February 21, 2009.
Boulder Ridge Trail to Plaza Trail to Huckleberry Summit and back | 12-ish miles | 3000′ ele. gain | 6.5 hours
I arrived at the Wildwood Recreation area on a warm Saturday morning and parked in the small parking area before the gate, which was locked. Although it had been a weird snow year I decided to carry snowshoes just in case. With one last glance at the map I set off along the road to find the bridge over the Salmon River.
A lazily arching wooden span crosses the river and leads to the Wetlands trail. Here, I opted to go left and follow the boardwalk through the Wetlands to reach the starting point for the Boulder Ridge trail, my route to the summit ridge. I had read slightly conflicting reports on the Internet regarding the popularity of the trail, but I thought I would be able to catch some solitude in February, while most people are off skiing or hiking in the Gorge.
Upon reaching the Boulder Ridge sign the trail immediately began to climb uphill in a series of winding switchbacks. The grade was fairly steep here, but walking alone I was able to maintain the perfect pace so I never felt overworked or tired. The faint sunshine passing through the trees helped maintain my motivation, as I knew the summit would provide some wide open views. The air and ground were dry, with no sign of snow for a couple of miles, at least. Eventually, the trail eased into a moderate grade as it gained the ridge. Small globs of snow spewed out from the cover of trees, obstructing bits of trail. Someone else had been up here recently, as evidenced by boot prints and pole holes in the snow. I walked over and around fallen trees and brush, weaving in and out of the snow patches as the trail climbed ever higher. Eventually the trail was completely covered with a thin film of snow and I was left to follow the old tracks and other signs of human intrusion in the woods. As the trees became more sparse and the trail more obscure, the boot tracks abruptly disappeared. Apparently this fellow had just given up, only a couple miles from the top!
Using my map and some environmental cues I navigated my way up to the junction with the Plaza trail. From here, it would only be another mile and a half to the top. I broke trail through pristine snow, eventually joining up with some deer tracks that followed the undulations of the ridge. The snow began to get a little deeper and the wind was able to penetrate the now feeble assemblage of trees. Shortly, I was able to see Mt. Hood through gaps in the trees, which motivated my legs to pick up the pace. The trail eventually became buried by huge snow piles and I walked among treetops for the last few quarters of a mile.
At the “summit,” or what I could best decide was the summit, the snow dipped to a mini-saddle and rose up into a steep-sided snow ridge that was being whipped by the east wind. There was a huge gap in the trees that allowed for a tremendous view of Mt. Hood. It wore a tiny cloud cap over its top and its flanks were dotted by shadows from clouds higher in the sky. The sun shone brightly in the blue sky. I sought a lunch spot sheltered from the winds and there I enjoyed my warm soup and a packet of BBQ tuna. Yum.
I hung out there for perhaps a little too long, since when I started back down the ridge my hands were freezing and it wasn’t even all that cold outside. It was pretty easy to follow my tracks in the deep snow. Once I returned to the open woods I was able to correct my previous navigational slips and follow the actual trail 99% of the way. Soon, all the snow was left behind and I was back to dry ground, leading me back to the Salmon River and the Wildwood parking area. Now, my car was surrounded by others, presumably left there by people enjoying the network of easy trails the park had to offer.
Fortunately, I had made another good choice for a long, quiet day alone in the woods. The trail was just challenging enough for my knee, it got the heart pumping and had a nice reward at the top.