I would have felt a bit better about climbing Angel’s Rest if a chipmunk hadn’t beat me to the top.
Yet there he was, the focus of all attention. I watched as a group of hikers ignored the spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge below, and instead perched themselves on the cliff edge trying to get a snap of the striped rodent.
Alvin wasn’t alone – dozens of chipmunks live on the rocky outcrop at the end of the Angel’s Rest trail, one of the most popular hikes in the Gorge. Their presence adds a cuteness factor to an easy, but rewarding, 442m ramble up from the trailhead below.
My wife and I undertook the hike last weekend, partly to take advantage of the improving Pacific Northwest weather, and also to get back into the hiking groove after a dreary winter of record rainfall in the Portland area.
It’s not hard to grasp why the trail is so popular, and a useful starter hike for the summer season. The trailhead is a minute off I-84, the path itself is well maintained, and the route is unmistakable – mostly because dozens of other hikers are making their way up ahead of you. And many dogs are accompanying them.
After winding through forest, the route opens up to a series of switchbacks, as you climb above the Columbia River below, passing Coopey Falls, a 46m-high horsetail waterfall. Ascending in the direction of Angel’s Rest itself, you hike for 1.5 miles across terrain that still carries the marks of a series of forest fires.
The congestion on the trail means that a clean rhythm is difficult to achieve – the routine of stopping and starting put me in mind of one of my regular city hikes when I lived in Dublin, the circuit of Howth Head, whose narrow trail is also heavily populated on summer weekends. (And whose paths are scarred by brush fires.)
Eventually though, after 2.4 miles and 90 minutes of hiking, a final left turn led us to the payoff, a rocky ridge leading to a bluff 481m up. The spot commands impressive views of the Columbia River, Beacon Rock and Silver Star Mountain across the gorge, and even Portland itself, far off to the west.
Our day was overcast but clear – the cloud kept the temperature down but afforded us the full array of views. It was a gentle reintroduction to hiking after the winter’s hibernation.
We weren’t the only ones who’d hibernated, of course. The chipmunks glanced with bewilderment at the panting climbers, scurrying around our feet on the lookout for scraps of food.
Having encountered goats, sheep, and ibex in the mountains in Europe, I’d assumed that the high places were always home to bigger, hardier, creatures. Add chipmunks to that list.
After a series of snaps and stretches, we started our descent, one made easier on the knees by the forgiving switchbacks. Little more than an hour later, we were back at the trailhead.
And so begins an outdoors summer in Oregon. Here’s to more hikes, more summits, and – naturally – more chipmunks.