Cascade Locks to Benson Plateau – 12 miles
For the third year in a row I was headed back out on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was shaking things up a bit this season and heading southbound through Oregon, starting at Cascade Locks. My reasons for heading south were varied and it seemed fitting to be back at the Bridge of the Gods where I’d started my PCT adventures two years before.
It takes about 7 hours to get to Cascade Locks from my home near Vancouver, BC. My journey was split into three parts and included a drive to Seattle from my dad, a train ride to Centralia, WA, and then a ride from my friend Wild Within Her.
I stayed at Marine Park Campground which is right along the Columbia River. They have a nice grassy area for backpackers to stay at a reduced price. There were a few other PCT hikers there to chat with, all of whom were making their way north. Right next to the campground was Thunder Island Brewing Co. where I passed some of my evening. Before tucking into my sleeping bag that night I made sure to put in some earplugs – I had been warned that there was a lot of noisy train traffic in the area. I slept surprisingly well, all things considered.
In the morning I treated myself to a huge breakfast at the Bridgeside Restaurant. I needed to be well fuelled for my day ahead which would see me climb nearly 3,900 feet.
I was soon on my way. The trail started at the south end of the Bridge of the Gods, which I had walked across two years ago to start this grand adventure. The first few miles weren’t too steep, only gaining about 1,000 feet along a gentle and soft forest trail. There were a couple creek crossings and a nice waterfall to enjoy.
Next up was a big climb – over 2,000 feet in about four miles. I had to get to the top of the flood-carved Columbia Gorge walls. The trail followed a pretty straight ridge line, only switchbacking a handful of times. Near the top of the climb was a small piped spring which would be my last water for the day until later the next morning when I’d reach Wahtum Lake. I drank my fill and then packed a liter and a half extra onto my back.
Not far past the spring I stopped at a small campsite for a late lunch. I cooked up one of my hot meals, planning to eat my lunch snacks for dinner. This was so that I wouldn’t have to carry as much water the rest of the day.
I was up and moving again after a good long break. I had only a few more miles to go before I’d stop for the day. Those miles took me through large burnt snags and then up and over the thickly forested Benson Plateau. I don’t usually get nervous in the forest but this one gave me a slight creepy feeling. The trees were gnarled and needly, with lots of low branches. It was also very quiet under the thick branches.
Thankfully my campsite itself was back under familiar lodgepole pine. In fact it had quite the view thanks to a big fire that had come through less than two years before. The Eagle Creek Fire burned more than 48,000 acres of the Columbia River Gorge and was sparked by some teenagers playing with illegal fireworks. I had been in and out of sections of burnt forest all day and was fascinated by the quick shifts between burnt and healthy forest.
Eagle Creek itself was an alternate trail option to the PCT that travelled through a lush valley, passing waterfalls every couple miles. The trail has been closed since the fire due to the forest damage and soil instability. It may be years before we can safely venture into the Eagle Creek drainage again. Fires are important for overall forest health but it’s incredibly painful when a wildfire burns so far of control and isn’t naturally-caused.
I sat out for a bit to enjoy the view and eat some calories. My appetizer was some crackers followed by an entree of cranberries and cashew butter rolled up in a tortilla. Dessert was a monster cookie from a cafe in town and a handful of nuts. Thru-hiking demands unusual meals!
It was a bit cool and breezy on the ridge but I was cozy in my tent. I was by myself at the site and was looking forward to the peaceful quiet of my first night back in the wilderness.