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!