In May, I attended the International Trails Symposium in Portland, Oregon to give a presentation about my work with the Warrior Hike program that puts veterans with PTSD on the National Scenic Trails to “Walk off the War”. I presented with folks from PATH International, who help veterans through equine therapy, and Ride 2 Recovery, who help veterans through road and mountain biking. It was a very uplifting experience to see these other programs that are helping our veterans and I would highly recommend the short film Riding My Way Back that chronicles one soldier’s journey back from the brink of suicide and the horse that helped save him.
I had some time to hike the local Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and a quick hike in Forest Park with my friend Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and his dog Karluk. Great outings so close to town!
After the conference was done, I had scheduled some time to explore the area. Lucky for me, my gracious hostess, fellow blogger and good friend Kimberlie Dame had the same days off, so we planned on going backpacking in the Columbia River Gorge. Hard to believe, but I’d never been backpacking outside of Arizona before- dayhiking, yes- but not backpacking! Years ago, I’d seen a picture of Kimberlie at Tunnel Falls and was mesmerized by the exotic beauty of the place. We put together a loop that went up Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls, to Wahtum Lake to intersect with the Pacific Crest Trail to Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods which marks the WA/OR border, about 29 miles.
We made a quick stop at Multnomah Falls on the way out to Eagle Creek Trailhead. It was Friday of Memorial Day Weekend and we wanted to make sure to secure a campsite- this area is very popular with both dayhikers and backpackers.
I started out with a liter and a half of water, probably the least I’ve carried in a long time but still overkill in this wet and overcast environment.The trail was wide and fancy and soon we came to the Metlako Falls overlook and took the side trip, followed by Punchbowl Falls. Everything was so totally different than the desert environment that I’m used to- so many plants and wildflowers that I wasn’t familiar with and this strange wet stuff everywhere!
We passed Loowit Falls and then came to an amazing slot pool- it was begging for a return trip in warmer weather with my inner tube floatie. We entered the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness and the trail was lined with giant ferns and trees dripping with moss. I could hear Tunnel Falls before I could see it- the sweet sound of rushing water dropping a large distance. Then I turned the corner and there it was in all its glory- the giant cascade, the fern-lined tunnel, the mossy columnar basalt framing the pool below. What a place!!
I wanted to hang out for a while and so we set up for a break and watched folks go by while I explored around. After we saw several groups of backpackers, we decided it would be a good idea to go claim a campsite along the creek. We hiked a short distance away and found a wonderful spot for the two of us. It was close enough to Tunnel Falls that I went back for another visit which included a dance party for one in said tunnel. I could hear the soothing sounds of the creek as I went to bed.
In the morning, we had a leisurely start and continued climbing up Eagle Creek. It was outrageously pleasant hiking, winding back and forth across the creek before ascending the Benson Plateau. As we gained elevation the scenery and the vegetation changed and we hiked into a misty cloud. So very Pacific Northwest- exactly what I had been expecting.
We ascended the gentlest switchback I’ve ever seen and then reached a sign for the PCT. My first time on this legendary trail! All day, I’d been making jokes about having a hot dog at a Memorial Day BBQ when we got to Wahtum Lake, but alas, there were some campers, but no hot dogs. Our view of Wahtum Lake was confined to the first two feet off the shore.
The trail climbed toward the Chinidere Mountain junction, which is supposed to have amazing views of five glaciated volcanoes- we took a pass because there would be no views from the top today. The trail undulated along the ridge and it was a long day of hiking to set us up for a short day the next day to make it back for a BBQ.
We were famished when we finally reached our campsite. When we’d started, we weren’t sure if we were going to spend one night or two out. We had enough food for two nights, but just barely- it would mean hot oats for dinner. Now I haven’t been able to even look at a pack of oatmeal since my thru-hike last year, but I devoured those hot oats like they were my favorite dish! Kimberlie was nice enough hike down to Teakettle Spring for water and I played around with my headlamp and took pictures. We were amazed to find that we had taken the exact same picture of the trees above our campsite.
I slept well, even though it was punctuated with wet “plops” from the misty trees on my tent. The trail descended steeply down the hill and then came to a sweet open ridge where the clouds parted and I got a quick view of the Columbia River. Before long, we were below the mist in the big green ferns again.
We reached the Gorge Trail and took it to the Bridge of the Gods, but instead of crossing it, we immediately went looking for food. After a half-hour wait at a roadside burger stand, we ate and drank milkshakes and managed to score a ride back to the Eagle Creek TH with some friendly vacationers. It was a stellar introduction to backpacking in the PNW!
On Memorial Day I visited the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and did a little hiking. Unfortunately my sweet new Sony A6000 took a tumble and needs to be replaced. Thank goodness for warranties! I was going to drive back to Portland for the night but the traffic was awful so I went to Trillium Lake and car-camped. I was treated to an amazing view of Mount Hood and a pack of ducklings the next morning before I left.
I am really looking forward to returning to Portland in September, when I will be giving a presentation on the Arizona Trail at the American Long-Distance Hiking Association-West (ALDHA-West) 20th Annual Gathering. I have plans to explore Olympic National Park while in the area and I can’t wait!
Until then, I am working my fourth summer as a guide on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners. Just finished my first trip and it was a surprisingly chilly one for June- I’ll take it! So great to be back in the Canyon, the place that truly holds my heart, once again.