A Hike to Benson Plateau after the Eagle Creek Wildfire


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Benson Plateau

The Plateau is an oddly flat feature for the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. You’ll find  streams to pitch a tent near, old hunting camps, cirques (rounded hollows formed by glacial ice) in the eastern rim, open meadows and meandering trails through the forest.

I was excited to return and see how much damage had been done by the 2017 Eagle Creek Wildfire.

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. Shaped like a croissant, the plateau extends two miles to the south and one mile to the west. For geology buffs the land represents some of the original Cascades summit surface that didn’t endure the kind of severe erosion creating the rest of the Gorge.

After parking at the Herman Creek Trailhead, I began the two-mile hike to the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT crossed a large talus slope before re-entering the woods.

Then the trail began testing my conditioning by working its way up a series of long, sweeping switchbacks. These culminate in a dramatic vista of the Columbia River Gorge at 3,000 feet, five miles into the hike. Cascade Locks, a long reach of the Columbia River, the sheer cliffs of Table Mountain, and Mt. Adams were spread out in front of me. After several more switchbacks I was finally on Benson Plateau.

Up to this point there had been much noticeable fire damage along the Trail from the 2017 Eagle Creek Wildfire. There were few wildflowers remaining and most of the trees, Douglas Firs and hemlocks, had been severely blackened.

Amazingly enough, as I hiked the PCT on the eastern edge of the Plateau for the next two miles, there were no signs of a wildfire. The fire had stopped at the 4,000-foot rim of the Plateau.

For a lunch break, I took a short trail to the eastern edge of the ridge which provided vistas of the Herman Creek drainage (the western slopes showed much signs of the Eagle Creek Wildfire) and the bare summit of Tomlike Mountain to the north.

It was a hot and tiring eight miles back to the Trailhead with more than 4,000-feet of elevation loss. But, few places near Portland provide this much solitude and true wilderness experience.

Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, a beauty

Impacts of Eagle Creek Wildfire

Beargrass Plume (Wild Lily)

Well-weathered trail signs

White wildflowers

West side of 4,000-foot Nick Eason Ridge with the clear impact of the Eagle Creek Wildfire

A long look down to a stretch of the Herman Creek Trail and the Columbia River

Kudos to the USFS for getting the trail cleared

Ugh! Only 1,000 feet of elevation to go

Teakettle Springs, a well-known rest stop on the PCT

Cliffs on the north side of the Benson Plateau

With all the wildfire impact there are stretches of green

 

 

 

Categories: Columbia River Gorge HikesTags: ,

2 comments

  1. Great report and photos, John. I’ve haven’t hiked this route but plan to do so when the weather is cool. Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) is an amazing organization that has shouldered most of the trail restoration work with a dedicated army of volunteers. Friends of the Gorge is lending support to this organization in addition to leading its own work parties to keep invasives out while the native plants re-establish.

    Like

    • Thanks Debbie.
      I should have highlighted the amazing work of volunteers to reopen the Pacific Crest Trail (and many other trails) in the Columbia River Gorge.
      Your team at the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the Trailkeepers of Oregon, and my fellow Mazamas have done great work to open the trails.
      Hope to see you on the trail this summer.

      Like

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