Eager to get a jump on the weekend I decided to drive 175 miles south after work and sleep in my car in a parking lot right in the middle of the freeway along I-84. Looming In the shadows above was Multnomah Falls, one of Oregon’s most popular destinations. It was with that thought in mind that prompted me to sleep at the trailhead so I could get an early jump on the crowd. I knew that’d be the only way to get the trail alone. But that’s not to say this little endeavor wasn’t without hiccups.
I was awoken by a group of Muslim men praying outside of my car window at 5 AM. This wasn’t something I had anticipated but alarm clocks are sometimes unexpected. But now I was awake. I opened my car door and slowly crawled out to a sea of curious eyes that only lasted a moment. They were off before we had any time for pleasantries. I could see their headlamps in the hills as they made their way to the top.
I came to life in a slow and leisurely manner. I was already where I needed to be so the hard part was over. I started a little later than I planned but I still managed to have the trail to myself. But things sometimes go bump in the night. As I was adjusting my air mattress the night before in what was a dark and vast parking lot I had managed to roll my ankle in a steel grate positioned perfectly behind my car that I hadn’t been able to see. The pain was immediate and lasting and I worried that it would affect my hiking.
Initially when I set out in the morning I knew that I was going to reach the top of Multnomah Falls quickly. A relatively easy 1.2 mile hike up 11 switchbacks on a paved path that takes you to the top. I plan most of my hikes extensively but I hadn’t set anything in stone for this morning. Once I reached the top I decided to wander and roam the trail system from there.
My foot and ankle both gave me a slow start but I was able to manage 10 miles without to much discomfort. It was there but walking through forested canyons has this soothing affect that dulls all pain. The real pain came later that evening when all the adrenaline had escaped my body. After a night off and a little Advil all is well again in the world.
The last time I was in the Columbia River Gorge it was prior to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. I actually had my second backpacking experience along the Eagle Creek trail well over a decade ago. A buddy of mine and I had camped about 6 miles in along the creek. We hiked just past a tunnel where you’re walking behind waterfalls. It was an amazing experience that never fades from my memory.
There was a hint of sadness being in the area this time around because the trail was one of several closed trails. I literally couldn’t walk down memory lane. But I’ll always remember Eagle Creek before the fire and one day when it reopens I’ll get to experience it in a different light. Fire is natural but this one wasn’t. But the forest will survive and thrive.
The fire was started by a 15-year-old boy who threw fireworks in a canyon along Eagle Creek. The fire burned 50,000 acres and trapped multiple hikers. There is quite a bit of fire damage remaining and many trails are still closed. The trail to Multnomah Falls had been closed for 14 months following the fire and then another closure due to falling debris after it had initially reopened.
I grew up in Oregon and spent a lot of time in the Gorge. It’s a place unlike any other and to be back hiking in this area had a completely different feel than hiking in Washington. Everywhere I look in the Gorge I can see and feel memories. Everything in Washington is new and exciting. They’re both great feelings but wildly different. I was eager to put my boots on familiar soil.
I thought the best place to go first would be Larch Mountain. I’ve been there several times but never by my feet. This is one of those peaks that you can reach most of the way by car, between May and November. There is a short hike from the parking lot to the peak. At the top you’ll be rewarded with 360 views of the surrounding mountains with plagues that show the distance and height of the Volcanoes that dot the landscape.
I didn’t make it all the way to the top this time around. Once I broke out of the forest canopy I was met with a very foggy and rocky trail. Ever since my attempt of Mt. Washington and nearly getting lost in similar conditions I’m spooked by the eerie vibe that only a silent forest shrouded in fog can give off. You can immediately feel the embrace of the forest release when you walk out into the treeline and meet an immediate temperature drop as the trail fades away. Ever once in a while I like to scream in such silence.
I’d like to thank Vin, the man in the photo below, for walking the last part of the trail with me. He was kind enough to give me a ride back to my car. And I have nothing but love for the person who offered me a piece of fresh fruit. I happily obliged but I only took a grape. That one grape had me smiling until I was back to my car gazing into the mountains I had just descended. People in the mountains are kinder.