I had wanted to visit Ruckle Ridge in the Columbia Gorge for some time, since being told about it on a Mazama hike two months before. However, circumstances fought me tooth and nail to prevent me from going, finally settling by allowing me to go, but ensuring a miserable time!
June was a very busy month for Kris and I. We visited friends in California, then had my parents come for two weeks, all the while juggling difficult schedules and barely sleeping. Writing this on the 29th, with my parents safely home in Texas, and a flurry of gear-buying activity winding down, with Kris sound asleep upstairs, with many obligations discharged, I can really breath a sigh of relief. The month has been a success!
My excuse for leaving Kris and my parents at home last Sunday despite ominous clouds and rain was that I needed to try out the Asolo plastic boots I planned to rent for the AAI course in July. (See the St. Helens report for a description of the pain caused by ill-fitting boots!) There was absolutely no other day available until that trip, so it had to be today, despite the weather. I required a long, committing hike, to make sure I got the kind of miles required to see if the shin-banging pains developed. Ruckle Ridge, as a 9-mile loop, up the ridge and down Ruckle Creek seemed perfect. I took all my raingear and arrived at the campground at 12:30 PM, getting a very late start because Kris needed the car for her flute lesson that morning.
I began ascending immediately, plastic boots clunking awkwardly, feeling rather foolish in them. I found solace in the thought that I must be a serious outdoorsman to go through this just to test equipment! But I was excited about the ridge coming up. Emerging from the trees at Buck Point, I admired the view and continued to an exciting talus slope and went directly up it. Real climbing began at the top as I used tree roots and rocks to pull myself upward. The rest of the ridge would have this character: hard-won elevation gain through arm and leg muscle power, dismaying elevation losses, and lots of the-top-is-just-over-that-rise feelings. Oh, and lots of freezing rain and wind, by the way.
Once I was properly on the breathtaking Ridge, with rocky cairns and drop-offs to the right and left the rain began. It traveled horizontally from right to left, coming from a big cloudbank at eye-level one ridge to the west. I could see this cloud moving towards me, seeming to lose shape as it crossed an intervening valley. The wind was fierce, knocking me off balance with the heavy pack and clunky boots. As it picked up I passed two descending day-hikers, both of whom stared at my boots. I think one of them snickered, but it may have been the wind.
The boots were doing well, although they rubbed my ankles the wrong way. Still they were much better than the Koflach boots from St. Helens. By 4:30, after 4 hours of hard, non-stop climbing, I knew I had to call it quits. I had planned to be home by 7, and knew that if I descended, I might not make it until 8:30 as it was. I really didn’t want to descend by the Ridge, since it would be as difficult going down as up. But for safety’s sake, I did. The frustrating part was that I had been above the treeline of the ridges on my right and left for some time, but the top of my ridge never appeared.
Cold, wet, and defeated, I turned back. The latter part of the ascent had been gentler forested slopes with occasional rock-and-root scrambling. I made good progress here, running where applicable. The middle elevation was marked by numerous scrambling passages with near falls, tripping, and slips on wet rock. I think this section did take as long going down as it had going up. The lower slope, below the talus section was regular steep trail hiking with switchbacks. By this time, my legs were wobbly and I was very tired.
It added up to an 8 hour day with no more than a half-hour of cumulative breaks, just constant movement against time and cold. The trip was worthwhile however, providing that special handful of magical views of mist in the valley on the descent. Clouds of mist far below did wonders for my time-panicked, worrisome brain.