I was joking around with my friend and coworker Kris that my sister and I had gone east, south, and west to hike and that our next hike should be north. She said, “Have you ever hiked Hamilton Mountain? It’s my absolute favorite.” So, obviously we had to go to Hamilton Mountain this week regardless of what the trail was like. I also mentioned it to another friend and coworker, Josh, who said, “That is one of my favorites.” He then said, “It took me about six hours.” He saw the look on my face and amended, “but I’m a dawdler.” I said, “Yeah, I’m a dawdler too but not for sightseeing purposes. It’s mostly because I can’t breathe.” I think he thought I was kidding. I was not.
Hamilton Mountain is on the Washington side of the Gorge. It is off of highway 14 and part of Beacon Rock State Park. We did not bring money for parking…again, but my sister had her checkbook. Thank goodness. We knew ahead of time that we were hiking 7.5 miles and that during that time we would a make 2100 foot elevation climb, but we really didn’t know what that would entail. The most elevation we had done previously was 700, so we more than doubled our best climb.
The hike was basically straight up. There are, if I remember correctly, two places in the entire hike where you are flat for a moment. My sister had no problems with the elevation climb. She slowly climbed her way at a steady pace. I did not. I hyperventilated, many times, and had to stop A LOT, but we are not quitters. If you’ve ever met my dad you will understand that we actually are incapable of quitting things. It’s in our DNA. We would have finished if it killed us, which it didn’t, luckily.
Every webpage I looked at said to do the loop counter clockwise, to hike the gorge side on the way up and the forest side on the way down. We had fully intended to do that until we met Greg and Paige. Greg, and his 8th grade daughter Paige (and their 9 year old dog Dexter) started the hike around the same time we did. We had similar paces and we kept running into them along the way. After awhile, Greg decided we needed to know each other’s names (and life stories). Something I’ve never mentioned before is how much my sister and I value silence. Ever since we were little we could sit in a room together, enjoying each other’s company, for hours without saying a word. We’re not antisocial; we’re contemplative. When we hike we talk, but sometimes we also literally go miles saying nothing. Mostly we say, “Look at that,” when we see something beautiful. Greg was too much for us. They got out a little bit ahead and took the gorge side trail. We stealthily took the forest trail. We were free.
In retrospect, I would recommend that route to anyone. It is hard to appreciate the beauty of the gorge trail if you’re gasping for air. Go down it. You can see everything. Plus, the forest trail (It’s actually called Hardy Creek Trail) is way less steep and more meandering. We really liked it.
Despite taking the meandering trail it was still tough. I couldn’t make it to the top before eating as we planned. I actually came to a point where I couldn’t take one more step. We sat down in the shade and ate our Subway and drank all of our water in the middle of the trail. Yes, we drank all of our water before we even got to the top.
When you take the forest trail, you emerge at the top of this beautiful plateau. You can see for miles in all directions. It’s worth it just for that. Do not do this hike without seeing that view. It’s the centerpiece (we ran into Greg and Paige later and they never went to the plateau; they missed it).
After we made it to the summit (the summit is anti-climactic), we headed down the super steep gorge trail. I full on fell twice, like every part of me on the ground. I terrified my sister, especially when I slid in the dirt for several feet. Since I have a history of falling down cliffs, she was worried. I’m pretty sure I broke the big toe on my right foot; war wounds make you cooler.
I have never seen the gorge the way that I saw it today. I could see majestic Mt. Hood, Bonneville Dam, and amazing barges that took up the whole river. When you climb 2100 feet the change in plant life is pretty astounding too. It goes from wet forest ferns and mud, to dry windblown grasses. Incredible. It was worth every minute.
For information about Hamilton Mountain click here.