs of life appearing once more.

  8. Pretty tough hike in length and sad to see so many trees burnt.I worked in Yellowstone after a big fire there, and it was fun to see it return.

  9. Some very atmospheric photos of the burned forest no doubt when you go back again in a few years the froest will be regrowing

  10. I love the beauty of the Gorge and was horrified when the fire consumed so much acreage. I'm glad to see some greenery returning. You were lucky to hike on a damp day. We hiked the burn zone on the Colorado Trail one windy summer day and had to turn back because of all the blowing ash.

  11. The mist and burned trees are certainly spooky. Wildfires are so strange how they burn some places and leave others nearby untouched - I've had too much experience seeing that in my part of the country.

  12. Trail crews work so hard. I'm so grateful for them.

  13. Wow, these images are quite intense! The images are beautiful but also sobering.

  14. Oh I remember hiking this after you dropped me off and then camping alone in the creepy forest. It's probably way more creepy now. I don't remember the Pinnacles! I must have been too focused on beating the sunset.

  15. What a beautiful hike - even with all the devastation, its still such a beautiful place. Hope it heals fast!

  16. It's always sad to see an area after a fire. Still there is beauty there to be found. Loved the droplets of rain from the trees and the gorgeous falls.

  17. Thank you for the hike, the forest will be back in all it's glory someday!

  18. Love the falls! The burnt forest is sobering.


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