Friday, December 31, 2010

Crossing Another Arbitrary Political Boundary!

Tunnel Falls--notice the trail blasted out
from the rock behind the falls. My
camera couldn't fit all of the falls, so
I pasted three photos together for
this "panoramic" photo.
August 26: I was really looking forward to today. I've hiked the Eagle Creek trail several times in past years, and I consider it one of the ten most spectacular day hikes ever, passing by a dozen or so major waterfalls, a super-cool 3-second bridge, and a trail blasted out of solid rock. The Eagle Creek trail is an engineering marvel, created to give the Columbia River Scenic Highway drivers a destination to be remembered.

The most spectacular waterfall of them all was also one of the first I'd hit--Tunnel Falls. Tunnel Falls got its name from the trail blasted out behind it. As amazing as the scenery is, however, the folks weren't particularly creative in naming landmarks.

High Bridge is no better in that regard. It's a short, 3-second bridge (the time it took when I dropped a rock from the top to hit the water below), crossing at a narrow channel. I was so excited at all the views, I completely forgot to check on the Eagle Creek letterbox I planted years ago. I was miles past it when I realized I forgot it. Do'h!

Nearing the trailhead, the number of day hikers increased dramatically. Dozens of them, and this was early in the morning on a weekday. This is definitely not the place to spend quality "alone time."

Once I hit the trailhead, I followed the Gorge Trail into Cascade Locks. It parallels Interstate 84, so I can't say it was particularly nice or pleasant. It's loud. But I watched traffic fly by at amazing speeds. It seemed so magical, these strange people, flying down the road at such incredible speeds. Lewis and Clark would be amazed. It took them two years to cross the country, following the Columbia River in canoes to the Pacific Ocean. In their defense, they also went back the same way. It only took just over a year for them to reach the Pacific. It took me four months to reach this point on foot.

The Columbia River Gorge is spectacular, but it's also historic. It also marks the Oregon/Washington boundary. Washington state was out there, just on the other side of the river. That river, however, is a big one. The second largest in the country, in fact, and probably a mile wide in most places. Fording was not an option. Road builders built a bridge across at a particularly narrow point, naming it Bridge of the Gods. It's a grand name for, to be perfectly honest, an ugly bridge. This is no Golden Gate beauty. It's plain, unadorned, and functional. But seeing it off in the distance was thrilling. That bridge would marked the end of the Oregon and the beginning of Washington.

The view from inside the tunnel.
Kind of wet and creepy, actually.
The bridge is built at the edge of Cascade Locks, a small town and a major resupply point for hikers. I would not resupply, though. Not yet, at least. I planned to meet Amanda the next day and still had plenty of food to get me through. It wasn't even noon when I arrived into Cascade Locks, and I could have just checked into a motel and waited until her arrival the next day, but I'd have plenty of time to rest when she arrived. No, I didn't need to sit around for an extra day doing nothing. I'd push through and keep going.

Well, I did stop at Charburger, a restaurant near the base of the bridge. It was lunchtime, and it sounded a heck of a lot better than anything I carried in my pack. Yes, I could stop for an hour (maybe two!) at Charburger for lunch. I looked around to see if any other thru-hikers were around, but it appeared that I was the only one. I picked a seat at the window, overlooking the Columbia River, and ordered a western burger along with a cherry pie. Pie... umm.... =)

A short while later, I saw Red Head walk in and waved him over to my table. I last saw Red Head in Sisters and we talked about the trail. Red Head told me that he, along with a couple of other hikers, had started the road walk around the wildfire, and had even completed most of it, before a shuttle system picked them up. This was the first I had heard about a shuttle getting hikers around the fire. Apparently, they were some of the first hikers to make use of it. I'm not exactly sure who was running it, but it hadn't started when I went through because "they" still needed insurance before they could shuttle hikers. Once that went through, a regular shuttle started transporting hikers from one end of the closure to the other.

The trail blasted into the side of a cliff.
Hold on to that little cable they
strung along this stretch!
I'm rather glad I didn't even have that as an option when I passed through. I'm not sure if they were requiring hikers to take the shuttle or not, but every single hiker I talked to later who had the shuttle as an option told me they took it. One hiker told me he was told he had to take it. I'd be really bothered if I had been forced to skip a section. I'm not sure how those hikers justified the skipped section in their head. Red Head said it was the first and only section where his footprints weren't connected, but he's not too disappointed about that since he was actually picked up at a higher latitude than where he was dropped off again. He hiked through all of the latitudes from the Mexico border to Cascade Locks, and that was good enough for him.

It sounds like Red Head was close behind me on the trail then--he had already hiked much of the road walk before the shuttle went into service. There were a lot of hikers behind him, though. What about them? How did they justify the skipped section? Those that were picked up at the trail closure and didn't do any road walk at all missed some latitudes. Maybe it was justified as there was "no choice in the matter."

Red Head also told me he had heard that the fire closure had later been extended even further south than where we hit it, but details were sketchy since Red Head hadn't experienced the extended closure personally. (I'd hear more about that from other hikers later.) It sounds like a lot hikers skipped as much as 30 or 40 miles of trail to get around the fire, and they all hated the ride in the shuttle--a ride that took hours on bumpy dirt roads. It wasn't until I started hearing these stories that I realized how lucky I was getting through when I did. Yeah, I had a road walk, but my footsteps were still connected. So far as I could tell, I was actually the last hiker to get through and keep my footsteps connected.

Seriously, if you're scared of heights,
this is NOT the trail for you!
Red Head also told me that he was suffering from giardia, and consequently wasn't feeling very well. Bummer. I decided not to tell him that I don't treat my water except in the rarest of rare circumstances. =)

He had a friend in Portland who was driving out to pick him up for a couple of well-earned days of rest, and was chilling at Charburger eating lunch until his friend arrived about ten minutes later, who then joined us and we told war stories of the trail.

The girl, who's name I now forget, asked what happens at the Canadian border, and I started explaining about filling out the paperwork in advance and mailing it to Canada for permission to enter Canada on foot along the Pacific Crest Trail. They stamped it and mailed it back to me, which I had my mom include in the maildrop at Timberline Lodge. I didn't know when or if I'd use anymore maildrops, so I figured it was better just to carry the Canadian paperwork (and my passport) the rest of the way.

Red Head shook his head and said he'd turn around at the border and hike back to the nearest trailhead on the US side. "Why?" I asked. The trailhead in Canada is far closer than the trailhead in the US. Why would anyone voluntarily choose the longer route back into civilization.

The view looking down from High Bridge--
a 3-second bridge across this very
narrow chasm.
"They denied my application," he said.

"Denied? Really?"

"Yep. I'm not allowed to go into Canada."

"Why? What did you do?"

Red Head got a little wishy-washy about that, shrugging it off saying he didn't know. I didn't believe that for a second. If Canada doesn't let you into their country, you're going to know why! I strongly suspected he probably had some sort of criminal record involving pot--he told me that he ran a "medical marijuana dispensary" back home in California--so I wouldn't be shocked to learn he had a criminal record of some sort, but whatever it was, he clearly didn't want to divulge any details and I let the matter drop. But damn, I was curious! I wanted to know!!!

He asked me about the monument at the end of the trail--did I know if it was actually at the border, or at the end of the trail in Manning Park in Canada? Because he told me he was going to get a picture of himself at the monument even if it meant entering Canada illegally and hiking back into the United States illegally. (As a side note, there is NO legal way to enter the United States on the Pacific Crest Trail. A lot of hikers seem to do it, but technically, it's illegal, and lord knows what the border patrol would do if they catch you. So if you cross into Canada illegally, you pretty much have to get back into the United States illegally too.) I assured him that the monument was at the border and he would not have to enter Canada illegally. But he could still spit on their soil if it made him feel better. =)

Punchbowl Falls
Red Head left with the girl, and I was, once again, alone. I made a phone call to Amanda to coordinates meeting up with her the next day, and called my mom with an update to tell her that I'd be in Washington state in a few minutes. Then I picked up my pack and continued on.

The trail crosses on the Bridge of the Gods, a toll bridge, but thru-hikers can cross on foot for free. Woo-who! The woman manning the booth told me to walk on the left side of the bridge into oncoming traffic. Better to see which car kills you than have it make a stealth attack from behind.

The bridge is not at all pedestrian-friendly. There is no protected walkway. The roadbed isn't even a road--it's a metal grate that you can look through down to the cold waters of the Columbia River far below. And when I crossed the bridge, the wind was strong enough to blow a person off their feet. The bridge was narrow enough that only one car could pass me at a time--it wasn't wide enough for two cars and a pedestrian.

It was, in a word, exhilarating! =)

It looks all calm and tranquil along the
Gorge Trail, but Interstate 84 is a mere
stone's throw away on the left.
This bridge was exciting. It first opened in 1926, and Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis under it. (At least according to a post card I read at the Charburger.) The center of the bridge marked the Washington border. I dashed across to the right side of the bridge to get a picture of the sign welcoming drivers to Washington as the bridge rattled with every vehicle that drove by. Two states down, one to go! =)

The rest of the day's hike was largely uneventful. I checked up on a letterbox I planted years ago a little past Gilette Lake, but found nothing. Probably missing. The log I hid it behind was so badly decomposed, though, I didn't feel 100% confident that it didn't just disappear into the mass.

The trail crossed through logging country, and while the clear cuts were ugly, at least I could get some light and views along the way. Dark skies started rolling in, and rain seemed likely. Ominous, to be sure, but just being in Washington made me happy. Nothing to get me down! =)

I set up camp at a road crossing, just over 13 miles past the Washington border. While cleaning my pot of the spaghetti dinner, I accidentally spilled gray matter on my sleeping bag. *grumbling* I always felt it's best not to soak one's sleeping bag in food odors, but I put that thought aside so I wouldn't imagine every noise I heard during the night was a bear mistaking me for a burrito.
This mural is painted onto a column supporting the
Bridge of the Gods.
The view from my table while eating lunch at Charburger. (In case you noticed the faint "ghost" image,
that's just the reflection from taking the picture through a window.) The Columbia River marks
the boundary between Oregon and Washington, and the trail crosses on this bridge.
I made it to Washington!!!! Woo-who!!!
Bonneville Dam could be seen from a distance, along with Interstate 84 just behind it.
The skies grew increasingly more threatening as the afternoon progressed.
Nearing sunset.... must find place to camp....


veganf said...

Wow. Tunnel Falls looks like such fun. And Punchbowl Falls looks like it's just inviting you to jump in.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I had not realized how far west the trail wondered as you leave Cascade Locks in Washington, I gre up in hte gorge and the old trail was near where I lived, about 17 miles East of there...


Goofy girl said...

It could just be my computer but I can't read all the words under your photos. I just thought you might like to know.

Thanks for updating us on your trail trek and you just run into one mystery after another on the trail, don't you?

Fun stuff; I wonder why he would be denied?

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Amazing the views along Eagle Creek Trail. Tunnel Falls looked awesome! Good job on splicing together the three photos, too.

But that bridge over the Columbia River looks like it was made by a kid playing with an erector set. Who's idea was it to build such an ugly bridge in such a beautiful location? It looks so out of place...and yeah, very scary to cross by foot.

You may have a boring day on the previous day, but this day surely made up for it.

~Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I am also wondering if there is an alternate route to take for horse back riders? These really narrow, steep-sided, cliff-side trails just don't seem conducive, nor safe for horse travel at all.

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Sheesh! Too much to remember to comment on in your posts.

You said: "While cleaning my pot of the spaghetti dinner, I accidentally spilled gray matter on my sleeping bag."

Ummm...I think you meant to say gray water, right?
It would have been really really bad if you had spilled gray matter on your sleeping bag. Would have probably ended your hike pretty quickly, too.

*laughing and winking*(which is rather difficult to do, too)

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers