Saturday, March 9, 2019

Mount Hamilton

Since arriving in the Northwest, Zach and I have gotten to do a fair bit of walking and short hikes around the area, but the highlight so far was our summit of Mount Hamilton, a peak along the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge, a couple weeks ago.

We arrived in a snowy parking lot and set out into the woods, our shoes squelching in the slushy mud. The trail began fairly mildly, winding along the hillsides covered in Douglas firs. Zebra stripes of light fell across the trunks, creating a dappled pattern of green all around. A mile in, we paused to check out some waterfalls that bounced down the hillside, including a pool where the first ten-foot fall thundered into a smooth sink it had cut out of the rock.

Skidding and slipping on the muddy snow, we began climbing up the shoulders of the mountain, then began a series of switchbacks that zigzagged their way up the slope, pausing at an outcropping of mossy volcanic rock that looked out over the Columbia Gorge. The sky, which has been hesitantly blue at first, was more solid now, and we could see far west down the river, from where we’d come.

After that, the snow grew deeper and more icy, and we tromped in frozen footsteps of hikers before us. The trees we passed were first dusted, then weighed down, with snow, which sunlight thawed and flicked off the needles, causing snow to trickle down or fall off in clumps with a soft rustling.

The higher we hiked, the more intermittent the trees became, and we often found ourselves switchbacking up empty snowy slopes that slid off into oblivion. My heart began racing, and Zach and I kept reassuring each other that we would turn back if it got too scary. The snow became deeper and got slushier, making us tread lightly to avoid post-holing. We scrambled under huge fans of fir branches touching the ground with the weight of snow, and tiptoed over tracks in the snow that ran a line across smooth cliffs. But at last, we scrambled through a short bit of brushy snow, and found ourselves on the summit.

Now we could see in almost all directions, both east and west down the gorge, looking at the town of Stevenson below and seeing the snowy mountains all around. The cliffs along the gorge almost look fake because many of them form perfect triangles, rising like pyramids alongside the huge river.

A woman and her adorable dog were at the summit, and we sat next to her and ate lunch while her dog rolled around in the snow (and tried to eat our burritos). On the way down, neither of us felt nearly as much fear, and we made it down safely and bought a huge tub of Tillamook hazelnut ice cream to celebrate.


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