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.