Hiking the PCT in sections; Crest Horse Camp to Indian Heaven

After hiking south from Crest Horse Camp to Big Huckleberry Mt. I was now ready to return there and head north. I’d been to Indian Heaven several years ago, and remembered clusters of mountain lakes and open meadows, but coming up from the south was still through thick forest.

20150913_132711

The huckleberries were long gone, but their foliage had turned to bright shades of red and orange. The white Bear Grass flowers had withered to brown, and were now dropping thousands of new seeds.

20150913_140519

20150913_141414
Mt. Hood, growing smaller as I make my way north, is still visible, and is a marker of how far I’ve come. I suppose through-hikers have gotten jaded by months of amazing scenery by the time they’ve come this far, but I still admire Hood every day from my home along the Columbia River.

Despite seeing Mt. Hood every day, I’m probably closer to Mt. Adams, but can’t see her unless I’m out on the trail. Today, as usual, I’m straining to catch a glimpse of her. Like an elusive lover, she hides herself from me, giving me just enough to keep trying. I feel her there. Maybe around the next corner, or over the next ridge… At last I spy her through thick trees, but it would make a pathetic picture… I finally give in…

20150913_143801
Mt Adams through the trees.

Climbing over a small ridge to the west, I braved the cool wind long enough to snap a few pictures of Mt. St. Helens, another ‘local’ mountain. On May 18th, 1980, she blew her top, dropping ash in a warm, dark, rain. For many years we dealt with the fine, heavy powder working its way into every crevasse…

20150913_145655
Mt. St Helens to the west.

At last I was rewarded by an almost uninterrupted view of my beautiful Mt. Adams.

20150913_145729

It may seem silly to personify geological formations, but the Native Americans who lived here spun intricate legends around these peaks, telling stories of braves wooing a beautiful maiden, fighting over her, being turned into mountains, and ultimately continuing to fight….

20150913_164415

20150913_164546

20150913_165815

20150913_170108

I was getting close to my turn-around time, and had yet to reach a satisfying ‘end-point’ to my hike. I had maps and apps with me, and could’ve tracked my every turn, but I rarely take them out unless necessary. Turning a corner, I knew I’d arrived…

20150913_153648
An apparently unnamed pond between Tombstone Lake and Blue Lake.

There’s a cluster of lakes here, and many more off the trail. There are probably over 300 lakes and ponds in Indian Heaven Wilderness area.

20150913_154023
Blue Lake, right next to the previous pond, but with much more wind. At the foot of Gifford Peak.

There was a little bit of a bite to the wind now, and instead of taking a break on the lakes, I headed back the way I’d come, stopping only after it was more sheltered. As usual, I took a few more breaks on the way back, mostly to rest my sore ankle, but returned to the trailhead within moments of sundown.

I’d only gotten about a quarter of the way into the Wilderness Area this time, and in a few months there’ll be snow on it. I hear that the wildflowers are great in the springtime…

Hiking the PCT in sections, Big Huck part deux and Big Lava Bed

Having made it to the top of Big Huck once, I still had to climb it again in my ongoing quest of the PCT, but this time from the other side. To accomplish this, I drove to Crest Horse Camp and headed south… This time it would be 7 miles each way. I forgot to mention last time that at 4202′ high it had a net elevation gain of about 3200′; (a half mile!) from Panther Creek. By driving to Crest, It would only be about 200′ this time.

20150726_165735_HDR
The first part of the trail travels on top of the old lava flow. Despite this, trees have still managed to grow in the thin layer of soil that has developed over the years. However, it appears that it doesn’t take much for them to lose their precarious hold. Many trees have been blown over, their roots just peeling off the lava like an orange peel…

20150726_165349_HDR20150726_165410_HDR

After dropping off of the flow, the trail enters a lovely forest, skirting the flow for several miles.

20150726_111007_HDR20150726_111235_HDR20150726_111429_HDR

20150726_112954_HDR

20150726_155601_Pano
Venturing off the trail, I climbed up onto the lava. As far as I could see, there was nothing but extremely jagged volcanic rock. I’m sure that without the trees, it would look much like a lunar landscape.

20150726_115442_HDR

20150726_121629_HDR
The blooms on the Bear Grass had gone to seed, but there were still spots of color..

20150726_124638_HDR

20150726_125626_HDR

20150726_134602_HDR

20150726_150748_HDR
I find the natural processes very interesting; This clump of grass was one of many that told a story of a period of probably windy, colder weather, that then became sunny and warmer. Bits of needles and forest debris had collected on top of the clump, then it had a vigorous growth spurt, lifting the debris in the process.

20150726_132551_HDR

Reaching the intersection of the trail to the top of Big Huck, (also the intersection of Grassy Knoll Trail #149), I chose not to go up it again, returning the way I’d come. No sweeping mountain vistas this time, but that was okay. Next time, I’d take the trail north to Indian Heaven Wilderness area. I hope you’ll join me!

Hiking the PCT, in sections: Big Huckleberry Mountain

In my previous post, I described hiking from the Bridge of the Gods to Bunker Hill. This time, I’ll pick up from there.

June 29th 2015

Driving to Panther Creek Campground again, I headed north. The next accessible place would be Crest Horse Camp, 16 miles up the trail. I was just out for the day, and had a late start, so I set my turn-around time for 4:30, to be back by dark, and headed out.

20150629_123417
Most of the trail goes through the Wind River Experimental Forest, Panther Creek Division. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know that there are a lot of beautiful trees!

20150629_124101

20150629_124344
This log is about 36″ in diameter, and the cut was about 70′ up. It would be difficult to count the rings, but what I found interesting is the evidence of past fires.
20150629_125323 4 spans plus 1ft
I calculated the diameter of this Doug fir at about 8′. I placed my hat there for scale…

20150629_130549

20150629_135116

20150629_153248
Columbia Lily

20150629_155103

Mt. Hood in the distance.
Mt. Hood in the distance.
Lupine, Columbia Lilies, Beargrass, Indian Paintbrush, Baby's Breath, and other flowers....
Lupine, Columbia Lilies, Beargrass, Indian Paintbrush, Baby’s Breath, and other flowers….

20150629_171821_HDR

Deciding to ignore my turn-around time, I set my sights on making the top of Big Huckleberry Mountain. It’s hard enough to have to turn around once I hit the trail, but “getting there” makes it a little easier….

20150629_172109_HDR
Mt Hood from the top of Big Huckleberry Mountain.
Mt. Rainier from the back side of Bug Huck.
Mt. Rainier from the back side of Big Huck.

The top of Big Huck is quite open and sunny, and while the colors were probably a little faded, there were plenty of flowers.

20150629_173821_HDR

20150629_173842_HDR

20150629_182417_HDR

After dawdling on the top longer than I should’ve, I headed back, only to realize that in my quest for the peak, I’d passed right by several patches of ripe huckleberries for which the mountain is named.

20150629_175339_HDR

20150629_175351_HDR
Related to the blueberry, huckleberries only grow in higher altitudes, and the berries are only found in singles, twos, and threes. They’re also smaller, sweeter, tarter,and much more delicious!

Squandering even more daylight, I greedily ate as many as I could before forcing myself back on the trail. In the process, I lost my sunglasses, not even attempting to seriously look for them. At this point, I’d be needing my headlamp a lot more than the glasses!

I paid dearly for my few handfuls of deliciousness though; the last few hours on the trail were a slow, dark grind…

20150629_191707_HDR
Last view of Mt. Hood. The shadows are getting long…

Pacific Crest Trail from Bridge of the Gods to Bunker Hill, in sections

I’m not a through-hiker; I live on the west end of Columbia River Gorge, and have hiked all through it, out on the Coast, and a few places beyond, and enjoy sharing my treks with others. I started hiking the PCT in sections just to give a little order to my ramblings, and Cascade Locks was a logical place to begin. Pictures might be from various times.

Bridge of the Gods

DSCN1380
Bridge of the Gods on a rainy Sunday afternoon in January. I only visited for the day this time, also climbing Beacon Rock while there were no crowds.
20150328_164347_HDR 1
The official start of my hike in April. Lush and green is our usual color around here..
Hikers are free, while cars have to pay $1. This goes towards general conservation of the bridge and other Gorge programs.
Hikers are free, while cars have to pay $1. This goes towards general conservation of the bridge and other Gorge programs.

A few miles past the bridge, I entered into familiar territory. I’d hiked from the Bonneville trailhead a few times before.

DSCN1300
Bonneville Dam from Hamilton Mt. in Beacon Rock State Park, a few miles west, another hike…

Table Mountain

DSCN1588
Table Mt. from the PCT.

I’d hiked up Table Mt. last fall from the Bonneville trailhead. The PCT goes past it, but another trail goes up to the top. While impressive from below, standing on the top is incredible. Those pics are from the day-hike.

DSCN1590
Gillette Lake, a popular camping area.
DSCN1598
As close as the PCT gets to Table Mt. From the top, it’s a 2000′ drop to another 1000′ of loose rock. The Table Mt. trail goes up to the peak.
DSCN1608
View from the trail. Mt Hood, Bonneville Dam, and the west edge of the bowl below Table Mt.
DSCN1609
On the edge…

DSCN1610

DSCN1618
My daypack on a column of basalt, nothing but air below…
DSCN1624
Mt. Adams, (right), and Mt. Rainier, left), from the back side of Table Mt.

Three Corner Rock

The previous section took me to the junction of the Three Corner Rock trail, and I picked it up there by driving up a forest road for a day hike to the top.

DSCN1627
Mt. Adams
DSCN1638
Three Corner Rock itself.
DSCN1636
Remnants of an old firewatch tower. Sadly, this area is closed due to a wildfire right now, as well as a few near Mt. Adams.
DSCN1641
Just a bit of the trail. This was in April.

DSCN1639

DSCN1633
Looking south at Mt. Hood. This is a microwave transmitting tower, (but that’s not the road I came up on.)
DSCN1631
A picture can’t come close to capturing it, but the view from this unassuming little peak was a full 360 degrees of green hills, and 4-5 snow-capped peaks.

Bunker Hill

For the next leg, I picked up the PCT at the same place and headed to the Bunker Hill trail near Wind River, making it an overnighter. Then I picked it up for a day-hike at Panther Creek Horse Camp, on the other side of Bunker Hill, and backtracked a few miles to climb Bunker Hill.

20150424_184300_HDR
Still being early spring, the creeks were plentiful and running deep. I got my feet wet crossing this one.
20150425_063615_HDR
One of many waterfalls. This one had perhaps a 30′ drop.
20150425_075408
Ran into a little late snow.

20150425_07575820150425_085229

20150425_090024_HDR

20150425_090534

20150425_094516_HDR

20150425_111844

20150425_120840_HDR

20150425_120821_HDR
Bunker Hill itself. The PCT goes to the right of it, with a short steep trail to the top which I hiked the next time.

20150425_134452

20150425_142402

20150425_142436

20150425_142751

20150425_143312

20150425_153652

20150425_183822_HDR

20150628_180245

20150628_180452

20150628_174740
All that remains of an old fire-watch tower are a few concrete blocks. Trees grow quickly around here.

I’ve since continued on, over Big Huckleberry Mountain and through Big Lava Bed to Crest Horse Camp, but I’ll save that for next time. Hope you’ve enjoyed my rambles!

Goat Rocks backpacking trip

DSCN1800
1. Mt. Rainier from the back side of Hawkeye Point.

With my brother, (and employer), Roger, headed to the Cayman Islands for a new job, we decided to end things with a three-night backpacking trip to Goat Rocks Wilderness Area. Situated almost exactly halfway between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, it’s a popular, but truly wild area. With up to 25 feet of snowfall annually, there’s usually still snow on the ground through August, but with the light snowpack this year, it was bare except for a few small glaciers. Our nominal destination would be Goat Lake, with day-hikes around the area.

Thursday morning was spent packing, shopping, and driving the three hours to the trailhead near Packwood, Washington. We, Roger, our nephew Jon and I, got there in plenty of time to set up camp at the Chambers Lake campground. After an evening enjoying the “luxuries” of car-camping, we slept under the stars. Morning brought no sign of a friend, Nick, that was planning to meet us, so we went through our gear, deciding what to bring or not to bring, packed up, and headed up the Snowgrass Flats trail.

20150717_101602
2.

The first several miles were through subalpine forest, eventually opening in to alpine meadows. While resting at a creek, our friend Nick showed up! With no cell service since the previous afternoon, it wasn’t a given that we’d see him if he was indeed there. Shortly after that, we found a nice campsite a ways off the trail. We chose to camp early, as there are no fires allowed within a quarter-mile of the lake. After I happily dropped my 46 pound backpack, we hiked the remaining 20 minutes up to the lake.

DSCN1744
3. Mt. Adams in the distance. Our campsite is above the smaller rock-pile to the right. The trail follows the left side of the basin in this picture. Goat Lake is above and behind me.

Roger and Jon had been up here several times before, but the one time I’d been here previously, there was three feet of ice and snow on the lake. It’s become a mandatory rite to go for a swim, regardless of the weather, and that time was no exception. Fortunately, there was a hole already broken through near the shore. It was cold…. This time, with temps in the 80s, and hardly any glacial ice-water running into it, we happily shed our clothes and bailed in. I’d neglected to bring a swimsuit, and wasn’t willing to hike in wet shorts, so I went in my underwear. (The next day, I decided even that was wearing too much… 😉

DSCN1754
4. Approaching Goat Lake. It hangs in a bowl at the head of a large basin. It’s fed by melting glaciers, rather small this year, and runs out over the front edge.
20150718_132001_HDR
5. The lake is a popular destination, and there were several other backpackers around, so I opted to jump in a little further away… (This picture is actually from the next day’s swim)
Difficult to get a good pic of the lake from right next to it... yes, that's snow.
6. Difficult to get a good pic of the lake from right next to it… yes, that’s snow.

Much of the area is made up of rock and gravel, but some places, especially along the multitude of little streams trickling from the glaciers, wildflowers carpet every surface. My companions were patient, if a little amused, as I stopped to take pictures of every flower I saw, but I often let them go on ahead without me.

DSCN1748
7. I only saw a few of these. It’s about the size of a penny, and was very fuzzy…
DSCN1743
8. One of the glacial streams, also with a few trees to provide shade.
DSCN1753
9.

We headed back to our camp early, getting settled in and having a leisurely dinner. I was the only one to bring a tent, and I’ll tell you why…. The previous time I’d been up here, the sunny afternoon had turned into a freezing, gale-force wind as it got dark! None of us had brought tents, and I spent the entire night gripping my sleeping bag tightly closed, only to have it ripped out of my hands by the wind if I managed to doze off! It appeared that it might stay nice this time, but with a wary eye to the weather, I spread my sleeping bag on the ground with the others. The fierce winds never came, and I slept pretty well, in part because I’d added several layers of clothing!

Today would be spent day-hiking, and the plan was to follow the trail up around the left side of the lake to Hawkeye Point, then scramble the rest of the way around on goat trails. The area is named for the mountain goats that live there, not technically goats at all actually, but their own special breed, and only found in the Pacific Northwest. (wdfw.wa.gov) According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are about 300 mountain goats in the Goat Rocks Wilderness area. We only saw a few herds, of about 20-30 in each, but at 108,096 acres (43,745 ha), there’s a lot of area!

DSCN1763
10. A few mountain goats up by the tree line. Extremely skittish of humans, it’s hard to get good pictures without a better camera.
DSCN1760
11. Zoomed in..
DSCN1766
12. Some mountain goats top-center. They like to come over from the other side of the mountain in the evenings and mornings.
DSCN1768
13. Zoomed in…

Hawkeye Point, (7431′ / 2264 m) is the site of an old fire-watch tower, and sits almost 1000 feet above the lake, (6475′). The trail swings wide to the west, overlooking Jordan Basin, and provides the first view of Mt. St Helens to the west, Mt. Rainier to the north, and Mt. Adams is visible from virtually everywhere, but I never get sick of it. 🙂

DSCN1787
14. Mt. St. Helens to the west.
DSCN1791
15. Mt. Rainier to the north.
DSCN1789
16. Mt. Adams to the south, with Jordan Basin on the bottom right.
20150718_101145_Pano
17. Panorama from Hawkeye Point. (In reality, Rainier and Adams are almost exactly opposite one another from here.)
DSCN1792
18. Jon preparing to glissade down a little glacier. Rainier in the background.
DSCN1803
19. First view of Goat Lake from above. You can see the trail to the lake to the right of the back side in this picture.
DSCN1807
20. Rainier, again… 😉
DSCN1810
21. Jon and Roger scrambling along the ridge. Nick decided he really wanted to grow older and took the trail back. Most of the time, one false step would mean a long, bloody tumble of up to 1700 feet. We were careful…
DSCN1811
22.
DSCN1812
23.
DSCN1814
24.
DSCN1816
25.
DSCN1818
26.

You all know that I really like big rocks, so I was having a great time. But even up in that rugged terrain, wildflowers sprouted from the smallest crevasses.

DSCN1822
27.
DSCN1821
28.
DSCN1825
29.
DSCN1826
30.
DSCN1827
31.
DSCN1835
32.
DSCN1840 (2)
33.
DSCN1843
34.
DSCN1848
35.
DSCN1853
36.
DSCN1836
37. Down the back side of the mountain. A long ways down!
DSCN1844
38.
DSCN1828
39.Tracks, scat, and tufts of wool were abundant along the high ridges.
DSCN1849
40. We came on this guy suddenly, but he didn’t want to stick around. He stayed about 50 yards ahead of us and led us along the trails you can see ahead of him, until he re-joined his herd.
DSCN1854
41. Once he found his herd, they all bugged out over this edge, probably over 20 of them.
DSCN1851
42. The shot I’d been waiting for. 😉

The rest of the way down was pretty uneventful; some small glaciers and a lot of halfways sliding down slopes of loose rock and gravel. We all took another dip in the lake, and Nick met us there with lunch. On the way back to our camp, I found a few flowers I missed the first few times through. 😉

20150719_092549_HDR
43. Indian Paintbrush
20150719_092704_HDR
44. Lupine
20150718_143701_HDR
45. This was right by our camp. The pink ones are some kind of a flowering sweet pea. They’re everywhere, even down in town, but I still like ’em…
20150718_143650_HDR
46. Yeah; I know they’re the same picture, but I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. 😉
20150718_142829_HDR
47. Purple Asters I’ve been told.
20150718_142534_HDR
48.
20150718_143140_HDR
49.

After returning from our scramble, and resting up, Roger, Nick and I took a short hike up towards Old Snowy Mountain via the PCT, but turned back when it looked like we wouldn’t make it up and back by dark. Amazingly, I don’t think I took any pictures….. Sunday morning we headed back to the trailhead, but by the Jordan Basin trail. Basically, it continues past the lake, then over the ridge and into the Jordan Basin, eventually making a loop that returns us to where we started. Some day I’ll figure out how to use my Topo app so I can show my tracks, but every time I have the opportunity to, there’s hiking to be done! ;-).

Screenshot (2)
50. Good as it’s going to get at this time. 😉 Screenshot from Google Earth with our rough tracks. I don’t have a good map of the area, as it’s a little further north than my maps go.

The hike back was beautiful, but there were areas of steep, rough downhill, that gave my bad ankle a real workout. I took to going ahead of the others so I could travel at a slower pace, and also take pictures.

20150719_092908_HDR (2)
51.
20150719_092819_HDR
52.
20150719_093814_HDR
53.
20150719_093830_HDR
54.
20150719_093853_HDR
55.
20150719_093911_HDR
56.
20150719_093952_HDR
57.
20150719_101420_HDR
58. Mt. St. Helens to the west.
20150719_101607_HDR
59. Lupine
20150719_094322_HDR
60.
20150719_100849_HDR
61.
20150719_101412_HDR
62.
20150719_103638_HDR
63.

And so ended our hike… Our adventure wasn’t quite over though! Driving into Packwood, we stopped at a local bar and grill for something to eat, In addition to the service being remarkably slow, it was the first time that I’d been served by a middle-aged man wearing an honest to goodness wife-beater. (white, ribbed tank-top) Both he and his associate also regularly stopped by the bar counter to slurp on mugs of beer. We surmised that perhaps they had a deal with their wives to work for them on Sunday afternoons while it was slow… 😉 The burgers were not the best, and they charged us for two extra drinks! All part of the experience I guess….

Should you like to visit Goat Rocks in Infinite Flight, I’m including some screenshots:

Screenshot_2015-07-19-22-27-43
64. In relation to KSEA and KPDX.
Screenshot_2015-07-19-23-15-54
65. From 55S, (Packwood), fly SE until you pass over Packwood Lake, then continue on until you see Goat Lake, which should be straight N of 66W, (Trout Lake). (Or you could head straight N from Trout Lake; it’s a lot easier to see from the S.)
Screenshot_2015-07-19-23-23-52
66. Mt Rainier.
Screenshot_2015-07-19-23-34-35
67. Goat Lake dead ahead from the south…
Screenshot_2015-07-19-23-46-47
68. Goat Lake in the front left; Packwood Lake behind.
Screenshot_2015-07-19-23-53-41
69. Pissing off all the backpackers who came out here for some peace and quiet. 😉
Screenshot_2015-07-19-23-59-15
70. Rugged country… It’s even more rugged in real-life.
Screenshot_2015-07-19-23-46-29
71.
Screenshot_2015-07-19-23-49-50
72.

I hope you enjoyed sharing in my adventure! I know there are a lot of pictures, but I pared it down from almost 200. 😉 Feel free to use any for personal use. If you want high-res copies of any of them, let me know.

Kayaking the Columbia River North Bonneville to Vancouver May 22nd to 24th 2015

Vista House at Crown Point
Vista House at Crown Point

It was a pale day, and low clouds shrouded many of the familiar peaks as we drove up the Gorge. Friday morning was spent in packing everything I’d need for two nights and most of three days. On the expedition with me would be my brother Roger, and our nephew Jon. Roger had his own 16′ kayak and we’d borrowed two 14-footers from a friend. We were driving east to the Hamilton Island boat launch just below Bonneville Dam, where we’d leave Roger’s van to be picked up later by his wonderful wife and son. I would’ve preferred to start further up the Gorge, but that would entail having to portage around Bonneville Dam, a six mile drive, and that would be asking a little much of his family…

At the boat launch, we pulled out all of our gear and supplies, and then proceeded to attempt to fit it all in dry-bags and then into the small hatches, with the excess strapped on top of the decks. With Roger’s longer kayak, he ended up hauling more than his share, but with him being a bit of a masochist, I didn’t feel very bad! Once loaded, we rolled each kayak one-by-one, down to the water with the help of a kayak dolly. Without so much as a backward glance, we pushed off and headed downstream. You might think that since we were going downstream, that it would just be a matter of floating merrily along, dipping the paddles in the water occasionally to steer, but with a current that is only about 1.5 mph, you’d be a very long time! Of more concern was the 5-10 mph headwind.

980′ Beacon Rock, visible from miles up the river, became the measure of our progress, the same as it was for the Native Americans and the early explorers Lewis and Clark. Below Bonneville Dam, the river is largely the same as it was back then. Geologists believe that it was originally the core of an active volcano. After the lava stopped flowing and cooled, the softer earth surrounding it was eroded away by Ice-Age floods, leaving the hard volcanic basalt.

Beacon Rock, Washington
Beacon Rock, Washington
While the north side is thick with moss and trees, the south side reveals solid rock.
While the north side is thick with moss and trees, the south side reveals solid rock.

The first place we stopped was a bit of beach on the Oregon side of the river, (south bank), with plenty of nice sand and trees. Under Oregon state law, all waterways are public access up to the high-water mark, while in Washington, only the water itself is public access unless it’s designated as a public area. This might have been a nice place to camp, but listening to the roar of Highway 84 nearby was not what I’d come out on the water for!

Stopping for a break. Beacon Rock behind us.
Stopping for a break. Beacon Rock behind us.

Continuing on, we passed through familiar territory, but being on the river now, we had a new perspective.

Cliffs on the Oregon side.
Cliffs on the Oregon side.

So far, the weather had held, without excessive rain, sun, or wind, but soon a bit of a squall came up, bringing wind, a little rain, and waves that grew to two feet at times. As long as I was able to meet them head-on, I still felt pretty safe, but several broke over my bow, and would have soaked me if not for the dry-bag I had strapped to my front deck. Pictures would have been nice, but it was hardly the time! As soon as you stop steering, any vessel will automatically start turning itself sideways to the waves, inviting a capsize. I was wearing a life vest, but really didn’t feel like putting my dry-bags to the test!

Soon the weather improved, and we could make out our next goal, Cape Horn, in the distance. We were planning on camping on the imaginatively named Sand Island, just opposite the Cape, and it still looked a long ways away.

Cape Horn and Phoca Rock.
Cape Horn and Phoca Rock.
The view from Cape Horn, Phoca Rock in the river, and Beacon Rock in the distance.
The view from Cape Horn, Phoca Rock in the river, and Beacon Rock in the distance.

With the squall passed, we decided to stop by Phoca Rock, which I’d seen hundreds of times from Cape Horn. Only about 30′ high, and not much wider, I’d often wondered what it would be like to visit. Naturally, it was quite a bit larger than it looked from the cape. It had a relatively low area on two sides, and we didn’t have any trouble pulling close and climbing out of our kayaks.

Phoca Rock and Cape Horn.
Phoca Rock and Cape Horn.

Highway 14 goes along the top layer of basalt that you can see here, and a train tunnel goes right through the entire lower layer of basalt!

Phoca Rock
Phoca Rock

The Cape Horn trail follows the ridge above the highway, then drops down, crosses it,and follows the lower layer back to make a loop.

Jon, on the low step of Phoca Rock with Highway 14 overlook in the background.
Jon, on the low step of Phoca Rock with Highway 14 overlook in the background.

We could have climbed to the top of Phoca Rock, but didn’t want to take the time. We still had to make camp, and run out of daylight. From here, we angled for the Oregon side, and Sand Island. Nearing it, we saw with some dismay that there were several signs that read; “NO CAMPING” as well as others that said; “CLOTHING OPTIONAL”. I was pretty sure that I’d read that camping was permitted here, but for some reason the online map I’d used was virtually impossible to navigate from a smart phone, and my notes weren’t explicit. Following the island down, we saw only more signs prohibiting camping, but decided to camp anyway.

Home, Sweet Home for the night.
Home, Sweet Home for the night.

Pulling our kayaks well above the high-water line, we disgorged their contents onto the beach and tried to make some order of things. I was dismayed to find that my “dry-bags” were no more watertight than the hatches on my kayak were, and my sleeping bag was more than a little damp. Soon Jon had gathered wood and started a nice campfire, and Roger had started his barbecue. I set up my tent, but Roger and Jon opted to just roll their sleeping bags out on a tarp, despite having tents…. For dinner tonight I’d brought chicken mole, with lettuce, cheese, salsa, and sour cream, and soft corn tortillas to wrap it all in. Roger provided some Spanish Rice, and soon we were stuffed. After paddling over 12.5 miles, I slept soundly, even with a soggy sleeping bag. By morning however, the muscles from my neck to my shoulders were protesting their sudden abuse, and I was happy to get up and about. The only other person we saw on the island was a solitary man wearing nothing but a beanie and a wristwatch… For breakfast, I’d brought espresso and oatmeal, and we decided to pack up and paddle around the other side of the island, where a quiet channel ran between there and the Oregon riverbank, and see if Jon could catch us a few steelhead or salmon for lunch. With no luck, we headed back downriver. (I found out after returning home that apparently, the “no camping” signs only prohibited camping on the interior of the island.)

The next point of interest was the Vista House at Crown Point. This is the rocky promontory that you can see on IF when traveling east up the Gorge. While it’s not nearly as pointy as it appears in IF, it’s still very impressive. Completed in 1918, the Vista House sits on top of a 693′ high cliff, and affords impressive views both up and down the Gorge.

You can just see the dome of the Vista House in the center of the cliff.
You can just see the dome of the Vista House in the center of the cliff.

Shortly after Crown Point is Rooster Rock. A state park, I’ve always associated it with the “clothing optional” section of beach it offers; adjacent to the one on Sand Island. We saw another solitary guy enjoying the beach au natural, but the cool weather was probably not really conducive for nude sunbathing…

Rooster Rock, with Crown Point to the left.
Rooster Rock, with Crown Point to the left.

I’ve often driven by Rooster Rock and noticed that it had a number of small docks and a quiet channel, so we decided to check it out. It entailed paddling past the rock itself, then back-tracking up the channel, and it was a little longer than I’d expected.

The lagoon at Rooster Rock.
The lagoon at Rooster Rock.

Once there, we found a nice picnic table on which to eat our lunch. After a delicious meal of veggie patties made by Jon’s wife, with tomatoes, avocado, and an awesome spicy sauce, sandwiched in soft hoagie rolls, we headed out again.

We were reaching more familiar waters now, and would literally pass a few blocks from my house in Washougal. We took the opportunity to paddle through the narrow channel that runs between Lady Island and the Washington shore. The highway actually travels across the island, and the large Georgia-Pacific paper mill sits right on the shore. Again, it was a chance to see familiar territory from a new perspective. Unfortunately, I got lazy about taking pictures once we left the Gorge area…

Our plan for the night was to camp on Government Island, a huge island, and one which we’d camped on before, and were all familiar with. For no particular reason, we stopped on a smaller nearby island imaginatively named Sand Island, (yes, another one…), and decided to camp there. After a 14 mile day, we were ready to relax. For dinner, Roger put rice, black beans, and some other stuff together in his Dutch oven, and of course it went down well. I tented while they slept on the tarp again. While we were kicking back and relaxing, some movement caught our eyes, and we saw a beaver swimming along the shore nearby.

DSCN1679 DSCN1680

I was awaken in the middle of the night some time with excruciating pain in my neck/shoulders. After futilely waiting for it to abate, I forced myself to get up and and go find some ibuprofen. While waiting for the pain to subside so I could go back to bed, I noticed Mr. Beaver was still hard at work, swimming back and forth.

In addition to the beaver, we saw either a sea lion or a seal on our first day out. A novelty for us, but they’ve become a major nuisance to the salmon fishermen, leading to the killing of particularly aggressive ones by the Game Department, and proposed executions of many more.

We saw numerous hawks and falcons, and spotted a few bald eagles, too, but weren’t able to get any good pictures of them. Didn’t catch any fish, either….

The last day of paddling was to Vancouver Marine Park, just 9 miles, where Roger’s wife would be there about 2:00 to pick us up. After a leisurely breakfast of Roger’s hash brown, sausage, and egg scramble, we hit the water again. It seemed a little weird to come back when we still had another day off from work, but Roger figured we’d need a day to get everything cleaned up, and rest up, so I guess it was okay. But after unpacking and taking a nap and a shower, I was almost ready to go again….