14 Apr

PDX HIKING 365 Sample Hike – April: Mosier Plateau

38. Mosier Plateau

Distance: 2 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 450 feet
Trailhead elevation: 122 feet
Trail high point: 574 feet
Other seasons: all year (avoid summer heat)
Map: none available
Pass: none
Drivetime from Portland: 65 minutes

Directions to Mosier Plateau TH:

  • From Portland, drive east on Interstate 84 east to Hood River.
  • At Exit 69, signed for Mosier, leave the freeway and turn right to follow old US 30 through the small community of Mosier.
  • Drive through town for 0.5 mile to a bridge over Mosier Creek, where you will see a pullout on the left side of the road that provides room for a few cars. This is the trailhead.
  • The trail departs up the hill on the south (uphill) side of the road.
  • Why April: A brand-new trail constructed by Friends of the Gorge and the Nature Conservancy, the Mosier Plateau Trail is a delight that passes many scenic highlights in one excellent mile. You will pass an historic cemetery, a beautiful and unexpected waterfall, and arrive at a view-packed knoll above Mosier. This is a great place to take casual hikers and visitors from out of state in April, as the trail hits on almost everything that makes the Gorge such a wonderful place.

    Hike: Begin at the old cemetery trail on the east side of Mosier Creek. Climb uphill, passing a house before arriving at the Mosier Cemetery after a tenth of a mile. Some of the graves are quite old; among them is Benjamin Mosier, the town founder. The trail continues as it straddles a bluff above Mosier Creek’s narrow gorge. At 0.3 mile, arrive at a bench above lovely Mosier Falls. It is odd to see a waterfall here, in a dry canyon on the edge of a town with houses on the opposite side of the creek – but it is very welcome! From the falls, the trail continues along the canyon wall for another 0.2 mile until it begins a series of switchbacks out of the canyon. The flowers on this hillside peak in April, with the usual suspects balsamroot and lupine leading the charge. At 1 mile from the trailhead, arrive at a viewpoint atop a knoll, where the view opens up downriver through the Gorge to Hood River and down to Dog Mountain. What a fantastic view it is! Return the way you came.

    • Mosier Falls after a very dry early spring

    If you’re looking for a longer day, you can combine this hike with the trail out to Rowena Crest (Hike 46), just 7 miles to the east. The only downside is that the Rowena Crest Hike is extraordinarily popular (especially in April) and if you’re starting at Mosier Plateau, you’ll likely have trouble finding a place to park by the time you get to Rowena Crest. Consider combining this hike with any other number of shorter Gorge hikes, such as tje Starvation Falls Loop (Hike 36), Mitchell Point (Hike 36), Lyle Cherry Orchard (Hike 29), The Dalles Mountain Ranch (Hike 40) or other, more obscure hikes not included in this book, such as Weldon Wagon Road and Rattlesnake Falls. There is, after all, no finer place to be than the Gorge in April. Where you go is limited by your athletic abilities and the time you’re willing to spend exploring the area.

    Map of the Mosier Plateau Trail

    10 May

    16. Rock of Ages Ridge / Bell Creek Loop

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    16. Rock of Ages Ridge

    Distance: 15.2 mile loop loop
    Elevation Gain: 4,600 feet
    Season: March – November
    Best: June – July
    Pass: None
    Map: Columbia River Gorge (Geo-graphics)
    Note: Rock of Ages Trail does not show on most area maps.

    Directions: From Portland, drive east on Interstate 84 to the Bridal Veil exit 28. Immediately after exiting the freeway turn left and drive east on the Historic Columbia Highway 5.6 miles to a parking lot at Horsetail Falls. If you are coming from Cascade Locks, exit the freeway at the Dodson Exit 35 and drive west on the Historic Highway for 2.4 miles to Horsetail Falls.

    Note: This is an edited, updated version of the hike described in Off the Beaten Trail. I re-hiked this trail in June 2014 and added on an extra 5-mile loop on the newly-cleared Bell Creek Trail, which passes through the nicest grove of ancient forest in the Columbia River Gorge. If you have the time and energy you absolutely should follow this loop – taken together, the Rock of Ages Ridge / Bell Creek Loop is without a doubt the best hike in the entire Columbia River Gorge.

    Hike: A natural rock arch, a fabulous view of the Columbia River Gorge, a hair-raising rock spine, the most impressive grove of ancient forest in the Columbia River Gorge and three waterfalls on a popular return trail; you will find all of these things on the trek up Rock of Ages Ridge, along the Bell Creek Trail and down Oneonta Creek. Though access is easy, the hike is not. In fact, the first mile up Rock of Ages Ridge is quite probably the most difficult stretch of trail in this book. After that, however, you are in the clear and free to enjoy the quietest part of the western Gorge.

    The hike begins at scenic Horsetail Falls, which spills some 214 feet to the floor of the Gorge directly beside the scenic highway. The trailhead is to the left side of the falls. Begin switchbacking uphill, quickly topping out above the falls. Directly ahead of you on the trail is another falls, 75-foot Ponytail Falls. As soon as the falls is in sight, look immediately to your left for a well-worn boot path that climbs over some tree roots. This is the Rock of Ages Trail. Twenty yards from the turnoff pass a “Trail Not Maintained” sign – your cue that you are going to have some serious fun – and begin climbing at a furious pace. Because of the grade of this trail – and it is brutally steep – it is recommended that you avoid this trail on rainy days and that you avoid coming down this way (think bobsled run – but even more dangerous). After 0.5 mile of thigh-burning ascent, look for a spur trail to your left where the trail switchbacks to the right. Turn left here and take this up and down path for 200 feet to a small natural rock arch and a spectacular view east over the Gorge. Even though you have only hiked 0.8 mile, you would be wise to break here as you have yet steeper uphill to go. Watch your step at the arch – it is located at the edge of a cliff.

    Return to the main trail and recommence climbing at the same unrelenting grade. You will likely need to use your hands (watch out for poison oak) and trekking poles are a must here. 0.3 mile from the arch the trail tops out at the Devil’s Backbone, a narrow spine of rock with a 180 degree view of the Gorge. Acrophobes be warned! You can escape the worst of the Backbone by following a user trail to the left but it is recommended you spend a couple minutes soaking in the view of the Gorge from the Backbone. Be VERY careful, though; a fall here would be serious. From here, begin climbing again through scenic second-growth forest for 1.7 miles (gaining another 1900 feet) to a junction with the Horsetail Creek trail 2.9 miles from the trailhead. Turn right.

    The Horsetail Creek Trail meanders through a peaceful forest, crossing several forks of Horsetail Creek over the next 1.7 miles. Reach a signed junction with the Bell Creek Trail at 4.7 miles from the trailhead, where you are faced with a difficult choice. While you can continue straight another 2.3 miles of well-graded level and downhill trail to the Oneonta Trail, the Bell Creek Trail presents the option of a tantalizing loop through a spectacular grove of ancient forest. The only problem is that adding on this loop requires you to hike an additional 5 miles with more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain on top of what you’ve already done. It is absolutely worth it. If you don’t feel that you have the time or energy, continue on the Horsetail Creek Trail 2.3 miles to Oneonta Creek. Turn right here on an user trail that cuts through the Devil’s club over to the bridge over Oneonta Creek, and continue downstream approximately 2 miles to a junction with the Ponytail Falls Trail. Turn right here, climb above Oneonta Gorge and continue 3/4 of a mile to Horsetail Falls and your car.

    Otherwise, from the junction of the Horsetail Creek and Bell Creek Trails, turn left.

    The next 4 miles are a breeze after what you’ve endured. Meander through peaceful second-growth fir and pine at a mostly level grade, descending slightly to cross Horsetail Creek’s three forks before ascending again. Without an official trailhead and high on a forested ridge, this is one of the quietest places in the Columbia River Gorge accessible by trail. Take the time to enjoy the silence – you have earned it.

    About 3 miles from the Rock of Ages / Horsetail Creek trail junction, begin descending steadily towards Oneonta Creek via a series of switchbacks. Finally reach the creek 6.6 miles from the beginning of your hike and begin planning. In the summer this ford will not be difficult but in fall, winter and spring it is extremely challenging. Somebody has blazed a cutoff trail to the left that leads to the Oneonta Trail near a bridged crossing of the creek. While this trail appeared after I last hiked this trail, I strongly urge you to look for this trail and use it if possible (especially during the rainy season). However you choose to cross the creek, you will meet the Oneonta Trail almost immediately on the far side of the creek. There is a fantastic campsite at the junction of the Horsetail Creek Trail and Oneonta Trails.

    From here the remainder of the hike is a cakewalk; an extremely popular, highly scenic cakewalk. Descend the well-maintained trail aside roaring Oneonta Creek. 1.5 miles later reach dazzling Triple Falls, a three-pronged 64-foot plunge. Continue another 0.5 mile downstream to a fork with the Horsetail Falls Trail. Turn right and descend to a breathtaking bridge over Oneonta Creek between its Middle Falls and the Lower Falls, out of sight below. Ascend quickly back up the canyon wall and follow this wide trail back to Ponytail Falls (the trail actually ducks behind the falls) and shortly thereafter, your car.

    09 May

    The Dalles Mountain Ranch: A Photo Essay

    About 2 weeks ago Wendy and I went back to the Dalles Mountain Ranch. Despite clouds blocking views of the Cascade Peaks all around, it was a magical day that I will remember as long as I live.

    The day began with flower photography down by the ranch, after which we wandered up the road towards the upper trailhead. The road to the upper trailhead has been improved considerably over the last two years and is now drivable for almost anybody. The flowers were magnificent:

    Pink lupine! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that anywhere else. There was only one patch, off the road under a bunch of oak trees. We decided to roam cross-country uphill, looking for the best wildflower displays we could find:

    At this point, the wind had become so strong we had trouble even standing up. Soon a storm began to blow in:

    It pelted us with rain and wind for 5 minutes, and departed just as fast as it had arrived. We continued uphill and decided to hike all the way to the summit of Stacker Butte:

    The summit as extremely windy and the mountains were obscured with clouds, so I didn’t take many pictures. On the way down the mountain, we began to notice that the flowers were exceptionally beautiful along the road that leads to the summit:

    Sadly, all good things must come to an end:

    If you are looking for some place to go this weekend you would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful place than the Dalles Mountain Ranch. The flowers should still be near their peak, the weather should be nice (at least on Saturday) and there won’t be many people. If you go here on a weekday you may even be alone!

    Here are the important details:

    • Hike distance: 4.8 miles (plus all the off-trail roaming you can handle)
    • Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet
    • Season: all year
    • Best: Right now!
    • Map: none needed
    • Pass: Washington Discover Pass (this place is worth the $10)
    • Possible hazards: ticks, poison oak, rattlesnakes

    Here’s a map of the area:

    map of the Stacker Butte area

    30 Mar

    Wauneka Point and the journey vs. the destination

    I often talk about hikes being as much about the journey as the destination. The destination has to be worthwhile, but the way there has to be as well; hikes that are completely dull until the very end have never been my thing. This is undoubtedly why I think Dog Mountain is the most overrated hike in the Columbia River Gorge, despite flowers and views like this:

    Dog Mountain

    Dog Mountain at peak flower season.

    Now, the views and flowers in the summit meadows are fantastic – but the rest of the hike is pretty boring, and the hike is so popular that there are now flaggers helping direct people where to park. That is not a hike that I feel like doing very often, regardless of how great the summit meadows are.

    The hike to Wauneka Point (Hike 17 in Off the Beaten Trail) may have you asking yourself again whether the journey is as important as the destination. There are a number of ways to get to the Wauneka Point Trail, and none of them are particularly easy:

    • Hike up the Nesmith Point Trail 4.5 miles to the old road. Hike down the old road to the Moffett Creek Trail, turn left, and hike the Moffett Creek Trail 2 miles to its junction with the Wauneka Point Trail.
    • Ascend the unofficial Rock of Ages Ridge Trail 3 miles to its junction with the Horsetail Creek Trail. Turn left for 2 miles to the old road described above and turn right. After just 500 feet, turn left on the Moffett Creek Trail for 2 miles to the Wauneka Point Trail junction.
    • Hike the old Tanner Creek Road 4.6 miles to its end. Continue on the Tanner Creek Trail another 1.3 miles to a junction with the Moffett Creek Trail. Turn right, cross Tanner Creek and hike 3.5 miles steeply uphill to the Wauneka Point Trail junction.

    The first option is what I put in Off the Beaten Trail, simply due to its ease of use (relatively speaking, of course) and its length – despite being over 17 miles round trip, it’s still the shortest of the three options listed above. The second is only slightly longer but far steeper and more treacherous at the beginning, while the third is over 20 miles round trip and involves crossing Tanner Creek (no easy feat!). The rub, though, is that the first option is the least interesting approach of the three.The Nesmith Point Trail stays in the forest and features relatively few views, and also happens to be the most popular trail of three. Rock of Ages Ridge (Hike 16 in my book) is spectacular despite its difficulty and the Horsetail Creek Trail features a few really nice views down to the Columbia River. The Tanner Creek Road is beautiful in its own right and the Moffett Creek Trail between Tanner Creek and the Wauneka Point Trail features some rare views of the Gorge interior to the and into the Bull Run watershed to the south.

    This is not to say that the Nesmith Point Trail isn’t worth hiking; it most certainly is. The forest is nice on the way up, particularly on a foggy day:

    Nesmith Trail fog

    Nesmith Trail fog

    The Moffett Creek Trail is fantastic, a true off the beaten trail gem. It passes a couple of small lakes, crosses small creek after small creek and snakes through peaceful forest like this:

    Moffett Creek Trail

    The rustic, beautiful Moffett Creek Trail.

    However you get there, the Wauneka Point Trail is a gem. It’s even more rustic than the Moffett Creek Trail, and is occasionally quite faint:

    Wauneka Point Trail

    The faint Wauneka Point Trail. For the most part the trail is more defined.

    The trail features a spectacular view of Nesmith Point, the McCord Creek valley and the Columbia River near Beacon Rock (which looks tiny from this vantage point, almost like a thumbs-up):

    Wauneka Point panorama

    Panorama from the Wauneka Point Trail.

    After 2 faint, downhill miles, you arrive at Wauneka Point, as special a place as there is in the Columbia River Gorge:

    Wauneka Point

    Wauneka Point…in the fog.

    Now, my photos cannot do this place justice. The persistent fog on the day I hiked the trail made any attempt at capturing this place’s magic pointless. Here are two trip reports from Portland Hikers taken on better weather days:

    You might notice that both of those trip reports feature yet another way to reach Wauneka Point: an extremely difficult bushwhack up the narrow, steep ridge that connects Upper McCord Creek Falls and Wauneka Point (see map). This was also how I arrived at Wauneka Point, and after this experience I can honestly say that I do not recommend this option to any but the hardiest, most agile bushwhackers. The grade is ridiculously steep (as you might imagine), the route varies between exposed and extremely exposed and will probably not save you much time compared to the hike up. The scenery is occasionally spectacular, with the highlight being the Wauneka Gap:

    Wauneka Gap

    The Wauneka Gap. It’s actually less scary than it looks…but not much less.

    Unless you love a good bushwhack, have good route-finding skills and are able to climb up steep, crumbly slopes, I cannot recommend this option for you. Instead, you should be content to experience Wauneka Point through one of the hiking options above. Or better yet, you can combine the hike options to create a long, loony day hike or a 2-3 day backpacking trek through the secluded backcountry heart of the Columbia River Gorge. I hope to do this at some point this summer.

    I’ll just make sure to pick a sunny weekend.