After reading description of a few remote trails, I decided to go to a popular one and settled to park at the Horsetail trailhead parking lot and make the loop to Larch Mountain, Multnomah Falls and finally to take Gorge Trail back, without knowing how far it was and how difficult it was.
I started from Horsetail Trailhead. The first mile was steady climb. While it was not steep, pointed rocks, some large, on the trail made rather difficult to walk. I had to watch the trail at all time for places to place my feet. Very soon a junction split the trail to two. I stayed on the Horsetail trail to the right, continuing the climb. The trail reached the highest level in this section before turning away from Columbia River, the noise from I-84, and into the mountains. A switchback brought the trail quickly down the canyon and to the Ponytail Falls.
The trail started to climb again and ran into another junction right after Lower Oneonta Falls. The right one goes towards Columbia River again and leads to Gorge Trail. I took the Upper Oneonta to the left. The entire trail, until the next junction, hugs the Oneonta Creek from above. The creek was mostly whitewater so I was accompanied by the sound of water rushing down to Columbia River while I steadily went up. Incidentally, the sound was not very different from the sound of rubber burning on asphalt. It’s about two miles when I reached the Triple Falls.
After the bridge over the creek, the trail stays on the west side of the creek right before it hits the junction some mile further up. Also, the casual crowd disappeared from the trail from this point on, as well. At places, the plants were so overgrown that I had no choice but brushed through leaves. Luckily none of them were poisonous. Soon after the bridge I ran into this tree with holes covering the whole trunk. I don’t know if they are the work of and love to get some answer or even educated guesses.
The trail was mostly under the shades of trees so a ranger hat was not really necessary. There was only one stretch about one or two hundred yards without any cover. However, depending on the time of a day, a baseball hat may be a good idea if you don’t want to constantly wave away bugs over your head. And pants and long sleeves may be a wiser outfit than shorts and short sleeves. The trail also cuts through streams which, more often than not, were wide enough that I had to step on rocks to cross. Poles would tremendously be helpful at these occasions, which I conveniently left behind. It is also this portion of the trail I started paying attention to the environment and snapped a few shots.
A side note. Before I started, I loaded up Google Maps, zoomed in the area and left the app on, by accident. This turned up to be extremely useful as GPS would show me where I was, even in the airplane mode (another trick I learned from previous hikes to save battery), everytime I reopened the app. By this time, I realized that I had grossly under-guessed the distance to Larch Mountain and changed my plan to loop back from Horsetail Creek trail, still long but seemingly manageable. About some minutes after the log bridge, I reached the junction.The first telling sign that my plan might be in jeopardy was that I had trouble finding a bridge to cross the creek. As shown in this snapshot,
I was coming up from the trail below, turned left and was supposed to cross two creeks to continue. However, I had difficult to find a way to cross the first. After exploring around, up and down, I finally found this tree trunk, only after climbing over a couple of moss-covered tree trunks.
I paused again after climbing up big boulders and through tree roots as trail was nowhere to be seen. A good few minutes of search passed and eventually revealed the trail about a foot wide. Not thirty feet on the trail I found myself forced to make another decision as it forked to two trails, one going up and away from the creek and the other down and along the creek. Based on the map, I took the upper trail. When I checked again, I found myself off the trail and going to the opposite direction. So I tried the down trail but found it to be a dead-end. Here is what Endomondo shows where I trekked.
Because I was not sure if the GPS reading was off or the map was inaccurate, and more importantly I didn’t believe that I had enough water even for the Horsetail Creek trail, I decided to play safe and double back. As I was approaching the creek, a guy was climbing down boulders. I asked him about the trail I had planned to take. It turned out that he just came over from that trail and confirmed that the upper trail was the correct one. And he wanted to cross the creek but could not find a way even though the tree trunk was just around the boulders. Not sure if he didn’t see it or didn’t think to cross over it.
Horsetail Creek trail, when I read about the trails a day later, was unmaintained. That may explain my confusion near the creek. On my way back, I stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Columbia River.