Thursday, April 27, 2023

Hike: Phlox Point & Hamilton Mountain, N Bonneville, WA

Getting There

The trailhead is accessible from the Equestrian Camp Parking Lot, a bit west of Beacon Rock & Hamilton Mountain.

Take WA-14 from Vancouver, WA east toward N Bonneville. Just after Doetsch Ranch you'll see the Ranger Station on the north side of the road just before the Beacon Rock parking lot. The road winds up the hill for a bit. Keep a lookout for the the Equestrian Camp turn off.

The Hike

AllTrails map

Length: 14.36 mi
Elev. gain: 3,638 ft
Moving time: 5:57:11
Total time: 6:30:41
Avg pace: 24:52
Calories: 3,595

Big day at Beacon Rock State Park! It was the first really warm day of the year, in the mid 70s F and clear skies. 

The original plan was to finally reach Phlox Point. I'd seen a trail report on PortlandHikers that someone had broken the trail without microspikes or snow shoes. 

This hike had several "firsts" for the year:

  • First hike without long johns or jacket
  • First mosquito bite
  • First hike with my favorite straw hat
  • First two-summit hike


My previous two attempts were back in March: 

  • 3/7: I didn't even make it to the top of the West Hardy Ridge due to deep snow and not having snow snows.
  • 3/26: I returned with my snow shoes and I made it to the top (lost my pack cover) but I didn't feel up to going the rest of the way to Phlox Pt. I did end up going up to the Saddle.

This time

Again I took the West Hardy Ridge Trail. The snow was completely going, except small patches in the trees. What a difference a month makes.

At the top, I continued on to Phlox Point. I started to see patches of snow but it was easy to traverse. In fact, it was a bit soft so I had to tread lightly. Toward the end of the trail, the last scramble, I had to go off trail for a about 10 ft. It was great to finally reach my goal on the third try this year.

I took in the panoramic views for a bit, then got moving again. At Hardy Ridge, I met a hiker that was on his way to Phlox Pt. He said he'd come from Hamilton and the reported snow-free conditions except near the Bridge. I hadn't thought to going all the way to Hamilton but it piqued my interest.

I decided to take a look at the Bridge Trail when I got there. The East Hardy Ridge Trail was 95% snow-free. The Bridge Trail looked good so I took it. The snow was minimal on the east side of the bridge but enough that I put on microspikes. I took them off on when I reached the Upper Hardy Creek Trail.

From there, my new goal was to take Don's Cutoff to the Saddle if it looked good. It did! I ascended up the trail, passing a pair of hikers, and reached the Equestrian Trail and continued to the Saddle. I went all the way to the tree line and considered my options: go back to the car from here or continue on to Hamilton.

"Fuck it" I said. I mustered the energy and headed for the summit. Again, no snow and dry conditions on the trail.

At the Hamilton summit, I met a hiker who was heading in the opposite direction. We chatted for a bit about the area before parting ways.

On my descent, I was feeling good but getting tired and sore. I considered how I would get back to the trailhead if I didn't take Hardy Creek. Not really viable. I'd probably have a tough time hitchhiking from Hwy 14 to the Equestrian Camp Trailhead.

I made a stop at Little Hamilton and continued my trek.

By the time I reached the Hardy Creek trail, I really had to dig deep. It climbs steadily for more than half the trail. I took my time and rested when I needed. I was running out of Gatorade but I knew it was keeping my fueled.

I passed the hiker I'd seen at the top of Hamilton and said hello again.

It was so great to reach the picnic bench and the creek crossing.

While the trail was flat and pretty easy, I was running on reserves. My ankles, knees, and leg muscles were complaining. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I saw a hiker also heading to the trailhead.

Eventually I caught up with this person, a bird watcher. He was trying to ID species that was chirping above us. I got out my phone with the Merlin ID app. Murphy's Law: when I started recording, we didn't hear it anymore. Oh well.

I found a bit more energy and put on a brave face for the final push to the parking lot.

Seeing my car was the best. I made it. Over 14 miles and 3,600 ft of elevation gain!

Looking east

Phlox Point

Bridge Trail

Upper Hardy Creek


Note: I didn't take any photos after the bridge. That part of my hike is well documented.