A 4,000-foot Climb to the Old Cascades


Why was I feeling so sluggish after two miles into the hike I kept asking myself? I was doing the right things by eating trail mix and drinking water, but still wasn’t getting my second wind.

Thankfully, at about the 3,000-foot level near an old helispot with great views of the Columbia River Gorge, my energy began returning. I should have ate lots of pasta last evening, I said to myself, instead of steak and salad.

On a cool, cloudy, drizzly Sunday in early July I returned to the Benson Plateau, one of my favorite destinations.

The Plateau lies at roughly 4,000 feet above the small town of Cascade Locks, bounded to the west by the deep Eagle Creek slot canyon and to the east by the Herman Creek gorge. The area is unique in that it represents some of the original Cascades’ summit surface.

I took the easiest, though unfortunately not the shortest, way to reach the Plateau – – – the comfortably-graded Pacific Crest Trail.

After a series of lengthy, sweeping switchbacks, I stopped at a dramatic vista of the Columbia River Gorge at 3,000 feet, five miles into the hike where I finally got my strength back. After several more switchbacks I was finally on Benson Plateau.

For the next two miles the PCT stayed on the eastern edge of the Plateau. I stopped at noontime for a well-desired lunch break with nice, but cloudy views over the Herman Creek Drainage.

Then, it was an enjoyable eight miles back to the trailhead with more than 4,000-feet of elevation loss.

Few places near Portland provide this much solitude and true wilderness experience.

North-facing cliffs below the Benson Plateau

North-facing cliffs below the Benson Plateau (a sharp eye can spot the PCT crossing the talus slope)

Penstemon

Penstemon

A foggy day on the Benson Plateau

A foggy day on the Benson Plateau

Blue Elderberry

Blue Elderberry

A long look over the Herman Creek Drainage to Nick Eaton Ridge

A long look over the Herman Creek Drainage to Nick Eaton Ridge

Tiger Lilies

Tiger Lilies

Beargrass and Western Hemlock on the Benson Plateau

Beargrass and Western Hemlock on the Benson Plateau

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe

Pika hiding in the rocks

Pika hiding in the rocks

The Columbia River, 3,000 feet below

The Columbia River, 3,000 feet below

 

 

Categories: Columbia River Gorge HikesTags: , , ,

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