Words and photographs by David Hanson
My wife Christine and I hit the Ruckel Ridge Trailhead at dawn on a Thursday. Within an hour, we’re a thousand feet above the Columbia River, currently hidden under morning fog. After the initial climb, the trail follows knife-edge basalt ridges padded in fifty shades of Oregon moss. Scrambling moves and a heightened aesthetic distract from the elevation gain, but we’ve been up here before, so we know not to get lulled by this middle section’s visual appeal. Eventually, the forest closes back in and the mountain ramps up. Photo breaks cease, conversation lulls, and we drop into low gear for the final 1,500-foot grind to the top.
I use “top” loosely. Normally, after gaining almost 4,000 feet in three miles, I expect a grand view and an intoxicating sense of my own amazingness. The Ruckel Ridge Trail does not abide. It peaks out at a nondescript forested plateau the shape of a two-mile-long croissant. There are no views, just a stammering brook, seldom used campsites, exhausted legs, and hungry bellies. It’s my favorite butt-kicker day hike in the Gorge. At a trail junction before the descent into Eagle Creek, I pull a rare stud-husband move and surprise Christine, whose birthday is two days later, with a gourmet picnic of smoked salmon, Humboldt Fog cheese, fancy crackers, organic chocolate, and a bottle of sake (the champagne of rice, right?).
Because I assume no one else will be on this obscure loop today, we lounge in the middle of the trail. We can’t see any Pacific Northwest volcanoes here, but there’s silence, the air’s cool, the endorphins nature made, and our immediate future involves a long descent of Eagle Creek, a Smithsonian hallway of sapphire pools, waterfalls, and cliffs of dripping moss and dancing ferns. And we feel amazing enough.
This piece was produced in conjunction with GORE-TEX® SURROUND® Footwear. For more information visit gore-tex.com/getsurround.
Accustomed to low-cut shoes, the Treksta felt surprisingly secure and boot-like around the house. Christine agreed. We chose to test them on Ruckel Ridge because it offered a quick retreat down a side trail if the new boots destroyed our feet. Our observations proved correct: We completed the rugged 16-mile loop with no hot spots. They stayed dry despite near full submersion in streams, and the sole was aggressive on loamy soil, providing plenty of cushion from sharp volcanic rocks. They’re as breathable as my old running shoes. The ADT’s have found their niche in my backyard.