6 September 2015
Palisades Trail #1198, via White River Trail #1199 and Ranger Creek Trail #1197
16.5 miles, 2680 ft. climb to 5300 ft. max elevation
I headed out early this Sunday morning before the sun was up, and my drive was along foggy backroads through sleepy towns using my high beams. What a scenic route it was! I passed by creeks and rivers, valleys and mountains, without a car in sight for miles on end. I did luckily spot a couple of elk on the side of the road, just before Skookum Falls. After almost 1.5 hours of travel, I found the pull off parking along Hwy 410 and quickly found my intended trailhead just off the White River (TH #1199). Only one car was parked at the trailhead.
I immediately set up for the rain, including my gaiters, brand new REI Endeavor pants, windbreaker and daypack cover and headed uphill along the quick connecting trail (#1199) to my intended route, Palisades Trail #1198. My main route to the peak was amazingly green. The trail was nicely maintained, except for one portion just before the Lower Dalles Fall, that looked like a recent rockslide occurred, making it mildly heart-thumping to cross the loose rocks, dirt and tree limbs. Sadly, due to the summer drought this year, Dalles Fall was a mere trickle. Regardless, it was still a beauty to behold as water cascaded down the silver granite into the green moss-filled basin. After a brief sidetrip, I headed back to my main trail and up some rather well-worn wooden stairs up a steep slope on my way to many more switchbacks.
I walked through one of many new growth forests on my way to North Snoquera Point. Although there were brief moments of rain showers coming through the forest, the fog had yet to set in where I was. Everything was still clear, quiet and lush. At my first viewpoint, I was able to see Sun Top Mountain just on the other side of the White River Valley, but Mount Rainier was still too shy to show her spectacular self. I continued along the ridge and back into the forest to a higher elevation at South Snoquera Point. The fog and rain quickly covered the valley, so much that I could barely see the previously clear Sun Top Mountain. As I took a snack break on the ridge, the sun briefly peaked through a break in the clouds to show me Ranger Creek Airport below, as well as silhouettes of numerous peaks of the great Cascades. I was in awe by the thought of how little I was compared to all I was seeing.
As I restarted my trek, I saw hints of fall on this lush trail. The sparse red leaves in a forest of evergreens and moss appeared like rubies floating in a sea of emeralds. This part of the trail took me through more natural boulder formations that were unique in shape and enormous in size, as well as colorful and oversized fungi, yet was still wonderfully maintained by a local Boy Scouts of America Troop.
Just as I reached the intersection of #1198 and #1197, the clouds unleashed their fury. Luckily for me, there was a shelter to kept me dry as I took a lunch break. My good friend Christine suggested I pack a thermos of something deliciously hot, so I was fortunate enough to warm up with piping hot coffee! The “log cabin” was merely an open shelter with dirt floors and a recently-used fire pit. Even though I hadn’t yet crossed a single soul on this hike, someone had clearly been on the trail recently.
After some cookies for dessert and energy, I started my descent along trail #1197. This trail was so lovely with a great many switchbacks. Although the trail was well-maintained, it was rather narrow at some parts with incredibly steep drop offs to the valley floor far below. The soil was soft along this part, making it quite nice on my knees as I headed down the mountain. The valley was splendidly swathed in a blanket of jade for as far as my eyes could see. Peaceful, gorgeous and regal…
I was completely alone on this 16.6 mile hike, except for a brief encounter at the end of my journey with a pair of passing mountain bikers on their ascent and a local gentleman on his way to Snoquera Falls with his two friendly dogs. This was my most mentally challenging hike yet. While it takes a certain mindset to hike solo, it is a completely different adventure to be utterly alone in the mountainous woods for most of the waking day. Not only did I survive rain, solitude and distance, but I came away from this hike with greater sense of my abilities and limitations. I was moved by the stillness I found on this trail.