My best friend was coming into town for the weekend and had some spare time Saturday, so I suggested we hike the 7.5-mile Cape Horn trail. I had never done it but heard good things from friends.
Cape Horn is a unique hike. Most hikes in the Pacific Northwest follow the same basic pattern: Hike up, up, and up some more; hit a view point; and turn around. Or the trail is one big loop, with the same basic up/down dynamic. But Cape Horn cares not for your trail conventions. You know that old-timers maxim about traveling uphill both ways to school? Well, the Cape Horn trail is book-ended by two ascents. It’s crazy like that.
We set off from the trail head shortly before 10 a.m., and the first section was pretty typical for a Gorge hike: Nice forest scenery, steady ascents, and muddy as all get-out. The trail flattened out after a spell*, and that’s when things got weird.
* I’m horrible at trail distances, unless they’re spelled out for me on a map. So you’ll see me talk about distances in vague terms like “a spell” and “a bit.” I wish I could be more specific, but that’s how I roll.
We popped out of the woods, and walked along a bluff and on a country road for a bit before heading back down through a lovely fall forest. There we stopped for a minute at a scenic viewpoint that offered great views of the Gorge.
We continued heading back down, crossed under Highway 14 and kept descending. (If you’re keeping track at home, we’ve hiked above Highway 14, came back to Highway 14 and started at this point hiking below Highway 14.) This section of the trail scared me a bit, as it included a nerve-wracking rock scramble. Rocks and I don’t get along very well. They scare me. But I made it through, unscathed. Obviously.
But where most other trails zig, Cape Horn zags. We bottomed out at and began another ascent, this time back up to Highway 14. This included another mildly scary rock scramble and a brief trip behind a waterfall that would have been refreshing, if not for the fact it was 50 degrees, at the most. Still cool, though. Not like that. You know what I mean.
The trail’s initial ascent hadn’t challenged me too much, but I’ve never hiked 4-5 miles … and then started another ascent. My legs were just a bit wobbly as the trail ended and we meandered along a road that connected to the trail head.
I loved Cape Horn, because it offered a little of everything: Northwest forests, amazing Gorge viewpoints, a lovely waterfall, and enough elevation gain to really get the heart pumping. Plus, any hike that adds a second ascent shortly before the end automatically becomes memorable for that reason alone.