Sunday, December 6, 2020

Hamilton Mtn, Once Again

I've established a yearly tradition.  On November 11th (which is Veteran's Day here in the US) I always hike the Hamilton Mountain Trail.  Located on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, I normally avoid this wildly popular trail during summer months.  However, by mid-November things usually quiet down enough for me to venture a visit.


Morning Gorge view at Cape Horn
I invited my friend Catherine to join me for the yearly romp.  Due to COVID precautions we decided to drive separate vehicles and agreed upon a trailhead meetup at the ungodly early hour of 8 am.  But one of the unexpected advantages of this predawn start - catching sunrise in the Gorge while driving Hwy 14 over Cape Horn.

Sunrise colors reflected in the river


Rendezvousing in the parking lot, Catherine and I chattered away, catching up on each other's lives.  With only a few vehicles parked at this early hour, I noticed a young man carrying a full size American flag head off towards the trail.  Possibly a veteran himself?


Colorful leaves


Boots on, backpacks loaded, it was time to tackle the trail!  Catherine and I headed out through a dense forest bursting with wonderful fall color.


View ahead to Hamilton Mtn summit


Not far from the trailhead, we passed through a clearing for large powerlines, providing great views of the day's destination - Hamilton Mountain's summit.


Beautiful forest colors


Then it was back into the lovely autumn forest for another half mile before reaching Rodney Falls and it's impressive top cascade, often referred to the "Pool of Winds."


Looking down from the top of Rodney Falls


The top of this waterfall drops through a narrow chasm in the cliff face.  The force of falling water combined with the rocky bowl's confinement often produces fairly strong winds, and water swirls forcefully through this gap before gushing further downhill.

Rushing creek through the trees


As per usual, Catherine and I hiked to the top of Rodney Falls and peeped through the rock slot, trying to avoid being pelted with water droplets flying out the the chasm.

Rodney Falls

 The autumn-hued forest views from the top of the falls were lovely.  

Colorful creek scene below the falls


Retracing our steps back to the main trail, we made our way across the sturdy log bridge under the lower falls.  Hardy Creek below the bridge looked fabulous, decked out in autumn golds.


Lone leaf


A few wayward leaves stuck to the bridge railing making for fine photo ops.


Sunburst through the forest


As we climbed out of Hardy Creek's canyon, Catherine noticed sunlight breaking through the trees.  It made some pretty sunbursts, which I couldn't resist trying to capture.


Columbia River and Beacon Rock


Beyond the creek crossing our climbing began in earnest.  Up, up, up the many steep switchbacks, our progress was measured by the shrinking Columbia River below.

First big viewpoint

Although we had many glances of our progress though gaps in the forest, our first big viewpoint came about a third of a mile later.  A rocky promontory jutted out above the Gorge affording a fantastic perspective of the Columbia River in both directions and the Oregon side of the Gorge.  Perfect place for some "Instagram-worthy" photo ops too!


Foggy cliffs

Although we'd been lucky with sunny skies conditions changed as we climbed higher.  About halfway up was another fantastic viewpoint featuring high cliffs.  Today the entire area was caught in a fog bank.  It did make for some cool photos - a silver lining since we couldn't see much else.


Walking through the woods below the summit


About a half mile from the summit, Catherine and I ran into the flag-carrying young man from the parking lot, heading back down.  We commended him on his speed and dedication to holding a full-size flag the entire way and found out that, yes indeed he was a veteran.


Uber-mossy trees

Catherine and I also met a couple of women (one with a young boy) heading back down, who had climbed to the summit for sunrise.  Neither of them realized that this hike had a loop option, which I gladly explained to them for next time.

Leaves still hanging the trees

Hamilton Mountain's summit is kind of a disappointment.  It's bushy, tree covered, and doesn't provide many views.  But the vegetation did provide shelter from the winds, and made a nice place to take a break.  But as Catherine and I were sitting down to an early lunch, the clouds decided to pelt us with tiny ice pellets.  What a dirty trick!


Impressive Gorge view from the saddle


In my opinion, the best part of the Hamilton Mountain trail is the loop hike past a wide-open saddle area.  I commented to Catherine that the women we'd talked to on the trail were really missing out just hiking an out-and-back trek from the summit.  


Looking back at the saddle

After finishing our lunch, my friend and I headed off the summit, passing through forest and tunnels of mossy vegetation for 3/4 miles until coming out on the most impressive viewpoint of them all - a treeless saddle providing sweeping panoramas of the Columbia River, Gorge, and adjacent Table Mountain.  On clear days, the tips of Mt Hood and Adams are also visible.  Although we didn't see the mountains that day, swirling clouds and fog made for some great dramatic images.


Sign selfie

 Also, this lone sign at the trail junction makes a great selfie spot!


Trail junction

Then it was back downhill through more mossy woods, to an overgrown road, past a lone outhouse (so much appreciated!) until another trail junction near upper Hardy Creek.


Leaf-littered bridge


Catherine and I dived back into the woods, through mostly barren trees and leaf-littered bridges.


Barren forest


In previous years this portion of the trek has been full of gorgeous fall color, but unfortunately this year I hit it too late.  But even without leafy trees, I still found lots of good stuff to photograph.


Leaf collage on the forest floor


Can't go wrong with a leaf collage on the forest floor - Mother Nature's artwork.


A few stray leaves still stuck to trees


Or a bunch of colorful leaves pasted on a mossy tree trunk.


Yellow forest


Finally, completing the loop, we arrived at our last junction - back at the original Hamilton Mountain Trail.  From here it was a matter of retracing our steps the final mile and half to the parking area.


Lots of color


Although still cloudy, the light was much brighter than when we'd passed through in the morning, so I couldn't resist taking a few more images of the forest color as we marched back.


Golden leaf tunnel


Another great fall hike in the books!  A wonderful day to wander along a classic Gorge trail and catch up with my friend.



  1. Stunning photos. All are fantastic , but I think maybe my favourite may be the moss covered trees.

  2. certainly have a gorgeous part of the world to enjoy, thanks for taking me along. I hope that we can do it again.

  3. Hello,

    Beautiful nature scenes, the forest, trail and river views are beautiful. Lovely captures of the sunrise and the pretty leaves. Great selfie shot. Another great hike and beautiful photos. Take care, I wish you a great new week!

  4. It's nice we can still hike with friends in this uncertain time.

  5. The swirling fog and cloud make for some wonderfully atmospheric shots. And some fine autumn colour.

  6. The magnificent autumn colours and views of my favourite gorge, made this a sensational virtual walk for me.

  7. You got some fabulous images! That saddle does have some awesome views.

  8. Loved that foggy cliffs shot but as always ALL of them are marvelous. What a great tradition and even better with a friend. Nature and friends....for sure for me has been a lifesaver during this craptastic year.

  9. Loved this hike and the photos! Hope you get to ski this year!

  10. Its what I've really missed this year, a chance to share my walks with friends. We've managed a few when rules have allowed but that shared camaraderie is one of the joys of hiking


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