November 18: The End of Autumn on Waucoma Ridge
Just before Thanksgiving, I took a wonderful, windy, wintry walk in the Gorge, from Herman Creek up Nick Eaton Ridge to Greenpoint Mountain, to the PCT via Rainy-Wahtum and the Anthill, then back over the Benson Plateau. Snow started just under 4000’, and was up to a foot on top of Greenpoint. Trail runners were maybe a bad choice.
I headlight into the Herman Creek Trailhead around six and headlamp up to Nick Eaton. I’m always forgetting how steep that trail is. I guess its virtue—maybe its only virtue—is that it gets you up quickly.
The sun rises as a pass the first major viewpoint, and I stop for a while to put away my headlamp and eat First Breakfast. (Apparently long hiking turns me into a Hobbit, at least when it comes to meal schedules.)
After the viewpoint, it’s just easy, mellow walking for a while, as the trailside snow steadily grows.
Around 4000′, I stop to put on a coat. I’d been going in running shorts and a t-shirt, which, in retrospect, was… optimistic.
Then, not a mile later, I stop again, to put on another coat, and to wonder, heretically, if maybe running shorts were not the best idea.
The wind gets more in more insistent until, on top of Greenpoint Mountain, it’s nearly strong enough to blow me over. I don’t know if it’s snowing, or if stuff’s just blowing off the trees, but things feel dicey for a while. They improve, though, as the ridge flattens out, and I have a nice lunch, hunched inside the old hut just south of the mountain.
I put my camera away for the next couple miles, walking through the deepening snow and thickening clouds. There are no human tracks, but there’s an absolute riot from animals: a rabbit, a bunch of deer, perfectly circular paws of what I presume to be a big cat, and the wide pad and dainty toes of a small bear.
It feels so cool to be making my way through the storm on their trail.
Things mellow considerably as I turn off onto the Anthill Trail. Herman Creek’s untracked but easy to follow, and there are even a couple footprints on the PCT, heading up to Chinidere. And the views come out to say hello too!
The snow disappears almost completely on the descent down to the Benson Plateau, and the sky clears still further, affording great views across the west fork of Herman Creek to Tomlike and the Woolly Horn Ridge and even, briefly, south to Hood.
Walking through the Plateau’s as pleasant as ever. I don’t know why—the trail’s in no way exceptional—but I always find this stretch exceptionally enjoyable. I think it’s something about the easy, gentle hills. Cruiser miles.
The wind returns as I descend toward Herman Creek, and sticks around almost all the way to the bridge, where I pause to put on a headlamp for the last mile or so. I finish in the dark, but just barely, and am happy, as I always am in the Gorge, to find the car untouched.
December 17: The Beginning of Winter on Franklin Ridge
Just before Christmas I took a quick, cold, pre-storm ramble from Multnomah Falls up Franklin Ridge, down Oneonta, and back on the 400. This time I wore boots.
I get to Multnomah Falls luxuriantly late, put on a few extra layers in the empty, windswept parking lot, and truffle shuffle up the icy paved switchbacks past all the familiar views.
At some point above Weisendanger I vaguely think it’s starting to snow, but it very well may just be blowing off the overburdened trees. But clouds definitely do descend, and give everything a surreal, dreamy quality.
I’m ready for a wet crossing of Winter Creek, but it’s running surprisingly low, and I rock hop with no problem, except for maybe a little slippery ice. The snow starts in earnest shortly thereafter, a few inches around 1200′, then very quickly quite a bit more.
The only footprints I see all day were from a small cat—maybe a bobcat?—following the trail up Franklin Ridge for a couple miles. I love that about hiking in the snow: seeing that I’m not just sharing the trail with fellow hikers.
I’ve been vaguely thinking about heading all the way to Larch Mountain, and go a bit past the Oneonta junction, but soon I’m postholing to my waist in fresh powder, so I turn back and head down. For some reason the trail down toward Oneonta is really sloppy: constantly crowded by overhanging branches and deep snow drifts. After a while it actually gets sort of fun—ducking under burdened bows, trying to clear snow off branches with my trekking poles—but only sort of fun.
The snow stops suddenly just before the upper crossing, and it’s just easy going down to the 400.
I get back to Multnomah Falls around 3:30, to thin but persistent crowds, and drive home in the sunset. I’m never going to get used to this sunset at 4:30 nonsense, but I beat the dark home all the same.
I remember this hike feeling a lot longer a few years ago, but I guess a lot of hikes feel shorter to me now. Sort of nice how that happens.