Dog Mountain, Revisited

Screw you, weather man! Despite the dismal weather forecast for the weekend, we sucked it up and headed out on Sunday.

At about this time last year, we embarked on the ever-popular Dog Mountain hike for the first time. There is a small window of time (around late May and early June) in which Dog just erupts in the bright yellows, blues and reds of the Gorge wildflowers. We happened to catch this hike during prime time last year, and I was determined to do the same this year. I think we hit the sweet spot again this time, with all the balsamroot, lupine and paintbrush in full bloom… we even caught some chocolate lillies!

Sadly, given the tree- and cloud-cover, our GPS just didn’t perform at its best. Our track got really messed up somehow (unless we actually did somehow dart into the middle of the river and back mid-hike), so we don’t have the GPS data for this one. 😦

Dog Mountain
Columbia River Gorge (WA side)
Summit at 2,948 feet
Total hike distance: 7 miles
Total elevation gain: + 3,000 feet
Hike time: 3.5 hours (including about 20-30 minutes at the summit)

Click on the image for the full Google Map

We were joined on this hike by our friends Kelly and Eric Fischer and their Vizsla puppy named Pinot (also known as Buckley’s girlfriend). Kelly and Eric also hail from Michigan, although we didn’t meet until we all lived in Portland. They joined us and the local MSU alums on the South Sister summit last year; actually, Dog Mountain was also the first hike we all did together last year when we were training. Here’s to tradition!

Trying to take a photo with Buckley in hand, behind Kelly and Pinot.

I mentioned there is a relatively small window of time in which to enjoy Dog in full bloom. Unfortunately, this means that everyone and their mother (and grandmother, seriously) hits this hike at the same time. And on a Sunday, ugh… it’s a good thing we started somewhat early, because this trail was packed. Although I will say, I think it was more crowded last year (we also started early then and beat most of them), so I think the crummy weather worked to our advantage. If you don’t mind shimmying yourself around slower trail-goers or leap-frogging other hiking parties as you alternate photo stops, it’s not too bad.

Given the other hikes we’ve accomplished this year, on paper Dog Mountain doesn’t look too intimidating. Seven miles, 3,000 feet? Easy! But for some reason, this one kicks my butt. I forgot how tough it is. A serious quad-burner for sure, it had my legs trembling almost the whole time. Do not let the short distance fool you! After warming up your calves on the initial climb, the trail soon comes to a fork, where you can choose the “less difficult” trail which is 2.6 miles to the summit, or the “more difficult” which is 2.2 miles. While the more difficult route will give you the benefit of a more strenuous climb (if that’s what you’re into) through the trees, the less difficult is much more scenic as it takes you out to a mountain-side ridge, allowing for a bonus Gorge viewpoint.

At one of the first lookout points over the Gorge.

View of the summit in the background.

Boys and the dogs…

And I’m sorry, but can we zoom in on that one for a sec? I find this to be completely hilarious. Pinot has such a crush on Buckley.

Red Paintbrush

If I had only one mission today, it was to see some chocolate lilies. As far as wildflowers go, these are pretty cool, but kinda hard to spot. Luckily Kelly was on the lookout too and spotted this one (she says it’s because she’s closer to the ground :)). I’m glad she did, as I only saw one other one for the rest of the day and it wasn’t as pretty. We overheard someone saying that the week before was prime week for the chocolate lilies… oh well. I’m not particularly happy with the way the pictures turned out; it was kind of dim and windy in that spot, so I kept getting blurry shots. I didn’t have time to mess with settings (since there were so many other hikers hot on our tail) so I ended up using the flash.

Sort of harsh lighting with the flash, but you get the idea.

A little blurry, but you get a truer sense of the color.

After some more climbing, we finally reached the holy grail, the mountain-side meadows overflowing with balsamroot, paintbrush, larkspur and phlox to name a few. The photos really can’t do it justice (especially since the overcast sky managed to wash out many of the photos), but it is really cool to stand there and just stare at this wash of yellow.

After floating through the flower meadows a little longer, the trail turns toward a rocky ridge which gets you to the summit in .4 miles (or .6 if you choose the easier route). This brings you to the very top of the meadow with a sweeping view of the Gorge in both directions. Of course, on this particular day the view was a little cloudy, and the summit was very cold and windy (I ended up piling on all 4 layers I had with me, plus a hat). We had a quick lunch and headed back on our way, since the conditions were not particularly enjoyable.

The Fischer clan.

Getting ready to head back down.

From this summit viewpoint, we were able to see that there was a pretty mean-looking wall of rain headed down the Gorge in our direction. Ack! We kind of hightailed it back down to beat the rain, and went at a very past pace. On the way down, we took the alternate “more difficult” 2.2 mile section that we opted out of on the ascent. My knees and back are still thanking me. Since we were moving at a pretty quick pace, I didn’t stop to take too many photos… but I did get some. 🙂


More Balsamroot!


Trying to keep the dogs moving fast by throwing sticks. Totally worked.

Just some trees


We finished this one in no time. Good thing too, because once we got a mile or two down the road, the sky opened up and it downpoured. We watched comfortably from the front booth of the Big River Grille. 🙂

If you are taking on Dog Mountain anytime soon, if at all possible, go on a weekday. If you have to be a weekend warrior, go early. We got there at 9:30am and they were already directing traffic in the trailhead parking lot, which was almost full. This is a wonderful hike for wildflower enthusiasts during these few weeks. Aside from that it is a great workout hike with a nice payoff viewpoint, although I’m not sure I would do this hike without the flowers. Maybe next time I have the urge to punish my knees.

Nesmith Point

Alright, we may as well start a Gorge checklist.

This weekend we headed back into the Gorge once again to hike to Nesmith Point, a true endurance-tester that a lot of mountain climbers use as training. The distance and elevation gain don’t seem too daunting on paper, but it’s the fact that it is a constant, steady uphill battle (pun intended) rather than some other hikes where you get a break between excruciatingly steep sections. My legs were burning the entire way up. This time around we were joined by a co-worker of mine, Matt (Sales Engineer at Jive) and his wife Kelly. And of course, after all my talk about what hardcore hikers Paul and I are, they kicked our butts to the top. Figures!

Nesmith Point
Tops out at around 3,870 feet
Columbia River Gorge (Oregon side)
Total hike distance: 11.01 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,793 feet

Click image for full GPS data

The trail does not start out too steeply – pretty standard stuff. After the first mile or so, the trail takes you up! Steep switchbacks for the next few miles kept my legs screaming.

Starting out pretty flat, with great scenery.

Peeking through the trees, we had a view across the Gorge to Hamilton Mountain on the left and Table Mountain on the right. Bagged both of those summits this year!

Kelly and Matt: Adventurers.

We got in some good quality sunshine on this one!

We were a little apprehensive about tackling this trail this weekend; after an unusually cold and rainy week, the snow levels were a little low in the Gorge (as in, more snow at lower elevations).  We watched the trip reports and checked snow levels carefully. Luckily we had warm sunny days on Friday and Saturday, so some of it melted and we decided to go for it. We encountered snow starting at about 3,000 feet, but this also happened to be about the time that the trail leveled off a bit so it did not present a problem.

The first patches of snow.

Just Buckley, just wearin’ a backpack, just eatin’ some snow.

We finally made it to the top, but wait… what the… where’s the view? The expansive, sweeping view of the Gorge we’ve become so accustomed to?? Turns out Nesmith Point does not overlook the Gorge, but rather the woods below. Whomp whomp!

The pointy rock behind Matt is the actual, USGS certified Nesmith Point.

There was a spot near the point that offered a view looking West (Portland is somewhere waaay in the distance), but not quite as majestic as our usual views.

All the guide books and hike descriptions we had consulted said that while there wasn’t much of a view at the true “point,” if we traversed a ways down the slope at the top we’d come upon a much better view of the entire Gorge. We trudged up and down this damn slope three times looking for this coveted spot, and could not find it! There were several other parties up there as well who couldn’t find it either (most of them using the same book that we have), so we didn’t feel so bad. We did find one clearing that offered a partial view.

Mt. St. Helens over the Gorge.

After a lunch break at the top (enjoyed some more Mountain House freeze-dried noms… man that stuff is good!), we started back down the trail. This is an out-and-back hike, so we descended the same trail that we ascended on. My knees are still thanking me.

One last look from the viewpoint.

4.6 miles and we’re homefree.

I don’t know which is worse, the way up or the way down! Gasping for breath on the ascent, or hearing the insides of my knees getting mashed with each step on the descent. But you know it’s all worth it. 🙂 At least on the way down, I had more of a chance to take pictures.

Lovely trees.

New life on dead life.

Trilliums everywhere!

Let’s get serious here, okay guys?

Fiddlehead fern! I wanted to sautee it up right there.

Lots of big boulders on the trail to climb over.

Hey, that’s the rockslide we climbed up last week on Table Mountain!

Some neato bark.

One of the many obligatory “Paul and Buckley on the trail” shots. They never get old to me. 🙂

I believe these are Tall Bluebells… someone correct me if I am wrong! Bleeding Hearts.

Break time (i.e. waiting for me to catch up).

An old rockslide taken over by moss.

For my Mom, who won’t be happy unless there’s a picture of me somewhere…

We actually made it back in pretty decent time. Dare I say, we even hauled ass. Including about an hour at the top, we finished in about six hours. Not bad for 10 miles and 3,800 feet!

Celebration beer (we also had beer at the summit, how did I not take a picture of that??).

This is a pretty straightforward hike overall. There aren’t any intersecting trails, so it would be difficult to get lost unless there is lots of snow and you are making fresh tracks; the only exception being that elusive “view of the entire Gorge,” which I am still not convinced exists. We were definitely feeling this hike the next day though… sitting through the Monday morning Sales meeting for almost two hours was borderline torture (who schedules a meeting at 8am on Monday morning anyway?). Lack of stellar viewpoint aside, this is still a solid hike.

Table Mountain

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.

Table Mountain
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.

Her memorial.

The view from the saddle.

From this same spot, there is also an awesome view of the top of Table Mountain, where we are headed.

Only like a thousand more feet to go!

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!!

At the base of the rockslide.

Paul and Buckley making their way up.

And me making my way up!

Conquered the slide!

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.

Looking down from where we came, and across the river to the Oregon side (the saddle down below to the right is the area near the memorial, where we took photos looking back up at this spot).

One misstep and there’s no looking back. Don’t worry, I laid on my belly and stretched my arms out to take this one.

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.

The view from our lunch spot.

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.

No matter how scary, still breathtaking.

Looking back at the rockslide we scrambled up!

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:

Red paintbrush, one of my favorites! And no, I didn’t turn up the red in this photo, they really are that vibrant.

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!

Coyote Wall

It’s WILDFLOWER SEASON! It’s a glorious time of year, full of balsamroot, blue lupine, red paintbrush, trilliums and bluebells and penstemon and…

Last weekend we decided to take a relatively easy hike up to Coyote Wall, located in… you’ll never guess… the Columbia River Gorge.  Coyote Wall is a 200′ outcrop of basalt rock, with an expansive flat top perfect for wildflowers. The peak season on this particular hike is in April, so we hit it at just the right time (if not a little early). This hike is located on the Washington side of the Gorge, a little further east than most hikes we’ve done. It is amazing what being on just the other side of the Cascades will do; rather than the lush, mossy green terrain we’re used to, this was more like high desert with short grass, dusty trails, low bushy vegetation and knotty, twisting trees. Everything is still bright green, just in a different way. It was an awesome change of scenery.

Coyote Wall
Columbia River Gorge (Washington side)
Top of the meadow at 1,640 feet
Total hike distance: 8.85 miles
Total elevation gain: 2,021 feet (due to lots of up and down on the trail)

Click the image for full GPS data

Pretty standard start to the trail on this one (but the vegetation is noticeably different right away… note the very pale green moss). This is a relatively new network of trails in this area, and most of them on Coyote Wall are shared with mountain bikers. I would highly recommend having a detailed map/directions, a GPS or a guide on this one. There are a lot of criss-crossing trails, old abandoned roads and forks in the trail that can be really confusing. Without decent directions you’d be lost in no time. About halfway up we came across another couple walking toward us. I figured they had already been up to the top and were on their way down, so I asked if they knew if we were on the correct trail to the top. The guy had a handgun strapped to his leg and a SEARCH AND RESCUE t-shirt on, and they were both geared up, so I figured they’d know something. They confirmed that yes, the trail we were on should take us right up. Great! Strangely enough, at the next cluster of forks in the road, we came across this couple again. Huh? Yeah, turns out they were also on their way up but were more clueless than we were. We ended up guiding them to the correct trail. If that guy was really search and rescue, I fear for my safety.

Blue Lupine lined the trail.


It was a short 4 miles or so to the top of Coyote Wall, where you are met with a vast, flat (although sloped) meadow peppered with bunches of balsamroot and lupine.

On this hike, it is a good idea to frequently look back/up… there could be a mountain biker barreling down at any moment.


We had a beautiful sunny day to boot, so we hung out on top of the wall for a while and Paul cooked up some lunch. This time we tried a pre-made freeze-dried meal we got at REI, Mountain House Chili Mac w/Beef. Wow, for a freeze-dried meal this was satisfying and tasty. The nice thing about these is that they come in a pouch, are extremely lightweight and only require water, so all we had to do was boil some up and pour it in. You can eat it directly out of the pouch, so no bowls to clean up. Highly recommend, and we will be stocking up on this brand for sure.

Buckley hangin’ out on our cliffside lunch spot.

This either says “Aaah, I love basking in the sun” or “No pictures, please…” I can’t tell.

My hair was getting in my face, but luckily I had my stylist with me. Bandana styling by Paul.

Once more with shades.

Another product we decided to give a try is Starbucks new instant coffee, Via. I was skeptical… I mean, it’s instant coffee… but we had heard good things so gave it a shot. We were pleasantly surprised. This stuff is good! I might even say it almost matches a fresh cup (of S-bux that is… it can’t hold a candle to french-pressed Stumptown of course). And being able to enjoy it on the trail makes it one thousand times better.

Not a bad way to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Christmas card?

And now, a series of gratuitous wildflower and Buckley shots.

Balsamroot bunches.

Romping down the trail.


Balsamroot and Blue Lupine spring up everywhere.

We took a different route back down through some more mountain bike trails on the east side of the wall, after a biker we met on the trail recommended it. This trail was definitely not what we were used to… no huge trees, forest floors carpeted in fern or moss. This was more like a desert with low brush and crazy trees. I loved it.

One of the crazy crooked trees on the trail.

Another one.

Making our way down.

We didn’t know it at the time, but this appears to be wild fennel… and it was everywhere. Wish we would have known that! The plants smell amazing too.

Although it was relatively easy, this is one of my favorites that we’ve done this year. It was really nice to experience a little different terrain and vegetation but still be so close to home. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: if you ever want to truly understand how many shades of green really exist, you have to come to Oregon and do some hiking. We’ve hiked probably close to two hundred miles over the last couple years, and it never ceases to awe and inspire (ask Paul… every single hike I gush about how green and pretty everything is and how it’s so amazing that we live here). I’m sure you all know by now, but all our family and friends have a standing open invitation to visit! We are fabulous hosts and tour guides, I promise! Just get a plane ticket here and we’ll take care of the rest…

Larch Mountain

On March 27th (yes, there was a bit of hiking lull) we headed back to the Gorge to hike up Larch Mountain.

So, Larch Mountain… yeah, this one kind of kicked me in the arse. It took me a little by surprise. Somehow I failed to notice that the summit was at 4,061 feet. In turn, I failed to realize that there would likely be snow at 4,000 feet in March. Note to self: snow makes hiking one billion times harder. Lucky I had an extra pair of socks with me.

There is an option to drive most of the way up the mountain, then take a short walk to the summit… but what fun would that be? We decided to start at zero, and follow the Multnomah Falls trail, to the Larch Mountain trail, with a little side detour on the Oneonta trail, back to the Larch trail up to the summit viewpoint, Sherrard Point.

Larch Mountain
Columbia River Gorge (Oregon side)
Summit at 4,061 feet
Total hike distance: A little unclear, GPS says almost 19 miles but I think it was closer to 17 or so
Total elevation gain: 4,321 feet

Click the image for full GPS data.

This trail starts at tourist hot spot Multnomah Falls. The first mile is a paved switchback trail, usually chock full of families with little kids, strollers, ice cream, and sometimes towing Grandma and Grandpa along too. Best to start early on this one to avoid that crowd. That trail takes you up to the top of the falls before taking a left and getting more trail-ish.

Okay, this is more like it.

Holy tall trees, everywhere.

Okay, I know what probably caused this footprint…  but I prefer to believe there is a slim possibility that the Sasquatch was indeed here.

As you can see, even toward the beginning there was a layer of snow on the trail. It was a nice sunny day, so all the snow that was in the trees started to melt, essentially causing a downpour for us. So, I wasn’t able to take too many photos in the “rain.” Not to mention the occasional ice chunk that would nail us. After about four miles in, we took a side trip on the Oneonta Trail to add a little distance in to the hike. Another gorgeous trail, covered in snow (which made the trail a little difficult to identify). Not gonna lie, it made me slightly nervous that we were making the first set of tracks in the snow on this trail, but hey, that’s what GPS is for. 🙂 This trail hooks back up with the main Larch trail after a few miles, and then we head up the last pitch to the summit. For the last mile or so, no joke, we were trudging through at least a foot of snow, if not a foot and a half. Yep, legs and feet were soaked, but luckily not frozen. Lesson learned: be prepared with gaiters. After what seemed like forever marching through the snow, we finally made it to Sherrard Point. And yes, there is a parking lot about a quarter mile away from it. In the warmer months I can imagine this place is packed, so I’m glad we got this one in on the off-season (this part is not even accessible by car during the winter, due to the snow).

Mt. Hood from Sherrard Point.

Looking the other way, Mt. St. Helens in the distance.

So the worst part about such an accessible, touristy summit: fences and benches installed. Boo. It makes the summit feel a lot less natural. But given the snow on the ground, it was kinda nice to have something to sit on I suppose.

Enjoying the view, despite the fugly chainlink fence.

He’s about as tired as we were after bounding through all that snow.

Looking down from the summit.

Time to head back down.

The hike back down was much more pleasant, as most of the melted snow/ice had made its way out of the trees. We took the straight Larch trail back down, and had a more or less uneventful descent.

Still some snow, but at least it’s dry overhead!

Still green, even in the winter.

Just to show you how tall some of these trees were.

Crossing back over a rockslide.

Now this was a first. Usually Buckley is running circles around us on these trails, but I think we officially wore him out. He decided a water break was a good time for a nap. And yes, that is his collapsible water bowl he’s using for a pillow.


There’s something about creek crossings that I just love.

A quick glimpse at Weisendanger Falls from the trail.

Of course, when we got back down to the paved Multnomah Falls trail for our final mile, it was absolutely packed with the above mentioned: families, strollers, ice cream cones and diapers. We could barely take three steps without someone stopping us to pet Buckley and express their amazement at his gear (“Oh my God! That dog is wearing a backpack! That is CRAZY!” “Ugh, those lazy people are using their dog as a pack mule, whatever.”). This was a great hike and really wore us out, more so than I expected. I sort of want to do this one again in warmer weather, but maybe early in the day to avoid the crowds. In any case, it’s a Columbia River Gorge must.