what Dog Mountain usually looks like in spring
what Dog Mountain looked like on June 4, 2010
Suzanne, Lorraine, Yuko, Bev, Mary LynnDog Mountain is famous for its blanket of wildflowers that bloom every May and June. Transformed into a literal Garden of Eden when the balsam root (yellow), Indian paintbrush (red), lupine (purple), phlox (pink), and a dozen other flowers explode on the steep slopes, the color is so intense that an observer across the broad Columbia can see a yellow cast on the mountain.
Located on the Washington side of the Gorge across from Hood River, Dog Mountain is a favorite destination of spring hikers eager to see the display. It’s a tough climb—3000 feet over 3 miles, an average 19% grade. We take the ‘most difficult’ trail up to the top, then loop down the back side which is longer thus a little less steep. From the top a hiker is rewarded with a panoramic view of the Columbia Gorge and the vista of flat-topped Mt. St. Helens to the north.
We delayed our almost-annual climb of Dog Mountain this year because of the endless rain, then scheduled it for June 4, because it couldn’t possibly still be raining by then (wrong). Five of us made the trip. Weather at the trailhead was cool, damp but not watery. All went well until we emerged from the trees, about halfway up the mountain. We were greeted by that stunning spread of wildflowers---accompanied by gale-force winds. The top of the mountain was veiled in thick fog, but we linked hands as we skirted a stretch of trail with a steep drop-off, and pushed forward. It really was blowing strong enough to send someone over the edge.
Higher up we were enveloped by the heavy fog. The wicked wind battered us so hard that droplets of fog peppered my jacket as if it was blowing sand. We felt like we were in one of those Mt. Everest documentaries in which shrouded hulking creatures move upward at a snail’s pace in the face of brutal wind gusts.
At a fork in the trail we paused to wait for two who were behind, and when we were sure they had seen us, we moved on—it was not fun standing there fully exposed to this storm. But they didn’t catch up and I felt sick thinking that in the poor conditions they might have taken the wrong path. The murky fog blocked visibility and the fierce gusts swallowed up all sound. One of us went back for them and eventually we were all together again. At the top we took shelter in a copse of trees that protected us from the wind, but the condensing fog dripped off the trees onto us like steady rain.
Cold and damp (even with waterproof clothing) we scurried down the mountain and how nice it was as the weather grew temperate once again. We passed two trees that had blown down since we passed them on the ascent. Only five other hikers were on Dog Mountain this day. Bagging the hike might have been smarter but I will remember this one better than all the fair-weather treks that blend together. Arduous activities are exhilarating and . . . how would we build character if we did only what was easy and pleasant?!