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Columbia River Gorge: Angel’s Rest to Larch Mt
Spring is in full swing, and that means at least two things:
Trails across the Pacific Northwest are drying and calling out to runners weary of winter mud and wet pavement.
Volcanoes are basking under a hot sun and shine like voluminous diamonds in the eyes of climbers and skiers alike.
Running and skiing typically occupy distinct seasons, but springtime in the Northwest harbors ideal conditions for both. I took advantage of this duality last weekend with some friends of mine. The plan was to climb and ski Mt. Adams on Sunday. The only complication was that Ethan and Richard were racing the Yakima 50k on Saturday, which boasts 10,000′ of climbing. Thus, they demanded I run at least 20 miles and 4000′ on Saturday to even the exhaustion score. Despite a relative lack of fitness for long distances and vert, I consented and drove to the Columbia River Gorge for a long run amidst its new verdure.
Parking/TH: Angel’s Rest Trailhead. Oregon Gorge exit 28. No restrooms at TH. Very busy on sunny weekend days. Go during the week or early in the morning to beat the crowds.
Stats: 22+ miles, 6500′ vertical. Bring water and food. Water refills available from streams/springs after Devil’s Rest (drink at your own risk).
The journey begins with a long and moderately steep climb to Angel’s Rest. The trail was incredibly crowded up to this point, and I did my best to politely weave past hikers. As a runner it’s easy to get annoyed by crowds, but it’s important to remember that the trail belongs to everyone. Plus, it was great to see so many people being active and connecting with nature. If the human race is to make any progress in preserving the integrity of the natural systems upon which we ultimately depend, I believe this is the first step.
Anyways, after climbing 1500′ over 2 miles to Angel’s Rest lookout, the hordes of people disappear. You are left running alone over a blanket of Trillium and past 200-year-old Douglas firs. As you continue, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams flicker brightly through the trees.
The climb continues to Devil’s Rest, and then you cruise down 1200′ to Multnomah Creek. It was at this point I began to have doubts as to whether I could make it all the way to Larch Mountain. My quads were toasted from the long descent, I still had ~5 miles to the top, and I had stupidly only brought one gel. I continued for another 2 miles or so along the creek, distracted from my tired legs by enormous fallen trees bridging white water and mossy boulders.
8.5 miles in, I finally decided to turn around. Maybe I could’ve made it, but the way back probably would’ve been a hungry, dehydrated death march. Plus I wanted to make sure I had enough energy for Adams the next day.
I mostly power-hiked back to Devil’s Rest from Multnomah Creek. My slow pace allowed me to take in a bit more of my surroundings. I was mostly taken aback by the relief of the terrain. I’ve gotten used to the relentless verdancy of the Pacific Northwest, but finding this beauty in the context of steep terrain is more uncommon. The Gorge is paradise in this regard.
I made it back to the car in just under 3 hrs 20′ and boy was I glad–I had been fantasizing for a solid hour about the pita chips and hummus that awaited me in my car. I ended up running/power hiking over 16 miles and 5000′ vert. Not making it to Larch Mt was a bit disappointing, but it’s always good to be humbled now and again. If anything, it inspired me to revisit the Gorge as soon as possible. The options for long, beautiful runs in the CRG seem endless. For more ideas, check out: Ruckel Ridge, Multnomah – Larch Mt, and Eagle Creek.
At the parking lot I soaked up the spring sun and set my purpose to recovering as quickly as possible for Sunday’s attempt on Mt. Adams. This meant laying down on the side of the road on a sleeping pad with a foam roller, water jug, and hummus by my side. I got some weird looks, but I suppose that no real adventure is truly normal.
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