Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hamilton Mountain and Beacon Rock Hike

This spring my friend Lauren and I set aside a day to go hiking while our kids were in school.  

Lauren was one of my first friends in Newberg.  We met because our kids were taking swim lessons together.  Jack and Alli were pre-school aged at the time and super mischievous.  I loved their family instantly!

The Columbia River Gorge is a great for spring hikes because it only takes an hour to get to the mouth of the gorge from Newberg and the wildflowers are incredible in the spring.  Last year I missed the entire spring hiking season with a broken foot, so I really wanted to squeeze in some spring hikes this season. (Stay tuned for more hike reviews if I ever have time).

Lauren and I decided to tackle two hikes in one day since the trailheads were 1/2 mile apart and one of the hikes was short. We thought we'd have plenty of time, but ended up not getting home until dinner time.  Thankfully our kids are old enough to babysit themselves, and we know better for next time.  If you decide to tackle both hikes in one day, plan to be gone for a good eight hours.  

Lauren is one incredible woman.  I am constantly in awe of the friends God has put in my life.  Strong, lovely women with big hearts, depth of character, and tons of personality.  We hadn't seen each other in almost a year so we were both crying before we ever hit the trail.  Empathizing with struggles we've walked through and celebrating how Jesus has been guiding us through some tough stuff into a spacious place on the other side.  It was shaping up to be an awesome day.

Our first hike was Beacon Rock, on the Washington side of the Gorge.  I proudly hung my Oregon State Parks Pass in Lauren's window just as the Washington State Park Ranger drove through the parking lot.  She stopped to talk to us.

Ranger:  "Hi.  I noticed you've got your Oregon parks pass on display."
Me:  "Yep."
Ranger:  TOTAL SILENCE (giving me a "my you're stupid" look and a sympathetic smile).
Me:  "Why?  Does it not work at this park?"
Ranger:  "Well you are in Washington..."
Me:  Oops...

We took down the Oregon parks pass, bought a Washington State park pass, put it in the windshield and headed out on our hike.

Beacon Rock hike is short and sweet, but requires some effort to get to the top.  Rated moderate in my trusty hiking book, it's 1.6 miles round trip and gains 600 vertical feet in less than a mile.

Lauren and I at the summit of Beacon Rock.  (I should have brought my tripod).
What's cool about Beacon Rock is that you hike around a giant rock on the edge of the Columbia River. To quote my hiking book, "If heights bother you, don't look down.  It's virtually all rails and bridges and platforms until you're just below the summit...  Keep an eye out for rock climbers and don't throw anything from the top."  This system of rails and bridges was engineered and built in 1918.  Pretty impressive!
Some of the rail work on the Beacon Rock hike
View was from the Beacon Rock hike too.  
I would totally bring my kids on this hike.  Even though there were portions with heights, it felt safe and manageable.  Even little kids can do this hike if you take your time.  Slow and steady to the top.

After we finished Beacon Rock, we drove up the road about 1/2 mile to the Hamilton Mountain trailhead.  We ate our lunch in a darling picnic area.  This awesome building is a picnic shelter!  Isn't it cute?
picnic shelter at the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead
The Hamilton Mountain hike is a doozy.  Seven miles, all of them rated Strenuous.  I didn't want to tell Lauren this information because I thought she would:

  1. Tell herself she couldn't do it. (She totally could).
  2. Tell me we didn't have enough time.  (We didn't).
  3. Second guess her ability and want to quit.  (She did, but we didn't quit.  We kept going!)
I guided us past the trailhead sign quickly, hoping she wouldn't notice the overall distance.

The woods in Oregon are magical.  And this trail was pretty steep.
We climbed steadily for about a mile to Hardy Falls.  The feeder trail to the viewpoint was kind of sketchy.  Just as I told Lauren to watch her step, she slipped.  And fell, toppling in an awkward angle toward the drop off.  Thankfully I was able to catch her and she was okay, minus some big bruises that came later.  Thank you Jesus for protecting my friend!
Hardy Falls
The next waterfall we saw was Rodney Falls, also know as the Pool of Winds.  My hiking book describes it well when it says it "almost explodes out of a bowl in the rock face." We stopped here for a brief rest period and let the wind whip the spray from the waterfall on us to cool us off.
The Pool of the Winds
Lauren at Rodney Falls
Me at Rodney Falls
The hard climbing started after Rodney Falls.  It was up, up, up and at a pretty steep grade.  Thankfully Lauren didn't see the junction sign for the balloon portion of the trip.  Our choices were "difficult" and "more difficult."  The more difficult route boasted incredible view points so we took that route for the way up when our legs were fresh. (I thought I had a picture, but I can't find it).
Do you see the face on this tree?  It looks scared.  That's how we felt about tackling this hike.
We gained more than 700 vertical feet in just over a mile to super incredible views of the gorge, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood.  There were several feeder trails off the main trail that led out to open vistas on rock faces.  The views were incredible, but it was dangerous.  One misstep would lead to a fall of several hundred feet and almost certain death.  

I would NOT take a gaggle of kids on this hike.  There is legitimate danger and risk involved with the feeder trails.

I MIGHT take my older kids - one by one - on this hike and give them the "Listen to me and obey immediately or you will die" talk before the hike.  Maybe.  It was sketchy.

me grabbing pictures from one of the danger spots
Lauren was content to sit on the edge of the trail and wait.
Once we reached the summit, we threw ourselves a little party.  Then busted our butts to get back down to the car.  We didn't have cell coverage and watched the clock tick closer and closer to when our kids would be home from school.

I HATE snakes.  But I know they live in Oregon.  Most of them in our section of the Gorge are harmless, although there are rattlesnakes the further east and south you go.   Every time I'm in the woods I tell myself, "The snakes are out here.  Just try not to freak out and make a fool of yourself when you see one."  Thankfully Lauren saw the snake first so I only jumped and screamed a little instead of a lot. I consider that a victory even though I grabbed Lauren and hid behind her.

The wildflowers did not disappoint.  Nor did the view.  See the dam in the background?

We were wiped out by the time we got back to Lauren's truck.  In a matter of a few hours we tackled 8.6 tough miles of hiking.  Hamilton Mountain is one of my new favorite hikes because the views to effort ratio was worth it.  This hike felt like an experience and had some awesome WOW factor to it.  I will definitely be taking Curt back to this trail, but most likely not my kids.  At least not all of them at one time.  And definitely not our dog.  Those drop offs were sharp and dangerous.

I thought Lauren might never want to go hiking with  me again, but we already have another hike scheduled for this fall once our kids go back to school.  I can hardly wait!

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