Need PNW Help - Backpacking the Columbia River Gorge End of December
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Evan McCarthy
(evanrussia) - MLife

Locale: Northern Europe
Need PNW Help - Backpacking the Columbia River Gorge End of December on 12/14/2011 15:14:54 MST Print View

I'm visiting my wife's family in Portland and Hood River this Christmas time and I really want to get out for a night. Can I get up on the PCT or any of the trails and do a 20-30 mile circuit for an overnight -- or radically shorter if the snow is deep? Am I looking at 2 feet or more of snow up there?

I'd love to get a reality check or recommendations from folks who call this area home.

Thanks!

(Just pulling out the map, my eyes found a route taking me up the PCT from Herman Creek to Wahtum Lake, and then swinging back over via Cedar Swamp down Herman Creek itself - trial 406? - back to the trail head. Or if snow is deep and the way is slow, maybe up Eagle Creek to Benson Plateau and then back down via Ruckel Creek.)

Edited by evanrussia on 12/14/2011 15:40:29 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Need PNW Help - Backpacking the Columbia River Gorge End of December" on 12/14/2011 16:01:38 MST Print View

Check out the trip reports and the "2012 Snow Level Thread" (the "water year" which started Oct. 1 is 2012) in the http://www.portlandhikers.org forums.

We are having unusually cold/dry weather for December. It's supposed to snow down to 2500 feet tonight, but only a few inches. Skiers are gnashing their teeth (and ruining their ski bottoms).

Wahtum Lake is at 4,000 feet and in a north-facing cirque, so you'll probably need snowshoes there. At lower elevations (3,000 feet and below), the trails are icy in places and you'll definitely need traction devices for your feet. The Eagle Creek trail is downright dangerous right now--lots of drips down the cliffs and of course they are all frozen on the trail! People are still trying to slither through without traction (a slow process), but on a cliffside trail it's risky business.

Be warned that conditions may change completely by late December. It could be anything from pouring rain ("Pineapple Express") to ice storms (in which case you're not going!) to more of what we're having now (freezing weather and strong east winds). Watch the trip reports on the above site just before you go, and keep close track of the weather forecasts.

Do note that around the winter solstice, we have almost 15 hours of darkness! That's especially true when it's cloudy (normal conditions) and in the deep, north-facing canyons of the Gorge, where you basically lose any "civil twilight." In other words, bring a book and extra headlamp batteries!

Edited by hikinggranny on 12/14/2011 16:04:49 MST.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Re: Need PNW Help - Backpacking the Columbia River Gorge End of December on 12/14/2011 16:04:28 MST Print View

look at recent trip reports at http://www.portlandhikers.org/forum

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Need PNW Help - Backpacking the Columbia River Gorge End of December on 12/14/2011 16:49:43 MST Print View

+1 to Mary's comments about weather and available daylight. Besides just temperature, the Gorge receives very strong and cold winds funneling west-to-east and then pushing up all the side gorges; coupled with the weak and short daylight, it gets pretty slick. It is do-able on certain trails, but maybe not worth it for an overnighter.

If I think of any good alternate places to go, I'll repost.

For a dayhike (assuming ok weather), you could drive down to SIlver Falls State Park near Salem.

Kyle Meyer
(kylemeyer) - M

Locale: Portland, OR
Re: Need PNW Help - Backpacking the Columbia River Gorge End of December on 12/19/2011 17:23:02 MST Print View

(Just pulling out the map, my eyes found a route taking me up the PCT from Herman Creek to Wahtum Lake, and then swinging back over via Cedar Swamp down Herman Creek itself - trial 406? - back to the trail head. Or if snow is deep and the way is slow, maybe up Eagle Creek to Benson Plateau and then back down via Ruckel Creek.)


Here's a link to a recent trip report onto the Benson Plateau from Eagle Creek I took three weeks ago. No appreciable precipitation has fallen since. I stayed at 7.5 mile camp, which as of now should still be snow free. But, like Mary was saying, it is slow going to that camp along the icy cliffs and you'll find plenty of snow on the plateau.

The Badger Creek trail is accessible from The Dalles and that could provide some mileage and then shallow snow up to Badger Lake (11 miles each way). Another possibility is also a hike along the Deschutes.

Evan McCarthy
(evanrussia) - MLife

Locale: Northern Europe
Thanks! on 12/19/2011 17:51:32 MST Print View

I appreciate the advice. My bar is set low right now: I just want to get out for a night. It's killing me coming to Oregon once a year to visit my wife's family and not getting out.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Need PNW Help - Backpacking the Columbia River Gorge End of December on 12/19/2011 19:01:19 MST Print View

Someone at portlandhikers.org just did a trip to Tanner Butte and Dublin Lake. Lake frozen over but no snow on ground. That's about as high as anywhere else in the gorge like the PCT.

Weather reports don't show any change in the weather, but that could change by the end of the month.