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Hamilton Mountain

August 28, 2011

Onward and upward.  I decided to tackle Hamilton Mountain alone on August 20, 2011.  Hamilton Mountain is in the Beacon Rock State Park, a great area with numerous trails, equestrian trails, and camping facilities.  The Park Ranger’s office is on Highway 14 just opposite Beacon Rock and the entrance to the park is off the north side of the Highway opposite the Beacon Rock trail head.  Go up the Park road about 1/4 mile to the trail head parking area.  A Washington State Discover Pass is required.  See www.discoverpass.wa.gov for more information.  A day pass can be purchased at the trail head.

This is a loop hike of 9.4 miles with elevation gain of 2,100 feet (rated difficult by Friends of the Gorge).  I planned to do the loop counter-clockwise.  The Park gate opens for day use at 8 am and I was at the gate when the Ranger arrived.  Head up the trail through forest and round the bend you will notice another trail merging in from the left where you are under the power lines.  This trail goes back to the campground.  Moving on, at around a mile into the hike you reach the waterfall area.  There are a couple of viewpoints for the falls.  I’ll need to come back here next spring for more photos because this late in the season the water was low.   All the snow is long gone and there has been no rain for days.  Temps today are going to reach 90 degrees before noon.  Anyway, the obligatory falls photo (click on photo to enlarge image):  Continue across the foot bridge ascending into the forest.  A short way on you come to the fork where you must decide whether to do the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise.  My shot of the trail sign is a little out of focus but it gave me a chuckle.  Who decides between “difficult” and “more difficult”, and how subjective is that?   Take the Hardy Creek Trail to go clockwise.  With my plan in mind, and after some deliberation about the meaning of “more difficult”, I figured “hey, no better time than now to find out”.  More difficult sounded like a good challenge.  Now, having completed the loop, I can give my impression.  More difficult wasn’t that bad.  Of course you know you’re going to be climbing, and there are a few short bursts of steepness, along with some rocky stretches across talus, but overall I join in recommending the counter-clockwise approach.  The trail is well maintained.

Along with the spectacular views, one of the joys of hiking is finding new flowers or critters.  Along the trail I noticed this guy (girl?).  I later learned from a Ranger that it is a Rubber Boa.   Back at home I Googled it and learned that this is a fairly unique snake.  Boas are typically found in warmer climates but this one lives where it gets much cooler.  In order to cope it has evolved with a very slow metabolism, which causes it to move very slow — explaining why I initially thought it might be dead.  Not to worry, (s)he began crawling off the trail just after I snapped this photo.  (S)he appears a little bigger in the photo than actual size because I got close to get the picture.  Cool!

As you near the summit you see a south facing bluff.  I think this is actually Little Hamilton Mountain.  From  there the trail goes through a number of switchbacks before you get to the actual summit.And eventually you follow the trail around to the right and almost stumble on the summit sign.  The trail goes a short distance further toward the edge but it seemed to me the better overall views were right near the summit sign.   Many animals mark their territory.  Humans seem to mark not only their territory but places they’ve been.  Hence the condition of the sign.  More serious hikers take pride in leaving nothing behind.  Back on the loop the trail heads north through forest and before long you emerge on what is called the saddle.  This is a good place to take a breather and have a little refreshment, which is just what I did, looking back toward the summit.  Mt. Hood is in the far background here but you can’t see it because of the haze.

You get a nice view of Table Mountain to the east (also on my “to do” list).  From the saddle you can go further north on the trail but the loop follows an old road downhill southwesterly.  Follow the somewhat rocky road down to a junction.  If you go right at this junction you head to Upper Hardy Creek.  I wasn’t too sure which way to go here and took a short side trip about 1/4 mile up toward Upper Hardy Creek.  Unless you want to add an extra little bit to your loop hike, learn from my mistake and follow the road downhill to the left.  You will then come to the creek and a picnic table where the loop rejoins the Hardy Creek Trail.  This is the backside of the “difficult” trail and will return you to the start of the loop.  Frankly I found nothing difficult about the trail from this point pack to the sign.  It is a pleasant, mostly level, trail through forest.  Follow it and you return to the Hamilton Mtn. Trail, and back to your car.

Remember that first trail that merged into the Hamilton Mtn. Trail where we went under the power lines?  I thought I would take that route back to the car and went through the campground, and also followed the spur out to Little Beacon Rock.  It’s a nice path but it does add to the overall distance of the loop hike by probably a half mile or more.  If want to see the area go for it; if you’ve had enough for this day follow the original trail back to your car.  With my side excursions I figure I did a little over 10 miles in about 4 hours.  I was at the summit at at 9:55 am and back at the car at 11:55 (91 degrees, whew!).  This is a great hike and one I will surely do again.  Happy hiking!

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