Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rock of Ages Loop Hike

Toby under the arch
I did a hike with Loni today, the Rock of Ages Loop Hike Columbia River Gorge. The views in this hike were fantastic! We were SO excited about hiking this loop and getting all these awesome pictures on a beautiful day. We got the views, but the hike itself was pure hard bullshit.

Loni under the arch. Huge drop, right behind her.Total elevation gained is 3200 vertical feet in a little over 2.6 miles. One of the steepest gradients in the gorge that I've encountered by a large margin. Gigantic drops, scary exposures. The people who built this and hike this, I suspect, think switchbacks are for pussies. Wusses. Pansies. I am so broken right now, I can't even begin to express.

Loni sitting on the ridge of Devil's BackboneMy first mistake: Starting this hike hungover. WAAAAAY hungover. The waitress asks how I want my eggs? Runny. Like my brain feels. It doesn't matter how (or if) you cook them, because I'm too hungover to eat them. So, Loni and I both started out with a mostly empty stomach. I had downed a couple bloody Marys and felt almost human enough to hike. Once on the trail I regretted this decision almost immediately.

Toby sitting on the ridge of Devil's BackboneI developed further regrets while walking along the edge of a 500 foot vertical drop with horrible nausea. My brain felt completely disconnected from my body, I was woozy and shaky, and I didn't even begin to recover from the hangover until I was at the summit. The entire trip to the summit was mostly a scramble.

Hand over foot, non-technical climbing, with the added challenge of slippery mud, cold winds, and hangover. I took a hard fall coming down a side trail on the ridge and I'll have some AWESOME bruises on my hip to show for it. It's in a slightly personal region, forgive me if I don't post pictures.

Right after we started up the side trail for Rock of Ages, I saw a slightly shredded cedar off to one side. Something with very large claws now has very large SHARP claws. Nice. Other cool things we saw this trip were some tree sap that was caught by a spiderweb and some brilliant yellow slime mold that Loni spotted.

We dealt with some other bullshit on the trail: Loni went hypoglycemic about halfway through while staggering through an unmarked snowfield looking for a trail. Easy enough to deal with, just give her some food, right? No, she doesn't want to eat, because she's upset/tired/scared/depressed. It was a catch 22, totally. She eats an apple, and WHAM - back to her old self. I made her eat a protein bar too. The huge dumb on my part was that I had a quart of Gatorade in my pack that would have been perfect for just this kind of issue. I may have been slightly hypoglycemic at that point as well, so I forgive myself the oversight.

Also, almost the entire trail up to the summit was rather well marked and clear. This is despite the sign on the tree at the beginning that states "Trail Not Maintained". Once we hit the summit and switched onto Horsetail Creek Trail, THEN the quality of the hiking began to suck. Downed trees. Snow patches. Brush. Scary unmarked snow field crossings. We persevered, got lost for a while in the snow field, crossed several creeks, and finally got to the next trail. Some fucker RAN past us! I wanted to chase him down and break his fucking legs, but I couldn't muster the willpower.

Once we hit the next major trail intersection, life became more pleasant, long switchbacks through dry and open pine forest. In the middle of one of the sections of trail we found a dead baby eagle! Yellow feet, little puff of down, wicked looking beak. There was a beetle nomming on the eye. I didn't think to take pictures, which I'm now regretting. Again, probably not enough fuel in my brain.

It was too good to be true, as we quickly ran into even MORE bullshit! Several of the small creeks decided they were best served by flowing down the trail we were hiking. Mud pits, slippery rocks, swampy soil. Even better were the fucking spiky plants. Thorns and spikes coming out of the leaves, even! Plus stupid little dog roses, salmon berries, and a couple of other plants that I've never minded before that now irritate the shit out of me. All of these decided to clog the trail and tear my skin off. I slipped in one of the mud pits and slammed into the ground, folding my trekking pole in half. I can only fault myself for trusting an inexpensive trekking pole. Here is a link to the LuxuryLite Big Survival Stik that I'll probably have to buy for future scrambles.

We were supposed to ford Ondeonta Creek, but it would have sucked us in and killed us if we had tried, so we ended up crossing on a giant fallen tree. Scary, about 20' above the water and rocks on a slippery log for 50 feet. No good. No good at ALL! I was past taking pictures at this point, alas.

The rest of the way down was not exciting, except we were dumb and went back via the Horsetail Falls trail instead of just going down Ondeonta. We didn't have to walk along the highway, but it seemed like it added an extra mile to our trip.

This hike is now dead to me. I am proud that I conquered it, and the views were among the best I've seen. However, it was pure hard bullshit for the first 7 miles and I don't want to do it again. The last four were pure boring downhill bullshit, with the added irritation of other human beings. Total time out: 6 hours, 45 minutes.

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