Winter hiking in the Columbia River Gorge’s rain forest is reminiscent of a pretty woman without her makeup or dazzling jewelry. The autumn leaves have fallen off the hardwood trees, the lower canopy bushes have died back, there are no colorful wildflower displays and everything appears as a wide continuum of drab browns and greens.
But look closer and subtle beauty remains. There are snowberries, burgundy leaves from autumn remaining on Oregon grape plants and bright yellowish-green lichen hanging from tree branches.
A late-December day presented the promise of a cool and rainy outing. It was a good excuse to drive to the Herman Creek Campground east of Cascade Locks. In a little over one mile I had hiked over a ridge and down to a footbridge over Herman Creek.
The Herman Creek Canyon forms the east side of the 4,000-foot Benson Plateau (the Eagle Creek Canyon forms the west side.) I enjoyed the exceptionally beautiful area while hiking to the west, meeting the Pacific Crest Trail in less than one mile at about 1,000 feet above sea level. Instead of turning uphill for the five-mile hike to the Benson Plateau, I continued west. In less than one-half mile the 40-foot Pacific Crest Falls was reached, two wispy waterfalls hidden in a dark canyon.
From there it was a short transverse across a large talus slope to a group of tall, crumbly rock spires near the Trail. They reminded me of the “tors” in the Angel Rocks’ area north of Fairbanks.
After exploring the pinnacles, I headed west for another 1 1/2 miles to Dry Creek. A short distance up the Creek was a grand waterfall, dropping 70 feet down basalt cliffs. I explored the area for a while, ate a light lunch and then began the trip back to the Trailhead.
All in all the hike was 9.5 miles in length with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. A wet, but pleasant hike indeed!