Row, Row, Row Your Boat


Last year, Andy and I took Alder Creek's Basic Skills Kayak lesson. As such, we are now *certified* to (tentatively) venture out on our own.

Watch out, Portland waterways.

Our first outing wasn't stupendous, but with new sports, new adventures almost never are. It's how you learn. You learn your endurance level, the equipment, the locations and the scenery and the company you prefer. For example, if I hadn't promised Andy I would try downhill skiing at least three times, he would have never, ever, ever convinced me to get back on those damn things again. As it is, I'm still the only skier I know capable of full face plants on a fairly regular basis.

The weather today was glorious.

I have the weirdest sunburn. It's just on my forearms. Alder Creek dude called it "Paddler's Tan." Who knew.

Klimt-like water reflections

Vancouver Lake

Team Dog

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Washington
~7.0 miles, ~2800 feet elevation change

With my Wednesdays free for the moment, I find myself quickly turning the middle of the week into my day of much-needed “me” self-preservation time. This, of course, means hiking. Yesterday, I decided to launch my spring training, so off it was to test my mettle against the Dog Mountain trail.

Well, that was humbling.

In all my years of living here and hiking the trails in the Columbia River Gorge, it wasn’t until last year that I tackled Dog Mountain. It is known as one of the premiere gorge hikes, which directly results in a premiere crowd, which has directly resulted in me staying the hell away from it. 

This is why (not my picture since I have not yet witnessed this phenomenon):

Arrowleaf Balsamroot meadows on Dog Mtn

Fields and fields and fields of balsamroot. Sound of Music stuff.

All these years, I have avoided this gorgeous display, and the throngs that inevitably come for flowers that span as far as the eye can see. For whatever reason though, last year I spontaneously decided to hike Dog for the first time in March, on a crappy weather day with low snow levels. I arrived at the trailhead at 7:30 am to discover it FULL of hikers.

No flowers to speak of, and still busy. Huh.

I still had a gorgeous and memorable hike though.

Augspurger Trail, March 2010
The summit is snowy
 My main reason for hiking Dog this year wasn’t the flowers, but rather to challenge myself to get my legs and lungs back. Upon arrival at the trailhead, the sun was shining, and although the day wasn’t quite as bluebird as I would have liked, it was dry and I would take it (this spring has been horribly wet and depressing).

Last year, in order to avoid the thirty or so hikers that were just ahead of me leaving the parking lot, I went up Dog Mountain via the Augspurger trail, which forms a nice loop with the Dog Mountain trail system. Although Augspurger is not as scenic as the Dog Mountain trail, the grade is gentler, and it provides a nice loop option through the woods. I do remember as I was coming down the Dog Mountain trail thinking something akin to, “Damn, this is steep.” Going up the actual Dog Mountain trail was a whole new experience. Right from the parking lot, the trail just sort of throws itself up the hillside, gaining 2,820 feet in approximately 3.5 miles.

To join me on my training adventure, I had brought with me my well-loved hiking companions, Rocky and Yobo. Rocky is my buffoon-like, loveable boxer and a fantastic trail dog. Friends and I have jokingly dubbed Yobo the “Iron Pug” because of her impressive trail endurance. Pugs don’t usually hike. Well, this one does. Her longest hike to date with no assistance? Twelve miles. She’s such a freakin' rock star.

Alas, time catches up with us all.

By the first trail junction, I knew I was going to have to make a decision. Since last year, Yobo has been showing signs off and on that her endurance was waning, that her Iron Pug days might finally be behind her. At 11 years of age, she’s still pretty impressive, but for the sake of her health, she is going to have to retire. By 0.7 miles (the first junction) she was wheezing hard, her tongue lolling out of her mouth. We were maybe a full mile into our hike before I threw in the towel and put her in my backpack. It was either pug papoose or go home. Pug papoose it was. And since this was a training hike anyway, I figured there is nothing quite like adding 16 lbs of pug to your backpack to increase endurance.  

She killed me.

I carried her for two full miles, cursing every step, before I made her finish the final half mile to the summit on her own. 

Happy to be out of the pack

During this time, I had been casually leapfrogging through Dog's lower, forested half of the hike with another hiker, Nancy, and her dog, Pearl. I don’t usually enjoy sharing my solo hikes with strangers I meet on trail, but Nancy was simply charming and quite witty, and I had a great time finishing the push to the summit with her.

About a half mile below the summit, Dog Mountain suddenly looms before you. The trees disappear and the meadows sprawl as far as the eye can see. It must be nothing short of miraculous in full bloom.

On the summit, four dogs and five midweek dayhikers shared an easy camaraderie, refueling, discussing the merits of strawberry-eating dogs and debating over when, exactly, is it too early for a beer (Answer: in the PNW, anytime after a hike = never too early for a good microbrew, especially if it happens to be Stevenson's Walking Man Brewery). Long, beautiful views of the Columbia Gorge to the east and to the west were punctuated by lingering snow on Mount Saint Helens and other gorge peaks. Mount Defiance, also on my training to-do list, stared me in the face and set my knees to groaning with just the thought of the elevation gain needed to reach the top of that damn thing. Why am I doing this again? Oh yeah, because pride is #&%@ing with me, and I don’t want to embarrass myself on a summit push with my bionic friend, Chris. Gah. 

Last summit

The hike down the Augspurger trail was uneventful, save for the fact that Yobo bonked on me again about a half mile from the trailhead. Poor girl. It’s tough to let go of our loved ones, to see them getting old, even if they are only 16 lbs of space alien in a dog suit. Last real hike. At least she got to summit Dog. And so did I.

Training Days

It begins.

My summer has a big To-Do List looming over it. Hopefully I will be accepted into a nursing program. I want to begin biking again in an attempt to fatten my wallet and fortify my lung muscles. These final oh-so-damn-stubborn thirty pounds need to come off. I would like to tackle some longer distance backpacking trips since one of my life goals is to someday thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. But, one thing at a time.

One of the more immediate items on the upcoming To-Do List is some mountain climbing. Not technical, true mountaineering but rather some long, stamina testing slogs up non-technical slopes. My friend Chris and I have been toying around with the idea of a Mount Hood summit (actually the truth is Chris is the alpinist, I just invited myself along. He'll be babysitting that climb if it happens). It's been ten years since I stood on the summit of any Cascade peak. I would love to revisit Helens again and see her new lava dome. South Sister was one of my all time favorite combination backpacks/hikes ever, and I have always wanted to attempt a Mount Adams summit. In order for any of these climbs to be even remotely successful, not to mention not mortifying myself in front of Chris, I need to get my legs back.

My Portland backyard happens to be perfect for this. Many, many hikes in the gorge do double duty as conditioning hikes for mountaineers. Over the next month or so, I hope to tackle most of them. Some of them I know, some will be new for me. We'll see how snow conditions improve or worsen.

I am going to be so sore.

Every guidebook/source says something slightly different, so mileages & elevation gains listed here are from Portland Hikers (except Augspurger, which is from NW Hiker):

Dog Mountain: 7.0 miles, 2800 feet
Hamilton Mountain: 8.0 miles, 2100 feet
Nesmith Point: 10.6 miles, 3800 feet
Larch Mountain: 14.4 miles, 4010 feet
Augspurger Mountain: 15.8 miles, 4150 feet
Table Mountain from Aldrich Butte: 8.0 miles, 3350 feet
Mount Defiance: 10.2 miles, 4840 feet

If You Don't Like the Weather...

Multnomah-Franklin Ridge-Oneonta Loop
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
~12 miles, ~2760 feet elevation change

new kicks, still clean.
I have needed to hit the reset button for a while. This week began in a surprisingly brutal fashion so after two emotionally exhausting days at work, I required a place to flush all the rising stress, anxiety and worry from my body. Nothing quite accomplishes that particular objective for me like a long, physically demanding hike. Andy and I's hike in Swale Canyon last week didn't really do it for me, so today, while Andy was stuck at work, I took off for a long solo hike with my boxer boy, Rocky, rain or shine. And, if you don’t like the weather… 

...just wait twenty minutes. Someone said that to me when I first moved to Oregon fourteen years ago and never does that adage hold truer than during springtime. The weather report today called for morning showers, then a possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon. I was betting the weatherman was at least a little off, since they can’t predict squat in the Pacific Northwest during the spring months. I was wrong. Weatherman:1.  Amanda: 0.

I first discovered this hike last year while doing trail research on NW Hiking's website; my friend Tina and I subsequently decided to pronounce ourselves insane doing the entire loop in the pouring rain in December. Freezing cold and wet to the bone, we had a blast, and discovered a beautiful hike. Since the weather promised to be less than stellar today, and since I had such a hella good time the last time I did this walk, I decided to revisit this trail.

Sometimes nothing is balm to the soul more than a deep, rich, forest walk in the rain, water all around. No views, but on a hike like this, the discoveries are in the details.

By 10:30 am (late start) I was starting up the Multnomah Falls concrete-switchbacks-from-hell with Rocky en tow. As Oregon's highest waterfall, Multnomah's easy access right off highway I-84 turns the entire area into this interesting mash/melting pot/people-watching experience. It's resplendent in screaming toddlers, hoards of unique cultural groups, tiny purse dogs, high heels, and people toting ice cream cones and dainty coffee drinks a mile up to the top of the falls. As much as I personally find the Multnomah Falls tourist trap torturous, I believe places like it need to exist in the world. It provides people, who may otherwise never experience it, that safe, non-committed look at nature, that reminder that our lives are not just our cities and our safe, warm homes. 

obligatory Multnomah Falls shot

On a funny note, my absolute all-time favorite question at Multnomah Falls, which I invariably get every time I go, loaded up for a full day hike:

"You going to the top?"

Yup. Something like that.

The trek to the top of the falls is always boring, but it provides a good warm up. Once past Multnomah Creek (where most people stop), the mobs disappear and the trail becomes markedly quieter. Here, the trail gradually climbs along the creek as it cascades through a canyon full of dripping moss, waterfalls and towering basalt cliffs. Absolutely gorgeous. 

one truth about the gorge- it almost always goes up

By the time I passed the Dutchman Tunnel, and shortly thereafter the junction with the Wahkeena Trail, I was in full swing. And the trail was exactly what I wanted. The only sound was myself, the rushing creek and the forest. Absolutely no one else around. It was raining, and I didn't care; I had expected rain and this was a soft, silver-colored rain, mellowed by the huge forest all around me. Rain is in its element in the western part of the Columbia Gorge: moss, huge ferns, trillium, oregon grape, salal, rushing creeks. I was starting to unwind, to empty myself into the land, the movement of my feet over the earth, my breath visible in the air. Following Multnomah Creek, the Larch Mountain trail reminds me of those mountain streams I so loved during my childhood back East. Not the same, of course, but the emotions when I am surrounded by clear rushing streams, water-smoothed boulders and deep greenery are the same. I am at peace and in love with the world around me.

When I reached the Franklin Ridge trail junction at roughly 3.5 miles into my hike, I was starting to calm down. I wasn't thinking anymore, I was just moving. This was where I wanted to be, how I wanted to be. I need these long days to let my brain stop its chattering. 

There isn't anything spectacular, exactly, about the Franklin Ridge trail. It's just a long, lonely ridge walk, and your chances of meeting anyone are next to nil. Which is why I love it. It’s unbelievably quiet. 

Franklin Ridge

At about this time, it began snowing on me.

So far, I had experienced semi-sunny skies turn completely overcast and then change to rain. Mostly it had been just gray with that ever present, dense forest fog the gorge seems to have a monopoly on. Now, it was snowing. In April. Oregon weather is so weird. I had been hot earlier, so I had stripped off my fleece layer under my shell; now I was sweaty and freezing. My nose was frozen. Loved it. 

snow in the treetops

By the time I reached the Franklin Ridge-Oneonta trail junction, though, I was a popsicle. I had been walking through the snow, already wet, for 2.5 miles. From previous experience I knew that now the trail was going to take a serious nose-dive for the next 1.5 miles (to continue at less breakneck speed for another 3 miles after that), and body heat wasn't going to cut it any longer. I stripped off my sweat-soaked, stinkfest of a wicking tee-shirt and donned a wool underlayer quickly followed by my fleece, two pairs of gloves and my shell in record time. Much better. Still wet, but better. 

Because it was just too damn cold to sit and eat, out came the peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me and yummy dog cookies for Rocky, and on I went, hoping I didn’t choke and need some imaginary forest gnome to give me the Heimlich Maneuver. From here, I plunged 2000 feet in 1.5 miles through enormous snow drifts leftover from recent storms, and entered dripping, primordial forest only to be greeted by (surprise!) sun at the rushing waters of Oneonta Creek. What a glorious, schizophrenic day. The forest turns almost florescent in the sunlight. 

picking my way down the Oneonta trail

where I came from

unhappy, wet dog

nearing the junction with Horsetail Creek trail

Because the temperature had probably risen about twenty degrees, I stopped to shed a layer and to snap some more pictures, futilely trying to capture the beauty of the Oneonta trail in early spring color, dripping trees reflecting in the sunlight. I debated whether to leave my shell on, and figured if it started raining again, I probably couldn't get any more wet.

The weather wasn't done with me yet, though.

And I was wrong. You can always get wetter.

According to the weather forecast, we were to have sun breaks this afternoon. And said sun breaks evidently increase the likelihood of thunderstorms.

This is the last picture I took before, in less than a few minutes, it began hailing on me. 

Oneonta trail

I’ve hiked in a lot of conditions, but never a full hailstorm or thunderstorm. Rocky sure as hell didn't appreciate the hailstorm- I had one wet and pissed off dog. I had to just laugh because what was I going to do about any of it still so far from the trailhead? Nothing to do but walk in it. 

It was still another five miles to Multnomah Falls, and I only passed four other people in that time. It stopped hailing/raining/thundering soon, and the sun came back out, turning the forest and moss-covered trail into a fluorescent green road littered with tiny hailstones. No pictures now because my camera was almost as wet as I was. Over the course of six hours, I had experienced fog, rain, brilliant sunshine, snow, hail and a spring thunderstorm. I was wet, tired and blissfully content. I love everything that solo-hiking throws my way. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.


Klickitat Trail
~6.5 miles, elevation gain: negligible

railroad art
Reluctant to admit it, but not all hikes are winners.

So yes, technically speaking, it is spring. At this point though, I'm starting to feel the sun never got that particular message. It has been record-setting nasty, wet, gray, cold and more-than-average-dreary March in Portland. The thermometer finally tickled 60 degrees on the 31st and hasn't touched it again since. Prior to that, the month had been nothing but rain, rain, and oh yes, you guessed it, rain. Yesterday it even snowed/hailed, albeit briefly, in the valley. At this point, I imagine even the flowers are sick of rain, evinced by how they have only begun to show themselves recently. Probably scared they’ll get washed right off of their stalks.

I have to plead insanity. Insanity is the only semi-logical explanation for loading the Subee on Saturday with gear and tossing both Andy and the dogs in to go hiking. Of course it was threatening rain in Portland. It poured a Noah’s Ark worth of animals the entire route of I-84 through the gorge to Hood River. But I needed a de-stircrazyifying hiking fix and damnit, I was going to get one.

So, starving for sun and looking for an unpopulated hike, I chose the Swale Canyon section of the Klickitat trail beyond Lyle, Washington. The Klickitat Trail is a recently completed Rails-to-Trails endeavor, passing through a mix of private and public land on the Washington side of the gorge. The landscape is distinctly different from the western gorge: drier, but just as uniquely beautiful as the more lush areas of the gorge closer to Portland.

A couple of first impressions upon getting out of the car:

1) It was sunny. Evidently the Noah’s Ark of rain hadn’t followed us this far east.
2) Unpopulated hike? Check. We were in the middle of freaking nowhere.
3) Wind. Lots and lots of wind. The kind of wind where a good enough gust can knock even a burly descent of Norwegian women over.
4) It was too early for wildflowers, but the rolling landscape all around was lovely shades of orange, yellow and brilliant, spring green.

Swale Creek off the Klickitat trail

And a fifth observation would occur later: while it was too early for wildflowers, it certainly was not too early for ticks. Damn, damn and double damn.

Truthfully, not much of the trail bears reminiscence. It is not the kind of trail I would normally pick, or even normally enjoy. The Klickitat trail is a long, extremely well-graded, old rail corridor; it basically feels like a road walk. The views are wide and open until you drop (ever so slightly) into its Swale Canyon, which is not without a certain charm. There are cute, whistling marmots, birds of prey, strange railroad art, and the rushing Swale Creek to keep you company all day along this remote route. Would I take Andy back? Mmmmm, nope. His verdict (and not without merit): boring walk, especially when we have literally hundreds of much more beautiful trails to conquer. Would I take the dogs back? HELL NO. Over the course of six plus miles, we brushed well over thirty (yes, 30+) ticks off Rocky's legs and underbelly, and pulled out at least three which had managed to take root. Yech.

birds of prey...

and she's about the right size for snack...

Final judgement: ticks are gross. They bring out the primordial heebie jeebies in our nature, not to mention they kind of take the fun out of a good leg stretcher.

For future self-reference, I think the Klickitat trail is more suited to biking than hiking. As a former railroad corridor, the grade is perfect for a long bike outing but a bit boring for hiking. That said though, I believe this trail definitely has its place and now that I have visited it, I think it would make a fantastic and lonely winter trek. Still, for me, I think our Pacific Northwest springtime, even in the rain, is more beautifully enjoyed elsewhere.