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.