Monday, March 07, 2005

Hiking with the Herd

Are the people of Portland (myself included) a bunch of suggestible zombies? Apparently. The Channel 8 Weather Sultan commanded Portlanders to take a hike in the Columbia River Gorge this weekend because it’s early March, the temperatures are in the mid-60s, and it’s sunny. That just is not supposed to happen here at this time of year! Take advantage! And even though I received my instructions second-hand through B, I knew I had no choice but to carry them out.

I decided we should do the Angel’s Rest Trail for several of reasons. A) It’s one of the nearest to Portland. B) It’s got sweeping and almost constant views of the Gorge and the Columbia River. C) It gains 1500 feet in 2.3 miles. As a point of reference, the Sears Tower is 50 feet shorter. I always like to find out early in the hiking season just what kind of shape I’m in, and Angel's Rest is a good test for that.

We arrived at the trailhead at about 11:30 AM. Both the main lot and the overflow lot were full. Cars were parked all along the side of the road. That’s really not unusual for Angel’s Rest. It’s a darn nice hike, and people like it for all the reasons I cited above. Plus, what choice did we have? We were just obeying orders!

The hike is a bit of a grind, I admit. It’s all uphill, with very few stretches of flat, but it’s gorgeous. The path was lined with early trilliums and spring beauties. There’s a charming little waterfall to cross and the view just keeps getting better as we gained elevation. By the time we reached the top, we could see Mt. Adams’ snowy peak (it looks just like a golf cap!) and I-84—the freeway we drove in on--dizzily below. I’m not at all afraid of heights, but Angel's Rest is undeniably a cliff--it brings to mind Roadrunner cartoons--and if you were to fall off, well, you’d better be prepared to meet your maker. Just thinking about that when I’m up there always makes my stomach do a few somersaults. Really, one careless step and you'd be in smithereens. Chilling.

I’d say we saw at least 200 people and 99 dogs on our way up and down the trail. That’s more hikers than I’ve seen on any trail ever—and I’ve done a considerable amount of hiking over the past 15 years. On the one hand, I’m always glad to see people out hiking and enjoying nature.* But on the other hand, if, for example, one is drinking adequate water to stay properly hydrated while engaging in several hours of strenuous exercise, one is going to need to pee. It’s never easy to find a good pee spot off the Angel’s Rest trail under the best of circumstances, but with the trees not yet leafed out and with the huge throngs of hikers charging up and down the trail, it was a challenge. I found a spot not quite as far off the trail as I would have liked and powdered my nose. At some point, desperation overrules modesty.

So was I ready for the glue factory after hiking up to Angel’s Rest? No--not at all. I felt fine after the hike, and I feel fine today. No sore muscles or anything. Let the hiking season begin!

*I saw all sorts of people--ranging from little Muslim girls in hiking boots and veils to a senior citizens wearing blue jeans and those nursey-looking “walking shoes.” The seniors were probably in their 70s, and once they got to the top they pressed on to do an additional 2.4 mile loop. Way to go! I hope I'll be doing that when I'm in my 70s.


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