We started the 2018 hiking season on January 14th with Table Mountain on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge near Bonneville Dam. With the closure last year of the usual trailhead at Bonneville Hot Springs, our team of four hikers took a longer approach starting at the Bonneville Trailhead near the dam. At the end of the day, we hiked close to 16 miles with 4,320 in vertical feet (compared to eight miles and 3,350 feet on the old route).

The conditions for January were spectacular as we started down the trail – partly cloudy skies, a light breeze, and a few rays of sun. After a half mile, we joined the Pacific Crest Trail and walked in the footsteps of thru-hikers from the Mexican border traveling north. The path passed through areas logged in recent years and by several small bodies of water – including Gillette Lake.

 Gillette Lake from the Pacific Crest Trail.

Gillette Lake from the Pacific Crest Trail.

After several hours we passed by the junction to the old trail and eventually reached the base of the Heartbreak Ridge Trail to the summit. From here the fun/pain kicked into high gear and we gained a significant amount of elevation over a short distance. The wind also started to pick up and the temperature dropped.

 Sign marking the Heartbreak Ridge Trail.

Sign marking the Heartbreak Ridge Trail.

At the saddle below the talus field scramble, a sustained wind howled just out of reach above our heads. We also entered into a thick cloudbank, eliminating our chance of seeing any volcanoes from the summit.

 Our team on the summit.

Our team on the summit.

Above the rocks, we continued onward to the summit sign, took the requisite selfie, and then found a calm harbor out of the wind to enjoy an IPA. For the descent, we looped to the west side of the mountain and followed the trail along a steep cliff face before going back into the woods and rejoining the PCT.

 View from the descent down the west side of the loop.

View from the descent down the west side of the loop.

Several hours later we were back at the parking lot and on our way as the sun began to set behind the mountains on the Oregon side of the river. We ended up spending about eight hours on the trail. Key takeaways: the first few miles of the longer approach to Table are significantly more scenic than the old route from the hot springs; 16 miles is a long way to go for the first hike of the year; and January hiking in the Gorge is always worth doing over watching NFL playoff games (unless it’s the Seahawks). We decided to go hiking, despite missing an afternoon of excellent playoff football. In the car ride home, we listened to the final minutes of the Minnesota Vikings-New Orleans Saints game on the radio. Something about hearing the play-by-play of the final minutes – rather than watching it at home – was even more exciting than seeing it on TV.

Click here for more photos from the hike.