Up to Powell Butte, 28 August 2022

Olympus XA2/Fujicolor 200

Ah, Powell Butte. Sitting on the far southeast edge of Portland, it’s an extinct volcanic butte of 600 feet in elevation. Unlike some of the other buttes in Portland, like Rocky Butte or Mount Tabor, Powell Butte is wide, with a wide-open meadow dominating the plateau-like top. It’s a great place to see Mount Hood, and its bikeable trails up to and around the hill offer various opportunities for rough stuff.

It’s a place I love, yet go to infrequently. Part of it is because the conditions have to be right: clear so that mountains like Hood, St. Helens, Adams, and Jefferson are in view. Dry for a bit, otherwise it’ll be a mud fest on any of the unpaved trails. Part of it is because of where it is in town, not on the way to anything in particular. And part of it is as I become older, wider, and more out-of-shape, I fret over whether I can actually make it to the top via bike. As it is, the last time I rode up to Powell Butte was in November. That’s quite some time ago!

After a lot of hot days this summer (but nothing like the Mega Heatwave of 2021) Sunday August 28th turned out just right: sunny, a high around 80F/27C. While 70-75F would be more my ideal for going to Powell Butte, I’ll take what I can get. And after a stressful week of work and not a lot of outdoor activity I needed a bike ride. I aired up the tires in the Bantam and pointed it towards Powell Butte.

I didn’t need to worry about making it up to the top, I did just fine. I took Holgate Lane, the easiest unpaved way up, with an average grade of 5-7%. While I was still slow, the Bantam felt particularly nimble and agile today. Perhaps it’s because it’s light compared to how I rode it on the San Juans–just my big North St. randonneur handlebar bag and the Jandd small frame bag that lives on the bike.

The top of the butte was beautiful. Mount Hood was visible and prominent. By this point in summer, most of the snow on Hood had melted, leaving glaciers and exposed rock. Looking at the mountain, I was reminded of the song “America The Beautiful”. Learning it in elementary school in Connecticut, I didn’t understand the “purple mountain majesty” part. Connecticut had an assortment of green hills and occasional grey or brown cliffs, but nothing purple. But looking at Hood in late summer, it indeed looks purple!

I took a break in the shade of the Old Orchard at the summit. This copse used to be inaccessible with a bramble of understory, but a few years back the parks department cut a trail through the middle. It’s a nice respite on a sunny day. Lying in the grass, I noticed how peaceful it was. There was some distant traffic hum, which is pretty much inescapable in town. But crickets, bees buzzing, and occasional voices dominated.

I rode the loop around the plateau and descended down the Elderberry Trail. This path goes steeply down through a deep Douglas fir forest, one deep enough to keep it dark even in brightest daylight. I love the contrast of here to the wide-open sun-drenched meadow I just came from. Here is also a small creek that runs down to Johnson Creek. Even this late in the season it still had water in it. I’ve always wondered about filtering water from the creek to say I’ve drank creek water in Portland. But I’m unsure if there’s anything harmful in the soil of Powell Butte, so I haven’t.

After leaving the butte, I headed home. It was an 18.8 mile/30.3 kilometer round trip. I should make myself get back to Powell Butte before the winter rains really kick in…

Ascending Powell Butte via Old Holgate. 28 Aug 2022
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