Pinnacles of Oregon’s Winter Beauty
One of the great side benefits of my job is that I get to meet a lot of great people. At a recent speaking engagement at the West Linn Library, I struck up a conversation with my onsite contact, and it turned out that we shared a love of hiking, and were soon swapping hiking stories and favorite trails. Wouldn’t you know it, a few months later Cheryl and her boyfriend, Greg joined me and Brad on a spectacular outing to the Pinnacles at Herman Creek out in the Columbia River Gorge (fondly referred to as the “Gorge” locally).
Despite a rather dire weather report of predicted freezing rain in the Gorge, we kept our plans a ‘go’ and piled four people and two dogs into my trusty Subaru wagon and set off regardless of rain, snow or ice.
Parking at the Herman Creek parking lot (the actual trail head was farther back in but the campground is closed in the winter, so we parked along the historic Columbia River Highway), we wound our way up into the campground and started off in a different direction that I had traveled. Cheryl assured us that we were going to really see some amazing sights, so we were spurred on.
Coming around one corner, we found the quietly beautiful Pacific Crest Falls, tucked back into the cliff. What makes these falls interesting is that they actually slip through a big crack in the cliff face and are double/triple falls. Amazingly beautiful!
The snow levels were remarkably low, and we saw evidence of this as we started hiking. Not too far above us, the Douglas fir trees were coated in a thick layer of ice, and as we climbed higher, we finally reached the edge of a sparkling winter wonderland. While freezing rain can play havoc with drivers, the icy formations transformed the Gorge into a completely different landscape. Cheryl, a professional photographer as a hobby, was busily clicking away with her Nikon camera, while I sheepishly pulled out my simple pocket digital camera, hoping to capture similar images by some means.
The guys, meanwhile, had hiked ahead, not wanting to wait around while the gals ‘got that perfect photo’… I could tell it was time for us to wrap up the photo session when they disappeared out of sight, anxious to continue the hike.
We continued a bit farther, and came upon the jumble of volcan
ic basaltmonoliths that were dubbed the “Pinnacles” – indeed, they were. Seemingly carelessly tossed around by some giant, the rocky points were a rather surreal scene. Brad started exploring the bases, and finally found one that had a fairly accessible trail that went up. I waited for a bit, worried about my creaky knees, but then decided to go for it, and clambered up after him.
Peering through the trees, I spotted Brad far above me on a very thin little hogback. Normally, I am pretty ‘girlie’ about getting down and dirty and scrambling up sheer faces, but emboldened by my new hiking boots, I headed up anyway. Brad was a little surprised, but gave me encouragement and advice on getting my grip on the rocky outcrop. At times, I was slithering along on my belly to keep my center of gravity low to the ground to keep from slipping or tipping over. Finally, a few interesting maneuvers later, I was up on the small flat top, overlooking the Herman Creek drainage basin. Above us, clouds swirled around the icy cliffs nearby, adding an ethereal touch to the moment.
We turned around at this point, as the formerly gorgeous ice formations were now melting, and our rain gear had reached maximum saturation. I was cold and wet, with the repeated icy drips from the branches above chilling me to the bone. The return trip helped warm us up, and we arrived at the car happy and exhilarated at a new hiking find not far from Portland!