Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to Table Mountain, Washington

On Sunday we took advantage of the promising weather forecast and planned a hike with our friends Kara and Matt to Table Mountain. Located across the river from Bonneville Power Plant, Table Mountain is one of the tallest landmarks in the Columbia River Gorge. Though not overly technical, this eight-mile round-trip hike is difficult due to its length and steep (3,300 feet elevation gain), rocky terrain.

We began our hike from the (unofficial) Aldrich Butte Trailhead. One can also access the trail beginning at Bonneville Hot Springs or (making a much longer 15 miles roundtrip) the Bonneville Trailhead. We arrived around 8AM to high overcast skies and had the area to ourselves. The first mile of the trail follows an old, unnamed road until it reaches Carpenter Lake. Signs of spring were visible in the blooming trillium and other wild flowers.

Trail Along Old Road     Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum) Wildflower

After about two miles, the road meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail and narrows. At times Cedar Creek can be heard below, swollen with runoff. At mile 2.5, we turned right and followed the Table Mountain-Heartbreak Ridge trail. This part of the ascent was a heart-pounder, gaining approximately 700 feet elevation in the first half mile. Our reward was a beautiful view of the sheer cliffs of Table Mountain at the top.

Cedar Creek     Pacific Crest Trail
Small Creek Crossing     Heartbreak Ridge Trail

After enjoying the views of our cliff-top destination, we continued on to an open talus field. Here we were afforded great views of the Columbia River Gorge. We savored the views while waiting for a Mazamas class to scramble up the field. The Talus slope is part of the new re-routed Heartbreak Ridge Trail and is marked with large orange ribbons placed on a few trees and poles stuck into the rocks. The best way up is wherever you don’t slip and catch a trekking pole or foot between boulders.

Rock Projection Along Table Mountain Southeastern Ridge     Table Mountain
Columbia River Gorge     Katie, Kara, & Matt Getting Ready for Talus Scramble

With the talus field safely behind us, the trail dropped into a forested and steeply pitched area before making the final ascent to the summit. The snow cover in this area was frozen and slippery, making Jason wish he had brought his crampons to test. He did play around a little in is La Sportiva boots kick stepping his way up. The weather at the top was cloudy with sun breaks. We summited Table Mountain in three hours, twenty minutes.

Heartbreak Ridge Trail Up a Talus Slope     Alternate Trail up Southwestern Ridge of Table Mountain
Hard Frozen Snow Above Talus Slope     Kara, Matt, Katie, & Jason on Summit of Table Mountain

After enjoying a leisurely lunch, we decided to stay at the summit a while longer and take in the 360° views. On a clear day, one can see the Columbia River, the Bridge of the Gods, many nearby mountains, and other landmarks.

Mount Adams as Seen from Summit of Table Mountain     Feet Atop Snow with Mt Adams in the Background
Katie on Summit of Table Mountain     Trail Down Southwestern Ridge of Table Mountain

Walking the perimeter of the summit, there is a narrow foot path which affords views of the sheer, crumbling cliffs and waterfalls below.

Bonneville Dam     Small Waterfall Below Crumbling Cliff
Cliffs Below Table Mountain     Looking Down from Table Mountain

Due to the depth of snow still remaining on parts of the summit, Matt and Jason decided to roll large snowballs off one really steep snowy slope. At this point, there were fifteen spectators, as another Mazamas class had also reached the summit. After sending two large snowballs tumbling down the slope, Jason decided to try out his new gaiters in the knee-deep snow. Always up for more activity, he then trekked back up the slope in no time.

Jason Building a Snowball     Matt & Jason Ready to Push Snowball Over Steep Snowy slope
Looking Up at the Path of the Snowball     Jason After Climbing Down to the Snowball's Final Resting Place

Once rested and relaxed, we decided to head back, this time following the Southwestern ridge for our descent. The first 1/4-1/2 mile of this descent is fraught with crumbling rocks underfoot, making it slow-going.

Mount Hood Partially Visible Through the Clouds     Small Plant Growing on Rocking Mountain Top
Cairn Marking Southwest Ridge Trail     View Hiking Down

As we descended, we could see the talus field we had climbed, along with nearby cliffs. The trail then re-entered the forest and continued its steep descent, later rejoining the Pacific Crest Trail. We hiked back to Carpenter Lake and down the old road back to the car.

View of Talus Slope on Hearbreak Ridge Trail     Steep Rocky Trail Down Southwest Ridge
Carpenter Lake with Table Mountain in the Background     Small Creek Flowing Out of Carpenter Lake

Before leaving the gorge, we enjoyed a meal at a brewery in Stevenson, WA. We shared stories and Jason and Matt began dreaming of continued good weather and a possible summit attempt on Mt. Hood next weekend.


1 comment

Tina, Sun, 07/03/2011 - 00:48

Thank you for this great review of the hike. This info is better than the description in the hiking books. I'm going to be using this tomorrow when we go!

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Disclaimer: You are responsible for informing yourself of the hazards of backcountry travel and taking the necessary precautions. Loomis Adventures may not be held liable.