Columbia Gorge Loop (Day 2: Nick Eaton Ridge)

folded_gorge_mapThis is the second installment of the trail journal that I kept while backpacking alone in the Columbia River Gorge. I’d wanted to hike this particular loop for years, and the occasion of my 42nd birthday was the perfect excuse to head out alone. It was also a chance to find out how I fared alone on the trail, alone with my thoughts and the wild.

I started my day alone and in good spirits

August 2nd

There is no way that I could have been ready for that climb. Even as I started my day strutting about in bright underwear and shoes and nothing else, I had no idea of the enormity of the up.
With no load, it would have been hard, but that first easy mile of up was but a cruel preamble. The next two miles took me up a trail of lovingly crafted misery. Alternating stretches of steep and overgrown, peppered with aging horse shit, climbed just under 2000 feet in two miles.

A couple years ago I backpacked up Ruckel Creek, which is infamous for the intensity of its climb. The Nick Eaton Ridge Trail definitely gives Ruckel a run for its money.

I worked my poles until my fingers blistered until I rested at the top. Though the first climb was the worst, the whole day, with only small exceptions, was a climb. I started at just under 500 feet and over the course of my ten miles, climbed to a height of 4600 feet (or so) before descending back down to Rainy Day lake, just above 4000 feet.

I kept meaning to get a pair of gloves to solve my blisteting problem, but it never happened. I was able to give my hands some relief and the blisters faded on their own.

These trails along Nick Eaton Ridge were often overgrown and barely traveled. I had to fight with undergrowth and spiders much of the way. Faint trails always make me worry about losing my way, but the spiders demanded respect too. Some of them were huge and fat on flies, so much so that I actually left the trail on a few ocassions to avoid particularly large spiders.

Even without the climb, there were indignities. I planned my lunch to fall at Deadwood camp beside a happy blue line on my map to forestall yesterday’s dry ending. The blue line turned out to be a brackish trickle and so I moved on without refill and ended my day almost parched as before.

Of course, after the previous day’s dry ending, I had promised myself that I wouldn’t pass up any opportunities to top off my bottles. This only added to my frustration at ending the second day in the same predicament.

When I finally stumbled into the camp beside Rainy Day Lake, I found it full of car campers and unruly dogs. I found a tiny spot to nestle into and swept it clean with my feet before setting up camp.

I’m not a big fan of dogs. I was bit a few too many times as a kid and I tend not to appreciate other people’s poorly socialized dogs. This pair of large, aggressive dogs lunged and barked any time I came into view. Not pleasant, especially as I had to walk past them to get access to the lake.

Rainy Day Lake is a big stagnant body, murky with sediment and fish. Filtering water was hard and the result didn’t have the cold freshness of stream water. It didn’t really help that I had to share the shore with a menagerie of hicks and their toe headed spawn.

My neighbors seem nice enough, but I hide within my tent and look forward to tomorrow’s short hike to Wahtum Lake.

The closest neighbors , not the ones with the dogs, actually offered to let me sit at their picnic table for my meal. I was a bit too exhausted to have any interest in strangers, so I politely declined

I had a hard time falling asleep that night. It was very windy at dusk, and something about the quality of the air made me think that it might start raining at any moment. Luckily for me, the rain never came, but a restless sleep did.