Day 105: Crossing into paradise…

Day: Sunday, 11th September 2016
Miles: 2144.6- 2174.1
Bridge of the Gods 2144.6 – Stabler, Washington 2174.1
I have had a strange affinity for the State of Washington since an early age, due in part to my obsession with aviation and all things Boeing. I finally got my childhood wish to visit the Boeing factory, way back in 2000 with my uncle. However I never expected that trip would also leave me with a lasting impression that Washington was one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited. Sparkling Pacific coastal cities, framed with volcanoes and snowy peaks, yet lined with rain forest and interior high desert. All just a few hours from each other. My love of the state blossomed on later visits, but other than a weekender, I had never spent any real amount of time there. For me, today was a joyous occasion. I would finally walk across the Bridge of the Gods, and this state to which I had often dreamed about, would be my home for the next 4 weeks.
Staying in a local hotel with Outro, Breakaway and FlyBy, I woke earlier than most of the other hikers, as I was eager to make up some of the miles I had missed out on last night. I had planned to hike as far as my friend Jon’s parents home in Stabler, WA today. I’m not sure if it was overconfidence or bad planning, but it was only now, as I was about to set off, that I realized they were 35 trail miles north. Today would be a long long day given it was already 8AM and the climb out of the Columbia Gorge was apparently quite arduous. I grabbed a coffee at the local coffee hutch in Cascade Locks, only for a really friendly lady to buy me my morning’joe after she excitedly realized I was “like the girl on the movie!”. Happy with my trail-magic, I wandered up to the Bridge of the Gods, a full pack laden down with 4 days of food and all of the optimism and enthusiasm of a teenager going to their first concert! Washington awaits!
The Bridge of the Gods is an immense structure, and truly impressive in its enormous stature high above the Columbia River. It runs from Cascade Locks, OR to Stevenson, WA and constitutes the only bridge crossing for a considerable distance up and down stream. Funnily enough thru-hikers do not have to pay the bridge toll, so I was waved through by a friendly toll operator and marched confidently across the bridge against the flow of traffic. There was an intense howling wind blowing through the Columbia Gorge as I walked through, and the views were incredible.
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Around half way through and I finally reach the crossing point! WELCOME TO WASHINGTON!
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On solid ground in Washington!

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Happy Faces! Hello Washington!

Stepping onto terra-firma on the Washington side and it was a really invigorating experience. Maybe it was the cold wind howling through, or my irrational love of this place, to which I really knew little about! The trail crossed a busy road and immediately started to climb through deciduous forest. This was the beginning of that much-discussed climb out of the Columbia River Gorge that everyone was talking about!

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Wow, those miles are just dropping before my eyes…

As the trail climbed out of the gorge, it ascended some less than beautiful areas of power-lines and clear-cuts. An area that I later realized was due to the massive Bonneville Dam which was just south of me. As a view of the dam gradually came into frame, the size of the structure and the surrounding developments became apparent. Another unique perspective that the PCT gives the unsuspecting hiker!

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Incredible growth rates, if the trees don’t consume the PCT signs, the moss will!

The ascent was arduous to say the least. It winded onward and upwards without relenting for long. The weather was sunny but cool and certainly a good mix for the terrain. At one point the trail wound to the east giving a beautiful view of Mt.Adams in the distance, however despite my keen appetite to see Mt.St.Helens, it remained beyond view for the entire morning. I was making good progress in terms of miles, and enjoying the views, but wanted to keep up the momentum so that it wouldn’t be too late when I would arrive to Stabler. I was in contact with my friend Jon to try and finely tune my arrival! Ample cell coverage helped in that endeavor of course!

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Looking back down the valley that I just ascended. The Bonneville Dam is in the distance at the base of the valley.

Crossing to the inward side of the ridge lining the gorge, I crossed another clear-cut area along with a series of logging roads. Washington is big timber state and it was obvious from the ripples of trees off into the horizon.

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Crossing an area of clear-cut as the trail meandered through the heights above the Columbia River Gorge.

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There are some excellent trail bridges across the watersheds in Washington

As the sun dropped in the sky, I reached the top of the gorge ridge finally. It had been a huge uphill haul and I was pretty exhausted, but still had 10 miles to go, figuring on an arrival time around 8-9PM in Stabler. This was some impressive mileage given my late start and I was feeling pretty psyched as a result. Reaching a beautiful view to the northwest of the setting sun, I found a unusual little sign on the trail that suggested hiking off the trail to the left and up a ridge. It simply said ‘Its worth it”. Having no idea what this was, I of course started wandering off trail and up the ridge. It was absolutely worth it. I was treated to one of the most incredible views of Mt.Hood and the rising moon to the south, a pink alpenglo beautifully enveloping the entire ridge. A tiny speck of the Columbia River could be seen at the base of the gorge. THIS! THIS is what I came here for! I sat and bathed in the moment for a while. A goosebumps moment.

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The most sublime view back over the Columbia River Gorge to Mt. Hood. Views don’t get much better than this.

Sadly the need for progress and the setting sun forced me to call time on my little moment. The descent started here and ran for nearly 9 miles to an area near the Trout Creek. As I descended over the ridge, a deep deep darkness set in, thanks to the thickness of the vegetation and the shadow of the ridge. It was instantly spooky and ominous in tone. I passed a beautiful series of vegetation grottoes, draped in moss and ferns. The night light and a bright moon lending dramatic shadows to the shapes and sounds of the forest. This was unlike anything I had hiked in yet and it was really quite incredible.

After a few hours of tiring downhill hiking, I was feeling some aches and pains, but the end was close. Crossing the final bridge crossing to a car-park at Trout Creek. As I approached in the pitch-black darkness, I became aware of a car idling ahead. It was cold and the exhaust smoke gently wafted in the air. As I approached I heard a friendly voice, it was Walt, my friend Jon’s Dad! They had come to pick me up from the trail-head and drive me the last mile. What an incredible joy, as I hopped into the car with Walt and Mary-Jane for the drive to their home. Such sublime comfort has never been more appreciated than that quick drive. It had been an enormous day of walking, a long ascent and sharp descent. By now at nearly 9:30PM I was exhausted. Given I have not walked a distance like this since my 50 miler last Sunday, I was a little worried that I may have pushed myself with some new aches and pains. I eventually hit the hay after a lovely dinner and great conversation, once again shared with generous friends! What a first day in Washington!

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