Monday, September 15, 2014

Beacon Rock

Beacon Rock

There will eventually come a time when all of the fun local hikes have been blogged at least once (I mean, by me). Happily that time is not today. Today we get to talk about one of the most fun semi-technical hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. I call it semi-technical becauuse of all of the technology that was employed to create the trail. Today we are going to hike the “man made” trail to the top of Beacon Rock on the Washington side of the Columbia.

You probably have seen Beacon Rock, even if you are not aware of the face. It is a major part of a majority of the iconic images for the Gorge. Here is such an image which I will steal from the Internets:

Beacon Rock is the shadow in the mid distance. The link for this picture is the  attribution

You can climb this thing. Actually, thanks to the effort of one of the “original owners” (yes, white guy) you can take your young family and walk up. Definitely take the kids, it will be good for them. Do NOT let them whine and sit in the grass at the parking lot. No one likes that. Oh, and don't let them play in the Poison Oak on the trail either. Most people don't like that.

You can find Beacon Rock right on the side of SR12 as you head up the Gorge on the Washington side. It is poised right in Beacon Rock State Park (what a coincidence). Sort of hard to miss. You are driving along a 2 lane road with occasional glimpses of the Columbia off and down to your right and you go round a corner and there is this big rock in front of you. A really big rock. The walk up it is over a mile. It is actually the central core of an old volcano. The really hard rock center left when the volcano cooled. Then the ice floods of the end of the ice age ravaged the soft stuff off and left us with this cool place to hike.

Well, not quite as easy as that. Because the trail going up is really..... complex. It has a lot of blasted out paths and girder and wood bridges zig zagging up the sheer rock face. Not sure I have ever seen a trail where the switch backs actually cross over each other.

How did this all come to be? Well, after the ice floods had dug the Gorge and the local peoples had lived here for time out of mind and not even built a highway or an airport, along comes this group of white dudes with rifles. The two guys in charge, Bill and Merry, were very active in finding things they could name along the way.

They would point at landscape and say, “Hey, I think I will call that Lewis River. And over there is Meriweather point. And see that big rock? I am going to call that 'Beacon Rock'. What do you think about that, Bill?”

“I think that I will purposely misunderstand what you are saying and actually call it “Beaten Rock” just to see whose journal the historians actually use”.

“Yeah, good luck with that. I am going to name a few more rivers 'John Day' while I am at it.”

In all fairness, it may have been hard for Bill to hear Merry at that point as they would have just been coming down through the noise of the falls of the Columbia (or perhaps the locks at Bonneville Dam. Wikipedia is a little vague here).

Then some more time passes. Bill and Merry see the rock again on their way back home )“Yep, still there. Told you”). The local inhabitants breath a sigh of relief thinking they have dodged a bullet and then the next set of uninvited guests show up and everyone dies of small pox.

But I digress.

Around the turn of the 20th century (well, the 19th turning in the 20th. Is that turn of the 20th?) this guy named Henry Biddle bought the rock for a dollar from Charles Ladd. Seems both men were avid outdoorsmen and want to protect the historic rock from “Developers”. “What would “developers” be doing with a great big rock?”, you may ask? Evidently blowing it up and using the little pieces for the foundation of railroad beds and road beds and such. I guess that sort of thing happened a lot over on the Oregon side (Rooster rock just missed this fate also). Biddle was also an engineer and he spent the next few years after he bought the rock building that cool trail up to the top.

Now he has a big beautiful rock (which he has also fought to be re-named using the original Lewis and Clark name of 'Beacon”) and a trail going up. The next step is to convince some government agency to own it. The story I heard (which I just can't find a reference for, dammit) is that he tried to give it to the state of Washington but they didn't want it. But Oregon said they would love to have it, and this made Washington step up and take it because they didn't want to give Oregon anything on their side of the river.....


Yes, The trail has a door.

The trail is pretty fun to climb. It is fairly steep but it is a well built trail, cement and stone for much of the climb, and it has a very strong steel railing. In some parts there is still some of the original Biddle railing that can be seen and in others you can find ring bolts set in the stone that held the original cable railing that was in place. Steep, but so much to look at, such great views, that if you bring a camera and enjoy yourself you will just naturally be taking your time on the way up so there won't be any reason to invent an excuse for stopping and catching your breath. (Though if you do need an excuse, I heartily recommend botany. “Oh look at that rare yellow parsnip. Must stop and take a picture of that for my collection”). The switchbacks go up the SouthWest side of the monolith, giving views of the Columbia and the Gorge looking west toward Portland. Lots of fisherman out in the their big aluminum boats pulling in Salmon.

Lot of trail technology going on here. Unclear how much of it is from the original trail. Lots of signs of blasting, but also a lot of concrete and girder work.




And Don't forget to enjoy the views on the way up either:

Where did that dot in the middle of my optics come from?


After you get to the top of impressive set of switchbacks, you flatten out in the sort of wooded area on the top of the rock. Some big trees up there just trying to make a living away from the lumber jacks that are killing their cousins off in the distance. You are over on the East side now and get views of the Bonneville Dam and up river. Way down below is a little piece of the Columbia with people out kayaking. Have to check that out sometime.

 We are almost there now, we wind up a little more and then we are in the woods on the top of the rock. Don't wander off the trail, the drop offs right over there are sheer and deadly and that green shrub is all poison Oak. (The good news is that if you slip and fall you won't spend the next 2 weeks in itch hell. I mean, being dead and all). Up a little flight of stairs to the very summit which is exposed stone. The view isn't very good up there as the trees on the top block the view in most directions except toward the dam (South East). Lots of people on the top. Well, 6 people, but the top of the rock is SMALL. I would not call it a good place to picnic. We head back down.

Action Adventure Girl on the Very Very Top (of course)

ON the way down, make sure and stop and look at all of the switchbacks and such. They are just as fun looking from the top as from the bottom.

I just thought this looked cool

After we got back to the car we road over to where we had seen the kayaks launching just to check things out. It is sure a place we need to come back to (much too windy today) but we did get this one final view of Beacon Rock.

See the Switch Backs?

What about Now?

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