Table Mountain for the Clinically Insane

September 26, 2010.

Bonneville Hot Springs Resort > Table Mtn Summit > out-and-back with a small loop | about 9 mi. | 3200′ ele. gain |4:45 hrs.

What a difference a day makes.

On Saturday, the greater Portland area was treated to blue skies, 80 degree weather, and dry air. But, alas, my hiking partner had other plans so we decided to hike Table Mountain on Sunday. The forecast had a chance of rain in the morning and predicted clearing skies by 11 am. I should really know better.

Luke and I got an early start, leaving the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort parking lot just after 8 am. We followed the directions in the “60 Hikes” book to get to the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. The access trail began through some overgrown Himalayan Blackberry, Thistle and Stinging Nettle…a perfect day to be wearing shorts. Soon we reached a T-junction with what seemed like an old logging road. The wide path helped with keeping my legs free of thorns as well as staying dry, for now. Although the sky was cloudy there wasn’t much of a hint of rain yet. Up we climbed, amidst a lush understory of Oregon Grape, Sword Fern, Vine Maple, Wild Rose, and Duck’s Foot.

In an hour, we reached a signboard with a lousy map of the Table Mountain area and a signpost marking the start of the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. Luke led the way up the relentlessly steep path. We walked through the woods, eventually breaking out into some open areas that might offer up good views on a better day. There were some cool, cliffy sections to look at as well as a memorial to the woman who fell to her death from this trail earlier in the year. Soon, the path became even more open as it dumped us at the base of an old rock slide. We boulder-hopped up mossy, wet talus for a bit as the clouds spat rain at us. Fortunately, the talus was relatively stable; however I ditched the poles to use my hands to heave myself along and instead. At the top of the slide some very new and nicely manufactured signs directed us towards a “Gorge Overlook” and the top of Table. We walked along this very exposed and wind-blasted section of trail until a point where it petered out to nothing. This, we decided, was our summit. A couple of quick photos later, we turned around and hightailed it back to the last trail junction. The wind seemed to pick up here, whipping into us with a bit of vengeance for something we didn’t do. I felt more like a New Bedford fisherman than a hiker as I walked, sopping wet, through the wind and rain.

Once back at the signpost, we took the other half of the Heartbreak Ridge loop to keep things interesting (as if it hadn’t been interesting enough). To my dismay, the trail quickly turned into a messy rock pile, which threatened to slough the surface layer off with each timid step. The beads of water aggregating on my glasses made it extremely difficult for me to see and judge distance with any confidence. I proceeded slowly. Fighting this obstacle, as well as dealing with my recovering ankle, made walking a formidable and stressful task.

The excitement of the hike had turned to drudgery but I would not let my soaking wet feet, screaming ankle and fogged up glasses ruin my day. Regardless, I was delighted to re-enter the woods and feel slippery mud under my boots instead of slippery rocks. In this direction ,we passed two lousy signboards instead of just one. I wondered, if some organization would be so resourceful as to design and install a huge trail sign and map, why they wouldn’t do a better job at it. As we rejoined the PCT, we also passed a dedicated trail crew making improvements to the tread of the trail. It was an awfully miserable and wet day for that sort of business, so we smiled and said hello as we walked on by.

The remainder of the hike was a blur. The rain never let up one bit. We didn’t stop for food, or for any other reason, until we made it back to the parking lot. I was never so happy to feel my rain coat snag against blackberry bushes because that indicated we were mere minutes from the car. A refreshing change of clothes and the last half of my morning’s coffee (in a thermos, still warm!) made the ride back somewhat enjoyable.

Both times I have hiked Table Mountain I have been wet, cold, and had difficulty seeing through rain-spotted glasses. I hope the third time’s a charm.

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