Thursday, September 22, 2016

Oregon and Washington Road Trip

[Kyle]We gave ourselves a whole day to rest before hitting the road again; this time driving North to spend a week in Oregon, starting with a night in a hotel in Portland. {Maryanne: The reality of that 'rest' day was laundry and repacking, but sure, you can call it rest!}.

My original plan was to spend three days camping, hiking some of my favorite trails in the Columbia River Gorge. Three relatively easy days at near sea level sounded pretty good. When we got there however, the skies were looking gloomy (as is usual for Portland). Our first day's forecast originally had been calling for drizzle most of the day, evolving into 'light' and then 'medium' rain all day. The following two days were forecast to be clear and nice, so I figured if we could just get through the first one we'd be home free.

The rain started in earnest just as we parked the car at the trail head (about 8am). It was hard to raise the motivation to put on rain gear, don our heavy packs, and go out in it. After a pause we finally managed, and not surprisingly found we had the whole trail to ourselves. We walked about a mile on flat ground before turning up hill on the Oneonta Trail towards the Larch Mountain summit. The rain didn't lessen, nor even show signs of lessening. It was cold and we were constantly going back and forth between the choice of opening the rain gear (for ventilation) making us wet and cold, and keeping it cinched up (which made us clammy and hot) - both poor choices. We persisted for another couple of miles looking out at a drippy world through the tunnel of our rain hoods, with the only sound we could hear being the beating of rain upon them (the hoods).

The only pictures we managed to get before the rain started in earnest!

We got to Triple Falls, which was nice enough, but we didn't feel like sitting and enjoying the view; we were hoping to get camped and be inside a dry(ish) tent as soon as possible. After another mile or so Maryanne finally admitted that she just didn't have it in her and she wanted to turn and go back. By this point the return journey was longer than the distance to the camp site, and it seemed more sensible to me to continue on (another two miles in the heavy rain seemed preferable to four in the rain). Maryanne's argument was that four miles to a dry warm car beat a cold, wet tent at whatever distance. I wanted to keep trying so we reluctantly agreed to separate - she would go to the car and find a hotel, I'd continue and hope for a sheltered camping spot and a break in the rain.

As I continued to climb, my heart became heavy with worry about her descending alone. Neither of us had a phone signal, so I could not check up on her (nor she, me). I decided to continue up the canyon to the hilltop where I'd originally planned to camp in the hopes I'd be able to receive a signal there. Once I got there I received a text asking me to keep her posted about my progress whenever I found a chance. It was not going well. It was raining even harder and I knew I had little hope of erecting a dry tent, nor climbing into a dry sleeping bag.

{Maryanne: It turns out I did fall on the way down, not at any of the mudslides nor the slippery rock falls, but at the concrete steps (with a hand rail) just at the entrance to the parking lot - I now had a giant bruise on my butt and another on my back - go figure!}

I had just enough daylight left for two options: One was to descend to where she was via another (more direct) trail, the other was to take the shorter up hill route to the top of Larch Mountain (1,400 more feet of climbing) where there happened to be a road. I asked her if she wouldn't mind picking me up in the car, and she agreed. I arrived an hour and a half later (just after she did); I was pretty exhausted. I had just carried the same loaded pack that we'd used on the High Sierra Trail (HST) up 4,000 vertical feet without hardly any rest. That was more vertical gain than any on day on the HST. I was actually so cold and stiff and sore that Maryanne had to peel my pack off me as I couldn't remove it myself. It was good to know that I would not have to spend a miserable, wet, sleepless night in the woods after all.

As we drove back to Portland with the heat on full, we managed to snag a room in the hotel we'd stayed in the previous night (it was not a great hotel, but it was warm and dry).

Time for Plan C!

The Next day - Sunday

Since we were so sore from the day before, we decided any serious hiking was off the table, so we spent our extra day exploring downtown Portland.

Portlandia, and the Chinese Gardens were just some of the sites we visited

The Following day - Monday

I got it in my head that I wanted to actually finish the second half of our original three day backpacking route. We agreed on a plan to have Maryanne drop me off at the top of Larch Mountain, this time with no pack (I should have done it the other way). She would drive down to the end of the trail at Multnomah falls and hike up until she met me; we would then finish the trail together.

I started to encounter people going up the trail at about the half way point; every time I saw someone new I kept thinking it must be Maryanne, but she kept not appearing. I started to get a little nervous when I knew I was close the finish and I still hadn't seen her, she should have had plenty of time to get this far. I finally got a signal on my phone just as I reached the top of the falls, and started the switchbacks down to the parking lot. She WAS on her way up and would intercept me soon. {Maryanne: While we had a greed to meet at the top of the falls, I figured he'd be a while about getting there, and I stopped at all the cute tourist stops and viewpoints on the way to snap pictures and soak up the sun. Oops!}

Some of the scenic spots Maryanne stopped at along the way

Once she met up with me, we turned back up hill to make sure she got to see some of the best nearby sites on the trail. Unlike two days before, the weather was mild and sunny, and the lower trail was packed with people going in both directions.

Multnomah and other falls along the trail

We still had some daylight left, so we decided to take a side trip to the nearby Bonneville Dam visitor center. A brochure by the exit about Columbia Gorge wineries peaked Maryanne's interest and we decided we had time to pick one to visit (not too far in the 'wrong' direction). She did some quick research and decided we'd be visiting the Marchesi Vineyards & Winery near Hood River; what a lovely find. The wines are very good, and the service and setting was just perfect. Between glasses we were able to fuss over the vineyard's resident cats and play 'get the stick' with their inexhaustible dogs.

Marchesi Vineyards & Winery

The Following day - Tuesday

Today's plan had us venturing into Washington State for a hike to Ape Canyon on Mount St. Helens. The trail is also used for mountain biking which means most of it has been smoothed, and consists of slopes gentler than we'd been recently seeing. That, not carrying heavy packs, and being at lower altitude, made it seem practically effortless to climb the 5.5 miles to the canyon. The trail is a bit inappropriately named. It doesn't follow the canyon, but instead goes along a ridge to the canyon viewpoint, where you can look down into the steep, narrow depths; at its narrowest point the canyon is only 8' wide, and it didn't look to us like there was any trail down.

Views from the Ape Canyon trail

Alongside the ridge was a large valley in which ash and debris had flowed during the 1980 eruption. It is still barren today, 36 years later.

We weren't too tired once we returned to the car, so we decided to visit Ape Cave on the drive back. Ape Cave is a lava tube over a mile long with an entrance at each end. Most people do a loop (half above ground and half through the cave). We started walking above ground to the upper (further) entrance, electing to walk back through the cave.

The cave part of the walk started out mildly. Formed by an underground river of lava that had long since cooled, the cave that remained was formed into an approximate size and shape of a subway tunnel with a flat lava floor bottom. This made for easy walking. Before long, we encountered our first obstacle: a boulder field formed by a collapsed ceiling.

Ape Cave - a magical mystery tour

In order to traverse it, we had to climb over the large and often unstable boulders, up into the ceiling cavity, and then traverse to the other side and descend back into the original tube. We had 100' or so of easy walking and came upon yet another, and then another. At a couple of places as the tube wound its way left and right, the cave narrowed to the width of a doorway before expanding again into a two lane highway sized chamber. At one of the pinch points (just over half way) the cave not only make a sharp bend, but also a slide-like descent. To get down, it was necessary to turn and lower ourselves using hand holds as best we could, but which were not sufficient to reach the bottom - we had to just let go and slide/drop the last couple of feet until our feet (hopefully) hit the floor - that was unnerving. There were yet more boulder fields after that. Initially we found the cave fascinating and impressive, then a little challenging, and eventually downright frightening. It was hard to really understand how far along we were, nor what challenges awaited us - was it safer/easier to proceed or to turn around? We were both greatly relieved when we eventually saw the stairs for the exit. We had been expecting some hint of daylight, but the stairs take a convoluted route to the surface and it was already mostly dark by then. After that, we decided we'd 'done' Ape Cave, and we never needed to return again.

The Following day - Wednesday

From Portland we were on our way to spend a day with my Dad in Coos Bay on the Southern Oregon coast. Since Portland isn't 'too' far from there, we decided we had enough extra daylight to take the long way, and detour to Crater Lake National Park. Unfortunately the main road through the park is under construction/repair, so it took a little longer than we expected, but it was well worth the detour.

Crater Lake National Park

We spent the next day or so catching up with Dad before making the long drive back to Begonia for some rest and relaxation... Just kidding... to start the many jobs outstanding before we could actually start cruising again!!

{Maryanne: Since the whole point of the trip to Oregon was to see Kyle's Dad, I'm embarrassed to discover that (yet again) we took no photos! I guess there was just too much talking to think of it! Doh!}

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