Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hardy Ridge Trail, Washington

   Last Wednesday I decided that a work week like that deserved to be punctuated by a weekend out of town.  But with the rain still rolling through from the Southwest and the "new" van needing work done on the brakes, it was evident we weren't getting far.  Saturday was supposed to be a break in the descending wet and so we planned our escape out to the Gorge to see what there was to see.
   Eli and I picked a trail on the Washington side, not too far a drive from home.  It was an equestrian trail system with some horse back riding options including equestrian campsites just off the parking lot.  We had chosen the trail partially because it didn't require the Washington State Forest pass which we did not yet have.  So it was lucky that when we got to the trail parking lot we were only about 2 miles above the State Parks Ranger Station where we could purchase one.
   At the trailhead the sky was patchy clouds occasionally letting the sun poke through.  The trail climbed an old forestry road for a few miles.  The directions I'd written down didn't quite match up to the signage but I think we followed the intended route.  Eventually the road ended and the foot path continued on into the forest and gaining more elevation.  The trail would climb through a patch of forest and then straighten out through a meadow.  Once we both stopped and listened, sure we had heard a creature meandering through the underbrush, breaking sticks.  And then on ahead.  We passed by a few other hikers but were mostly alone.  The trail began to switch back as it climbed steeper up the side of the mountain.
Trout Lillys along Hardy Ridge

The Ridge

All these beautiful photos were taken by Eli Thompson

The Ridge

Break in the Clouds
   And then suddenly it opened up, we had made it to the ridge.  Up at the top the wind was howling over the west side and rain was coming down.  We sensed that if it were not for the dense clouds surrounding us we could probably see clear to the ocean.  As the directions suggested, we hung a right to follow the ridge to a summit.  The top was mostly alpine meadow-esque with plenty of trout lillys, pink, white and a varigated trilliums, Indian Paintbrush, moss and ferns.  Through a patch of tall shrubs and back into the narrow meadow.  Over a rock pile and back to the moss.  Finally we reached the peak marked by a rock pile.  It was cold up there and we hunkered behind a stand of shrubs for shelter against the wind.  Awed by the beautiful meadow ridge and occasional view allowed by a break in the clouds we ate what we had for staples before turning back to the main trail. 
Indian Paintbrush

   The wind gave in and the sun even seemed to peek out a bit more soon after beginning our descent back down the other side of the ridge.  More switchbacks through different flora than we had seen on the eastern side.  We found what smelled like balsam boughs along the trail although neither of us had though of balsam as a western growing pine.  We passed huge stumps that remembered the giant timbers that they had once held high into the clouds and made me wonder if this area had been logged 100 years before.  At one point I thought I heard an eagle call it's meek high whine whistle above us but we never heard it again.
   Eventually the single track met back up with the old road used now by horseback riders.  We couldn't decide which way my directions wanted us to turn so we settled on the downhill option and made our way.  At some point we began to notice large prints that appeared to be from a large cat like creature.  Further down we found a bit of scat that might have been left by just such a creature.
   Past more huge stumps and birds singing crazy songs, small brooks and waterfalls until we finally reached the road we had originally come in on.  We continued to see the paw prints and similar prints but smaller beside the big ones.
   Eventually we did get back to the parking lot about five hours after we had departed.  We were pretty hungry.  I was glad we had more water, one more orange, and a couple of beers waiting at Eli's truck.  Walking back to the truck from the bathrooms I wandered by the check in kiosk to look at the map.  Below the map was posted a xeroxed notice.  "Hikers beware.  Cougars have been sighted in the area.  If you come into contact with a cougar, do not run.  Make noise.  Make yourself appear big, use a jacket if possible. 
   After the beers we continued on HWY 14 towards White Salmon.  We were bound for the Double Mountain brewery in Hood River where we had enjoyed a great meal and beers when the ice storm had prohibited our Westward progression just 60 miles from Portland back in January.  It turns out the kitchen at Double Mountain was closed for a week which was the worst timing for us.  But we just headed over to the brewpub at Full Sail and had our dinner and beers after all. 
   As Eli drove us into Portland with the sun setting low in front of us I reminded her that we still had to return to Richies Tire Factory in Vancouver, Washington to retrieve my van with it's new master brake cylinder and wheel cylinders.  I think we rolled into the drive about 9pm.

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