Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hamilton Mountain & Beacon Rock with Leo

After a very rainy Saturday spent looking at a few houses and touring neighborhoods Emily and I were ready to take Leo out for a hike on Sunday.  The weather cleared a bit with only a few showers and we ended up hiking a loop trail that proved to be one of my favorites in the Portland area.  We saw some great waterfalls, our first spring flowers, a ton of great views from some crazy terrain and even had time to finally run up Beacon Rock for some views of the Columbia River and surprising elk herd in the Gorge below.  Click the title to read on…

After sleeping in a bit we drove the quick 30-40 minutes to the Beacon Rock State Park Trailhead for Hamilton Mountain and began our hike with Leo at just after noon.  The weather was holding but we wore our Gore-Tex Pro shells just in case.  I had debated not taking the DSLR but was later glad that I threw it in my waist pack.  Leo, as usual on hikes like this, was instantly stoked to be off leash and running up the trail in the woods .   The trailhead was a picnic area with some nice facilities and the trail leading into the woods looked to be in great shape.

In just over a mile we came to what was called the “waterfall area” on the web page I had found about the hike.  I was later surprised that this amazing loop wasn’t in many guidebooks for the area, but instead was on the “Friends of the Gorge” website.  The falls consisted of a side trail down to a viewpoint over Hardy Falls.  There was a fenced in area and you couldn’t see the actual falls clearly so I had Emily keep Leo on leash while I ventured down a path to the very edge of the falls for some video and photos of the water pouring over the 50’ cliff edge.  By the time I climbed back up Leo was wiggling in excitement to see me as he gets anxious when I go out of sight like that.  

We hiked a little further up the trail and saw a sign for something called the “pool of winds” so we decided to explore before continuing on towards Hamilton Mountain.  The pool turned out to be a deep hole underneath Rodney Falls that the water poured into surrounded by tall walls, except for the gap we were peering into and the water was pouring out of.  The force of the water tumbling over the edge down into the pool was blasting mist out of the narrow crack we were looking around, protected from falling off the cliff ourselves by an old metal railing.  We snapped a few photos and got some video as we could before we got soaked from standing there.

We continued on across a nice bridge below the falls and over Hardy Creek towards Hamilton Mountain in the distance.  On the approach to the falls we had caught a glimpse of Hamilton in the distance from some power lines we passed under which climbed steeply up the hill from the Bonneville Dam below us on the Columbia River.  The mountain had huge, towering cliff faces and looked pretty imposing for a smaller peak along the Gorge.  We soon came to a sign which said “Difficult” to the left and “Most Difficult” to the right.  Knowing our knees would thank us on the return we chose to ascend via the steeper route towards the summit.  

We ascended quickly through the beautiful forest, occasionally stopping at viewpoints down to towards the Columbia and Beacon Rock along the way.  We could even see the waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Gorge pouring down towards the Columbia.  Leo also was very well behaved and posed nicely for the photos!  We soon found ourselves switchbacking upwards beneath towering cliffs that looked to be great for rock climbing if it wasn’t for the loose, crumbly volcanic rock they were composed of.  

We soon made it up to the top of the cliffs for some grand views of the Columbia below.  Mt. Hood was in the clouds and we could see misty rain throughout the gorge but it didn’t matter because the terrain of the mountain we were standing on was amazing in itself.  A massive crack led deep into the cliffs and we took some time to explore the area.  Again, Leo stayed with Emily but this time it was because he couldn’t squeeze himself through a crack in the rocks to follow me which was a good thing because again I ventured out to the edge to get some dramatic photos of the geology and views below us.  Looking over the edge of the cliff I could see straight down to the trail we had ascended below and the people following us up.  It’s always neat to look over cliff like this and see the towering trees of the Northwest pointing straight up at you from far below.  

We continued onward as we could see the true summit a distance away, again, another peak with a massive cliff face.  We snapped some more photos of our fury friend and continued onward up a very pretty trail towards the top.  As we walked we could see waterfalls pouring down the colorful cliff face below the top of Hamilton.  Not sure where all the water was coming from… springs perhaps?  

After a lot more switchbacks we found ourselves at the true summit of Hamilton.  It wasn’t much to speak of compared to our previous stops as it was just a clearing with some trees with only an eastward view down towards the Boneville Dam and towards Cascade Locks.  What was impressive was the clear view of the geology behind the “Bridge of the Gods” legend.  From the top we could clearly see where the mountainside in front of us had collapsed and slid down towards the Columbia, blocking it’s flow ages ago and creating the Native American lore of the “Bridge of the Gods” (look it up - too long to explain here).  

You could see how narrow the gorge was east and directly west of this large swath of land that pushed the river southward against the Oregon border.  Sadly it reminded us of the landslide that had just occurred in Washington that claimed nearly 30 lives… We could also see traces of snow from the night before on the taller peaks around us.  It even hailed on us lightly as we left the summit and started our descent.
After stopping for food and to let Leo rest up a bit we continued onward along the ridge towards some old logging roads where we followed well-marked signs on our descent.  We had a few more great views along a plateau on the ridge which would have made for a great camp site before joining the logging roads down towards Hardy Creek.  As the sign had said, this descent was much easier on the knees.  We regained the foot path just above the roaring Hardy Creek and made our way quickly back to the trailhead along a beautifully maintained trail.  

When we reached the car we toweled Leo off and drove back down to Highway 14 where we parked and left Leo in the car for a quick jog up Beacon Rock.  We had been itching to climb this massive monolith for years but it was always too short of a hike to warrant a trip alone so adding it on after Hamilton made perfect sense.  Beacon Rock, a popular climbing location due to the solid rock, was actually the inner core of an ancient volcano that had been eroded away from thousands of years of glacial floods (Missoula Floods - again - Google it) leaving just the hard inner core.  

A trail had been built up the cliffside in 1918 and it contained a whopping 55 switchbacks (Emily counted to make sure I wasn’t lying).  Despite already hiking 8 miles we made it up the bridges and walkways very quickly.  It was very safe but we were glad we didn’t bring Leo.  Anyone with a fear of heights would not be able to do this… When we go to the top we had a nice view down to the river and train tracks below and were even surprised to see a herd of elk in a pasture below, right next to a track that constantly had loud freight trains traveling it.  

We didn’t stay long at the top and instead quickly headed down taking some funny video of Emily switchbacking her way down the trail.  Leo was happy to have us back at the car.  From there it was just a quick drive home.  It was a great hike and besides some sprinkles and light hail at the top of Hamilton, the weather had held for us the entire day.  It would be a great hike to go back to with some of our city friends who don’t get out as much as we do.  

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