With our ten days of hiking in Washington and Oregon drawing to a close, we land at Vancouver, WA, just across the Columbia River from Portland on a hot Sunday afternoon in early June. Here at the prelude to the dry season in the Northwest, we get a dash of Arizona heat as the temps are in the upper 80s and going to 100F in the interior.
Walking less than a mile for Subway subs, we find the main drag quiet with just a few restaurants having outside patrons; but really very little is going on. Our attention is caught by a jovial young man with a marijuana leaf on this tee-shirt outside of Main Street Marijuana, I ask if I can take a picture of the window sign; I am reminded purchasing Mary Jane is legal in Washington, but I wonder how discrete folks are when buying their weed. He says, You can take pictures inside if you want.
Never having been in such a store selling pot, we see a bustling crowd of folks in what looks like a jewelry store. No one pays attention to my iPhone picture taking; perhaps the smell of weed has something to do with that.
We pass on the $10 special marijuana oatmeal cookie and the $10 for o.75 of a gram of Indonesian Haze. All deals, or excuse me, transactions are cash only. Forgoing on all of the 50 cannabis strains under $25, we slip out pleased that the country mice from Maine are a little more ganja hip.
Inland near The Dalles, OR the temps are going to 100F. Phoenix in the Northwest is not what we expected. After rain and hiking in the 40s and low 50s last week in Mount Rainier, today is an adjustment. After living ten years in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix metro area), Hannah and I moved to Maine 33 years ago to escape the neverending late spring/summer/early fall heat. The relentless 100s and 110s from May through September just got to us. And the highs for the day weren’t the worst of it. It was the morning lows in the 90s that made for one long hot day, day after day. And don’t get me started with it’s a dry heat. It’s like an oven; full body sweating begins as soon as you’ve taken twenty steps.
Tooling down route 14 on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, 50 miles later we enter the roadside parking lot for the Beacon Rock State Park on the right. Across the highway is the trailhead for the Hamilton Mountain Trail, which we hiked just one week ago. (See my blog. Go to the left side, click on the “Oregon” category to find that entry).
Beacon Rock, so named by Lewis and Clark, is a monolith that gives off a vibe of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. The guidebook promises 870 feet of elevation gain over just a mile. Looking at the mountain core left from a volcano, it looks like there is no way, Jose up this mountain. That’s where Henry Biddle comes in. Back in 1915 Hank purchased the rock for a dollar; during the next three years he constructed a trail with 51 switchbacks, handrails and bridges.
Immediately as we enter the lush forest on the banks of the Columbia River itself, we see a 1937 stone dedicated to Henry Biddle, the architect and trail designer. We have no idea how impressed we will soon be with his handiwork as we enter the forest on a gentle grade to the mountain.
We spot a confounding sign. The loose rock trail is open; the paved trail is closed? Being the rebels that we are, and having at least a lick of common sense, we opt for the paved trail. Soon we are on the Columbia River facing side of the monolith.
And then there are Henry’s beloved switchbacks. Up this sheer wall he has built switchbacks into and on the edge of the mountainside for, our and your, hiking pleasure. With wire fencing at the curves and two-bar metal handrails all the way up, they take all the steepness out of the climb.
Having arriven (Microsoft Word claims that’s not a word! – must be an abridged version of their dictionary) a little after 9A on this preseason Monday, we pass a few others who are also out early on the trail. This signature hike on the state of Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge must be swarming with people throughout the summer, and especially on weekends.
In no time the back and forth-ness of the switchbacks takes us high above the Columbia River Gorge. Though I wouldn’t take our preschool grandsons Owen and Max on this trail, school age children with their parents would enjoy this family hike.
Near the top, the trail wraps inland, though still paved with metal handrails as protective fencing. In a mere 25 minutes we are at the top with views east and west to the Gem of the Ocean, the Columbia River. It is amazing how easy this “steep” assent is.
We bid our good-byes to a Texas couple with whom we exchanged picture-taking. In 20 minutes we are back at the trailhead. With only 45 minutes of hiking in the books, we opt for the Rock to River trail which is three quarters of a mile to the Columbia River waterfront from the same trailhead parking lot.
Descending gradually, our trail has ferns and wide green leaf plants brushing against our legs as we head riverside. There, we climb down on a river dock with a front door view of the Beacon Rock monolith itself.
After a couple hours of hiking, we want more on this our penultimate hiking day in the Northwest. For us that means driving five miles east on route 14 where we will channel our inner Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild. We’ll figuratively hike with Reese Witherspoon, the star of the movie version of Wild, as we make our first steps on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The PCT is a 2663 mile trail from Mexico to Canada through the Left Coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. While the PCT is some 400+ miles longer than the Appalachian Trail, today we will sample only a few miles of its challenging path north to Canada.