Almost Summer? A ramble to Powell Butte, 20 April 2015

We just finished up a round of really great summerlike weather here in Portland. From Wednesday through Monday we had an abundance of sun and a steadily climbing high temp, culminating with a high of 81F/26C on Monday. 81! That’s summer weather! And it wasn’t going to last: the clouds rolled back in on Tuesday and the temperature dropped back down to the low-mid 60s F, more akin to mid-April for these parts. But a hot day this year always makes me feel good, even though it means breaking out the sunscreen for the first time since probably October (and likewise turning on the air conditioning at work.)

I had to work on Monday, but I knew I wanted to do a ride afterwards to Powell Butte. While Powell Butte isn’t bad on a cloudy day, the best way to appreciate it is in full sun, when you can see all the snow-covered volcanic mountains. And if it’s raining, you aren’t supposed to ride (or even hike) the trails, which makes Powell Butte even less fun. So off to Powell Butte!

From work I headed south to catch the Springwater Corridor multi-use rail-trail (with a pause for beer at Gigantic). While it may have been a bit more interesting to cobble together a route through the neighborhoods that incorporated some dirt, Powell Butte is the goal, and obvious as it is, it is fun to ride the Springwater every once in a while. Plus, it’s always fun to see other folks enjoy the trail on such a nice day. There were definitely people out, but not as much as Sunday (and at 77F, I’m sure Sunday was quite jammed on the trail.) And a surprisingly low number of “I just got out of work” Cat Sixers, even. I took a quick pause at Cartlandia for dinner food to bring up to the butte (burrito, yes, but I wanted a veggie steak sandwich and that cart was closed.) The sign at Cartlandia welcomed the riders of La Doyenne, the infamous hill climbing race that happened on Sunday. Nice touch!

A few more miles and the Springwater skirts the southern part of Powell Butte Park. Ah, Powell Butte, one of my favorite spots in town. It’s yet another one of the volcanic cinder cone that peppers the east side of the city. But each volcano has their own special flavor. Mount Tabor, the classic Olmsteadian city park with the reservoirs and the view of downtown. Rocky Butte, a castle like top with a near 360 degree view of the city and environs. Kelly Butte…well, there are trees up there, right? Powell Butte is the most “natural” feeling of the four within city limits, mostly forest, meadow, and trails, plus a handful of small creeks too.

I normally enter the park via the Old Holgate Trail, which is accessible via SE Holgate Blvd east of 136th. I like Old Holgate because it’s an old road that has an even (but steepish) grade of maybe 6% all the way to the plateau atop the butte. But this time I opted to go up via Cedar Grove Trail. This trail goes through the nice coniferous forest on the west side of the butte, with a feeling that Coconut Bill described on his first encounter as the “Ewok forest.” It also crosses a small nameless creek. I’ve thought a few times about filtering the water from here and drinking it, just because. As far as I know, there shouldn’t be anything atop Powell Butte that would chemically contaminate the water, as its past life was an orchard and cow pasture, but you never know…Anyways, Cedar Grove is fairly steep in sections, much more mountain-bikey than I usually do (or that my basketed early-80s MTB can handle), but I did okay, walking a couple short sections.

The deep forest transitioned to lighter, meadow-edge forest and then full fledged meadow with one of the greatest views around. It was a bit hazy, but I could still see Mount Saint Helens and Hood pretty clearly. (Adams and Jefferson were a bit more difficult.) And even though it was a warm spring afternoon, I saw maybe about three dozen other users at any time in the park. This park is never crowded! I got up to the summit of Powell Butte, basically a flattish grassy plateau with a remnant old orchard and the highlight: the mountain finder! The original one was made of wood and embedded into the ground. By the time it got removed a couple years back it was in sorry shape. I’ve seen the newer concrete oval mountain finder take shape over that time, and this is the first time I’ve been up here since its completion. The information for the mountains are on placards atop the concrete oval, giving much more information than the old one did (but has less mountains on it.) They reinstalled a picnic table next to the viewfinder, so I ate my burrito there while watching the landscape around me.

The sun was ready to set, so I knew it was time to go. I decided to descend the butte by a way I haven’t been in awhile, Pipeline Road to the Elderberry Trail. Pipeline is a gravelled service road that isn’t really that thrilling (especially since the gravel was fairly loose) but Elderberry was much better, and I exited the park at SE Raymond which featured a very steep (but paved) descent! I rambled on city streets back home, catching the last bit of sunset while crossing Powell Blvd on the I-205 bike path. A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

I know that true summer weather won’t be here for real until July, but I love these little teases. It really gets me excited for adventures to come. It’s hard not to feel good on a day like this. And I’m glad that I live in a place where we have enough seasonal variation to appreciate it.

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One thought on “Almost Summer? A ramble to Powell Butte, 20 April 2015

  1. It’s nice the seasonal variation. Unhappily, here in Recife, Brazil, we are very close of Equator. Here, we have summer the entire year! The average temperature is 28ºC every day. Thanks for sharing rambles and pictures.

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