Eagle Creek: winter wonderland

December 20, 2008.

Eagle Creek Trail | 5.2 miles | 400′ ele. gain | 3:45 hours

The adventure began in Portland, where driving on the snow- and ice-covered road was both challenging and amusing. Chains were required on rt. 205, just 10 minutes from the house. I-84 was slick, windy, and at points, almost whited-out with snow. With conditions predicted to worsen over the course of the day we decided to get out while we could and check out the epic snowfall in the Gorge.

I never thought I’d return to Eagle Creek. While pretty, it is often choked with visitors and the parking lot is notorious for break-ins. It is also a nearly flat, boring walk, with cables installed at some sections for hand-rails. Silly.

We pulled off the highway to find the trail head was inaccessible due to deep snow. Brad found a “parking spot” along the side of the road and we snowshoed in to the trail from there. There was about a foot of snow piled up on the side of the road and on the picnic tables near the official parking lot. Snow fell lightly from the sky as we walked along the road. It was very quiet.

Upon reaching the trail head we ducked under some boughs drooping beneath their loads of heavy snow. The path ahead was magical: perfect, unbroken, shining snow. We stopped frequently to take pictures and observe our unique surroundings. In the creek, snow piled up on top of the rocks like whipped cream. The exposed basalt walls on the left side of the trail were decorated with massive icicles. Liquid water actually dripped down some of the walls. Carnage from some of the fallen icicles lay on the trail, making me a little wary of walking beneath these behemoths. If anyone is planning on coming through here while the ice is still around I’d advise bringing a climbing helmet to wear in these sections. I would not want to get clocked in the head with a gigantic chunk of ice.

We slowly made our way to the junction with the Punchbowl Falls viewpoint trail and decided to make this our lunch spot. The viewpoint trail makes a quick descent to the river and peters out on a pile of rocks that dead ends in the water. We dropped our packs here, put on down coats, and enjoyed some delicious sandwiches and chocolate candies. The snow continued to fall and the temperature remained cold. I watched small ice floes pass down the river.

Retreat was bittersweet. We knew we had to get back, since the weather in the city and the Gorge was only supposed to get worse. But I wished I was able to camp out here through the storm so I could enjoy the stillness and cold. As we walked back we played in the snow and smashed icicles for entertainment. We spotted a few hardy birds also making an effort to get out and stay warm in this unusual weather.

The snow seemed to come down harder and faster as we made our way towards the trail head. We walked a little bit faster with only a little help from our old tracks; they were now barely noticeable depressions in the snow. It felt colder and the wind became noticeable. I took a few good looks at my surroundings, hoping to permanently burn these images into my brain.

If you are fortunate enough to get out in the Gorge before it all melts away, it is truly a worthy journey if your vehicle can handle the driving.

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