Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

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VanMarmot
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Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by VanMarmot » April 17th, 2010, 7:07 am

So far this year, I’ve done about 20 hikes up and down in the Gorge through trees and often enveloped by clouds and moisture. For something sunnier (and drier) I decided to try the Swale Canyon section of the Klickitat Trail (http://www.klickitat-trail.org/) located just east of Hood River on the Washington side. The TH is about 30 minutes driving beyond Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek; however, I thought the extra car time was well worth it. This hike is described in both Sullivan’s NW Oregon guide (Hike #60, 3rd edition) and Bond’s “Take a Hike Portland” – but the pictures in both guides don’t really do the hike justice. The photo in Sullivan, for example, makes it seem like you’ll have to hike across miles of open prairie before seeing a creek or canyon – and this is not the case. The trail is closed during the fire season (7/1-10/1) and the creek probably gets low in the summer anyway, so now seemed like the perfect time for a visit. The TH is on Harms Road about 15 mi outside Lyle off the Centerville Highway. Parking isn’t abundant but since I was the only one there, it was fine.

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The trail is actually an old railroad alignment (with a 30’ right-of-way on either side) which is open to the public. However, almost all of the surrounding land is private ranch land so there are few extra items of trail etiquette to keep in mind (dogs are fine but having them off-leash would be a very bad idea). There were two gates to pass through – latching these behind you is a must in ranch country.

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Preliminaries finished, I reached trestle #1 about 500’ after starting the hike.

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Swale Creek, which the trail parallels the whole way, starts out slow and languid but gathers current as it gets deeper into the canyon.

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About a mile in, I crossed trestle #2,

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and shortly thereafter came across several colonies of marmots living in the rocks beside the trail. It must have been a good year because there were lots of cute and curious juvenile marmots scurrying around - Marmots, gotta love ‘em!

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Shortly after the marmots, the trail cut deeper into the canyon, exposing a wall of basalt rock,

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which sported an amazing variety of abstract designs “painted” in lichens and moss (the yellow ones had a glow-in-the-dark quality).

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At 1.9 miles, I came to trestle #3,

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and saw the first of many hawks I would see during the day.

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Bird life was also abundant and the creek was filled with choruses of frogs. Despite all the signs at the TH, I didn’t see any cattle (or any fresh signs of them) during the hike – just a lot of wildlife. The creek continued to work its way down through the canyon,

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while colorful cliffs

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and open meadows lined both sides of the trail.

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About 3 miles from the TH, the trail made a sharp turn to the north,

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and I reached a section of the creek consisting of a series of rocky pools and a small waterfall. The weather was sunny and the temperature near perfect, but had it been hotter these pools would have been tempting.

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I went another 2 mi down canyon from the rocky pools,

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to trestle #4 – 6 mi from and 500’ below the TH.

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The folks maintaining the trail had gotten planking on the previous 3 trestles but hadn’t done that for this one yet.

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I could have gone another 1.9 mi to trestle #6 before reaching the part of the trail with more people living near it. It would make for a 16 mi day but would be worth it to see a little more of the canyon. Instead, I made trestle #5 my turn-around point for the day and headed back up to the TH. The trail is graded at almost exactly 100’ gain per mile – which doesn’t sound like much compared to the Gorge but it’s a constant, steady climb of which my legs soon became aware. I got to daydreaming and almost stepped on this nifty gopher snake(?), who hissed at me and quivered its tail in warning. There are rattlesnakes in the canyon, so after this encounter I paid more attention to where my feet went.

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Probably because I wasn’t stopping every 5 seconds to take a picture, the hike back was an hour shorter than the hike out. From a distance the TH does look like it’s in a prairie and, if it was all you saw of this hike, you’d have no idea of the cool canyon that starts only about a mile away.

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After having had an entire canyon, with a creek and abundant wildlife, to myself for the day, it was interesting to drive home past Coyote Wall and see the parking lot nearly full and people wandering the trails.

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drm
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Re: Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by drm » April 17th, 2010, 7:56 am

I volunteered for a work crew that worked on one of those trestle plankings a month ago or so. Some of the old RR ties that were splitting needed to be replaced. Try standing on one edge, swinging a sledgehammer between your legs below you, trying to push the tie out the other side. After you remove the foot-long bolts. That have been there - how many decades? Then, hammering in hundreds of nails on the planks. And I only went on one such weekend. They had at least 3 weekends in a row. Hats off to those folks. Very different from regular trail maintenance. But if you like swinging a hammer . . .

dayhiker
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Re: Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by dayhiker » April 17th, 2010, 8:20 am

Nice pictures

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anna in boots
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Re: Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by anna in boots » April 17th, 2010, 8:43 am

That is the best pictorial of the east end of the Klickitat Rail Trail ever! I love that route, it is truly the hike of your namesake, VanMarmot. The marmots are like mosquitoes out there, ubiquitous and noisy. Cuter than skeeters, though. I once sat on a rock on the side of the trail and waited about five minutes. Several marmoty folks came out not two feet away and eyed me suspiciously, then announced me loudly to the rest of the valley and the gig was up. They moved faster than my shutter finger, though. Rats! Or, should I say Marmots!

Great schnekkie photo, love the schnekkies. Never seen a gopher snake before but it looks like they are constrictors and not venomous. http://www.desertusa.com/mag99/july/pap ... snake.html Oh, how I would have loved to have petted that one!

Dean, I really appreciate all your work but I gotta say, I'm glad I got to do the trail before the trestles were upgraded. There's something eerily historic about mincing your way across ties that have seen so many decades before you. How old would you say the trestles were? Yeah, they were getting a little saggy and baggy in spots but that just heightens the excitement factor.

Great trip! Did the frogs sing for you? There's entire froggy choirs on those creek banks.

anna in boots
Current trip reports at All Thoughts Work™ Outdoors
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Re: Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by drm » April 17th, 2010, 8:57 am

anna in boots wrote:Dean, I really appreciate all your work but I gotta say, I'm glad I got to do the trail before the trestles were upgraded. There's something eerily historic about mincing your way across ties that have seen so many decades before you. How old would you say the trestles were? Yeah, they were getting a little saggy and baggy in spots but that just heightens the excitement factor.

anna in boots
My guess is that the planking is more for the bikes than the walkers although many hikers prefer less excitement. Also, as the route is technically a state park, there are probably RULES about was is safe.

The original construction of the trestles is old but with the wear and tear of trains, not exactly the lightest of contraptions, undoubtedly most parts got replaced regularly. The guy leading the group guessed that a lot of the hardware was probably from the 1960's, so it's probably not as old as some think.

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Re: Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by pdxflowergirl » April 17th, 2010, 9:23 am

This hike looks like fun. Thanks for the awesome TR. Will have to check it out.
Kam

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VanMarmot
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Re: Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by VanMarmot » April 17th, 2010, 1:56 pm

anna in boots wrote:That is the best pictorial of the east end of the Klickitat Rail Trail ever! I love that route, it is truly the hike of your namesake, VanMarmot.

How old would you say the trestles were? Yeah, they were getting a little saggy and baggy in spots but that just heightens the excitement factor.

Great trip! Did the frogs sing for you? There's entire froggy choirs on those creek banks.

anna in boots
Thanks!

The Columbia River & Northern Railroad completed a feeder line from Lyle to Goldendale in April 1903 - a line that continued in operation until the early 1990's. But as Dean points out, the railroad probably replaced everything (except the roadbed) over the years.

There were a LOT of frogs chorusing during my hike - not particularly melodious but certainly loud.

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markesc
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Re: Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by markesc » April 17th, 2010, 5:03 pm

Awesome photos!! Love the marmots, lichens, and that snake!!!

Seems like the perfect hike to get a nice tan being on the east side too! :mrgreen:

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BrianEdwards
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Re: Klickitat Trail / Swale Canyon - 16-April-2010

Post by BrianEdwards » April 18th, 2010, 1:22 pm

Great photos. Love all the railroad nostalgia still around
Clackamas River Waterfall Project - 95 Documented, 18 to go.

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