Rimrock cliffs rising over 1,000 feet above the Columbia River. Bald eagles and ravens floating in the thermals. Mid-30s, cool breeze and some sunshine. It was a great day to be on the east end of the Columbia River Gorge.
The first Friday of February found me at the Cherry Orchard Trailhead, about 70 miles from home. Lyle, Washington, the little town to the west of the Trailhead, averages about one-third of Portland’s annual precipitation. It’s like being in another world.
The sun was shining as I began climbing through some scattered white oak trees. In a couple of weeks many varieties of wildflowers will be in bloom, but not yet. After breaking out of the trees, it was wide open spaces for the next 1,100 feet of elevation gain. There was a nice plateau at 500 feet offering some nice views and then it became an even steeper climb before reaching the top of the rimrock cliffs. At this juncture the Trail turned easterly, meandering up and down through an oak forest, but staying near the rim. Snow had not melted under the trees and little ponds along the trail were covered in ice. I had my eyes sharpened, looking for mule deer. Fresh deer tracks were everywhere, as were a few coyote tracks. The Trail continued to be very pleasant, finally dropping to an open, grand overlook of the Columbia River flowing from the desert country. A few mature ponderosa pines were scattered around, as were several old cherry trees which had seen their better days. I literally basked in the sun for a while, enjoying the views.
With more than some reluctance, I headed back to the Trailhead. The dramatic views to the west showcased the Columbia River beginning its slice through the Cascade Mountains with Mt. Defiance rising 5,000 feet to the south and Augsperger Mountain rising 3,800 feet to the north. A wonderful hike – – – six miles in length with 1,400 feet of elevation gain.