On the scary scale of 1-10, I’d put this hike at 9.5. For reals.
Okay, I know there are much tougher hikes out there, but for what we’ve done so far… this was certainly one of the most difficult/terrifying/rewarding/awesome trails we’ve taken on. My legs are still wobbly from Heartbreak Ridge, and the West Ridge Trail might have made me cry a little. Maybe. Only the rocks know for sure.
In all seriousness… wowowowowow. This hike was amazing! I love any hike that pushes me to my physical and mental limit, which this one certainly did. Not to mention some of the lushest, greenest scenery of all the hikes we’ve been on, almost unreal. And I do love me some green.
Columbia River Gorge (Washington side)
Summit at 3,417 feet
Total hike distance: 9.2 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,561 feet
Click the image for full GPS data.
There are a couple different route options, one starting at Bonneville Dam and one at Aldrich Butte Trailhead – we did the Aldrich Butte trail. Even more so than Coyote Wall, I highly recommend having a detailed map and directions along with a GPS for this one, or at least hike it with someone who is familiar with the route. There are a lot of questionable forks in the trail, abandoned roads weaving their way through the area, and random cutoff trails, so it’s important to know where you are going. Paul downloaded a series of waypoints for this trail onto our GPS before we left, so we always knew where to take our turns.
A previous hiker was nice enough to show others the way.
After a couple miles and a few forks in the road, we came to Heartbreak Ridge Trail. I had ready plenty about this section of trail, as it strikes fear into the hearts of many. Not because it’s necessarily dangerous, but for its punishing grade. Seriously… I think we gained some 700 feet in under a half mile. I thought we were making good time until we hit this section, but after a few steps I was moving slower than molasses. Better than any stairmaster any day!
Marking the beginning of Heartbreak Ridge.
I don’t even think this photo does it justice.
There is a gorgeous viewpoint at the top of this chute, but a somber one. Just off the trail is a memorial for Kate Huether, a hiker who tackled Table Mountain on her own a couple months ago and apparently lost her footing at this spot, falling to the rocks below. It was humbling to stand there and realize how elusive life can be.
From this same spot, there is also an awesome view of the top of Table Mountain, where we are headed.
After the uber-steep section of Heartbreak Ridge, the trail ends at a large rockslide that requires some scrambling – about 500 feet of hand over hand through large and sometimes loose boulders. I think I was the most afraid of this section, but it ended up being my favorite part. There is no distinct trail, you just make your own way up crawling over the rocks. So much fun!!
Once we were past the great equalizer, it was just a short jaunt to the top. This summit is not for the faint of heart; you are literally walking along the edge of a cliff where a rockslide cut loose 500+ years ago, with nothing underneath. Note to Mom: I know these pictures make it look like we stepped right up the edge to take them, but I can assure you we stayed a safe distance from the edge. The beauty of zoom.
Of course we had our usual lunchbreak at the top, where Paul cooked up some chicken and dumplings. It was particularly chilly that day, so I can’t tell you how nice it was to have a hot meal for lunch. We also brought along some more Starbucks Via, this time mixed with a little hot chocolate powder for a “mountain mocha.” 🙂 Since it was so cold and windy, we headed around toward the back side of the mountain for lunch where it was a little more protected.
After our break we started making our way back down. Rather than try and climb back down the rockslide and Heartbreak Ridge, we took the recommended loop route which takes you down the West Ridge Trail. This was the scariest part of the whole hike. This section of trail is a loose talus area; the stones have been loosely formed into switchbacks, but they are by no means solid. With every step, these rocks would roll and slide right under your feet. We had to test almost every step before taking it, and by using trekking poles and large boulders for balance made it down. It didn’t help my nerves that the gusting winds were howling through these rocks. It added a certain ominousness to the ordeal. I later learned that these rocks are aptly named Windbreak Rocks, and if you’re there on a breezy day you’ll know why. I should note that at least on this particular day, we never felt as though the wind was dangerous or was going to blow us off the mountain, it’s just intimidating.
Once we were through the talus area and back into the woods, it was smooth sailing the rest of the way down back to the car. A few more trail photos:
Back at the car I was feeling pretty proud of us for successfully conquering Table Mountain. I think I was more dirty, tired, and exhilarated than after any other hike (well maybe not South Sister). I know I probably made this whole thing sound more terrifying and death-defying than it really is… just trying to express how I felt in the moment I suppose. 🙂 Tons of people hike this mountain no problem, all the time. Side note: this trailhead is located behind the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort, so you might also consider splurging for a soak after your hike. If we didn’t have Buckley with us, I would have so been there. Next time.
And with this post, we are caught up on this year’s hikes! From now on this will probably be updated on more of a weekly basis (unless we sneak in some mid-week fun) and might include more non-hike stuff. I’ve been focused on getting the hikes up here so haven’t included much else (maybe that’s a good thing?). Oh, and awesome hike recommendations always welcome!