On Columbia Gorge hikes, I've been curious about the wilderness just south of Columbia Gorge and north of Mount Hood. "What was in the middle?", I asked myself. I knew there was only one way to find out and already being at Timberline Lodge, I decided to head north and see what was out there.
The day of my planned departure was awkward, I'd run into Portland for some supplies but forgotten to get oatmeal or bread. I did have couscous though. Rather than delay things, I decided that there was nothing wrong with a few couscous breakfasts.
On day one, I started walking at 2 pm and immediately relaxed into the trail. It was a late start but I figured I'd walk until sundown and find a spot to sleep. From Timberline Lodge, I stayed on the Pacific Crest trail and had no problem crossing Zig-Zag Canyon or the Sandy river. Feeling tired though, I wanted to stop, so I did. I set up my tent next to Ramona Falls, made a fire and dinner, then slept hard. I'd only traveled 9 miles, but I was very tired I needed some rest.
On day two, expecting rain, I decided to start in rain-gear rather than stop and change later. It did begin to rain - soft and warm on my face - and the forest smelled earthy, as the sound of water dripping from leaves lulled me along a path of soft puddles, needles, mud and leaves.
I strolled along the flat trail through groves of rhododendron and meadows completely covered in lilac-coloured moss, which at first glance could have been mistaken for snow. The Ramona Falls trail eventually reached a junction with the PCT and when it did, I stopped, rested and made a second couscous breakfast.
From here, the trail climbed up through a forest of old growth cedar and fir, with the occasional redwood - a truly wild forest and just trees and silence for company.
Near Bald Mountain this trail came to an intersection the McNeil Point trail. I met some animated people who had been 'stung by bees' and who warned me of my potential fate if I continued along the trail.
Not wanting to be stung (or to look crazy), I waited till I had walked a bit more, then fashioned a makeshift shemagh with my sweater wrapped around my head and face. It worked perfectly and I did not get stung above the waist. However, I neglected to remember that I had unzipped my raingear. Two lucky predators got in and stung me - right on the arse. It's never a strong look to scratch there in public, so in a way, I was glad of the solcace of the trail to be able to - as the saying goes, 'scratch the itch' whenever the urge presented itself.
Little did I know that my wasp/bee/yellowjacket problems were not over for the day.
I reached Lolo Pass and studied the map on the forest trailhead signpost. 13 miles to Indian Springs. "I can do that before dark", I told myself. I tightened my pack straps, ate some food and picked up the pace.
The trail did not disappoint. A very gradual climb led to a straight, flat, soft trail along Wacuma Ridge. Before knowning it, and without consulting the map, I knew that I was well along the trail. I passed a little sign which indicated, 'Salvation Springs' and realized the length of the ridge.... It would be hours until the next water at Indian Springs. In retrospect, I wish I'd have filled my bottle instead of pushing on.
The ridge is lovely, Lost Lake and the desert to the right, were beautiful. The folds of Columbia Gorge valleys and tributaries to the left, were all lit-up by the sun which was dipping below clouds as the afternoon got longer.
From time to time on solo hikes, I think of cougars, bears, snakes etc. Sooner or later, we realise and maybe even contemplate that we are in the domain of wild animals. Mostly, in my experience, in the USA, wild animals are scared of us and not the other way around. Today though, I was about to find out differently.
As I was walking, I saw a rudimentary campsite and in it was some rubbish; a blue plastic bag and some other wrappers. I pushed aside some branches and went to retrive it and carry it out. Once through the thorns and rocks, I heard a noise that my ears didn't register; buzzing.
I turned around and in front of my face were perhaps a dozen insects - wasps, I believe, but do not know. They were yellow and black and loud.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. Immediately, I recognised I'd stumbled on a hive of some sort. I backed up and yet I was suddenly aware of many dozens or hundreds of insects seemingly surrounding my face.
There wasn't any consideration of fight... only flight! I ran right through the cloud, leaped - with arms accross my face, through devils claw and un-even rocks. Once 'safe' on the trail, I turned right and ran. I ran for two, or three, or maybe four hundred yards - and slowed to a light jog. Not interested in another skirmish - I kept up a light run (with heavy pack), for about a half mile, until I was sweating hard and felt like I was out-of-insect range. Phew.
The next hour or so were quiet, and the scenery was spectacular. As dusk fell, I arrived at Indian Springs Camp and after some poking around in the dark, managed to find the actual spring.
After another great night's sleep, I took down my tent and packed up. Excited to see what lay ahead, I was five miles into my day before breakfast.
I stopped by a small waterfall which I later recognised as the upper part of the stream which feeds Tunnel Falls. After some coffee and couscous, I headed down the trail, eventually reaching Eagle Creek and it's one-after-another waterfalls.
I passed a few campsites and met some people for the first time since the day before.
With a gradual descent, spectacular views and cool air from Eagle Creek, this part of the trail was a joy to walk along. Eagle Creek is a remarkable place, from the river which carved the slot-canyons, to the people who built the trail, and countless visitors who have enjoyed this place.