Hamilton Mountain trail is a 5.5 mile hike located in Stevenson, Washington. It’s a moderately trafficked trail and the parking lot can fill up fast. We went in the afternoon around 3pm when crowds had died down. The trail is mostly uphill for the first mile when it comes across a waterfall. There were plenty of people playing in the water to cool off on the hot, August afternoon. From that point, the trail levels off for the next 0.5-1 mile and meanders through the forest with a few gorgeous vistas of the Gorge. Around mile 2 you come to a lookout point where most people stop. If you’ve got it in you, I highly recommend gutting it out for the last mile to the top. The trail is a bit unrelenting as it climbs ~1k feet through countless switchbacks but the reward is worth the pain. At the top there are sweeping views of the Gorge, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. Be sure to take plenty of water; most of the trail is shaded, but the last mile has a lot of exposure and can get very hot.
Horsetail and Ponytail Falls are located in the Columbia River Gorge. We ended up hiking this short trail when the parking lot for Multnomah Falls was overflowing and we didn’t want to wait. Horsetail Falls is the lower falls, right off the parking area. Taking a short 0.5 mile hike up the trail will get you to Ponytail Falls, which is a smaller waterfall feeding Horsetail below. The trail is at an incline, but it’s not a very difficult climb and is an overall easy hike. The trail winds behind the waterfall at Ponytail Falls and the pool at the base is cool and refreshing. Due to the Eagle Creek Fire of 2017, the trail is closed after Ponytail Falls.
Another Plan B trail – we hiked the Summit Springs Trail when we couldn’t make it up the road to Silver Star Mountain. This is a lightly trafficked trail (we didn’t see a single other person) that winds 6 miles through dense forest. It is a moderate trail that climbs 1,700 feet all in the first half. We took the shortcut halfway up and it was incredibly steep. So much so that we were crawling on hands and knees to get up the climb; probably didn’t save us much time in the end and wouldn’t recommend it. The top opens up to a vista of the hills – no mountain views, but still pretty – with a rock slide area to scramble up. The trail turns into a jeep trail at this point and leads to campsites up the mountain.
With a big race coming up in July, I decided to go all out for peak week and chose a trail I knew would be both challenging and rewarding. After debating between a few different trails, I decided to run from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River Gorge. Covering 45 miles with 7,000 ft. of ascent, and 13,700 ft. of descent this trail was going to test my mental and physical stamina.
We got a late start to the day, hitting the trail around 9:30. I knew I would be chasing daylight but had high hopes for finishing strong. I started on the PCT at Timberline Lodge with a starting elevation of 6,100 ft. No stranger to altitude, I knew this first section of trail would be challenging on the lungs. The first three miles were fun and quick. There were still patches of snow, which made for some slippery miles, but it was an overall descent to the Zig Zag River. The river was running from the snow melt, but I was able to pick a path across and be on my way.
The trail proceeded to climb 1,000 ft. over the next 3 miles. With the snow and altitude, it was slow going, but the views of the mountain through the clouds kept me energized. After mile 6, I was met with a blissful 2,500 ft. descent over the next 6 miles. The terrain changed drastically – going from snow, across rocky plains, down a sandy hill, and finally into the pine forest that is ubiquitous in Oregon. I rolled my ankle around mile 9 and thought I might have to tap out. Thankfully I was able to recover quickly. Miles 12-13 were familiar territory – we hiked this portion of the PCT to Ramona Falls way back in 2016. There was a fun creek crossing across two fallen trees where I had to cling to a rope to avoid falling. Then came a grueling 1,600 ft. climb over 2 miles.
Creek crossing near Ramona Falls
I finally met Matt and Snickers at the top of the hill, feeling a little disheartened. My pace was suffering greatly from the climbing and I was about 20 minutes behind schedule. Nonetheless, we powered the next 3 miles (thankfully downhill) to the car at mile 16 to refill food and water. If I wasn’t able to get back to my normal pace, there was a possibility that I’d need to get pulled from the trail at the next stop to avoid running in the dark. I had 16 miles to the next crew point and at that point we would make the decision whether or not to keep going.
Thankfully the next 16 miles felt great. I had a burst of energy and was able to power through the rolling hills with little issue. There were wildflowers galore and views of Mt. Hood around every turn. This section of trail was very different from the beginning; it reminded me a lot of Utah running. The trail was more rocky and there was a bit less tree coverage. Around mile 28 I rounded a curve and saw Mt. Adams more clearly and up close than I’ve ever seen it before. It was truly a great day to be out on the trail. I finally saw the sign to Wahtum Lake (where I was meeting Matt) at mile 29 and it was straight downhill from there.
I felt really good rolling into Wahtum lake at mile 32 and wanted to keep going. We assessed the map and calculated somewhere around 8-12 miles to the end point at Herman Creek Trailhead. The trail I initially planned took the Eagle Creek Trail to Cascade Locks, but that trail is still closed from the wildfires of 2017. I decided to keep going thinking it was going to be mostly downhill. Boy was I wrong.
After leaving the parking lot, I was immediately greeted with a 700 ft. climb in 0.7 miles. It was brutal and I felt like I’d never reach the top. The PCT was rolling hills for the next 9 miles. It wound through rocky terrain and a portion of forest that was burned in 2017. Every time I felt like I was finally descending, the trail would shoot me right back up to the ridge line at 4,000 ft. I was expecting 9 miles to the finish but it was actually closer to 13. When I hit mile 40, knowing I still had 5 miles to go and still hadn’t started the descent, I was hitting a breaking point. I finally hit the descent with 4 miles to go. This part was very rocky and technical and my tired legs kept tripping, so for safety reasons I slowed to a walk. I was finally able to get ahold of Matt at this point and he ran in 2 miles to help me get out. Night was fast approaching and I was so angry and frustrated at myself for not moving faster. When I saw him with 2 miles to go, I officially broke. Mentally and physically I was done. I’m sure I was a sight to see hobbling down the trail with tears running down my face 🙂 . Bolstered by some food, hiking poles, and a pep talk we finished the 2 miles to the parking lot just in time for dusk.
I finished 45.5 miles, 7,000 ft. ascent, 13,700 ft. descent in just over 11 hours total. Even looking at the moving time, which was right at 10 hours, my pace was the slowest I’ve ever run. Mentally I’m disappointed I couldn’t maintain the pace I wanted, but rationally I know that’s silly. I covered more ground and more ascent – by a good 10 miles and 2,000 ft. – than I’ve ever done in a single run. I would’ve liked to finish much faster, but I’m really amazed at the distance I was able to go. I finished standing up with no injuries or GI issues, which is a feat in and of itself.
I’m ready for my race…let’s just hope my legs stop hurting before then.