Monday, December 31, 2018

Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, December 2018

Back on November 23rd, several popular trails in the Columbia Gorge reopened for the first time after the Eagle Creek Fire. So a couple of weeks ago I did the 4.9 mile Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop trail to see what the area looks like now. Some parts were surprisingly ok, with signs of a "good" forest fire that swept out underbrush and let the trees survive. Other areas were kind of grim and spooky, notably along the Vista Point trail above Wahkeena Falls. The most positive spin I can come up with is that some parts of the Gorge now look like vintage postcard views of the area from a century ago, around the time the historic highway was built. Back then it was due to logging rather than fire and a changing climate, but the visual effect is more or less the same. In an old post from 2014, I pointed out that rock formations around the Gorge tend to have silly melodramatic Victorian-sounding names ("St. Peter's Dome", "Pillars of Hercules", "Bishop's Cap", "Thor's Crown", etc.), and explained my theory that the names reflect the era when there was the least vegetation around to obscure all the weird rocks. So maybe that should be the tourism plan for the next few years: In our lifetimes there may never be a better time to nerd out over Gorge geology, so come see some cool rocks before the forest grows back. Hey, it's worth a try.

There's one experience I want to relate that the photos don't capture. Imagine placing your hand on a tree for support, at a steep or tricky spot in the trail. You've hiked this trail regularly since you were a kid, so you've likely put the same hand on the same spot on the same tree dozens of times. But this time your hand comes away covered in charcoal. To me this was the most upsetting part, more than any of the images. After the first time, I tried to avoid touching anything scorched, not really because of the charcoal; it just felt wrong somehow, verging on unclean. As in, you don't want to touch it for the same reason you don't want to touch roadkill. Sure, obviously you can't catch a disease from a burnt tree, but that was the visceral reaction I had. It's odd: The very same wood, burnt in a campfire, would be cozy, a source of warmth and happy memories. But when it's burnt and still standing amidst a forest of other burnt trees, and bits of it are rubbing off and marking you as you pass... well, it was more unsettling than I had expected.

1 comment :

DJ Rick said...

Pretty poignant in that final paragraph there, and I think that tourism marketing advice is totally solid. Great post! My favorite hiking loop within an hour's drive (theoretically) of Sacramento was ravaged by fire some years ago. I found it very interesting to visit it upon its reopening to see what surviving and pioneers plants and trees were up to. Revisiting it regularly brings more surprises. Even if it never becomes what you remember, it is different but perhaps fascinating in a different way.