CAPE HORN SEASONAL WALK aUGUST 31, 2012 Five of us gathered under a still-dark sky at the Kelso Three Rivers Mall parking lot: two Jans, Sam the Border Crossers President, and Pat and Ron, the oldest members of the group. Piling into Jan’s Ford Escape, we left the lot to turn south on I-5, setting a course for the trail head of the Cape Horn Seasonal Walk, ten miles past Washougal just off Highway 14. The forecast promised a perfect walking day: clear skies, an easy breeze, and mid 70s.
A late August Blue Moon bounced along the hilltops above the Columbia River as we drove. Over the eastern horizon, Venus, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, and that Bringer of Old Age, Saturn, were fading quickly in the onrush of daylight.
Arriving at the trail head, we changed shoes, checked water supplies, and shouldered day packs to step onto the trail by 7:20. Sam took the lead and Ron brought up the rear as we began the upward rocky trail. Winding through shading trees, we quickly found our pace while creating an ongoing stream of jokes, stories, and even some pathetic attempts at singing.
After an 800 foot climb, the trail broke into the open at Pioneer Point (2.4 km) and we stood on the highest spot of Cape Horn, awed by the river vistas below and the hills of the Oregon side of the Gorge. The live and mostly horizontal Tipping Tree provided a beautiful and dramatic photo op. Clicking madly away, we attempted to capture the tree, walkers, and the gorge, without diving over the edge.
Rested and back on the trail, we found the descent an easier path, for a while including a wide, old road bed. We crossed Strunk Road and entered a field and an old farm site. A few steps further and we were again met with an overwhelming view.
The Nancy Russell Overlook, 4.5 km from the trail head, focuses up the Gorge toward Beacon Rock. The viewing and rest area was completed in 2011 and honors Nancy Russell, a founder of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and a tireless advocate for protection of the Gorge.
Oohs and aahs and more photos were mixed with digging into our packs for water and snacks. The beauty of the setting as well as the sugar loading kicked up our energy for a determined return to the trail.
The path continued downward and a while after the Highway 14 underpass, we stopped and viewed the trail’s first rock fall. Someone muttered, “This is going to get dicey.”
The rock falls extended from the cliffs below Highway 14 to the last wall above the river. Our path continued through what seemed an endless series of switchbacks. Crossing to the west, we reversed direction to again traverse rocks, rocks, and more rocks. This was not a trail of broken shale. These were large and small basalt pieces, piled deep. Each step required careful attention to avoid being taken down by shifting stones with sharp edges. The undisturbed rocks above and below the trail were covered with moss, not so much green as a dried pale whitish yellow.
At 8.0 km, we came to a small clearing on a ledge with a beautiful view of Cigar Rock and the river. As the name suggests, this is a basalt column slightly separated from the cliff wall, shaped like a Torpedo cigar.
Reaching Cape Horn Falls at 8.4 km, we could only imagine the torrent of water the falls carries in the rainy winter season. Carefully crawling (literally) down to the waterfall, we danced across slippery rocks behind the falls while being gently sprinkled with falling water. After the falls the trail got better; not good, but better. When we finally stepped onto the paved surface of Cape Horn Road at 9.2 km for the walk back to the trail head, one or two of the members noted the road mostly went up.
Now proudly exhausted and a little banged up, we piled (slowly) back into the Escape to drive the ten miles to Papas at Washougal to eat and stamp our walk books.
Umpqua Ice Cream has never tasted so good.
Jan, Jan,Ron & Pat at Pioneer Point, Cape Horn Walk