Larch Mountain Fail

Question: When do paved, interpretive trails and gorgeous waterfalls NOT mix?

Answer: Anytime the weather turns below freezing for extended periods of time. All that glorious waterfall spray? Yup, turns the path into a skating rink.

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
~8 miles, ~2800 feet elevation gain

I had just crossed the Multnomah Falls bridge viewpoint when I was abruptly halted by a layer of solid ice, about an half inch thick. A nice gentleman just in front of me was carefully shuffling his way up the path, tossing a layer of gravel across the ice as he went. Rather than skidding out over the next 100 feet of trail, Rocky and I waited patiently behind him for the task to be complete.

My goal today was Larch Mountain, a long, forested , straight-shot hike to the top of gorge from Multnomah Falls. Being midweek and 32 degrees at the trailhead, it made sense that I was alone- still, it's very, very odd to be heading up the Multnomah Falls trail without a soul in sight.

I love the gorge in winter. There is a remarkably stark yet vibrant quality to the area- looming cliffs shrouded in fog, silhouetted trees in the forest, the details whittled down to green mosses, ferns, rock and water, all the chaos of summer foliage gone. I rarely visit the gorge in summer: too many tourists. But in winter? This is when, for me, the gorge comes to life. 

That said, trail maintenance is zero in the winter. Mud is expected, as are slick conditions and downed trees. Given the recently dry (but oh so cold) spell holding on to the greater Portland area, the trail was remarkably ice free in areas where I expected slick conditions, and an icy wonderland in sections I would not have expected. The tiny, frozen details were enchanting.

About four miles in, growling and annoyed, I stopped to take stock of myself. I was a little over halfway to Larch when I knew I had a problem. Although I had been hiking uphill for roughly two hours and should have been in full throttle, hiking swing, my core temperature was dropping rapidly. It felt like I was fighting every muscle in my body to continue up the trail; I was feeling ill and stiff, sweat-drenched and lethargic, and I was beyond shivering even. Not a good sign.


I drank some warm tea, re-layered clothing, and finally gave up on eating as I just couldn't stomach it. In the end, I made the decision to turn around. Over the last couple of months, I have had a brilliant professor who has repeatedly encouraged us to notice what is in our bodies and to ask clients to do the same. Noticing the details of how you feel, where you are in space- mentally, emotionally, physically- are a vital component to delivering care. Today, in below freezing temperatures, four miles from the trailhead with three more to go, it was better to be safe and listen to what my body was telling me. 

I took my time going downhill. I stopped frequently, drank warm tea, evaluated Rocky's feet, and took in the details of the forest. Now that I wasn't racing daylight, I stopped to soak in the minutia that calls attention to itself when we stop rushing and just take the time to be. Although the day wasn't what I planned it to be, it was, nevertheless, not a loss. 

I love winter.