Backpacking Trip – Columbia River Gorge (Eagle Creek To Wahtum Lake)

Backpacking Trip – Columbia River Gorge

Eagle Creek Trail

As I may have mentioned, there are but two short windows between the freeze-your-snardlies-off winters and the humid misery of summer for local outdoor adventuring. When backpacking isn’t a possibility, the next best thing (for me at least) is to nose through the camping and hiking subreddits in search of beautiful places to visit. It seems that the Pacific Northwest has way more than its fair share of pretty, and we were thrilled to see some of it ourselves last summer.

Our trip began with a 45-minute drive to the airport for a red-eye flight out of Kansas City. A red-eye flight with a layover. A red-eye flight that had us leaving the neighborhood before the local Starbucks had even opened. A flight that ended with a 45 minute ride on public transit to rent a car for a two-and-a-half-hour drive. I would leave all this out, but it led to our most important trail lesson yet: If you’ve spent 14 hours traveling before your boots hit the trail, take a night in a hotel first. Seriously, as much as I enjoy airports, lightrail, and rental cars, 14 hours of that stuff is exhausting. By the time we hit the trail, we were sleep-deprived and downright cranky. The phrase “You’re about to get a trekking-pole suppository” may have been uttered.  (If you happened to see a grumpy, dark-haired woman rage-stomping past some of the glorious waterfalls in the first four to six miles of the Eagle Creek Trail last August, please accept my apologies.)

However, even in our road-weary state, it was hard not to be renewed by sights such as these.IMG_1134

Eagle Creek
Eagle Creek

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The first four miles or so of the trail were crowded with day hikers, but that’s no surprise considering the epic beauty surrounding it. Such quality scenery has to be earned, and this trail is no exception. After about six and a half miles of rocky and steep trail, we arrived at our campsite for a quick meal and a well-earned rest.

 

Note the hand rails!
Note the hand rails!

Day two  took us the remaining nine miles up to Wahtum Lake. Even though we knew going into it that this hike would be in the “strenuous” category, nine miles of steady up hill hiking did not come easily! However, it’s hard to complain when you are tromping through old growth forests and past moss-covered rocks.

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We arrived at Wahtum Lake tired, hungry, and hopeful for a campsite. Panic set in briefly as we discovered all the spots around the lake were occupied, but we backtracked a bit and found a lovely water-adjacent spot on the trail that connects Eagle Creek to the PCT.

Wahtum Lake, pristine and glorious
Wahtum Lake, pristine and glorious
A welcome sight after a day's work
A welcome sight after a day’s work

Day three started with a lazy morning in camp. We tried out our packable french press. (The verdict, truly first-rate coffee in the backwoods is amazing, but the contraption was a bit fussy and the grounds make quite a mess. I don’t think this will have a permanent place in my bag, but it will journey with us occasionally.)  Delicious coffee + biscuits and gravy = happy hikers.

Thankfully, an all-day uphill hike is followed by a whole lotta downhill. The return trip from Wahtum proved to be fairly easy, and our conversation, as it frequently does on return trips, began to focus on fantasies of a post-hike burger and an ice-cold IPA. With such visions dancing in our heads, we decided to forgo camping and knock out the 14 miles to the car.  That evening found us enjoying the best post-hike burger to date while trying to figure out how quickly we could return to the Columbia River Gorge.

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