Sunday, August 19, 2012

Larch Mountain expedition


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Here's a slideshow of photos from Larch Mountain, a hopefully-extinct shield volcano just south of the Columbia River Gorge. There's a steep, winding road that leads almost to the top of the mountain, and from there a short trail leads to Sherrard Point, the dramatic exposed viewpoint at the very top, which is where these photos were taken. From there the view is unobstructed for nearly 360 degrees: To the north is the Columbia River, and behind it Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and distant Mt. Rainier. To the south, Mt. Hood looms, and beyond it sit Mt. Jefferson and another peak even further away that the signs at the viewpoint don't name. I'm guessing it's North Sister, but I don't actually know for sure. The only direction without an unobstructed view is to the west; it's a shame, as I expect the view back to Portland at night would be fairly amazing.

The road to the top branches off of the Columbia River Highway just before the Vista House, and winds its way up into the hills rather than down into the Gorge. The early part of the road is a rural residential area, which gives way to private timberland and Metro's narrow Larch Mountain Corridor along the road. Oregon state law mandates no logging within 100' or so of certain roads, or maybe it was 200', in order to sorta-protect the public from seing unsightly clear cuts. So apparently Metro ended up buying the land the timber companies couldn't use. In any case, the long narrow strip totals 185 acres according to this doc, and it in turn gives way to National Forest land the rest of the way up. If you're driving up or down the mountain you're going to need to pay close attention for cyclists. Larch Mountain is a very popular ride precisely because it's pretty hard, plus there's an amazing view waiting for you at the top. It's so popular, in fact, that the Oregon Bike Racing Association holds its annual Oregon Uphill CHampionships (or "OUCH") time trial event here. You gain 3816 feet over 16.53 miles, and try to do so as fast as possible. It sounds like a hell of a thing, if you ask me.

Another option, besides driving or biking up the road, would be to hike the Larch Mountain Trail from Multnomah Falls. If you go this route you gain 4010 feet over 7.2 miles; I'm not sure why that sounds less intimidating than the longer-distance, less-elevation bike route, but it does. I've never actually hiked this route but it's on my to-do-at-some-point list, thanks primarily to the many waterfalls the trail passes on the way up. Pretty sure I'd get some decent photos, and thus blog posts, out of the excursion, although the hike sounds kind of brutal. Hence the "to-do-at-some-point" part.

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