October 17, 2006.
Approximately 20 miles, maybe 4000′ elevation gain, 8 hours
In the darkness of 6:30 am I put on my headlamp, left the Toothrock Parking Lot and started up the gated Forest Service Road 777 to find the trailhead for this hike. Apparently cars used to be able to access the trailhead to Tanner Butte #401 but now there’s an approximately 1-1.5 mile hike in just to get to the start. No one can agree on how long this hike actually is, and how much elevation is gained so I’m taking my best guesses based on what I can find online and what I experienced.
After 45 minutes of walking up the rocky road I reached the sign for Tanner Butte. From here, I’m told, the round trip is 16.9 miles. By now, the sun had come up and the forest started to brighten a little. Although it wouldn’t rain all day, the clouds hung low and everything dripped with water. I heard what had to have been a winter wren, his song unmistakable, and knew this was going to be a great day.
The Tanner Butte trail begins along Tanner Creek, passing two small waterfalls and making a minor stream crossing before heading up. It felt like most of the elevation was gained in the first couple of miles of the hike starting from the car. I paused often to admire the view of the surrounding five trees or so, because everything else was shrouded in fog. Most of my pictures came out awful because there was too much moisture in the air. Guess you just had to be there.
After what felt like an eternity, I stopped to have a sandwich at the junction with the Dublin Lake trail. I was glad to have brought a wool hat and light gloves as well as my raingear because I bundled it all on at this stop. After only 10 minutes my body had cooled way down so I continued hiking towards my destination.
Shortly after, the tall, dark trees were replaced by small, colorful (and very wet) shrubs and grasses that cascaded onto the trail. My shoes and socks became soaked through; now I didn’t have to concern myself with trying to keep them dry! The trail flattened out and the sun poked through the clouds just a little bit. I picked up my pace and almost stepped on a salamander sittting perfectly still on the path. For the next mile, of course, every stick, rock, and pinecone looked like a salamander so I gently stepped around all of these things while anticipating another photo op.
I had been keeping an eye on the time all morning and gauging my distance fairly accurately. A few minutes after I began to wonder when I’d reach the unofficial trail to the summit, I saw this sign. The herd path from here was very easy to follow. It doesn’t classify as a scramble, but it is clearly much steeper and rougher than the flat, easily graded trails so common in the Gorge. In other words, it was a delight. The trail briefly winds through some trees before emerging out on a more alpine environment. Small evergreen shrubs carpeted the ground and bright red fall colors dotted the landscape. On a clear day, a visitor must be awe-struck by phenomenal views. I was glad to have visibility past 10 feet 🙂
At the summit I took photos all around, including what I think is a rather common view of Mt. Hood. I took off my socks and shoes, dried my feet, and put on clean socks. I wrapped a fleece neck gaiter around my feet and stuck them in a large ziplock bag where they were warm and comfy. I basked in the accomplishment of reaching the summit far earlier than expected and enjoyed the occasional glimpse through the clouds.
Just before 11:30am I started back down the herd path, noticing remnants of the old firetower just near the summit. I checked out a beautiful ridge to my left before dropping back down into the forest. It took no time at all to walk several flat miles back to the Dublin Lake junction, passing lovely fall displays left and right. By this time, the clouds had retreated slightly, giving me deeper views of the forest that I’d missed all morning. It almost felt like walking through new territory.
Not concerned now with speed or time, I was able to stop and take more pictures of the trees, waterfalls, mushrooms, and other trailside eye candy. I listened to the songs of thrushes, the crackling of high power lines, and the flowing stream.
Arriving back at the car, my feet were a little sore but okay. I was ravenously hungry, and very satisfied with another fantastic hike.