Boy did we not suss that one out quite right.
On arrival, we discovered a sign saying that part of the loop was closed through June to protect peregrine falcon nesting grounds. That's hard to object to, so we figured on about a 5 mile out-and-back instead of the full loop. There was snow on the ground at the trailhead, while the track held about 1/2" of fresh powder.
The trail went up.
Primitive trail, snow deepening to 3-4 inches, some pretty steep passages, and between the slip-and-grind of walking in fresh powder and the unremitting "up", I really struggled hard. It took us an hour to make the summit at Fallen Tree viewpoint. That was 1.3 miles with 800 feet of elevation gain, us being mostly slowed by my dilatory pace and need for frequent breaks against the effort of climbing.
Still, I made the summit, damn it.
At that point, my incipient vertigo (a problem of aging, I didn't used to experience this) incipiated like crazy. For one thing, we'd crossed a couple of knifeback ridges with the fresh, slippery snow on the trail. A misstep would have produced a fall of several hundred feet one side, and about fifty feet on the other. For another thing, several of the overlooks were just rock and air fifteen hundred feet over the depth of the Gorge. Amazingly beautiful.
Going back down those knifeback trail segments was a real experience, let me tell you. I still have some numbness in my feet from the chemotherapy, so my footing is a bit iffy at best. That was exacerbated by tromping along in snow. I enjoyed a real adrenaline rush with that 'taking my life in my hands' feeling.
Later on, away from the cliffs, we took a fork in the trail down we hadn't followed coming up and found a long, steep section that I finally just had to buttslide downhill 80 or 100 feet on the snow rather than risk my footing.
We were out a little over two hours all told, making about 2.5 miles. Not exactly a land speed record, but it was a fun, tough, and very demanding (for me) hike.
Snow at the trailhead
Hiking partners J & T on the way up
Me at the Fallen Tree viewpoint (no, that's not the fallen tree)
J & T's dog being happy in the snow at the Fallen Tree viewpoint (yes, that's a rolled edge of snow over a substantial drop)
Looking down at WA-14, the highway we drove out there, from the same place
Me very cautiously working my way down one of the knifebacks — hard to tell here, but the right hand drop is hundreds of feet straight down after a dozen feet of slope; the left hand drop is only forty or fifty feet of slope
T and the dog at one of the other viewpoints — the one you would go flying off of if you came down the trail too fast
Looking east up the Gorge from that viewpoint
A close-up of J
Me contemplating my next possible tumble
As usual, more at the Flickr set.
Images © 2011, Joseph E. Lake, Jr. and Jacob Engstrom
This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. and Jacob Engstrom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.