Eat Your Wheaties

Columbia River Gorge
~7 miles, ~2660 elevation gain
An impromptu addition to the list. 11 o'clock on Saturday, toss everything in the car and head out to the Eagle Creek Trailhead near Bonneville Dam. The decision was made to throw in one last training hike before I go out of town for the next two weeks.

The Ruckle Creek trail branches off a paved portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, a meandering section of the former highway now open only to cyclists and pedestrians. It's charming and mossy and a look back into history. I think in a few weeks, I'll come back with my bike to take in the views from a two wheel point of view.

By May, I've normally abandoned the gorge. Too crowded, too humid, too much poison oak. But, it's been a cold spring, and it shows in both the alpine and in the valley. Snow levels are still lower than average, and flower displays have been next to 'nil.

Today I was hunting solitude and a training hike where I didn't have to be bothered with snowshoes, and many of the other hikes on my list remain snowbound in their upper elevations by four to six feet of white stuff. I was pleasantly surprised to get both solitude and no snow on this hike and equally enchanted with the verdant quality of the forest and the high, beautiful meadows the trail would pass through.  

Although I've hiked a decent percentage of the gorge's many trails, Ruckle Creek never seems to have made the check off list. My impression is that most people only use Ruckle Creek as a way to complete the very difficult Ruckle Ridge Loop (an unmaintained, user trail/scramble for those with bigger and grander cojones than I), as it's just foolhardy to try to come down what is often a hand over foot climb. My other impression of the Ruckle Creek trail was that it just sounded, well, boring. For myself, I am happy to report I was wrong and that I will most definitely be back to revisit this trail.

Ruckle Creek trail

Although rushing Ruckle Creek bestows its  name upon the trail, you leave the creek side almost immediately and go, well, up. So, carry water, because there isn't any, and you will sweat anything you drink right out. It's a good workout, gaining 3700 feet to the Benson Plateau in less than five miles. The sun was out when I started up the trail, and although it was warm, I was kept cool by a strong wind blowing through the forest. 

The forest was beautiful and mossy, full of sword fern, salal and oregon grape. And a few Fairy Slippers beginning to poke through.

fairy slipper orchid

Within a half mile of climbing, the trail briefly wanders through a mossy, hummocky area full of Native American vision quest pits.

vision quest pits

Respite done. The next mile is intense, climbing up and up and up a series of fifteen switchbacks to a tremendous view of the gorge, unfenced, of course. 

Watch your step.

From here the trail levels off again, rolling up and down through a series of incredible meadows and oak trees draped in hanging moss. When the season is right, I imagine the wildflowers here are incredible.  I was feeling sweaty and drained, and my legs were quickly approaching a gelatinous state. Between biking fourteen miles one way to work and jogging, I had maxed them out this week.

weather moving in: Wauna Point and the Columbia in the distance

From here, I had fantastic views of Chindere Mountain (I think) at the head of the Eagle Creek basin and Wauna Point and the Columbia. The wind was picking up and nasty looking clouds were beginning to roll in from the west. Reluctantly, given the shivering of my legs and the darkening skies, I decided to leave the final push for the Benson for another day. When I got to the trailhead at Eagle Creek, the skies opened up, confirming that I had indeed made the right decision.

Although I've only clicked off three training hikes in three and a half weeks, I can tell I'm getting stronger. Between the biking, running and hiking, my legs are definitely confused but managing. Up next: training my ankles while traipsing around in high heels on the cobblestone streets of Spain. Super.