Colmbia River Gorge Hike

April 6, 2019

                                                   The upper Multnomah Falls is 542', then a gradual 9', then the lower falls of 69', for a total of 620'


First hike of spring

I finally got out on a spring hike in the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area is closed to building permits on private land that is within view from the river, to keep it scenic. Multnomah Falls on the Oregon side is the most famous and most visited, but there are many other falls as the abundant watershed of the North Oregon Cascade Range and Mt Hood National Forest pours its spring runoff over the volcanic cliffs of the Gorge.


The Gorge is unique

Besides the scenery, there are at least two other reasons why the Columbia Gorge is world famous. Because it funnels the wind whether it’s blowing from the east or the west, the Hood River section of the Gorge is one of the windsurfing capitals of the world.



Secondly, the Gorge has many plants that are not found anywhere else. Altogether, there are about 800 species of wildflowers here. Elevation varies from 130' to over 4000'. Sunlight varies from dark, deep canyons to open slopes. Average annual precipitation averages around 30 inches in Hood river, while Cascade Locks, 20miles west, receives over 75 inches, and The Dalles, 20 miles east, less than 15 inches.


Can you identify these two early flowers which I saw on March 26th?




The Eagle Creek fire, 2017

Hiking in the Gorge suffered a terrible blow 2 Years ago when during an extremely dry season a teenager was fooling around with firecrackers on the very popular Eagle Creek Trail. Fighting the fire was close to impossible because of the steep terrain and dry as tinder conditions. 49,000 acres were burned, although the damage varied in intensity. The teen who started it was tracked down and taken to court, where the judge ordered him to pay a fine of $36.6 million!  Some trails are still closed because of hazards from weakened trees and loose rock and landslides.



Starvation Creek Ridge Hike

This trail starts at Starvation Creek State Park. Traveling east on I-84, take Exit #55/Starvation Creek State Park and Rest Area (eastbound exit only; go 1 mile to next exit for a return to Portland).  The Starvation Ridge and Mt. Defiance trails begin at the west end of the parking lot by walking alongside the freeway, about 0.7 mi. Be sure your dog is on a leash - there are some spots where they could get right out onto the freeway.

Trail #414B, the shortest route to the ridge trail #414, is closed because of a washout.


My View Ranger track shows how much extra work was involved in first heading west, and then east and over those extra creeks and ridges.


There are 3 waterfalls in that first 0.7 mile, easily accessible by families with children. The first is Starvation Creek Falls. Notice the columnar lava on left.



The next falls is Cabin Creek.



And then Warren Creek Falls. These waterfalls are really roaring this time of year, with the rain and the snowmelt.



After going further west from Warren Creek Falls, a short climb brings you to a junction. Keep going straight for Mt Defiance; turn left for Starvation Creek Ridge.



There were some volunteers working on the lower Mt Defiance trail.



 Rosie always likes it when we come to a creek. We had to cross a ridge, then Warren Creek, then another ridge, then Cabin Creek, before finally going up Starvation Creek Ridge. This is Cabin Creek:



Eventually you'll see the sign for the trail # 414B cutoff, which is closed. That's why we had to go the long way around.


Freight train

After finally getting up on Starvation Creek ridge, I heard a freight train rumbling down by the river.



I used my telephoto lens to get a shot of the mile long train where it goes straight across a bay in the Columbia.


Getting past the first part

The first part of this hike isn't all ideal scenery, and it's a little like drudgery, but it gets better later. Since trail #414B is closed because of a landslide, going around means coming back over 2 ridges and crossing 2 streams before even getting to climb Starvation Creek Ridge. Part of the trail climbs up and down the clearings where the high voltage power lines come from the Bonneville Dam, switchbacking into and out of the woods because of the steepness.  Looking back:



Looking north across the Columbia, I had a nice view of Dog Mt. (telephoto).


We continued up the ridge.


 I was packing my snowshoe skis in anticipation of snow once I got a couple thousand feet higher. Short skis (Altai Skis) are easy to pack. With universal bindings like snowshoes, there's no need to carry any special ski boots.


The main trail

Once on Starvation Creek Ridge, you're on a more normal mountain trail. That is, if you consider going up and

up, normal. 



Steeper yet

On a particularly steep and rocky and uneven section, I made a short video just to show how ski poles work just as well as trekking poles. I've wound some friction tape on my poles for a better grip. That way, I can easily grip them high or lower as needed. That's a huge advantage in deep snow when traversing steep slopes, because I can grip one at the top and the other about midway.



A glimpse of Mt Defiance

Here's what oregonhikers.org says about Mt Defiance:

"At 4,959 feet, Mount Defiance is the highest point normally recognized as being part of the Columbia River Gorge. This hike, along with the accompanying Mount Defiance-Starvation Ridge Loop Hike, are commonly referred to as the most difficult day hikes in our region, starting at a mere 130 feet above sea level...From there, it's a long way up, comparable to the vertical distance between Timberline Lodge and the summit of Mount Hood, making Mount Defiance an excellent training hike for mountaineers in late winter or early spring. In warmer months, it's simply a spectacular day-long adventure. In September 2017, a large section of the forest on the Mount Defiance Trail #413 was burned in the Eagle Creek Fire, including two areas which experienced crown fires."



Snow on trail

At about 2500', the snow went from intermittent patches to consistently covering the trail. There were some older snowshoe tracks, so I didn't need the GPS on my View Ranger app; at least not yet. Once it got about a foot deep, it was easier to put the skis on than to post hole. With the ski skins built into the bottoms, I could climb just as easily as with snowshoes.


Kick turn demo

This video shows how easy it is to do a kick turn when you're using short skis.


Time to turn around

You have to know your limits. By the time I got up to 2800' elevation, I knew I was tired, and it was a long way back. I would love to be able to ski all the way up to Warren Lake and to the top of Mt. Defiance, but I would have been dangerously worn out. After I reached a little dip in the ridge, and was able to have some fun skiing down a nice open spot, I realized I'd better head back. Next time, if the shorter trail is still closed, I'll bring a tent and sleeping bag, and just plan on a two day hike. Here's the 11 minute video of this trip:


For more info on Altai Skis


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View Ranger stats

Total elevation gain (counting up and down those extra 2 ridges) 6,150'

   That's about 1000' more than going up Mt Hood from Timberline Lodge! No wonder I was tired.

Time - almost 6 hours total. (I stopped a few times for pictures and videos.)

Distance covered - 8.2 miles


More info

More on Getting fit for hiking season – here’s a link to a good article from Backpacker


Always carry a map and compass and know how to use them, in case you lose your phone or GPS, or your batteries go dead.

Here's an excerpt from outdoors.org:

“A map and compass make up two of the 10 essentials recommended for safe backcountry travel, but they’ll do little good if you don’t know how to use them. Misuse could even turn a situation in which you’re simply confused into one in which you’re totally lost. The bottom line? Learn proper technique before your safety depends on it.”  "How to Navigate by Map and Compass", by Christian Bisson and Jamie Hannon

Here's the complete tutorial

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