Coyote Wall - April 1, 2017

Coyote Wall - April 1, 2017

After the wettest February and near-wettest March on record, we seized the opportunity to hit the trail when the forecast called for decent conditions. Coyote Wall - located east of Hood River on the Washington side of the Columbia River (and, more importantly, east of the crest of the Cascades to reduce the chance of encountering rain) - was our destination.

Hiking up the Labyrinth Loop overlooking the Columbia River.

Hiking up the Labyrinth Loop overlooking the Columbia River.

After parking at the recently upgraded trailhead area, we hiked along the base of the wall on an old road until we reached the start of the Labyrinth Loop. We took the loop, heading upward on the bucolic trail for several miles past waterfalls, a cave, and purple wildflowers. Eventually we took a fork that ended at a perfect lunch spot at the edge of the wall. During our descent, we encountered mountain bikers slogging upward before blitzing down the hill.

View from the edge of Coyote Wall.

View from the edge of Coyote Wall.

Overall it was a great day and a reminder that spring is coming soon.

Click here for more photos from the hike.

Hamilton Mountain - January 28, 2017

Hamilton Mountain - January 28, 2017

The first official Pentaquest hike of 2017 didn't go exactly as planned, but it still ended up being a fun day in the snow. After Portland was caught in the icy maw of Winter Storm Jupiter and several weeks of snow and ice brought travel in the Columbia Gorge to a halt, it was important to get out of town and hit the trail during a brief weather window. We originally planned to go up Hardy Ridge, but a road closure forced us to call an audible and shift to nearby Hamilton Mountain. The road to the trailhead was also closed, but the walk in from the parking area at Beacon Rock State Park only added an additional ten minutes.

Snow covered the route from the start, making it necessary to use microspikes to gain traction on the trail. Less than a quarter mile in we climbed over a downed tree that had likely fallen during one of the storms. While passing Hardy Falls, Rodney Falls, and the Pool of Winds, we noticed a considerable amount of damage to a fence along the trail. We kept going another mile and made a decision to turn around near the base of the switchbacks below Hamilton Mountain due to the depth of the snow and an issue with one of the traction devices.

Overall it was great to get in a snow hike see the Gorge in its winter brilliance. The Washington Trails Association and other trail crews have their work cut out for them in the coming months. Maybe we'll pitch in and join one of the volunteers teams to help out.

Click here for photos from the hike.

Trail damage near the Pool of Winds.

Trail damage near the Pool of Winds.

Angel's Rest - December 31, 2016

Angel's Rest - December 31, 2016

On New Year's Eve we trekked out to the Gorge and hiked up Angel's Rest. This is the fifth year in a row for the Pentaquest either starting or ending with this hike. We've encountered everything from dangerously slick ice, brutal cold, extreme winds, and other inclement trail conditions since the tradition started. But not on this day. Although the temperature hovered around freezing and visibility was limited, the wind was almost nonexistent and most of the group had poles and traction devices to navigate through the ice patches.

Rather than write up a detailed trip report, here's a haiku:

No view? No problem.

We closed down 2016.

A great group of eight.

Here's us on top of Angel's Rest. You can almost see Mt. Adams if you stare at the backdrop long enough.

Here's us on top of Angel's Rest. You can almost see Mt. Adams if you stare at the backdrop long enough.

The trail is one of the best places to reflect on the past year and think about what lies ahead. 2016 was a consequential year for many reasons. Speaking for myself, I can't think of a year with more contrast between the biggest win (birth of a child), and the worst loss (disastrous outcome of the November election). Regardless of what else is going on in the world, I gain strength spending time with great people on the trail.

Hardy Ridge - May 21, 2016

Hardy Ridge - May 21, 2016

By Ryan Yambra (@Ryambra)

Beacon Rock State Park is one of the most popular destinations in the Columbia River Gorge. With landmarks ranging from Hamilton Mountain to Beacon Rock, the 5,100-acre natural area has something for everyone.

But fewer people make the trek up Hardy Ridge. Tucked away at the Equestrian Trailhead, the route up Hardy Ridge gives hikers big views, spring wildflowers, and more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain without the crowds to show for it.

This particular Saturday in May was a soaker with heavy rain and low clouds. And while the views were less than spectacular, that didn't stop us from hitting the trail. 

This hike begins by heading north on the Equestrian Trail. After a slow, winding climb of about a mile, the wide path meets a junction with the West Hardy Ridge Trail. To make a loop, we ignored the western path and continued along the Equestrian Trail another half mile until reaching the East Hardy Ridge Trail.

Once hitting the East Hardy Ridge Trail, which resembles a dirt road, we continued our gradual ascent. Eventually, the trail meets a junction with a connector marked ‘foot traffic only.’ As the light drizzle turned into a shower, we took the connector trail towards the top of the ridge. 

After about a half mile, this well-established path meets a four-way junction. Here, you can head up towards the Hardy Ridge summit or descend back into the trees.

Normally during late spring, a trip up to the summit gives hikers amazing views with sights of nearby Hamilton and Table mountains. On a clear day, Mount Adams is also visible. Sadly, the weather was too poor to enjoy the views up top. We chose to have lunch at the junction and head back down.

To make it back, we descended under the trees on the west trail along the western side of the ridge.

After a gentle downhill trek, the path spit us back out onto the Equestrian Trail. From there, we hiked slowly back down to our cars.

Hardy Ridge has plenty to offer hikers without the crowds of other nearby destinations. On the day, our total mileage was a bit under eight miles with the trail just to ourselves. Rain or shine, Hardy Ridge should be a destination for any hiker looking to try something new.

Click here for more photos from the hike.

Table Mountain - March 12, 2016

Table Mountain - March 12, 2016

By Dan Douthit (@dtonedouthit)

Looming over the western end of the Columbia Gorge is the aptly named Table Mountain, offering a challenging 3,200 vertical feet of elevation gain, varied terrain, and a guaranteed boost towards getting conditioned for even higher peaks. I've hiked Table many times before, usually on bluebird spring or summer days. On a clear day the view at the top is second to none in the Gorge, with the potential for seeing five volcanoes. On March 12, 2016, the conditions were far from ideal, but the experience was no less epic.

Our group rendezvoused at the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort around 8:30am. After paying for a $5 parking pass (redeemable for credit in the lodge after the hike), we hit the trail. The sky was overcast and dry, but the ground remained damp from earlier rain. Less than five minutes in - still within sight of the parking lot - I dunked my boot into a well-camouflaged mud hole. Fortunately my Vasque-brand boot performed like a boss and the mud slurry didn't creep into my socks.

The first few miles were pleasant as the trail snaked through the forest and gradually gained altitude. We passed by several spurs - one leading down a powerline road; the other toward Aldrich Butte. Past the two-mile mark we reached the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. On this day we didn't encounter any thru-hikers, but we did see the skeleton of a teepee/lean-to-like structure likely used by PCTers.

We took the PCT for about another mile before reaching the true base of Table and the crux of the day's work. From this point, a spur - formerly known as the "Heartbreak Ridge" Loop (not after the Clint Eastwood movie about the Grenada invasion) - rockets up through the forest. Whether out of laziness or a moral aversion to switchbacks, the designers of this stretch decided to retain the natural steepness of the slope in their trail design. The end result is one of the steeper sustained segments I'm aware of in the Gorge.

We kept a steady pace and began our ascent up Heartbreak, pausing several times for a quick breather. The sky remained overcast in all directions, but we began to catch views of the river and the surrounding mountains below the cloud cover. We eventually reached Sacagawea Rock and a flat section of the trail offering stunning views to the east and west.

Then, back in the woods, we pushed onward until we reached a talus field of large stones covering the hillside. The established trail evaporates through this field, forcing hikers to choose their own path between a series of cairns with wooden markers. Stepping slowly to avoid a rolled ankle or smashed knee, we proceeded to the top of the rocks and returned to the forest for the final push to the summit.

With less than a quarter miles to go, we reached another junction and turned toward the top. Upon exiting the woods, we came to the flat "table" part of the mountain. No longer protected by trees, we started to experience strong winds buffeting the summit plateau and surrounding ridges. We quickly traversed across the top of the plateau to reach a sharp drop-off overlooking the Columbia. Upon reaching this point - and just as I was about to eat a fake meat roast beef sandwich washed down by a Fort George IPA - an angry wind howled in from the west. And then a shotgun blast of hail came down followed by blowing snow and diminished visibility.

We made a group decision to eat fast (and refrain from drinking the IPAs), and make tracks down the mountain without delay. Rather than walk across the top of Table and complete the Heartbreak loop, we retraced our steps and went straight down the talus field. The full loop down the west side of Table affords incredible views of the Gorge, but on this day there was nothing to see. We also wanted to avoid additional exposure. The prospect of climbing down a mile of wet rocks above a precipitous drop didn't sound appealing to any of us.

As we descended, the snow began to stick and oscillate in size - from near sleet to large, Charlie Brown-style flakes. Once back in the forest below the rocks, the air temperature warmed to above freezing and we enjoyed a steady rain for most of the rest of the hike. Our journey back to the parking lot was muddier than earlier in the day, but uneventful. In a few places the trail seemed more like a streambed than a hiking path as gravity pulled the afternoon's precipitation toward the Columbia. Upon reaching Bonneville Hot Springs, we used our parking passes for credit in the hotel coffee shop and then headed back to Portland.

Overall - despite the wind, rain, and snow - we won the day. If you wait for a sunny day in March, you may never go hiking anywhere in Cascadia. Equipped with Gore-Tex and gloves, we weathered the inclement conditions with only minimal discomfort. My key lesson learned for future trips is to use more caution when stepping near running water on the trail. My muddy boot dunk 100 yards from the car could have been a major game-changer.

Click here for more photos from the hike.

Dog Mountain - March 5, 2016

Dog Mountain - March 5, 2016

By Ryan Yambra (@Ryambra)

Dog Mountain is among the most popular hiking destinations in the Gorge. During springtime, the mountain boasts abundant wildflowers as well as multiple vistas offering expansive views of the Gorge. But make no mistake--with about 2,800 feet of elevation gain in less than three miles, Dog Mountain is a steep hike requiring some fitness.

Due to Dog Mountain’s (relatively) lower elevation, this hike is a great early season challenge. For this day, we expected the worst as the weather forecast hinted at wind and rain. But we encountered the opposite: unusually warm temperatures, moderate cloud cover, and zero rain. We didn’t even make it a mile before we chose to take off some of our layers.

Beginning at the Dog Mountain Trailhead, the path starts off steep. After .7 miles of climbing, freeway traffic sounds begin to fade as the trail reaches a junction in the forest. At this point, the trail splits in two directions: an older route marked ‘more difficult’ and a newer, ‘less difficult’ one. We were up for a challenge, so we took a left up the ‘more difficult’ trail. 

More Difficult, Less Difficult

The more challenging path leads deeper into the forest than the easier one, and there aren’t any viewpoints along the way. Instead it’s up, up, up with very few even grades. Our trekking poles kept us going at a brisk pace with few stops.

After about a mile of climbing, the two trails converge. This is where it gets tough. The trail ascends steeply another half mile, eventually breaking away from the cover of the forest. During springtime, the hillside flanking the trail explodes with golden meadows of balsamroot. In early March, they still haven’t quite bloomed. 

Once emerging from the trees, the trail begins to level out. From here, there’s no shortage of views. Facing south, hikers get a glimpse of the entire Oregon side of the gorge. And as the trail continues east, the Hood River Valley starts to emerge.

A major viewpoint sits about a half mile from here. The viewpoint, known as “Puppy Dog Lookout,” is the site of an old fire lookout that’s since been decommissioned. This point offers panoramic views to the south, east and west. 

From the lookout, the trail continues another half a mile to the summit. Before the summit, the trail meets another junction that can be used to make a loop hike. We took a left, heading west towards the top. This is where the trail gets rocky and requires some extra attention. As the trail curls around the mountainside, the summit comes into view. Finally, less than two hours after beginning the trailhead, we made it to the highest point.

On this particular day, members of another hiking party were eating their lunches and getting a little rest before descending. We watched them leave and enjoyed some solitude--a rare treat for such a popular destination. As we ate and got some rest, ourselves, we had a view of Mt. Defiance to the south.

After a while, it was time to head back down. The descent can be challenging in its own way, as the steep decline can be tough on the knees. Early on, the trail also becomes just barely exposed--on a busy day, passing hikers could make it a bit precarious. 

From the summit, there are a couple ways to descend. We chose to return from where we came. To make the descent more interesting, we headed down the ‘less difficult’ route at the first junction, which offers hikers another vista from a lower viewpoint. After soaking in the view, we continued down the forest path, back to the trailhead.

With or without wildflowers, Dog Mountain should be on every Gorge hiker’s short list. On this Saturday in March, the stars aligned, treating us to springtime conditions without the crowds to show for it.

Click here for more photos from the hike.

Loowit Trail pictures - October 3-4, 2015

Loowit Trail pictures - October 3-4, 2015

Last weekend (10/3 and 10/4) two friends joined me on a clockwise circumnavigation of the Loowit Trail around Mt. St. Helens. We pushed ourselves hard, covering 32 miles over the two days. Starting at Climbers Bivouac on the south side of the mountain, we traveled about 20 miles on the first day, camped on the Plains of Abraham near Windy Pass, and finished the final 12 miles of the circuit by mid-afternoon on Sunday. I plan to do a full write-up later on the journey. In the meantime, here are the photos.

Mt. St. Helens and the Loowit Trail above the South Fork Toutle River on the western edge of the blast zone.

Mt. St. Helens and the Loowit Trail above the South Fork Toutle River on the western edge of the blast zone.

Welcome to the new blog!

This is the new site for the Pentaquest, a group dedicated to enjoying the outdoors by climbing, hiking, and backpacking the peaks and wilderness areas of greater Cascadia and beyond. This blog will be used for trip reports, photos, links to interesting articles, and general thoughts about life. 

You can also follow along on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pentaquest) and on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/pentaquest).

And the old blog can be found here: http://pentaquest.blogspot.com.

End of the Loowit Trail