Camping in the Columbia River Gorge
I’ve been a little skittish about going on solo camping trips far from Seattle since I totaled my car at Mount Rainier on my birthday. This weekend I decided it was time to get back on the horse. If you’ve ever wrecked, then you know the tense feeling you get when you’re in a similar driving situation. Anytime I want to turn around, I am extremely careful, but I’m always expecting that same force of impact to greet me. As I drove away from Seattle with Nym in the backseat I felt like I was under a mountain of stress. What happens if I wreck? What if my battery dies again? Then the most beautiful thing happened. As I’m driving along the edge of the Columbia River Gorge, staring into the distance at the glorious Mount Hood set above the beauty of the clear river and rolling mountains, petals from cherry blossom trees just start swirling through the air and landing on my windshield. In that moment a sort of peace settled over me. So what if something happens to me? I’ll deal with that when the time comes.
The first day of my trip really put this new resolve to the test though! I arrived at the hike I’d picked out for the day, Fall Creek Falls on the Washington side of the Gorge, to find the gate closed two miles from the trailhead. The day was already mostly over and I had planned on just getting a short hike in and finding a place to camp for the night. This trail is usually four miles round trip, but with the gate closed it suddenly turned into an eight mile hike. I am incapable of turning back once set on a direct course, so I hiked the trail anyways. Well worth it! (insert picture) Unlike the hectic waterfalls along the Oregon side of the Gorge, this fall was completely abandoned. There was an older couple who were leaving as I arrived, and on my way back out I passed a group of boy scouts on their way into camp along the trail.
I had to trail run the four miles back to my car to make it out before dark. My original plan was to watch the sunset over the river after finding somewhere to camp, but since it was already setting as I drove back into Stevenson I decided to grab a bite to eat, watch it set, then try to find someplace to set up my tent. There is a delicious diner called The Little Viking Drive-in in Stevenson, WA. I ordered my gluten free burger and some soft serve and headed for a perch along the river. Rain greeted me instead. We’re not talking about the drizzle that people in the Pacific Northwest call rain, we’re talking about a downpour with heavy winds and biting cold.
Suddenly all I wanted to do was to be curled up inside of my tent with Nym, reading my Kindle and eating by flashlight. It seemed like the most magnificent setting imaginable. I put my burger aside and began the quest to find a campsite. This town might as well have been Bethlehem. Everywhere I went there was no room for me. My phone service was spotty at best, and I couldn’t find anywhere that I wouldn’t have to hike a few miles into (in the dark and rain).
Finally, I decided I had best get some gas before I was well and truly stranded. At the gas station I asked the attendant if he knew of any tent camping areas nearby. To my embarrassment and relief, he pointed just down the road and informed me that there was a campground behind the train tracks that usually had spaces since it was so loud that not many people could stand to sleep there. I resisted my urge to hug his neck in thanks, paid him to pump my gas (since you aren’t allowed to do it yourself in Oregon), and headed over to the campground.
Here began my hilarious struggle to set up my tent in the pouring rain, wind, and utter darkness. I chose a nice little spot behind a tree to cut some of the wind off, but it did little good. After finally managing to get my poles in and the tent upright despite the wind’s best effort to foil me, I walked over to get my stakes off the picnic table. My smug smile was erased from my face as I turned back around to find my tent rolling like a tumbleweed across the grassy field headed directly for the river. With an “EEK!” I dropped the stakes and dashed after the tent, catching it just before it got swept off the side and into the current. I pulled it back over to my tree, and while holding it, picked up the stakes and started pegging them in. They weren’t enough to keep the wind at bay. Luckily my car had enough junk in it to make any packrat proud! I put all the heavy stuff I could find into the corners of the tent to hold it down. I was soaked through at this point, so I stripped down and put on my warmest base-layers.
Once Nym and I were settled in we finally got a chance to enjoy our dinner. The sounds of trains roared by on both sides of the river every few minutes, but after eight miles of hiking and a fierce battle with nature, we cuddled up inside my sleeping bag and slept like the dead until morning.