Monday, June 2, 2008

Shhh...We Hiked Cape Horn

A few weeks ago, while hiking in the Beacon Rock area of the Columbia Gorge, my boys and I came upon a trail at the base Cape Horn that sparked my curiosity. As it turns out, we actually hiked a small part of it near Highway 14 later that afternoon. While there, I determined to return for further explorations.

After doing some research online, I discovered that there was nearly an 8 mile loop available to explore on the Washington side of the gorge. Unfortunately, the trail is still in a clandestine form after near a decade of work by an army of volunteers, unsanctioned by the U.S. Forest Service. Friends of the Columbia Gorge spent 1.5 million for a key piece of private land near Pioneer Point that helped make a true loop trail possible. Most of the trail is on Forest Service lands, but in several locations, delicate agreements with private land owners and a mile stretch on a Skamania County roadway make passage for hikers possible.

Clouds and fog prevented us from seeing the view at Pioneer Point, the highest location on the trail. The fog in the trees made for a great photo.

On many locations along the trail, perches on top of basaltic cliffs create dramatic views if not a fear of heights.

The trail is not for the geographically challenged, or the geologically skittish (fear of heights). In several locations, the trail is not well marked and a little confusing, but I was fortunate to have a map and a well-used description of the trail’s route with me. In many locations, the trail parallels tall basaltic cliffs that cause a case or two of the willies. Those with weak ankles need not apply either. Large scree is a staple on the tread of the lower portion of the loop.

Larkspur were the most common and striking bloom along the trail.

One piece of real-world advice that I would give is to take the trail from the parking area in a counter clock-wise direction so you head uphill initially and then descend to a couple of hundred feet above the Columbia River itself. The opposite route would result in a semi-sadistic, 1,400 feet climb up one of the highest points in the Gorge. As it is, except for the initial climb up to Pioneer Point, the only other significant uphill grade is a gentle walk up Cape Horn Road back to the original starting point.

Columbine was a common sight along the trail.

There are many highlights on the trail including views from Pioneer Point, and the ability to walk behind the Cape Horn waterfall but the pure exhilaration of the rugged trail south of Highway 14 topped my personal list.

Cape Horn Falls is the final highlight in a counter clockwise hike on the trail.

In all, the route took us about 5 hours to complete. I can not emphasize the importance of research on this route. On a nicer day, this would have qualified as one of my two top hikes this summer.

The best resource that I found on the trail is at

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