This was #4 in our series of Gorge hikes intended to keep our leg muscles from atrophying and our sanity in tact while waiting for backpacking season to roll back around. Robin’s been spending the evening studying Gorge maps and piecing together combinations of trails to form new loops and had devised one he was eager to try. Given the number of hikes in this area we’ve done over the winter, it’s become a challenge to rotate through the same trailheads and come up with new stretches of terrain with a minimal amount of trail repeat, but he’s done a fantastic job.
After nabbing one of the last parking spots at the Oneonta Trailhead along the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway, we set off on what was to be an easy 9-mile roundtrip recliner hike up Oneonta Creek, along Franklin Ridge, and back down the Larch Mountain Trail. Due to the Benson Bridge closure at Multnomah Falls, the plan was to cut back over to the Oneonta parking lot using Trail 400. Rain was due to move in around 5:00, and it would be no problem knocking the miles out before the front moved in.
As is the case with most Gorge hikes, the trail was quite crowded up to the first major waterfall–in this case, Triple Falls. Robin charged through the horde up the initial climb, while my slower (but steady!) pace led to some awkward leapfrogging with other hiking parties and some unsolicited advice that there may be a flatter trail more suited to my ability level. Thanks, but no thanks. I kept going, finally meeting back up with Robin at Triple Falls where we paused for some photos, then continued on. Immediately after passing this landmark, the crowds thinned and we didn’t see anyone else until the end of the hike.
The trail continued to follow Oneonta Creek up and up, and it seemed we couldn’t go 100 yards without another waterfall or feeder stream pouring into the creek. The volume of water was incredible, and with a fog hanging over the creek, the forest felt saturated to the brim with water. The green was lush in every direction with ferns splayed open and the most luxuriant moss I’d ever seen lifting giant fronds out from the trees and rocks it covered. The forest didn’t have the bleak, brown feeling that many trails can take on in winter. With all the moisture in the air, everything felt invigorated and very much alive.
Near the top of the ridge, the trail opened out a view to the east that afforded a peek down the hillside. I stood there for awhile and rested, watching new clouds spiral into creation in the valley below. In the few minutes I was there, the clouds quickly gained in mass and I spied a large grey raincloud starting to move up the forest below me. I picked up the pace to catch up with Robin again as I started suspecting two things: a) that our estimated total mileage was off, and b) the anticipated rain was early. My iPod read 7.5 miles, and we weren’t even to our midpoint at the top of the ridge yet. So much for 9 miles round trip!
After a quick lunch in a rain that was well on its way from a light drizzle to a more formidable pour, we reached Franklin Ridge. The ground was spongy and soft from decaying trees and the smell was a favorite: damp cedar. The undergrowth was gone and pin-straight cedars surrounded us in every direction, the silence absolute except for the now steady rain plopping on the hood of my rain jacket. The rain had arrived several hours ahead of time and our revised estimate for mileage was another 7 or so back to the car, so we picked up the pace and booked it downhill in a visibility-reducing downpour. The good news is that it was a great test of our rain gear; the bad news is that we were soaked.
By the time we met up with the Larch Mountain Trail, we were a soggy mess. Spirits were still high as neither of us are complainers, but to keep the mood light we decided to roleplay people from the Ultimate Alaska Survival show we’d been following. Robin chose Marty, the eccentric Alaskan who seems to pirate yell his way through adversity, and I chose Rudy, the chipper, encouraging, and optimistic team cheerleader and ex-military tactical sniper.
“Let’s go, Gents!” I yelled. “You’re doing GREAT!”
“YAAAAAAAGH!” Robin responded.
“We’ve got an excellent pace set, we’re right on target, Gents!”
“YAAAAAAAGH!” Robin agreed.
We guffawed and traded made up strategic advice on reaching the LZ/car on time. As it turns out, we both excel at making up bullshit expertise on the spot, which should be surprising to exactly no one.
As we reached the Multnomah Falls Trail junction, we hit our second wind, a ton of other hikers, and a surprising amount of snow on the trail that had been nowhere to be seen at the higher elevations. We flew down the Multnomah Falls trail switchbacks and across Trail 400, fueled by the promise of a warm, dry car, burgers and fries at Foster Burger, and hot baths. Nothing could stop us except, of course, a giant highschool group that seemed to have no idea how to function or share the trail with other people. While passing them, I was hit with a wave of perfumed women’s deodorant and Axe Body Spray, which just seemed so jarring after several hours of rainy forest scents. If Axe Body Spray was present, I figured, it seemed like a good rationale that we must be close to the parking lot. And we were!
I stopped at the first lot the trail dumped us out at since I had rolled my ankle quite badly on a patch of rain-softened snow. While Robin jogged ahead to the car, I sat in the rain eating trail mix and watching the M&Ms’ dye melt into colorful pools in my cupped hands. Robin soon appeared with the car, and we headed back to Portland while visions of cozy pj pants and large baskets of fries danced in our heads. Despite the rain, it ended up being a beautiful day in the woods and one of our favorite Gorge loops yet.
Total miles: 15.5
Read Robin’s trip report on Portland Hikers here.
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