Mileage: 5.5 miles RT (if you walk all three ridges)
Elevation Gain/Highest: 1847ft/1892ft
Map: Green Trails Bonneville Dam No. 429, my GAIA
Favorite Eats After Hike: Cultured Caveman
I think I have found my new favorite hike in the Columbia Gorge. And it doesn’t even have a waterfall!
I turned off at the Bonneville Dam exit #40 from the east and drove south under I-84. I was unsure what to do at first because the Wahclella Falls trailhead where I had hoped to park had a partial barricade and a sign posting it was closed. There was a car parked up on the shoulder of the exit ramp of I-84 from the west and no real place to park along the road up to the Toothrock TH. So, I decided to just drive past the barricade and park in the deserted lot anyway since I wasn’t actually going to hike that trail.
I walked back up the road and turned west onto a paved railroad grade running parallel to I-84 at about 8am. Tanner Creek made a bend to my left under an old concrete bridge and there was a marker for the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail I was walking on.
I loved the contrast of the rust colored moss against the cool blues of the river flowing underneath. On the other side of the bridge, the trail takes a right and after a few feet I saw the junction for the Gorge Trail No 400.
This took me up a long switchback onto higher ground. This section had some nice views of Tanner but I had to watch my step as there were a few muddy spots where the water coming off the hill has washed away the outer tread and it would be easy to slip off the trail.
The next 1.5 miles had me hiking along the I-84 corridor looking for the turn up to Munra Point. This is definitely not wilderness and there were quite a few mud pits to maneuver, along with a few trees to play limbo with but I took time to admire the Bleeding Hearts and new growth on the evergreens.
I think some folks like to skip this part but I think it provides a good warm up to what comes next. I did see where someone had actually parked on I-84 by the Bonneville sign and skipped onto the Gorge Trail directly, but folks who skip out on paying parking fees cheat us all when it comes to money for trails. IMO.
I first saw a rock painted, “Not Munra” and then another painted, “Munra”. I imagine the first gets you to the top eventually, because as I soon discovered, there are multiple places along this route where folks have done their own thing. I wasn’t sure what to expect for a trail that is not maintained, but it is actually in good condition as far as not being overgrown or having missing sections.
The worst damage is where folks have mistaken washouts or erosion for trail or simply taken the fastest way up or down cutting switchbacks. I tried to stay on the “official” trail as much as possible, but it was hard in places to know which was which. I opted for durable surfaces when I could, I could tell rock was once laid down on sections to keep the trail intact.
The next 1.1 mile and 80 minutes had me climbing about 1700ft in gain. I won’t lie, not only did the views of the Columbia river and adorable spring flowers slow me down, but I stopped a few times to de-layer and catch my breathe.
I also stored my poles at 500ft when it became necessary to use my hands to scramble up the trail. It isn’t all scramble, there are a few more “level” sections but even then I was on the ridge heading straight up. I only saw two other folks on the way up, as with most hikes it pays to get up earlier than the crowds.
Even though it had rained hard the night before, the trail and rock was really not slippery. I was careful to pay attention; there was plenty of loose rock and exposure if I got to close to the edge of the trail.
Just before I got to the top of the ridge where it splits into three arms, there was a section called the “Chimney”. This is where I got to decide if I are going all the way as it was straight up a chute in the slope where I had to climb about 20 feet with just the tips of my fingers and tip of my shoes (okay, there were two trees to cling to on the way up).
It was most definitely NOT dog friendly. If you opt not to take this, there were a few outcroppings off to the side to sit and enjoy the views without going further.
As I was making my way up this, above I imagined the summit. But alas, it was a false hope. The trail continues up the ridge a few hundred more feet until you are finally rewarded with the summit. Kind of.
I could see a spike ahead that was the true summit and paths going off to the left and to the right. The one to the left followed the ridge out a few hundred feet with views of the Columbia to the east. The path to the right continues back along the ridge and possibly back towards Hatfield Wilderness. I walked out until it began the ridge began to head down to a saddle.
The trail here is only about a foot wide and sometimes directly on top of the ridge. I did have to use my hands at times on the back slope to keep 3 points of contact at all times. It would be a long slide down if I slipped. If I have one piece of advice for this trail it would be to test every rock you put your foot on or use for a hand hold because many of them are loose from folks doing the very same thing.
Part way back from this arm, I decided to head up the ridge towards the highest point. I will admit now this was not the most efficient way to do this and left me with at least a few spots where I was on all fours and a steep slope on both sides. The hardest part was staying on those durable surfaces (rock and dirt that did not have plant life on them). I really didn’t want to loosen or dislodge any rocks! I did eventually make it up to the top a little after 10am and saw on the way that the easier path was coming up from the intersection of the ridges.
I sat for a bit and ate breakfast with a view of the Columbia Gorge below.
I could see Beacon Rock and knew I was looking at Hamilton where I had been the day before but most of the mountains in the distance were obscured in cloud cover so I played with Peakfinder and imagined the summits (yeah, it’s a fun toy).
I also spied down on the Bridge of The Gods and Cascade Locks where I had been for the weekend. It was nice to have the whole place to myself but I didn’t linger too long as the wind through the gorge had things pretty chilly.
I made my way down more directly to the junction again and then decided to make the final walk out on the ridge to the east. This was easier done on the way back for some reason, there were a few spots I was really leaning into the slope again and my feet were perched on what seemed to be only a foot width of trail. On the way back, however, it didn’t seem so bad.
On the down is when I once again saw people, I must have passed at least 30 hikers coming up, many who seemed to be there for the first time like me. I chatted briefly with a group of women from the PNW Women Meetup group who were the only other hikers I saw with poles and who were up to practicing belaying today. I told them it was a good place for it! I even saw a gal with her large dog and wondered how in the heck they were going to make it together to the top (no one else I saw had a dog, unusual for a trail that allows dogs). I pulled my poles off my pack when I was back down to 700 feet and was really glad to have them. I returned back to the trailhead around noon to find a lot more cars and people parked in places I wouldn’t park my car but I guess must be what folks do in this popular area. I’d love to go back again and see how far I can make it on the ridge that continues south.
In case you couldn’t tell from the up picture of the “Chimney”, here is a down picture. For some reason, it really doesn’t capture the almost straight up and down. I went down backwards, FYI.
Directions: From Portland, drive miles to exit #40 for the Bonneville Dam. At the bottom of the off ramp, turn right towards the parking lot for the Wahclella TH. Northwest Forest Pass required and there are Port-A-Potties.