Chinook Trail (Day 1 & 2) – Lucia Falls Park To Bluff Mountain Trailhead
Well this is it—the day I start the 300-mile Chinook Trail! I said goodbye to my family and took the Amtrak from Bellingham to Vancouver, WA. The train was delayed, which was a bummer as it would already be difficult to make it to the first camp before dark. Some time was made up en-route, but I still got in about 35 minutes late.
Steve Jones from the Chinook Trail Association graciously picked me up at the station and drove me to the trailhead at Lucia Falls Park (thank you, Steve). After a few photos I was on my way.
The trail was flat and I was passed by a group of high school cross country runners going the other way—I didn’t know it then, but they were the last people I saw for three days. At the Bells Mountain trailhead I took the obligatory photo of the Chinook Trail crest, and then started uphill. It was a fairly standard Northwest forest trail, but the views started to open once reaching the first clear-cut area.
With a 4 p.m. start I knew I’d only have about three hours to make nine miles. The cloudy skies didn’t help—it got dark sooner than I expected. Time to get out the headlamp. By the time it got pitch black I didn’t have far to go, but being my first night hike I was a little spooked by every little sound in the forest. I saw a pair of glowing eyes at one point but soon discovered it was just a deer.
I was happy to finally reach Cold Creek camp at about 7:45—it’s accessible by car and being October I had my choice of sites so I picked one by the creek. Had a quick snack, set up the tent, and called it a night.
Cold Creek Camp to Bluff Mountain Trailhead
Woke up without an alarm at 7:45—it had rained lightly overnight, but with my tent under a tree it was relatively dry. Had oatmeal and coffee, then packed up and headed out. My goal the previous night was to reach the Rock Creek camp, but it turned out to be about an hour away so it would have been even more night hiking.
From here I was on the Tarbell Trail, heading upward toward Silver Star Mountain. The Tarbell Trail is well maintained and passes through alternating forest and forested areas. The views start to open up the higher you go and it was cool to see where I started, which was now about 15 miles away. During this section there were a few trickling streams—I thought there would be others farther on, but there weren’t… more on this later.
I was trying to make up time so there were a few sections where I deviated from the Tarbell, taking steeper logging roads instead. In the end it was probably a “six of one, half dozen if the other” kind of situation.
As I approached the Silver Star summit there were amazing views in all directions. I only had a few hours of daylight left so unfortunately I skipped the side trail to the actual summit and joined the Bluff Mountain Trail.
This trail is amazing, and is now one of my favorites in the state. I don’t think many people do it or know about it, probably because it’s difficult to get to. I love talus traverses and this one was exceptional. I made it around to the backside of Little Baldy and Bluff Mountain and a whole new view opened up of the Copper Creek valley.
The wind was picking up and the sun was starting to set, and there definitely was nowhere to camp here so I picked up the pace. About 15 minutes before I would have got out my headlamp the trail met up with a logging road in a large open area—Bluff Mountain trailhead! I set up camp, caught the last remnants of sunset, and called it a night. Didn’t get the greatest night of sleep, but more on that later.
Chinook Trail (Day 3 & 4) – Bluff Mountain Trailhead To Panther Creek / White Salmon
Woke up early in the morning to frost on the tent and a beautiful sunrise, with a view of Mount Hood in the far distance. The bear canister full of food and coffee was frozen, so it took some effort to open it. With coffee made and consumed, it was time to pack up and hit the trail. The day started off with the steep forest road—rocks and gravel created a blister situation on my already sore feet. The road was fine for foot travel, but I wouldn’t have wanted to drive it in a vehicle unless it was a heavy-duty jeep or some other high-clearance vehicle.
Where’s the Water?
I was pretty low on water—I left camp with about half a liter. I figured it would get me to the Fourth of July camp if I didn’t find water sooner. Unfortunately, once I reached Fourth of July camp there was no water to be found. It was a nice open camp, perfect for car camping, with an expansive view. There could’ve been water there somewhere, but unfortunately there was no obvious source. I continued on to Springs Camp, figuring there would be a spring with plenty of water. I reached the junction to Springs Camp and took the one-third mile detour, only to find an overgrown “camp” full of bushes, tree limbs, and ferns. It was obvious that nobody had camped there for years and unfortunately I could not find water there either. I later found out from Steve Jones of the Chinook Trail Association that there is water there; it just required wading through the thick bushes and undergrowth. (A couple of days later Steve said he went there to check it out and cleared a section of bushes to make the water easier to get to —what a guy!)
Frustration grew as I knew I needed water soon. I walked up the detour back to the road—by now I only had one inch of water in my bottle. Fortunately, about 1,000 feet down the trail there was a light trickle of a stream. It took about an hour to get two liters of water in my bottles, and I cameled up with another liter of water. I was so relieved.
After a few more miles I reached a junction where it was obvious they didn’t want vehicles to go—big trenches were built to keep cars from going farther. This stretch was fairly spooky—I don’t think many people use the section of trail. However, it was nice because the trail was softer, with dirt and pine needles instead of rocks and gravel. After a couple of miles I reached the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Compared to what I had hiked so far the PCT was amazing—it was so soft! It was well-maintained and the soft needles felt sooooo good under my feet. There was an gradual uphill, but then a long downhill to the Trout Creek camp. I passed several streams on the way but knew there would be plenty of water at Trout Creek. I reached the PCT camp there and it was beautiful, situated right by a bridge with a nice log to sit on and hear the trickling stream nearby.
Hard Decision Made – Bail Out and Hitch to White Salmon
Facing another 20 miles or so without water (well, there was one reported source about halfway in that was a seasonal water source) I made the tough decision overnight to bail out at Panther Creek. While this decision ended the possibility of this being a true thru-hike, after the water scare the day before it was really the only decision I could make. The disappointment was lessened by the fact that this section of PCT trail was really nice, beautiful forest walking in total silence. After about two hours I reached the Panther Creek Bridge. I tapped the bridge with my hiking pole, knowing that I would have to come back someday to complete the trail.
I took a break by the creek, ate some lunch, and filled up all my water bottles and started walking towards Carson, WA. As I road walked I approached a group of about 30 wild turkeys that walked down the road about 50 yards ahead of me. This continued for about a quarter-mile or so, when a car pulled up and stopped. The car was beat up with junk all over the floors and seats and there were two dogs inside. Inside the car on the dashboard and on the doors were various positive, life-affirming slogans. The woman inside asked if I’d like a ride and I said yes—given the choice of ten miles of road walking vs. a quick hitch it was an easy decision to make. Despite appearances, she was very nice and we had a good conversation on the way.
She dropped me off at the general store in Carson, where I picked up some fruit and yogurt and looked at different options. There is is a campground in Carson that I could’ve stayed at, but getting from Carson to White Salmon is not easy. There are no trails and road walking wouldn’t have been a good option either. I called Skamania Transportation and they offered a senior services shuttle for only four dollars. And it’d be there in ten minutes! The driver was super nice and great to talk to and the scenery in that section of the Columbia River was amazing. It was disappointing to see the section I was skipping, but on the other side of the river I could see where I’d be hiking in a few days, including the imposing Mount Defiance.
So far this hike I haven’t had a big appetite, but seeing Everybody’s Brewing across the street I figured I’d give a meal there a try. I ordered fish and chips, and chips and salsa, along with a beer—it was all very good. I ate all the fish, about half of fries and a few of the tortilla chips, but it was still fairly difficult to eat. No hiker hunger yet. For some reason it was also difficult to eat—the roof of my mouth was sore. I thought it was from mouth breathing eight to 12 hours a day, and it may have been, but it was probably a building cold that hit me a few days later. I hung out there for the afternoon charging devices before walking down to Bridge RV Park. It was amazing to camp at the RV park—it was clean and had showers and laundry. I finished the day by collecting my resupply box, choosing the food I wanted to continue with, and packing the rest back into the box, which I forwarded to Hood River.
Chinook Trail (Day 5, 6 & 7) – White Salmon To Lyle, WA
White Salmon Zero Day
Bailing at Panther Creek, and hitching and shuttling to White Salmon, gave me an unexpected zero day in White Salmon. While I wasn’t too sore from the trail yet, it dumped rain all day long so it wouldn’t have been a pleasant day of hiking. The day was used to relax and get a few things done. Quick shower, then a walk uphill into town to forward my resupply box to Hood River. Then I went over to White Salmon Baking Company, a cool artisan cafe/bakery. I enjoyed cup after cup of coffee and an egg/cheese/mushroom/herb scramble on top of a thick slice of bread. The rain come down in buckets as I read Carrot Quinn’s latest zine and charged devices—capped it off with a gooey chocolate chip and walnut cookie. The rest of the day was spent picking up vitamins at the funnily named Hi-School Pharmacy, having a big lunch/dinner at Everybody’s Brewing, and then walking back to the RV park in the rain.
Back on the Trail – Crossing from Western Washington to Eastern Washington
The next day was overcast and in the 50s to start; perfect hiking weather. I packed up camp and hit the road for a one-mile road walk to Bingen to hit Carmen’s for breakfast. After enjoying a big omelet, hash browns, coffee, and OJ, I started the uphill climb to White Salmon, where the actual trail walking for the day started. Behind a fairly large hospital was the trailhead for the Millennium Trail, which switchbacks up the Columbia River side of Burdoin Mountain. It was a scenic hike up through oak trees, with views of White Salmon, Hood River, and the Columbia opening up nicely. I didn’t like the thousands of acorns that I had to step on, but worse was the wet grass that soaked my boots and socks.
At the top I encountered a “No Trespassing” sign with a couple of dogs barking behind it—but the trail continued beyond the sign. What to do now? I saw the trail continue to climb, but not in the direction I needed to go. I looked a bit more carefully and saw that the dogs were behind an invisible fence. The sign just pertained to the land where the dogs were standing, not the trail. I opened the gate and was able to continue forward.
Atwood Road Traverse to Coyote Cliffs
The Millennium Trail meets up with Atwood Road, which, despite the name, is really just a single track trail that’s too narrow for vehicles. It’s a beautiful forest trail—I didn’t know at the time, but it was really the last nice forest trail I would walk until I reached the PCT on the Oregon side.
Atwood Road hooks up with the Coyote Wall area, a network of trails popular with mountain bikers and hikers. It’s also where the trees thin, the grass is yellow/gold and the clouds part—I was now entering Eastern Washington. The temps also rose about 15 degrees—time to hook up the sun umbrella for the first time. It took 45 minutes, but I finally figured out how to attach it to my pack—should have tried at home first. The panoramic view from here was amazing—I could see a 20-mile stretch of the Columbia River. All the way to Lyle—my end point for the day. It seemed so close, but it really wasn’t.
As I snaked down the mountain, taking lots of photos along the way, I saw a WTA (Washington Trails Association) crew doing trail work. Needing a break, I stopped to say hi for a bit. The leader of the crew, Tom Griffith, is also a volunteer with the Chinook Trail Association, so it was great to talk to him about how the hike was going so far. We took a few photos, but I had to continue on so I said goodbye and made my way down to the bottom of the Coyote Wall section. This is where I met up with Old Highway 8, which starts off as an abandoned road (probably due to the crumbling cliffs above it). It then meets with an active section of the highway, which would take me all the way to Lyle. Yep, I had about eight miles of road walking to look forward to.
Road Walk to Lyle
This was my first big road walk of the Chinook Trail and I was curious to see how it would go, as I had longer road walking stretches ahead of me. No one throws on a 30-35 pound pack and purposefully trains on concrete roads—it’s not fun and it just isn’t good for you. Still, for this trail it is a big part of it. Thankfully, this stretch is quite scenic, passing Catherine Creek Park, farmland, cows, wineries, and amazing views of the Columbia River. The shoulder wasn’t very wide, which was OK since there was little traffic on this road (other than people going to the wineries).
I made it into Lyle about 6 p.m. and checked in for my first hotel stay—at the Lyle Hotel. It’s really the only option in town, but it’s a great place to stay. The owners are super-nice and the restaurant is excellent. They asked if I’d like a beer brought to my room as I unpacked and took a shower—how could I turn that down? Mentioning that I liked IPAs that’s what they brought me. Ironically, it was from a brewery in my town of Bellingham. Unfortunately, it’s from a brewery I am boycotting—Melvin Brewing, whose “bro culture” and extreme anti-women attitudes should not be encouraged by drinking their beer. I appreciated the gesture, and drank the beer not knowing where it was from, but after talking to the owners they said they would no longer carry their beer.
I spent the rest of the evening enjoying a nice meal, hanging out with the owners, and making a new friend—a fellow hiker and outdoor enthusiast named Elmo. Unfortunately, as the evening drew to a close, I started sneezing and coughing—was this some sort of illness coming on? Nooooo…
Chinook Trail (Day 8 & 9) – Shaking a Cold, Big Decisions
Decision Made – Cut Out the Eastern Section and Continue from The Dalles
I woke up feeling horrible—it was full blown and I didn’t want to leave the room. While I could have done the 16 relatively flat miles to Wahkiacus, what would I do then if I felt even worse? I think there’s a big part of me that would have gone for it if I hadn’t already cut out the Panther Creek to White Salmon section, but I promised everyone going into this that as a solo hiker I would make smart, safe decisions, and the only choice was to stay, rest up, and continue on the next day farther down the trail.
I booked an extra night, rested, then had a little bit to eat, and decided to get some fresh air and at least walk the first mile or two of the Klickitat Trail. It was pretty frustrating, such a beautiful and easy section of trail, and I wouldn’t be doing it. However, I knew I would come back and do it someday. I turned around a little past Klickitat County Park, watched a bit of the Seahawks game (they lost), heated up a Backpackers Bistro Mexican beans and rice meal, took some cold meds, and called it a day.
Zero Day No. Two – Catch a Ride from Lyle to The Dalles
Still not feeling 100 percent, but good enough to camp. I texted my new friend Elmo, who graciously was able to give me a ride across the river to the nearest campground I could find to The Dalles, which was Memaloose State Park. On the ride over we talked about the Chinook Trail, and the possibility of the CTA coming up with an alternate, shorter route that would cut out the Klickitat Trail and about 50 miles of road walking in Eastern Washington and Oregon. Instead, one would go from Lyle to The Dalles, then continue west to Portland. He dropped me off at the park as it started to rain, and I promised him that I’d send him some surf tunes from my record label to use in some of his rock-climbing videos. I set up camp under a tree, made a fire, and rested up more to try to kick this cold once and for all.
Memaloose State Park to Hood River on the Columbia River Highway State Trail
Knowing I had a fairly short day of hiking, I had breakfast and packed up camp around 8, then hit the highway. Yes, because Memaloose Park is split in half by Highway 84, and I was on the river side with no access to the other side, I had to walk on the shoulder of the highway toward Mosier. Thankfully, this section had a wide shoulder and for most of it I was able to walk on the other side of the guar rail. After 1.5 miles I reached a tunnel that went under the freeway on Rowena River Road, which would then allow me to access the Old Columbia River Highway. I made my way down a steep slope, dropped my pack over some barbed wire, and then lowered myself down to the tunnel. From there I walked through an orchard and met some workers. I was worried that I was trespassing, and might be in trouble, but they said that while there isn’t public access it wasn’t a big deal and told me how to get through the front gate. Really nice guys, although they thought I was a little crazy to be hiking so far.
Having reached the road, I made my way through the town of Mosier. I had hoped for a coffee and cinnamon roll, but everything in town was closed. I rested a bit at the site of their farmers market, then continued on west out of town to meet up with the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. I passed a local who suggested a nice shortcut trail, which featured great views of the river and avoided about a half mile of road walking. I met up with the paved trail, which climbed uphill to the Mosier Twin Tunnels. This is definitely the highlight of this section—cool tunnels reinforced by wood beams, with peek-a-boo views of the river in a couple of sections.
For most of this section, about seven to eight miles, I was able to walk on the dirt and gravel shoulder, avoiding the unrelenting pavement. The views of the Columbia River were amazing throughout. I arrived in Hood River about 12:30, anxious to check in at the Hood River Hotel, take a shower, and get some food. Feeling up for a beer or two, I decided to hit the local microbreweries and get a pint at each one. I started off at Double Mountain with a Black Irish Stout and a veggie pizza, then continued on to Big Horse brewing for a Cornucopia corn lager, which was pretty amazing.
Later met up with Elmo, his wife, Ozy, and their three kids at Pfriem Brewing for an amazingly fun evening of conversation, great beer, and delicious food. It was awesome to get to know them and I hope that our families can get together soon. They’re such great people. Capped off the evening with a schooner at Ferment Brewing, completing my brewery tour of Hood River (skipped Full Sail, which you can find in just about any grocery or convenience store), and then called it a night. This would be my last town day for a while, before heading south to Mount Hood.
Chinook Trail (Day 10 & 11) – Meeting Up With The PCT From Hood River, OR, To Lost Lake Resort
Decision Time – Up and Over Mount Defiance, or Skip It
This section was a little tricky—it was uphill, but between a somewhat complex network of forest roads, and dozens of mountain biking trails, it was easy to get lost and I took a couple of wrong turns. Thankfully, GPS and the Gaia app bailed me out each time. Once I reached the 4,000-foot level I had a choice to make—go up and over Mount Defiance, or stay at roughly 4,000 feet and traverse it. Knowing the views aren’t great up there, and having limited daylight left, I opted for the traverse. It was at this point that I reached 100 miles of hiking for the trip.
There weren’t many people up there, but I did pass a few mountain bikers, and someone taking his dogs for a “walk.” The driver was in his truck, going up the forest road, and his dogs were tailing behind. I reached the junction for the Rainy Lake Trail—finally, after a long day of road walking, first on pavement, and then on gravel, I would be on actual trail. It was a nice, fairly level trail that didn’t seem to be used too often. Found a pretty little waterfall and filled up my water bottles. Met up with a wildlife surveyor—funny to see him bundled up from head to toe while I was sweating in a short sleeve hiking shirt (it was probably about 45 degrees at this point). It was getting dark, but I reached camp at about 6:30 and had my pick of four sites and chose the one closest to the cute little A-frame bathroom.
Rainy Lake Camp to Lost Lake Resort on the PCT
This was supposed to be an easy day—Gaia said it’d be 12-14 miles, and a hiker I met near Wahtum Lake said from there it was about seven miles. In the end, it was a 20+ mile day—oh well, it was the most amazing day of hiking as well so I didn’t care. Had the usual for breakfast—a Via coffee and oatmeal, then got underway at 8:30. I thought I’d be road walking to Wahtum Lake, but my campsite was right next to a trailhead for Wahtum Lake. I think what I saw on Gaia as a road is actually a trail. In any case, one must always choose the trail, so that’s the way I went, and made sure to verify with Gaia that I was going in the right direction (I was).
It was cool to see Mount Hood getting closer and closer with each step. Once I reached Wahtum Lake I rested a bit, had a snack, then joined up with the PCT, which would be under my feet for the next 40 miles or so. After an initial uphill stretch, the trail flattened out and I was able to reach 4 mph for quite a way. The highlight of the day was reaching an open area below the summit of Indian Mountain. It was a clear day and I could see Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams in the distance, with wide swaths of burnt trees from last year’s horrific fires. I took a ton of photos, gulped down some water, and continued on.
Met a PCT NOBO hiker, who I believe was from Germany, and talked to him for a few minutes. Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to make it—not because of cold weather and snow up north (although that would have been an issue), but his visa was expiring soon. By this point I was only about 12 miles from Mount Hood as the crow flies, but for me it would be another 25 miles or so of hiking. I pushed hard to make it to Lost Lake Resort before they closed—I didn’t have a reservation, but more importantly, I really wanted a beer. The general store closed at 5 p.m., and by 4 p.m. I still had three downhill miles to go. It would be tight! On my way down I met a couple of day hikers who were staying at the resort, who said there was a temporary sign at the store that said they closed at 4. I kept pushing, hoping today it would be open at 5, but no such luck, and I actually didn’t make it there until 5:15 anyway.
I met a worker at the store who was closing up, and he gave me the scoop on where to camp, which helped. Unfortunately, no amount of persuasion would convince him to sell me a beer, but the thought of setting up camp, having a nice meal, and relaxing were enough for me. Had a Good To Go mushroom risotto for the first time and it was awesome. I love that company! It was getting cold so I popped into the tent, snuggled up in my quilt, and read for a bit before calling it a night.
Lost Lake Resort Detour – Yea or Nay
On a side note, I’m not sure how many PCTers take the detour down to Lost Lake Resort, but it’s debatable whether it’s worth it. It’s about 800 feet below the PCT, and about three miles in each direction. Plus, there are some nice-looking campsites at the junction of the PCT and the Lost Lake Trail. I didn’t need to resupply, and I got there after the general store closed, so I really didn’t need to do the extra six miles of round-trip hiking. Still, it’s a beautiful lake, and the hot coffee and cup of Life cereal and milk hit the spot in the morning.
Chinook Trail (Day 12 & 13) – Lost Lake to ALDHA-West Gathering
I was anxious to hit the Lost Lake General Store this morning—I really wanted something for breakfast other than Pop-Tarts and oatmeal. A breakfast burrito, cinnamon roll—anything but the usual! Well, no such luck. They were getting ready to close for the season and were letting their inventory dwindle down. I scoured the shelves for something different, but the best I could find was a cup of Life cereal and milk. Along with a hot cup of coffee, it wasn’t a bad breakfast. Enjoyed the view of the lake from the front porch and charged up my devices, then headed back to camp to pack up and get the day started.
Lost Lake Resort to Muddy River Camp on the PCT
Took the two-mile hike out of Lost Lake slow and steady, then met up with the PCT, heading south toward Mount Hood. Shortly after, I heard a noise about 100 yards or so below the trail, in a small meadow. Off in the distance was a bear—my first bear sighting on the trail. I clacked my poles together and it scampered off into the woods. I have to admit, that was exactly the way I wanted to see a bear on the trail—far away and running away from me.
Shortly before reaching Lolo Pass I started seeing other hikers—the bear was really the only living creature I saw over the first two to three hours of hiking that day. There were some awesome views of Mount Hood, and some not-so-awesome views of buzzing power lines. I talked to a group of hikers about the Chinook Trail, and then met a Scottish NOBO PCT thru-hiker. We talked a bit about whether it was work going to Lost Lake or not, trail names, and the trail. He was determined to make it to Canada, although it was now almost mid-October. We fist bumped and went our separate ways.
I planned to rest and have lunch at Lolo Pass, but without any views or picnic tables (that I could find) I decided to just continue on. The route switchbacked up, up, up, but I kept a pretty good pace, determined to make it past Bald Mountain. That goal didn’t turn out to be a problem—I still had a couple of hours of daylight at the point where I had to complete a backcountry permit and the trail started going steeply downhill.
Reaching the Muddy River, which was more of a heavy flowing stream, I saw a couple of large trees with a rope attached. That was one way to cross the river—but it seemed like there would be a way to cross on rocks somewhere. I looked upstream, but any possible crossings would have required changing into my Crocs, which were at the bottom of my pack. Out of laziness, I decided to just go for the tree crossing. It was actually pretty easy—the trees were wet, but having the rope to hold onto really helped.
The Muddy River PCT camp wasn’t far away—I set up camp and started dinner. While I enjoyed a Good-To-Go Thai curry meal, I watched a bunch of hikers with headlamps pass—some came down the way I came, while others were likely returning from Ramona Falls. Darkness fell, as did the temperatures, so I cleaned up and went into my tent for the night.
Muddy River Camp to ALDHA-West Gathering
Finished off the last of my Pop-Tarts (won’t be buying those again for a loooong time), warmed up with some coffee and oatmeal, then packed up and hit the trail. Instead of taking the PCT, I took the trail to Ramona Falls, enjoying the early-morning solitude with a bit of frost underfoot. It was slightly uphill, following Ramona Creek through lush forest. Reaching the falls around 9 a.m., I was thankful to have it all to myself—it was pretty amazing and well worth the slightly longer detour. I filled up my water bottles, took a ton of photos, and continued on to where the trail connects with the PCT. Unfortunately, I still had the slightly inaccurate NatGeo layer on in the Gaia app, which led me the wrong way—1,000 feet in the wrong direction. Thankfully it was fairly flat, and it wasn’t a big deal to turn around and go in the right direction.
My pre-hike research told me that crossing the Sandy River can be a little sketch at times. Thankfully, due to the dry weather and getting an early start, it was no problem at all. One branch was easily crossed by hopping rocks, while the main section of river had a cluster of branches that formed a fairly solid bridge. It was a beautiful area, with the sun peaking over the nearby ridge and a view of Mount Hood in the distance.
However, I couldn’t stay for long as today was set to be a fairly long day of hiking. Entering the forest the trail went up, and up, and up. About 3,000 feet or so, from Sandy River to the Paradise Park area on Mount Hood. As I slowly worked my way upward I was starting to get passed by day hikers and trail runners coming down in the opposite direction. As I reached the treeline the views opened up and were quite amazing—Mount Hood above, and deep glacial valleys below. The ground was frozen here—my trekking poles were unable to break through the dirt, so it was kinda like hiking on rock for a while.
Met Pop Tart, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who was out doing some day hikes in the Mount Hood region. Super nice guy—talked to him about his adventures, and I told him about the Chinook Trail. We went opposite directions, but I met up with him later just before I left the PCT to head down the mountain on the Hidden Lake Trail. The top half of the Hidden Lake Trail sucked—it was overgrown, with occasional blowovers. It obviously wasn’t a very popular trail, but with some maintenance it would be a lot more enjoyable. Thankfully, the condition of the trail improved on the lower half, as I got closer to the Kiwanis Camp just outside of Government Camp, site of the ALDHA-West Gathering.
I passed a few attendees who were going uphill on the trail to stretch their legs a bit—they mentioned the group photo would be at 4:15. That was less than an hour away. I knew they’d make it easily—they were fresh and didn’t have 30 pounds on their backs. I would have to pick up the pace. It was at this point I started to feel the emotion of what I had accomplished, along with knowing that the adventurous, backcountry part of my Chinook Trail experience was drawing to a close. From this point on it’d be a Kiwanis camp, a hotel, an RV park, a state park, and mostly road walking before I reached the end.
Upon reaching the American Long Distance Hiking Association – West Gathering I checked in at the registration desk, grabbed a beer, and made it over to the grassy area for the group photo (still with my pack on). After the photo I set up camp and enjoyed the festivities—a talk from Jennifer Pharr Davis, a dinner where I loaded up on salad and mashed potatoes (everything else was meat), and I met a couple of fellow Bellingham hikers—Swept Away and Arrow. I also met Rudy from the Cascade Hiker Podcast, as well as three of the people that have completed the Chinook Trail: Allgood, Snorkel, and Marmot. The evening closed with the Triple Crown awards for folks that have completed the PCT, AT, and CDT.
Chinook Trail (Day 14, 15, 16 & 17) – Mount Hood to the End in Portland, OR
The ALDHA-West Gathering was a blast—met lots of great people, ate a bunch of delicious food, and was inspired by the stories of all of the thru-hikers in attendance. However, I wasn’t quite done with the Chinook Trail—I still had to get to Portland. But first, there was a slight detour that I wedged into my route planning for the trail—an overnight at the Overlook Hotel… I mean Timberline Lodge. It was a hike with 3,000+ feet of elevation gain, but it was only seven miles away so it would go fairly quickly. I left the Kiwanis Camp and set off on the Pioneer Bridal Trail, which ran somewhat parallel to the Mount Hood Highway on its way east. Had a few close calls with mountain bikers who were using the same trail, and trails that intersected it, but managed to avoid collisions with them.
Made it into Government Camp and went to Charlies for breakfast and to watch the Seahawks/Raiders game that was played in London. It ended up being a blowout in the Seahawks’ favor, so I left early for a nice, sunny (and windy) hike up the Glade Trail up the southern slopes of Mount Hood. It was pretty steep at times, but with a slow and steady pace the miles went by quickly. Had a bloody nose on the way—not sure if it was elevation, dryness, or what, but took care of it quickly and soldiered upward. It was nice to reach some of the lower ski lifts of the Timberline ski area—it meant the lodge wasn’t far away.
Upon reaching the lodge I was anxious to take off my pack, wash my clothes, take a shower, and get some food and a beer. Timberline was an awesome place to hang out—had some great food (including a vegetarian field roast with potatoes and kale for dinner), and the hot tub was pretty amazing. Talked to some fun people at the bar about hiking and football (there was a great game on with the Chiefs and Patriots).
Mount Hood / Timberline Lodge to Mount Hood RV Resort / Welches, OR
I woke up early to catch an amazing sunrise, with clear views all the way south to Mount Jefferson and The Sisters. While I wasn’t experiencing the hiker hunger that PCT hikers are dealing with when they make it to Timberline, I did want to partake in the famous breakfast buffet. Have to say, as a vegetarian it’s not great—mainly lukewarm eggs and potatoes, but if you’re hungry nothing beats a buffet no matter what’s in the line. Not feeling the need to hike back down the mountain, as these weren’t miles that were part of my Chinook Trail hike, I took a shuttle to Zig Zag, OR. There were a few miles that I didn’t hike that were part of my intended hiking route, but they were on the Mount Hood Highway. The section didn’t have much of a shoulder, and would have been fairly dangerous to walk, so I think I made the right decision.
Once in Zig Zag I walked a route through a residential area that avoided the highway, for the most part. For the last couple of miles the highway was unavoidable, but it wasn’t too bad as I made it into the Mount Hood RV Resort. As expected, I was the only tent camper there and I was given a lonely spot in the woods to set up. Still, there was a heated bathroom nearby, so it wasn’t so bad. With no food options nearby I hiked back up the highway to the Whistle Stop Bar & Grill for a veggie burger and soup.
Mount Hood RV Resort / Welches, OR, to Oxbow Regional Park
At this point I wasn’t really seeing the point of endangering myself by doing more freeway walking, when I wasn’t going to complete every step of the trail, so I took a shuttle that dropped me off six miles to the west. At Alder Creek there were back roads that would take me through Sandy, OR, and on to Oxbow Regional Park. The roads were nice and quiet, but nearly a century ago the same roads were part of the main route between the Portland area and Mount Hood, but were bypassed when the Mount Hood Highway was built. I talked to an older gentleman out on a walk near Cherryville (no longer an actual town) who told me a little bit about the history of the area. As I worked my way west toward Sandy there were more houses, nearly all of them fenced in with barking dogs behind their front gates.
Upon reaching Sandy I was starving, and was really craving pizza (a whole pizza!). I stopped at Boomer’s Wall Street Pizza and had an awesome veggie pizza, garlic bread, and beer. I still had about ten miles to go, but it all tasted so good, and somehow it didn’t slow me down later. The workers there were interested to hear about the Chinook Trail, and one of them had done the Oregon Coast Trail recently. The hike to Oxbow Park was all road walking, and except for a great viewpoint of the Sandy River valley with Mount Hood now in the far distance, it was pretty uneventful. Upon reaching the park a helpful ranger assigned me a campsite, brought some firewood, and even called my wife at home to let her know I was OK (despite being only 11 miles from Portland there was unexpectedly no cell service).
Oxbow Regional Park To The End! (McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale)
This was it—the last day of my Chinook Trail adventure. It was definitely a day of mixed emotions. I had found my hiker’s legs, my 30+ pound pack felt comfortable to the point where it was barely noticeable, and I was really enjoying myself. On the flip side, I was anxious to see my wife and kids again. Oh, and the road walking was causing all sorts of problems—my first blisters, and hamstring issues in my right leg. I was about to finish the Chinook Trail, yet I wasn’t because of the miles I missed earlier. If I had the opportunity I would have found a ride to Panther Creek in Washington and finished the miles I had to skip, but I had to leave that for another time.
The day started with a curious deer coming into camp and scoping things out. I packed up and hit the trail out of Oxbow Park, then walked quiet, rural roads as I headed west. Unfortunately, the amount of traffic increased, and the size of the shoulders decreased, making the approach to Troutdale kinda sketchy. This went for about two hours or so—I had to duck off to the side every time a car approached. Upon reaching residential sidewalks, I knew the end was near—by this point I was only a few miles from Edgefield.
It was breezy, but sunny, and despite the pain in my feet and right leg I was enjoying this. In the distance I saw the water tower that rises above McMenamins Edgefield, and the emotion of what I had accomplished, and what was ending, hit me hard. There was so much uncertainty going into this hike—it would have been so much different if it were colder, or if it rained, or if I wasn’t physically up to it. Yet here I was, with the Edgefield sign in front of me—it was over! I went straight into the bar with my pack on and my hiker’s stench and ordered a beer. A nice older couple asked me all about the trail, and paid for my beer—trail magic! My wife later met me and we had a nice time at one of our favorite spots in the Northwest, and it was great to rest up and prepare for going home and back to work.
While this is my last post covering my 2018 Chinook Trail adventure, I do plan on completing the sections I missed in 2019. Once that’s done, I will write a final wrap-up post, as well as a guide with tips and recommendations for any of you who want to do the Chinook Trail. I will say that I highly recommend this trail for anyone looking for a thru-hiking adventure, but may not have five to six months to devote to one of the more famous long-distance trails. For more information on the trail, please visit the Chinook Trail Association website at: http://chinooktrails.org/
One thought on “Chinook Trail – 300 Mile Thru-Hike Along Columbia River (Nearly) Completed”
Hi Sean – I would like to inquire about one of your photos. Please reach out at your earliest convenience. Thank you!