Section 17. Hood River to White Pass

September 20, 2017

Section 17. Hood River to White Pass. September 11-16. I had a very pleasant zero day in Hood River at the Gorge View Bed and Breakfast, with the cool and helpful hosts of Pat and Ann, and a few of the guests who were here to enjoy the wind, either on a kitesurf board or windsurf board. Gorge View was no ordinary Bed and Breakfast but a home from home for the windsurfing fraternity. During the afternoon a trail angle from Cascade Locks delivered all my parcels which was a huge relief and then a friend of a friend, Oriol, lived across the Columbia River in White Salmon arrived

The last time I saw Oriol was in 1992 at Mount Cook village in New Zealand, and he had his leg in plaster after a climbing accident on Mount Tasman. We took a walking tour of Hood River and checked out the kayak I was to use tomorrow at the Gorge Paddling Center run by a whitewater paddler called Todd. We then went for a simple meal where Oriol remarked I ate like a winter mountaineer. It was good to have some non-PCT social life with Oriol’s intellectual chat and the sophisticated vibe at the Gorge View B&B.

In the morning I packed a box with everything to return to Scotland and took it to the Post Office and then bought some outdoor nick nacks. I was now ready to continue north. I walked down to the Gorge Paddling Center with a paddle and found a suitable sit on top to use from where Todd had previously shown me. The rucksack slotted into a space at the back and I launched in my full hiking gear. Initially I paddled across the Marina and then out into the Columbia River just downstream of a huge sand bar and below the ‘no-pedestrians’ bridge. Once in the river I felt the water. It was very pleasant and there was virtually no current. It would have been easy to swim across from the end of the sandbar and only ½ a mile at the most.

01. Looking down the Columbia River on my kayak crossing with Oregon on the left and Washington on the right. The Columbia River is about a mile wide.

The river was calm and relaxing with virtually no other boat traffic. There was a bit of a haze in the air but I could still see some 20 miles each way. There was little sign of the fire raging downstream and it was hopefully under control now. In no time I was approaching the other side with a small bow wave radiating behind me on the glassy water. I went to the railway bridge where the White Salmon River empties into the Columbia River. The White Salmon was significantly colder and must have come from the snowfields on Mount Adams, a bit to the north.

02. Arriving in Washington with Oregon in the background. The kayak was lent to me by Todd of The Gorge Paddling Center, who was in turn friends of Pat and Ann who had the superb Gorge View B&B in Hood River.

Here Pat and Ann met me and we carried the kayak up and put it on their pick-up so they could take it back to Todd on the other side. I was very fortunate to have come across their webpage for the B&B; not only were they extremely helpful, but they also knew who to contact and how to help. After I Said goodbye to them I sat and studied the map. I would after all be better off going up the road to Trout Lake rather than try and follow small forestry roads which wiggled through the valleys and over ridges. It meant a 21 mile road walk however, which I could split into 2 days.

I set off up the road beside the river. It was not as busy as I feared with a car a minute on average.nonetheless it felt humiliating. Three times cars pulled over to ask me if I wanted a lift which did much to raise my spirits on this trudge. I walked about 8 miles to the hamlet of Husum. There were a few orchards and homesteads to see en route but it was not the wilderness I had become used to. Husum was a hamlet which had become something of a whitewater mecca. There were two rafting companies here and loads of whitewater kayakers, all of which came to play on the river’s rapids. One of the rafting companies had a riverside picnic area and I sneaked  in there at dusk a found a picnic table for the night.

I left early in the morning hoping to beat the traffic. But it was already busy by 0600, presumably with cars going in to Portland for work. Still the road was not that bad and I could easily keep to the side and even leave the road verge if I saw a lorry coming. There was the odd section where there was a good verge to walk on but these roads  are not built with pedestrians in mind. By 8 I got to BZ Corner. There was a Chinese shop here which opened at 0600!. The shop sold everything from Oreo biscuits to anchor chain and coffee to taxidermied moose heads. I had coffee and some snacks and then carried on for the next 10 miles to Trout Lake.

This road continued much the same. There were a few sections I could parallel the road but most of the time I was on it. The traffic  was much quieter now the “rush hour” was over. There were the odd old barn, a garage with antique cars, and many retiree-owned small ranches. It was pleasant for a road walk but I would not choose to do it on its own. One redeeming feature was the ever increasing dominance of Mount Adams with its snowfields which filled every view. Just before Trout Lake a local joined me and we chatted for 2 miles as we walked in.

03. On a road walk there are sights and smells totally different to the subalpine environment of the PCT. However they are seldom fun and these cars sum up how I felt.

Trout Lake itself is really a village, but with a high school. It also had a post office, charming store and a cafe beside the garage. There was also a few bed and breakfasts and a Buddhist abbey  it was a lovely place and a favourite with hikers who hitched down from the PCT to resupply. The shop had a register and I recognised 20 names of people who had been in over the last 3-4 days. I had not seen a PCT hiker for about 10 days now so was keen to bump into one, but there were none about. I went to the cafe and had lunch there before the final push.

04. Some views on road walks are also good. Here is Mount Adams from a little north of Trout Lake.

It was up 14 miles of very quiet road. I planned to do half today and half  tomorrow. The road was paved but there was about 4 cars an hour. The ranches  and homesteads soon disappeared as the forest returned. The road climbed steadily for a few hours until it reached my goal at a stream.  However the stream was dry so I had to continue through the forest for another 3 miles to another. This took me well into dusk and it was almost dark when I arrived. I collected water and just spread my protective sheet on the ground and cowboy camped on it in the forest, beside the large side stream of ice cold clear water as it made its last few independent tumbles before flowing into the White Salmon River.

I had a slow start and then finished the walk up the road for another 5 miles to reach the PCT again. I had not been on it for 5 days now and it was good to return to it. There were no more route choices or cars to worry about. I just had to get in the track and follow it north. I stopped at the first water and had my breakfast granola.

05. The 2200 mile mark as I rejoined the PCT near Mount Adams.

After that I started up the path through the hemlocks to Mount Adams. Initially it was nice but then I entered a longer fire burn area. It meant more light on the forest floor and the huckleberry bushes were laden with fruit here. I paused and picked a few handfuls and they were delicious. There were also better views in the fire burn areas if one looked beyond the charred remains of forests. Mount Adams was very close but I could also see the massive glaciated cone of Mount Rainier some 50 miles to the north and Mount St Helens some 25 miles to the west.

Finally I met another PCT hiker. He was called Zoro from Israel. He had skipped most of Oregon  and then had a break from the trail and had now just rejoined by getting a lift up from the Columbia River. He was also planning on skipping the fire closure in 3 days time, so there seemed little point in getting to know him. He went on as i picked more huckleberries.

When the fire burn area finished the character of the mountain changed completely. It was stunning with meadows and small lava fields between some large Mountain Hemlocks. There were plenty of streams tumbling down from the snowfields and glaciers on Mount Adams. The going was slow because of the terrain but at last I felt I was back where I should be. At every corner there were great views and sights. I was back in the mountains again and could see I would be for a while.

The path went around the west side of Mount Adams into glades, through meadows and across ridges for about 3-4 hours until it got to Killen Creek. Here a clear creek tumbled down a cascade into a lovely meadow. There was also a spectacular view up the glacier on the north side of Mount Adams from the meadow. It was only 1830 with still another hour’s daylight but it just seemed too good an opportunity to pass. I put the tent up and felt the temperatures plummet. By the time I got into my sleeping bag it was below zero and still falling. I think cold air was descending from the glacier above, and the meadow after all was at 6000 feet.

07. The northern slopes of Mount Adams in the evening sun rising above the meadow of Killen where I camped.

The cold air had gone by the morning and it was easy to get up at 06 in the lovely meadow I was camped in. It was a bit overcast as I set off which nulled the sunrise on Mount Adams and it looked quite plain compared to last night. The first 5 miles were easy and I cruised along through forest and meadow. The trees were packed enough that I could not see any of the other mountains.

I reached a spring where intended to have a break. Zoro was here and just getting up. As I as  breakfast a small Pika appeared from beneath the lava rocks and started eating a mushroom growing at the side of the spring. Pikas do not hibernate but collect grass in the autumn and store it in their rocky burrows as their winter fodder.

08. A Pika eating a mushroom beside a spring. Pikas do not hibernate but store fodder in their burrows to last the long winter months.

After breakfast Zoro disappeared into the distance and I plodded along the track. It was remarkable how much understorey was here and it was largely huckleberries. They were starting to turn autumnal crimson and the berries were beginning to shrivel. There were still some plump ones which I occasionally stopped to gather.

There was a lovely series of ponds or small lakes in the middle of the day. They were a bit muddy for swimming but they looked calm and tranquil. None of them had and wildfowl. The path was beautiful throughout this stretch, as it was to remain all day as it wove through the hemlocks and firs beside carpets of crimson huckleberry bushes.

Towards the end of the day I decided to push on up to Snow Lake. I could see glimpses of the Goat Rocks ahead and was eager to get within striking range. They formed a spectacular ridge and everybody was raving about them. The path up to Snow Lake was lovely going through extensive forests of a true fir; Noble Fir I think. What was remarkable were the meadows between the trees which were still lush and green, although the flowers were spent. These lush glades were everywhere.

I got to Snow Lake at dusk. There was already a group camped here but they were on a short trip and smelt of soap and deodorant. I put the tent up then collected water from the lake in near darkness and retired into my sleeping bag. It was cold but well above freezing. My spirits had certainly lifted after the last two days hiking. It was not only spectacular, but also very beautiful  with lush scenery and forests.

I was excited when I woke as nearly everyone had said this is where Washington proper starts and it will match the Sierra, which set a very high benchmark. I left the campsite around 7 as all the day trippers were getting up, and set off up through the hemlocks and firs. The meadows here were lush and there was still the occasional flower in the swathes of plants. The path climbed steadily past two rounded towers on a ridge and into a new valley system, the Klickitat Valley. To my east now were high craggy mountains with extensive snowfields called the Goat Rocks. I could see from the map there were glaciers just the other side of them on their north east faces.

09. Approaching the Cispis Pass with the Klickitat Valley on the right and the Goat Rocks Range beyond.

I skirted up the east side of grassy Klickitat Valley to a pass at its head called the Cispus Pass. Here I met two local  hikers who gave me great information about getting round the impending fire closure. From Cispus Pass i contoured round a great bowl which was forested below and covered in meadows and copses of conifers higher up before the scree led up to the high rocky peaks.  Waterfalls cascaded down the meadows into the forest below where there merged to form the Cispus River. It was a noble and huge vista and exactly what I had been hoping for.

10. The Cispis Valley with its lush meadows, copses of subalpine firs and hemlock, splashing cascades and craggy backdrop was a mountain paradise.

From the valley round the headwaters of the Cispus River I climbed again. Initially through meadows of spent lupins and many other flowers with small alpine firs and hemlocks dotted about in copses. Small streams were abundant, their cool waters keeping the meadows lush. Blue gentians were perhaps the only flower still blooming. As I neared the top of the meadows at the start of the scree I passed a family of marmots. They were unfazed by me and were gorging themselves on lupin leaves trying to lay down as much fat as possible for the start of their 7 month hibernation.  They seemed lighter in colour than the Sierra marmots.

13. A fat marmot, stuffed with lupin leaves from the meadow, is almost ready to face 7 months hibernating in its burrow. These seem a different sub-species to the Yellow Bellied Marmots of the Sierra.

The path continued to climb across some snowfields to rocky pass where the most amazing view burst upon me to the north. Just across the valley were more craggy mountains with huge rock faces and beyond that rose the conical Mount Rainier, with its sides covered in huge glaciers. In the haze I could just make out Mount Adams and Mount St  Helens behind me. This was the Land of Volcanoes.

The path split here with an alternative going up the north flank of Old Snowy Mountain. It was supposed to have superlative views and was a sharp ridge, almost an arete. I took it as it was short and was not disappointed as it gave me some of the most lofty walking since the Sierra. There were quite a few day hikers up here and I chatted with a few of them. I had already abandoned my goal of getting to White Pass, as today was not a day to rush.

14. Looking north from Old Snowy Mountain where the PCT reaches its highest in Washington.

On the descent the one thing i was desperate to see appeared. There were about 10 white mountain goats some 500  feet below me. To far to photograph well but a joy to watch as they effortlessly bounded from rock to grass patch and onwards. I stopped and had lunch while they slowly made their way across the cirque floor. It was one of the wildlife highlights of the trip so far. They were bigger and more noble than the domesticated varieties. They were protected here in this area but in other areas they were hunted, completely needlessly and probably by morons which the world could do without.

15. A herd of 8 wild Mountain Goats grazing in one of the high alpine meadows kept moist by the melting snowfields. These magnificent animals are protected here.

The path continued along a sharp ridge for another mile before starting a long descent past glaciers and snowfields. Eventually I dropped down to McCall Basin, there was a meadow here and I had a pause in it. I lay on the grass surrounded by purple flowers and admired the views and then had a small siesta. This was the most perfect days walking really since the High Sierra and among the top 5 days of the whole trip.

I dragged myself up and made a long easy descent down past more meadows and eventually into the hemlock and fir forests, the trees soon swallowing up my view of Mount Rainier. Once in the forest I walked a couple of miles to a small campsite near a rivulet of water. It was just 1900 and I had only done 15 miles but decided to call it a day as it just left me 10 to White  Pass tomorrow where I would spend the night anyway. As I put the tent up I noticed how cheerful and buoyant I was and this must be attributed to a sensational days walking.

11. A meadow of spent flowers with the Goat Rocks Range in the background.

I got up at 0600. It was dark now at 6 with the autumn equinox approaching. By 7 I was on the trail and made the climb up to Shoe Lake where I had breakfast. There was a cold wind but out of it, sheltering among the sub alpine firs, the early sun warmed. There were great views back to the Goat Rocks Range from here and a fantastic view north west to Mount Rainier, however the latter was slightly obscured by smoke from the Norse fire.

16. Looking back south to the Goat Rocks Range and seeing the glaciated north east faces. Old Snowy Mountain is the last big mountain on the left.

From this small pass on the ridge above Shoe Lake it was a near continuous 6 mile descent. First across barren north facing scree slopes which took me into the subalpine firs again. Then down into the mountain hemlocks which grew in size as I descended. Finally I was passing the odd Douglas Fir even as I approached the highway 12. There were a lot of day trippers all of whom wanted to talk to me once they knew I was on the PCT. It cost me 5 minutes each group and in the end I charged past the rest with my stomach rumbling, eager for the treats at the shop at the highway, where I had a resupply box, and then wanted to spend the night at the motel.

17. Looking north down the last ridge of the Goat Rocks Range on the long 20 mile descent down to White Pass. In the distance one can see the vast cone of Mount Rainier rising above all.

The shop was adequate but the attached deli looked foul, even to me. I got my box and then checked into the nearby motel which matched the deli for quality. The real reason for me stopping here was to package up and send the blog, to figure out what the hell to do next regarding the Norse fire, and have the weekly clean up.

The Norse Fire was between White Pass and Snoqualmie Pass and a 30 mile section of the PCT was closed in this 90 mile stretch. There was a lot of misinformation about it and the PCT Association were quite adamant that there was no way round other than by car for the entire 90 miles. Most people opted for this, but there were also many hikers with “continual footsteps” and they did not want the lily-livered advice of the PCT Association and were making up their own reroutes. A lot of my purist friends had gone west and picked up the Wonderland Trail on Mount Rainier but then had to go 60 miles north to avoid 2 drinking water catchment areas before heading back east on a trail to pick up the PCT again. This detour was about 150 miles with perhaps 40 miles on a highway.

However a change in the fire closure meant I could go east to Bumping Lake and Goose Prairie and then try and find a trail over the Manastash Ridge descending to Easton where I could pick up the John Wayne Trail to Snoqualmie Pass. It would be shorter, at perhaps 110 miles,  hopefully not as miserable in the wet weather forecast than the west alternative, and it would mostly be on trails. I spoke a ranger in the Forest Service and he confirmed my route was OK and outwith the ever changing  fire closure legislation. I think the rain next week will kill the fires anyway. My one concern was finding a route over the Manastash Ridge from the Naches River to the Interstate 90, only 10 miles as the crow flies.

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