Hide and Seek

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Washington
~6ish miles?

The Coyote Wall is a relatively new trail complex on the Washington side of the gorge, just past Hood River. The giant basalt cliff lies in that fascinating transition zone between the stormy, damp western half of the gorge and its drier, golden-hued, eastern counterpart. From I-84, the Coyote Wall looks to plunge on a long, angled slide into the Columbia River; it never fails to grab my attention on any drive through the gorge. Until recently, the area was private range property which is now quickly turning into a mountain biking mecca. 

the cattle chute

Hikers are welcome here, but make no mistake, the trail complex here was built for and is maintained by cyclists. Watch uphill and be polite- hikers are the guests here.

That said, cycling trails completely screw with any hiker sense of direction I might have. Rocky and I set off mid-morning to attempt the Coyote Wall (short) loop in reverse, heading up the Coyote Canyon trail, the wall still visible from the lower part of the trail but disappearing into thick fog higher up. My dog took off, a joyous, bounding, deer-colored streak zooming along S-curves and soft dirt built for mountain biking whoop-de-whoops which made no sense to my hiker legs. Still, it was a gorgeous, winter hike through bare-branched oak forest, the meadows littered with umber colored leaves, silver-green moss clinging to any surface allowing it to thrive. 

a little mountain biker boulder garden

This was my third visit to the Coyote Wall complex, and it is officially one of my beloved winter/early season hikes. A good friend and I first visited in April 2010: we were greeted by an explosion of balsam root and lupine flowers, and we also got very lost, accidently ending up on private property while attempting to navigate the complex of trails and roads still left over in the area. Since we didn't have any wine or cheese, back the way we came.

Bring wine & cheese next time
My second visit consisted of myself, Andy and two dear friends attempting to complete the Coyote Wall (long) loop in typical January conditions.  We traipsed along the narrow, narrow, narrow Crybaby Trail, the cliffs spooky and beautiful in dense fog. During this trip I noticed the Wizard Trail junction plunging down the wall and filed it away in my mental hiking rolodex for future reference. We made it down a private road to what we *thought* was our trail junction but ended up far north and west of the wall when we finally popped out of the woods. Whoopsies. From there, it was cross-country and down and to an angle to find our way back to the trailhead. 

Not for crybabies
I'm not sure why I chose to begin the loop clockwise instead of counterclockwise in terrain I already knew. Probably had something to do with Rocky bounding off like a crack head just past the cattle gate. Decision made. Regardless, as I progressed higher up the trail into thick, dense fog, I couldn't help but admire the trail from a two-wheel point of view. Make no mistake, I am NO mountain biker- I'm more likely to run headfirst into a tree than make it downhill intact. Still, if I were more talented, I might consider it: this single track looked like a helluva lot of fun.
Approximately two miles from the cattle gate, I found the nearly invisible-to-spot junction with the Wizard Trail. I turned right and soon stumbled across a second junction I had not read about. Hmmmm. One fork was marked with blue flagging but looked less used, the other fork was more distinct, but unflagged.  

Just to completely screw with any iron I might have in my nose, the entire forest was shrouded in one of the densest layers of fog I have ever hiked in. I knew the Coyote Wall was looming almost directly in front of me and that I needed to be climbing up it, but I couldn't see it. There was absolutely no sense of direction. I wandered around both forks for a while before eventually deciding to head up the left (unflagged) fork. Here it was clear the trail sees little to no use, no evidence of hiking boots or bike wheels marred the thick layer of oak leaves. And again, biking trails make no sense for hiking legs- the little loop-de-loops and whoop-de-whoops make the trail feel like it is consistently going the wrong direction. 

Poor planning on my part. Oh well. With no map and no printed trail directions with me, I chose instead  to just wander through the glorious, fog-shrouded woods for a while. Eventually I happened upon a section of trail that looked like I might actually be on the right path, and proceeded to almost immediately lose the trail in wet meadow and fog. Hmmmm. I perched atop a rock for a while, watching mist play between tree branches, and surprised myself by feeling very much a child again. My agenda for the day had failed, but I had found an unexpected and coveted space of emotion: I felt secretive, hidden, lost in the woods, queen of my own domain. There was no one else around. 

Eventually I returned the way I came, and upon further analysis at home, determined I was most likely on the right track up the Coyote Wall. I was headed in a northwest direction, navigating the base of the wall (or where I *think* it was), and I passed a few signature, downed trees written about in the trail description. My expectations of what the trail should look like from a hiker point of view confused my sense of direction, but when I think about it, the trail would wander (seemingly aimless) as it slowly climbed higher along the wall. After all, what is fun for cyclists and what makes sense for hikers are two very different things.

Still, it's a brilliant area. And one that always plays hide and seek with my sense of self.