Let's face it – it's been a "dry" winter here in Portland. The amount of precipitation, along with the total number of days where it's rainy has definitely been less this year than last. They are even talking about how light the snowpack is up on Mount Hood and how it will (hopefully) be an early melt which means – earlier access to some awesome trails. Considering you can only run on many of those trails (without snowshoes and compass/GPS) from about May/June-September an early melt would certainly be nice! But let's not get our hopes up too soon because Portland is about to return to a cold rainy mess this week with snow levels dropping to around 1000-1500'.
So I had planned on running the Columbia River Gorge (Pic above of Angel's Rest) this weekend on trails that, at 2700', are often covered in snow this time of year. A little snow can be okay, but if you can't see the trail you can have a big problem on your hands! The forecast called for warming temps through the week, hitting a peak of 60ish on Saturday with sunny skies. Sounded like the perfect day for a trip to the Gorge! I know Tobey was excited (ok so was I). You just don't get days like that very often here this time of year. In fact, when I ran the same loop last (in May), I remember it being significantly colder, and looking back at my blog, I saw how excited I was when it hit 65 in April last year – so a rare day indeed on Saturday.
I didn't get started on my run until around 11AM. I had planned for a little bit earlier but about 30 minutes before I was going to leave my house I discovered my water bladder in my pack had a major leak! I was quickly off to the nearest REI, picked up a replacement for $29 and was off on the 45 minute drive to the Angel's Rest Trailhead. I couldn't help but enjoy how beautiful, sunny and warm it was already (especially in my car with the sun beaming in). If Portland had even 50% of its days like this in the winter and the Gorge & Mt. Hood were runnable most of the year, it would make a much better place for a sunshine-loving trail runner to live (normally the winter months here only see 2-5 days of sun per month!)
The route I took goes something like this… You run up the Angel's Rest Trail (I really really suck at hills so walked 80% of this section). The Angel's Rest Trail crosses a stream early on with a small waterfall. It starts out under cover of trees but open up early to a nice view of the river before going in an out of trees & views. Parts of the trail are very technical, especially toward the top with lots of rock protruding from the ground, fields of boulders to cross, and throw in lots of other foot traffic you need to dodge to make it that much more challenging. Before you get to the top you go through several switchbacks, all of which offer higher and higher views as pictured below.
After passing the turn off for Angel's Rest, the trail continues on (and up) for a bit along a narrow section with drops on both sides. Don't slip here!
I've run this route 3 times now and I prefer to go counter-clockwise. I've never tried the other direction but this direction seems like it would be the most fun and you get 80% of the climbing down in the first 4 miles. It's brutal on someone like me though that is horrible at hills! The run starts out around 150' and 4 miles later you are around 2700'. Most of that is straight climbing but you do drop down in a section and go back up again, and there is about a half mile section that is pretty flat after Angel's Rest. I estimate the total gain over the first 4 miles to be about 2600'
I wore only a running skirt and tank top but had on arm sleeves and stuffed gloves, long sleeve shirt, and
headband into my pack just in case. It can get windy in the Gorge and then can get real cold. Winds were pretty steady around 20MPH and I had my arm sleeves on most of the run. This section to Devil's Rest is dark and damp and I was freezing. I contemplated putting on more layers but held off and managed ok. Hard to believe it can feel that cold when it's 60 degrees outside!
I didn't take a pic of Devi's Rest since there's not much to see there. Devil's Rest is higher up than Angel's Rest but Angel's Rest has the beautiful (sometimes sunny) view, while Devil's Rest is a pile of dark, damp and moss covered stones. It was actually sorta anit-climactic the first time I saw it.
The great thing about reaching Devi's Rest is the "ride" back down the other side! I was flying and enjoying it. I held back a bit on the downhill since my ankle had issues a week ago and bugged for about 10 minutes early in my run. But this section is absolutely my favorite. Starting around mile 4 and down to around mile 6.5 it's downhill, singletrack, fairly smooth and switch-backy for a section. Throw in a creek alongside the trail that contains several waterfalls and – What a joy to run!
But what goes down, must go back up. Around mile 6.5-7 starts another climb that seems to go on for about a mile? I really have no idea. All I know is tackled that head on this time and while I didn't run much of it, it also didn't suck the life out of my like the previous two times I ran this. I kept plodding along.
During my previous two runs here I had a near 16 minute per mile pace which is really slow. I don't know what I need to do to get better at hills but I need to do it. It's really frustrating sometimes. 16 minute mile pace put me around 3 hours both times for 11ish miles. This time, as I neared the top of my last climb I knew I had a chance for a PR on this rou
te. From the top it's 2.5ish technical downhill miles to the finish. I "cruised" as best I could and stopped only once to take this picture:
It's hard to really "cruise" on this section for 3 reasons – not wanting to make my ankle worse, lots of very rocky sections, and lots of hikers to weave around (some of whom don't move and cause you to come to a complete stop). But I enjoyed the final descent despite those reasons and took in the views when I knew I wouldn't trip over a rock and face-plant (I almost did once). I had energy left, a feeling that I did not have my previous two runs here – I must have been doing something right.
I came sailing into the finish around 2:53 for a route PR. I felt good, Tobey was happy (and tired), and it was all around a fabulous run! The online details for this route say a total elevation gain of around 2700' but I think you do nearly that much in the first 4 miles. I would guess the gain to be more like 3200-3400'. Or maybe I just say that so I don't feel bad at how slow I am
The 10 day forecast here starting tonight calls for colder days, lots of rainy days, and lots of clouds. I'm so glad I got the chance to take advantage of the amazing Pacific Northwest winter day that doesn't come around very often!
Happy Running & Dirty Feet,