December 28, 2013

Climbing out of the fog in the Columbia Gorge

We've hiked the Columbia River Gorge many times, but until this month always on the Oregon side.

While in Portland, Ore., for a holiday visit in mid-December, we decided to spend a foggy day hiking to a couple of waterfalls in Beacon Rock State Park, on the Washington side. We didn't expect to find sun, but we did.

The trail to Hardy Falls, Rodney Falls and the Pool of Winds begins by climbing steadily northeast through the forest, the fog thick among the mossy limbs on the day we visited. After a little less than half a mile, it passes a clearing where another trail merges, then re-enters the forest and continues north.

The waterfall area begins at about one mile, where a side trail provides limited views of Hardy Falls spilling over a cliff and back into the forest. Here, we found mist clinging to spider webs as the sun began to burn through the fog.

A short distance back up the main trail, another side route climbs to a railed-off overlook where Hardy Creek carves through the rock into the Pool of Winds on one side and cascades over Rodney Falls and down a cliff on the other.

The main trail continues down a short distance, crossing a bridge over the creek, and back up into the forest again.

With the hike to this point only a little more than a mile, we decided to continue up the trail to Hamilton Mountain. At two miles, it passes a junction with a trail that continues above the creek.

Past this junction, the main trail steepens and begins swtichbacking northeast up to the first in a series of rocky cliffs that provide some of the nicest views of the hike. When we arrived, we found ourselves above an inversion and could see the ridge on the Oregon side, out the gorge to the east and west, and the top of Mount Hood to the south.

Past a saddle below the rock side of the mountain that overlooks the Bonneville Dam, the trail begins switchbacking steeply through the trees again. At four miles, it leaves the forest at the brushy, 2,455-foot summit of Hamilton Mountain. The view at the top is somewhat obscured by bushes, but Hood can be seen to the south, as well as Table Mountain and Mount Adams to the northeast.

From the top, a loop trail continues northwest then south, returning to the main route lower down along Hardy Creek and adding a little less than 1 1/2 miles to the out and back distance. We returned the way we came, however, then stopped at a viewing platform at Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the drive home.

See more photos from Hamilton Mountain here.

Distance: 8 miles round trip.

Trailhead: Beacon Rock State Park is about 35 miles east of Vancouver, Wash., on Washington Highway 14. The trail begins at the lower picnic area.

December 1, 2013

Fast-paced Turkey Day 8K

I decided to enter one more race this year at the last minute - and came away with a bit of a surprise.

The Turkey Day 8K on Thanksgiving is the only race less than 10 miles that I've entered in several years. I prefer running a bit longer and on trails instead of pavement - but the hat looked nice.

I crossed the finish line in 18th place out of more than 600 at 31 minutes and 38.38 seconds, a pace of 6:22 per mile. That is, by pace, the fastest race I've run since high school track and cross country, more than 20 years ago. (And if I ran faster back then, it would have been at a shorter distance.)

I don't plan to start entering a lot of short races, but it'll be interesting to see how I run in longer events in the next year.