A ramble by foot: West Hills, 14 Jan 2015

Sometimes it’s hard for even me to wrap my head around, but the Urban Adventure League is not all about bikes. Back when I “founded” the League in 2004, it was an avenue for leading bicycle rides–and walks. And I’ve done my share of walks over the years, whether as a led event or on my lonesome. But it’s been quite a bit since I’ve really done a good urban walk-hike. Beside the event I led during Walktober this past year, the last time I went on a hike in the West Hills was probably 2013. But if you look back in the archives–way back, to say this post from December 2005, I did my share of urban hikes way back when.

With 2015 being my year to be Less Lame, I decided that I really needed to do a good old Urban Hike. (Urban hike you say? Yes. Hiking because it features trails and trees, urban because I never leave Portland during the course of it.) And since I’m trying to reserve one of my two days off to do a fun thing like a bike ride, I decided that Wednesday January 14 would be the day for a hike. It didn’t hurt that the day was going to be beautifully sunny and all that, nope.

I had an ambitious plan of West Hills hiking, one that would take in Portland’s highest point, Council Crest (1,070 feet high), then Hoyt Arboretum, then Pittock Mansion with its great view of the city, then down Balch Creek Canyon to NW Portland. It was maybe too ambitious, but I knew that I could scale it back if need be.

To get to my designated start-point at the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) campus on Marquam Hill in SW Portland, I could have just taken the #8 bus, which would be a 10 minute walk from my house and would get me right there. But no, that’s too…ordinary, because that’s just the bus. Because in Portland we have not only the bus, but the MAX light rail, the Portland Streetcar, and Aerial Tram. How ’bout a routing that used all of the above?

So from my house, I hopped on the 75 Lombard/Chavez bus to Lombard Transit Center, where I caught the Yellow Line MAX to downtown, where I got off at PSU to catch the Streetcar to South Waterfront, and from there the Aerial Tram, high above the streets below with one of the most amazing views in the city, up to the OHSU campus!

Now I was on foot. The path I would be using for a good portion of the hike is known as the 4T Trail, the four “T”s being trail, train (MAX), trolley (the Streetcar), and tram, allowing for a complete loop of an experience. I wouldn’t be doing the loop, but at least the “trail” portion of it. The trail starts pretty close to the tram stop, descending down a wooded ravine from the urban neighborhood above. Soon I was in Marquam Gulch, a woodsy valley once slated for development, now preserved as a nature park. At the bottom of the valley is a small pavilion that would be handy if it was raining. Thankfully it wasn’t, though the trails throughout the day would have their muddy spots, such is the nature of hiking here in the winter.

The 4T trail ascended up the gully, away from the noise of the city. While I wouldn’t call the forest here a “pristine” environment, as human development is just out of view and the second-growth forest is overgrown with invasive English Ivy, it does satisfy the “I’m in the woods” feeling, something that I sorely needed. Besides, this is the type of wooded environment I grew up around, the wooded perhiperies of suburban development, enough trees and “apart”-ness for a young kid to explore, have adventures, and get away from things. And besides a couple quiet street crossings, the 4T trail (which hooks up with the Marquam Trail half-way up) sticks to these woods for the entirety of the climb up to Council Crest.

I took a break atop Council Crest, soaking up the amazing views, and scarfing down a lunch. It’s often windy up here on clear winter days, and today was no exception. This meant I didn’t linger as long as I would have liked. Still, it was great peeping the very snow covered volcanoes in the distance: Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, and of course Hood!

It’s all downhill from the highest point in the city, so I followed the twinned 4T/Marquam Trail further north along the spine of the West Hills. The path followed a city street for about a quarter-mile, then descended down into another gulch. While I saw my share of trail runners and hikers on the previous section of the trail, I would see no other people until I got over to Hoyt Arboretum. And it soon became obvious why: this section isn’t as pleasant. The din of the US 26 freeway was below me, and the path would need to go over the highway via an overpass which involved crossing an on-ramp. Not fun.

But that was a brief blip, and now I was in the westernmost sections of Washington Park which contained the Oregon Zoo, Oregon Living Veterans Memorial, and my favorite, the Hoyt Arboretum. The Marquam/4T Trail terminates here, but the Wildwood Trail starts here. The Wildwood goes on for about 30 miles northward, traversing the length of Forest Park. But after a pause at the Arboretum’s visitor center, I took a shortcut down the Redwood Trail through the arboretum, since the day was growing shorter, and it’s always nice to walk through a grove of Redwoods! I picked up the Wildwood on the other end of the Arboretum, and after a sketchy crossing of Burnside, I climbed up to Pittock Mansion.

The Pittock Mansion is a French chateau style estate built for the former publisher of the Oregonian, Portland’s daily paper. Being a rich man, Henry Pittock could afford to build a mansion with one of the best views of the city. And the view doesn’t disappoint! All of the east side was in view in front of me, and I could see the entrance to the Columbia River Gorge. Like Council Crest, it was windy and cold, and the sun was going to go down soon, so I didn’t linger long here either.

I took the Wildwood Trail down from Pittock Mansion. I decided to cut the hike a little short, since there wasn’t much light, so I wouldn’t end up going down Balch Creek. Instead, I took the Cumberland Trail that led to NW Cumberland Street and down through the tony neighborhoods of the Hillside neighborhood, catching the last rays of light on Mount Hood and Adams. After getting a quick bite to eat and picking up a few things from TJs, I hopped on the 15 bus and headed over to SE to a dinner party.

The hike was great, but man, it was a lot! After I mapped it, the distance was pegged at 8.5 miles! Wow! While that figure is probably not 100% accurate, that’s a lot of hiking, especially for someone that hasn’t taken a hike in forever. And I definitely felt it. While I did have some hurting feet towards the end, the next day my whole body was a lot more sore than I thought it would be. Which just means I need to do more hikes!

Route map here.


2 thoughts on “A ramble by foot: West Hills, 14 Jan 2015

  1. Pingback: Finding Balance, or a Council Crest Hike, 29 Nov 2016 | Urban Adventure League

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