Brad and Chris near snow trail

Brad and Chris near snow trail

Travel in the Pacific Northwest sometimes sees no borders, and while this is a Travel Oregon blog, one hike in nearby Washington State is just too good to pass up… it starts with humble beginnings in Portland and ends sweeping views of northern Oregon as the delicious finish.

This past weekend, the sun was shining mightily under azure skies, and we were inspired to stake our claim on some great vistas while the weather held. Brad, the dogs, our friend Chris and I packed ourselves into my Subaru and headed out the Columbia River Gorge, with Silver Star Mountain as our destination.

Pyramid Rock and big snow drift

Pyramid Rock and big snow drift

This mammoth is the closest tall mountain to Portland, and offers some of the most stunning views around, even though from the city, the summit only appears as a high ridge. But don’t let that fool you- the panoramas are amazing. The round-trip mileage for this hike is about 8.4 miles, but the full loop is about 9.7 miles.

However, as a forewarning, this hike is not for the faint of heart, and as we were to find out, an added little obstacle stood in our path to the summit…

After taking Hwy. 14 to the town of Washougal, we turned left at Milepost 16 and followed the Washougal River Road, which paralleled the river for 6.9 scenic miles. We turned left once more onto Bear Prairie Road and continued for 3.2 miles, then turned left again onto Skamania Mines Road, continuing on for 2.7 miles. The road then split (follow the left one- Road 1200) which turns into a gravel bumpy road for another 5.7 miles to Grouse Creek Vista. Keep an extra eye out for oncoming traffic as this is a pretty narrow 1.5 lane road!

View looking toward Oregon

View looking toward Oregon

At the trailhead, we threw the packs on and headed up through the quiet Douglas fir forest. And up. And up. This trail has an elevation gain of 2,400 feet but is worth every step of the way! Winter storms had blown down branches and trees onto the pathway, and snowmelt also caused a trickle of water to be on the trail itself, but we carefully stepped over such obstacles and climbed our way past the Tarbell Trail. (Don’t go that way- very steep!) Even though it was June, spring only had recently arrived, with gentle trillium still blooming with tenacity.

This was a harbinger of what was to come. After not very long, today’s true hindrance revealed itself. Snow. Lots of it. Normally, Silver Star is a hike to be reckoned with. Add in snow, and this was a genuine keister-kicker!! The remnants of winter will be long gone by the end of July, but today, 10-15 foot snowdrifts occasionally and stubbornly refused to budge. Unfazed, we dug in our boots and kick-stepped in order to clamber over these hurdles. Up and down we went, with Chris and Brad alternatively leading the way and picking the trail up. Please note: this should only be attempted if you know the route really well – it is pretty easy to get lost in unfamiliar territory with no seemingly established trail to follow- even I was feeling a little uncomfortable. But Brad and Chris had traveled this path many times, and knew the terrain, thankfully, so I put my trust in their instincts.

We kept along the route, passed towering Pyramid Rock and finally reached a section where the trail became only snow. Only a faint pair of faded foot prints showed any signs of human activity, and were headed in the direction we were going… up to the top. After so much exertion trying to kick-step into the snow, I was close to exhaustion, and started to beg to turn around. (Yes, hikers occasionally take on more than they can handle – and I hadn’t planned on near-mountaineering conditions!) Chris pushed ahead while Brad stayed behind with me and the dogs (good husband!) and shortly thereafter, heard Chris yell, “Hey guys, the summit’s right here- c’mon!” so upwards we clambered. I was glad I made it, as always. We were rewarded with a rare 360-degree view, which revealed the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, the fertile Willamette Valley, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier in one fell swoop. Amazing! Needless to say, we took a long break to catch our breath soak up the views and down some energy bars for the return trip.

View from the top:

On the way back down, Chris and Brad (and even the dogs) took great delight in sliding (almost skiing) down the snow banks. As we descended, it amazed me to see the steepness of the trail we had just climbed. Had I really climbed all of this earlier, without complaint? Holy cow, I exclaimed out loud. No wonder I was tired and my knees were wobbly from exertion!! This is steep!

We only saw three people the entire time- one older gentleman who was headed down from the summit just as we were finishing and two younger men who had paused in the snow, and were woefully unprepared in tennis shoes (wet feet!). But I wasn’t too smug- the snow I had been chipping into to get footholds had finally seeped into my boots, and with each step, my socks squished. Fortunately, we were back at the car soon enough and on our way back to Portland to unwind after such a great workout!

For more information on great trails in Oregon, please visit our Hiking section.

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