Columbia River Gorge, OR

Eagle Creek / PCT Loop Backpack - June 11-13, 2006

Trip theme: "This is the most beautiful trail" or "Holy crap my knee hurts!"

This year was going to be different. Rather than let Ed "plan" everything out and then have it all fall down like a house of cards, I would meticulously plan out every detail of this trip so things would go smoothly. I had a book full of material ready to go complete with campsites for each night, trail routes to take, maps, etc. For the most part the trip went according to plan, with the notable exception of the backpack loop which required a major re-route. The backpack consisted of myself, Ed, George and Ping.

Ed and I flew into Seattle and went to pick up our rental car. True to form, Avis tried to screw us by telling us that they did not have the full size SUV available that we reserved and pre-paid for. We looked at the puny SUV they offered us instead and were dubious that all of our gear would comfortably fit in it. We went inside to see if we could get something else, but basically got the brush off. Sitting outside the door was the vehicle we had actually reserved, but how to convince them to give it to us? A helpful employee in the parking lot suggested we try the Preferred counter instead. Eureka! The very helpful lady there had no trouble circumnavigating the system and finally put is in the right vehicle. A quick trip to REI for fuel and other miscellaneous provisions and we were on our way.

I had inquired on several internet forums as to the best multi-day backpacking loop near Mt. Hood for this time of year. I overwhelmingly was told to do an Eagle Creek Loop as laid out in Backpacking Oregon by Douglas Lorain. So I bought the book and the map and plans were made. I decided for simplicity sake we would camp at the Eagle Creek campground which is located very near the trailhead. We selected a site, George and Ping met us there shortly thereafter, and the plan was coming together splendidly. The camp hosts told us that they were having a problem with car's being broken into and they suggested we park out by the campground instead of by the trailhead. No problem, we were making a loop so it made no difference whatsoever where we parked. We loaded up our packs on a beautiful Sunday morning and set off up Eagle Creek. I had wanted to day hike Eagle Creek when I was in Oregon several years earlier but elected not to as the group wasn't really up to it. It turns out this was a good decision because the payoff to Eagle Creek doesn't really come for several miles. That being said it is totally worth it to hike in as far as your legs will take you. The canyon, and more importantly the waterfalls, are very unique and beautiful. Make sure you go all the way in to Tunnel Falls which is the highlight in my opinion of the whole canyon. The trail is carved along the side of the cliff and then passes through a tunnel behind the waterfall before popping out the other side. Very cool. We enjoyed perfect weather as we meandered our way up Eagle Creek, passing a ton of people heading back to their cars after the weekend. Ping declared that "This is the most beautiful trail" she had ever been on. Our final destination for the night was Wahtum Lake, 14 miles and 3,600 ft up from the trailhead. Of course that wasn't good enough for the tough mountaineering section of the Wilmington Trail Club. So we set upon climbing nearby Mt. Chinidere which gave us an additional 1,000 ft of climbing for the day. Excellent views of the area were had at the top of the mountain. We had met some rangers on the trail and then talked to a few people while sitting in camp about the trails ahead. The rangers suggested altering our loop to avoid the less maintained trail we had intended on, and a day hiker suggested we take an alternate way around the rim of the lake which was more scenic. New plan in hand and a hearts game later we called it a day. I felt a very slight twinge in my right knee right before bed, but didn't think much of it.

Next morning we got up and headed off down the trail. I was a little slow getting teady to leave for everyone else, even though we had all day, so they set off without me down the trail. I had assumed it was the right one based on the day hiker traffic yesterday, however after about 10 minutes it became apparent that we were not heading in the right direction. I had to double time it to catch up to the group at which point my right knee started to complain about the exertion. I got us turned around and after a 2 mile scenic out and back we were back where we started. OK, off in the right direction now. My knee felt better again so it must have just been the fast pace. We found the correct side trail and climbed a long series of stairs to gain the parking lot and the dirt road that all of the day hikers had come in on. There seems something wrong with hiking 14 long miles in from a trailhead, to what you think is a remote mountain lake, only to find day hikers floating by from a nearby parking lot. Oh well. We located the Anthill Trail which was our desired scenic loop around the top rim of the lake and set off again. This trail was a little steeper and a little less maintained, but not bad. Shortly after starting up it my knee began to protest again. Only this time it got worse and worse to the point where I had to stop. Where I subsequently declared "Holy crap my knee hurts!". We were many miles from our campsite for the day and many more from the car and I wasn't going to be able to continue with the current level of pain. I hadn't really done anything to hurt it, and it had been feeling great up until the last 12 hours, so I figured it was strictly an overuse type injury similar to the mysterious pain I had on the March backpacker. If I had been critically wounded I could have set up back at the parking lot behind us and waited until they came back to get me with the car. But I thought I could still make the rest of the trip, but perhaps I was screwed on the mountain climbing. We made a makeshift knee brace by taking one of Ping's shirts and wrapping it tightly around my knee over the ligament that was hurting and I popped a bunch of Advil.

The Anthill Trail crossed the jeep road like it was suppose to and then went downhill to pick up the Herman Creek Trail. We had originally intended to take the jeep road until it hit the Gordon Creek Trail, but the rangers had convinced us that Herman Creek was the better way to go. It didn't take long on the connector trail to hit a bunch of snow on the north side of the hill and for us to completely lose the trail. Great. My knee was still hurting pretty bad and I wasn't in the mood for bushwhacking through the snow looking for a cross trail that may also be completely covered in snow. Since they don't bother to blaze trails out west, finding a snow covered trail can be pretty much impossible. I figured our best bet was to retrace to the jeep road, follow it back towards the lake and pick up the Herman Creek Trail at its starting point. This plan worked great until we started walking up the Herman Creek trail and encountered snow covering the trail once again. I think if my knee weren't hurting I would have been up for the attempt on finding the trail with my topo map and compass as we had some pretty good brackets and topo lines to follow. But as my route finding skills aren't all that honed, I was afraid I might end up leading us on an extended bushwhack that my knee just wasn't going to take. I suggested that we turn around and abort our intended loop, instead following the PCT back. It was noontime and I could still see our campsite from the ridge despite having hiked for 4 hours solid. Lord knows we weren't getting jipped on any miles. The group seemed more than happy with the PCT option so that's what we did. We found a pink balloon on the side of the trail and attached it to my backpack to match the pretty pink shirt I had wrapped around my knee.

The PCT turned out to be very nice and scenic as well. Until we saw lightening and heard thunder and it started to rain. And rain it did. A frigid cold pour would be more accurate. Fortunately my excellent map of the area Trails of the Columbia Gorge  told us where we could find campsites so we knew how far we had to go. We had decided to take the shortest route back to the car via the Ruckle Creek Trail off the PCT, so I intended for us to camp at a spot marked as Hunter's Camp. We walked in the cold down pour for what seemed like forever but was probably about 2 hours. We got to our intended campsite and everyone was cold and exhausted. In a stroke of good fortune the rain eased long enough for us to get our tents set up without getting too much more wet. I dove inside my tent wet clothes and all. I wanted to try and save my dry clothes (read: sleeping clothes) for later so I took off the gortex and climbed into my semi-wet sleeping bag with wet socks and shorts. I was amazed at how tired and cold that I was and drifted off to sleep. Everyone else did the same thing and 3 hours later we emerged from our tents when the rain mostly let up. I was more or less dry inside the sleeping bag but the outside of the bag was soaked. Weird how my body baked the water out like that. We quickly made dinner and attempted to dry things out as much as possible. We also talked to a couple of guys who had showed up during the rainstorm and were camped nearby. But alas it started to rain again and pretty much rained all night long.

Next morning it was down to a drizzle and my knee didn't feel any better at all, despite the mass amounts of Advil I had consumed. I was pretty depressed. Not only did my knee still hurt, but I had to descend 4,000 feet over 6 miles which would likely make it worse. Today I used a compression strap that George had to apply pressure to the ligament. This seemed to work a little better but I was still hobbled. I decided this morning that the pink balloon we had picked up was the root of all our bad weather evil, so Ping and I popped it and left it in camp. I had to move extremely slowly down the hill to avoid excessive pain. Everyone got tired of moving so slow and went off and left me. The weather improved as we got closer to the Gorge and Ed fell back to keep me company as I hobbled my way down the steep Ruckle Creek Trail. We met up with the Gorge Trail and found our way back to the car by late morning.

Afterwards we stopped off in the city of Hood River for lunch at the Horse Feather's brewpub where I about cried when I found out I had to ascend/descend 2 flights of stairs to eat there. We also stopped off at a Safeway where we spread all of our belongings out in the parking lot to dry them out. Thus started the main theme of our trip "Get it wet. Dry it out again". I was really bummed out at this point as I couldn't see any way that my knee would recover in time to allow climbing of anything.

Ping, George and Ed at the Eagle Creek trailhead. George, Mark and Ed at the alternate sign for the Eagle Creek trailhead
Mark in front of a nice waterfall along Eagle Creek The Eagle Creek trail as it passes behind Tunnel Falls
George and Ping coming out from behind Tunnel Falls Mark in front of Tunnel Falls
Looking back down the Eagle Creek canyon Wahtum Lake
Our campsite next to Wahtum Lake Mark, Ed and George on top of Mt. Chinidere (4,873 ft)
Sleepytime Even though we walked around Wahtum lake for 4 hours, this is the only time we saw it
Oh no, not again. There wasn't suppose to be any snow this year Another beautiful morning in the Columbia River Gorge along the PCT. Note the strap on my knee
Columbia river as seen coming down the Ruckle Creek trail Don't leave me Ed, I'm hobbled
Everyone back at the car after our adventure Drying our stuff out in the Safeway parking lot

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