Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Herman Creek & Nick Eaton Ridge

Ok, so next up we're taking a look at a few trails at Herman Creek, in the Columbia Gorge at the east end of the town of Cascade Locks. This is of the lesser-known corners of the Gorge; it doesn't have any waterfalls close to the trailhead, so it gets overlooked. On the other hand, the Eagle Creek fire didn't completely incinerate this area, so the trails are open, while more famous spots like Eagle Creek and Wahclella Falls are still closed indefinitely. I had visited once before sometime in the early 90s, but bailed out early due to a combination of not enough instant gratification, and not having a good map and worrying about getting lost. Going back hadn't been a top priority, but it was open, so I figured it was worth another look. I came away really pleasantly surprised; I keep wanting to describe it as "Eagle Creek without all the waterfalls", if that description even makes any sense. I mean, there are a couple of waterfalls there, albeit not on the main creek, and my plan was to visit both of them, even though this involved a bit of backtracking. Leg one involved most of this route, as far as Pacific Crest Falls, and then backtracking to the Herman Bridge Trail - Herman Creek Trail junction. Leg two starts from there, following the main Herman Creek Trail to Nick Eaton Falls.

That was the original plan, but I was ahead of schedule and didn't feel like going home quite yet, so I added a little side trip on the way back. The trails so far had been fairly flat and mellow, and I decided I was up for something a bit more challenging, so when I got to the junction with the Nick Eaton Trail, I took it and headed uphill. And by "uphill", I mean that the trail gains 2000 feet over two miles, climbing up out of the Herman Creek watershed and onto Nick Eaton Ridge, where the trail sort of flattens out, relatively speaking. The steep part also features a very narrow trail with steep dropoffs most of the way, for a bit of added interest. I was mostly interested in the steep part and the viewpoints toward the top, but I continued along the ridge for a bit just to see what it was like (Mostly burned, unfortunately.) I eventually turned around when I came to a trail junction, as a convenient way to track how far I'd gone, and went back down the same way I came up, which was much easier, and not as scary as I'd expected based on how the trip up went. So let's call this leg #3; if you're following my route for some reason, this leg is even more optional than the first two. It was fairly brutal and I was sore for days afterward, to be honest, but I thought it was fun and I'm glad I made the side trip. Your mileage may vary greatly, of course.

On the initial part of leg #2, the trail is unusually wide and graded like a road, which is because a few decades ago it was a road. This stretch is part of the old Herman Creek Road, which began somewhere east of the present-day trailhead and ended up at Herman Camp, which is still a campground and doubles as a big multi-way trail junction a few hundred feet shy of the Nick Eaton trail junction. So at one point visitors were driving large midcentury cars and trucks all the way up here, on what for them would be a narrow, windy Forest Service road. I can't say I'm surprised they eventually closed the road off. The Oregonian database doesn't indicate there were any gory car accidents along the road (and doesn't even say when the road was finally closed), but the possibility must have been in every driver's mind on the way up and back down. Yikes. All things considered, I'd much rather walk it.