Dog Mountain is located on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge and sits at a whopping 2950’ of elevation. On a normal day, the hike is a kickass 7.2 miles roundtrip that takes in just about 4 hours. Let’s say I wish I had done this hike on an average day!
My friend Hailey and I left Portland that morning about 2 hours too late, so by the time we got on the road we already knew the time on the mountain would be limited, and that’s when the rain kicked in. The storm got so bad on the drive that we started to look for back-up hikes in the gorge the entire ride up to Dog Mountain. We knew the hike was going to be extremely tough, and to be honest with you guys, I can comfortably say I’m a bit out of shape! But we persevered, and by the time we got to the trailhead, the rain had stopped. We thought we’d have blue skies for the next couple of hours, or so we thought.
The trail starts steep, and when I say steep, I mean holding onto your knees to push through, wishing you had hiking poles, steep. It’s the sort of steep that makes you feel like there’s no reason to continue and almost makes you question what in the world you were thinking in the first place. Of course, that’s all extremely dramatic, but it seriously killed my legs. About a mile into the hike you’ll come upon a fork in the trail with this sign, giving you the option of a steep path to the right, or a more difficult trail to the left. We chose the former. Although I can only speak for the challenging trail to the right, I heard from multiple hikers that day that the “more difficult” path to the left is extra and unnecessary mileage that merely takes you through more of the forest, rather than the riverside of the mountain with the gorgeous views.
About a mile after the fork, you’ll finally reach what a few hiking sites call the “Puppy Lookout” because it’s a perfect intro to the views Dog Mountain shows at the summit. Although you’re only about halfway up in the elevation gain, the view is incredible, and I wish we could’ve sat there and appreciated it for a longer time. By the end of our quick photo shoot, the fog started to roll in, and Hailey and I began to fear for our lives for lack of better words. We did not plan just for the wind storm we were about to witness. Thankfully, about 100 yards past the lookout there was a forest patch with a thick covering of trees for us to stop for a cider and a sandwich we packed before we pushed on. Once we finished up lunch under the somewhat warm cover, we decided we’d push on to where other hikers urged us to - the fire lookout. Even if the storm rolled in hard enough for us not be able to reach the top, the fire lookout would give us the views that we’d worked so freaking hard to see!
Unfortunately, by the time we had reached the fire lookout we realized two things:
1. The fire lookout was no longer there. It’s merely a platform in the mountain where the lookout used to be for firefighters to look out onto the Oregon side of the Gorge during the dry season.
2. The fog had rolled in so thick there were no views to be appreciated.
From the fire lookout platform, we only had about three-quarters of a mile left, but that’s when the trail started to look like this. Not only had the fog wholly covered the path 5 yards in front of us, but the winds had reached nearly 40mph. One foot in front of the other, the trail became narrower and narrower and dropped off to a cliff on the left-hand side.
About 200 yards from the top of Dog Mountain, there’s a large rock formation that Hailey and I had to hide behind for 5 minutes or so to warm up our bodies before doing the final climb to the top. We were shivering, it was starting to rain, and the wind still hadn’t let up at all. After we rested for a few minutes, we made our final ascent to the top. There were entirely no views, and we were soaking wet. But at that moment, I felt pure bliss.
At the start of the day, both of us were doubting we’d make it to the top of this hike. We had heard stories about how kick ass it was and how the elevation gain might kill us, both feeling out of shape ahead of time didn’t help either. And then the rain and the fog drew in and we started to make just small milestones for ourselves; “Let’s just make it to that first viewpoint” or “If we feel like we should turn back after the fire lookout, that’s fine.” But we persisted, and we kicked that hike’s butt. It’s an empowering feeling to finish something that you thought you couldn’t. To be doubting yourself for an entire walk and then to reach the top. The view isn’t what was important, because, at that moment, all that mattered was that we had done it and proved to ourselves that we could.
Overall the hike took us 4 hours, including our lunch break under the forest covering and the quick break to warm up behind the rock formation. Descending back down to the car was a bit rough on our knees and hips, but we had such an adrenaline rush that it didn’t even matter. By the time we got back to the car, my FitBit had read the following stats: 315 flights of stairs, 7.16 miles, and 1,168 calories burned.
Each hike I do, I learn a little bit more about myself. What Dog Mountain taught me is that I’m always stronger than what I think, and it’s not the view at the end that matters, but the journey I took to get there. Dog Mountain was the perfect way to end 2018, proving to myself that I have what it takes to push on through 2019 and to test myself and my limits even harder. So cheers to a year of adventures and hopefully many more summits and ciders!
Winter hiking is a beautiful, peaceful beast waiting for its unleash into your outdoor life. So many people forget about their natural roots when the darkness grows longer and the temperature drops, but if you’re anything like me, you crave that organic connection to mother nature. There are so many reasons to hike this winter, and we don’t want you to miss out on a single second of the cold, crisp sunshine!
Let me Convince You…
If these three reasons to get outside and hike this winter don’t convince you, nothing will.
1. Trails are often desolate; few people want to brave the cold temperatures or own the proper gear to do so. Some of the busiest landscapes become barren beauties at first snowfall.
2. Your senses will be surprised by new smells and sights on the same ‘old’ trails you usually hike! Snow and biting temperatures vastly change your favorite trails making them seem almost brand new.
3. Bug phobia? Fear of woman-eating animals? Don’t sweat it under winter conditions. Enjoy the lack of bug deterrent, bear spray and bug bites when you hike during this season.
Find the Perfect Outfit
When winter hiking is brought up, especially in the snowy parts of the world, many people’s first response is “But it’s cold.” Although they’re not wrong, proper layering is a beautiful thing that can make or break your adventure. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to apparel.
Let's start from the bottom up.
FEET: Insulated, waterproof winter hiking boots are an absolute must alongside wool socks (pack a spare pair!). I prefer my boots have ample ankle support since I’m often snowshoeing to my destination on winter hikes or worrying about the dreaded sneaky post-hole. And seriously, toe warmers are a woman's best friend. As an individual with terrible circulation, toe warmers have been the key to my winter hiking success.
LEGS: A bottom wicking layer, usually leggings made of synthetic fabric for this chick, help to pull the moisture away from the skin. Depending on the temperature, you may choose to go straight to hard-shell water and windproof pant OR add a soft-shell fleece layer in between. I own a great pair of Eddie Bauer hiking pants that are water and wind resistant and fleece lined; these are my favorite for winter hikes.
TORSO: The top half is very similar to the bottom. A wicking layer first (wool works well on top or any synthetic fabric that pulls moisture from the skin) followed by fleece and finally a wind and waterproof outer layer or shell. I find that for a challenging ascent in decent winter temperatures, a base layer, a fleece, and my Cotopaxi windbreaker do the trick until I descend! I also carry a packable down jacket for extra warmth on the summit or overlook; wearing a vest over your mid-layer (weather dependent) is also an option I fall back on for warmer days but ALWAYS pack a full outer layer just in case.
HANDS: I prefer mittens for my hands so I can put my hand warmers in with my fingers since my circulation is awful. Always pack two pairs of gloves; I wear a lighter pair for the more strenuous part of the hike such as a mountain ascent and save the hard-shelled, warm and toasty pair for the return trip. While you’re working hard your extremities won’t feel as cold but after a few accidental hands in the snow, or hard earned sweaty palms followed by potential downtime on a windy summit you’ll want a quick change.
HEAD: Wear a warm hat as well and be sure to pack an extra for when the original cap gets sweaty. Fleece lined caps with ear flaps can be an absolute lifesaver. Other items I like to wear or bring along include a buff to cover my nose and mouth but still allow for airflow; sunglasses or snow goggles to protect your eyes from wind and the UV rays off the bright white snow are very helpful as well.
Don’t Leave Home Without This Gear!
Camp Blanket/ Emergency Reflective Blanket
First Aid Kit
Snacks, and Lots of Them
Headlamp(s) (Spare Batteries!)
And a Comfortable Pack to Throw it All in!
A Few Additional Tips
Remember to be up to date on weather conditions; as you climb in altitude, the climate completely changes and is often colder, windier and less forgiving.
Always tell someone where you’re going to be and what route you plan to take; check back in with them at the end of your hike, so they know you’re okay! Similarly, make sure to sign into and out of all appropriate trail registers.
Look up and be aware of trail conditions. Water crossing dangers and other less than ideal winter conditions should cause alarm and potential rescheduling. Your favorite trails will look entirely different when they’re barren of leaves and full of snow; be sure to brush up on your navigation skills!
Don’t ever be afraid to turn back! It’s always better to be safe than sorry.