Sunday, May 26, 2024

Hike: Gillette Lake and Greenleaf Pond, PCT, N Bonneville, WA

Getting There

I prefer to take Hwy 14 on my hikes on the Washington side of the Columbia River to bypass the toll at Bridge of the Gods, even though it's a nominal charge of $3.00. I took Columbia Blvd from NE 33rd all the way to I-205. I crossed over the Glenn Jackson Bridge, then hopped on Hwy 14 eastbound.

I had my sights set on Hamilton Mtn but when I reached Beacon Rock, I noticed the "parking lot full" sign. I know from previous experience that I can usually wangle a spot even during peak periods. The sign is not removed when one or two cars leave.

It was a good opportunity to try somewhere different. I knew I didn't have the time or energy to make it all the way up to Table Mountain (it's long, 15+ miles, and has a ton of elevation gain, 4,200 feet). I'd bruised or cracked some ribs a couple weeks earlier so I just wanted to see how much hiking I could endure while still nursing this injury. I planned to reach Gillette Lake and decide if I wanted to go a bit further.

The parking lot for the North Bonneville Trailhead was full and there were cars parked on the grass. I circle around to the small lot and found one non-handicap spot. Woohoo! I geared up and set out. I said hello to one hiker that was relaxing at their car after a hike.

The Hike

Distance: 8.42 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,537 feet
Maximum Elevation: 551 feet

I expected to pass hikers since the parking lot had so many cars and I did. I noticed several people just had t-shirts so I judged that the insect problem wasn't bad at all. I carried bug repellent wipes but didn't use them. 

I continued through the lowland forest towards my first destination. 

About a mile from the lake, I came upon a couple of groups that were stopped to chat. One person asked "where are you coming from? where does that trail lead to?". I was perplexed and laughed. They were serious so I said "for real?". A couple of the others chuckled a bit when I explained it lead to the Bonneville Trailhead. The person immediately realized that a small animal trail was not the direction the group was headed. "Can I claim old age for my mistake?". I replied "it's easy to get turned around out here. The trees look the same." "I wasn't wondering if I was indeed on the right path." We all laughed some more. I wished them well and continued onward.

Near the lake, the trail emerges out from the tree canopy and gets rocky. Not sure if it man-made from the rock quarry or volcanic. I reached the road near the lake and noticed several cars on the side of the road. I didn't realize you could park here. (I made a mental note for a future attempt at Table Mountain.) It would certain cutoff a chunk of the approach to Table Mountain or even just Aldrich Butte.

Gillette Lake

There were people hanging out on the shore of the lake so I decided to keep going westbound. I rechecked my map and realized Aldrich Butte was too far for the amount of time I had and energy level. I reset my sights on Greenleaf Pond and the bridge that crossed Greenleaf Creek. It seemed like a good spot to have lunch and inflection point.

Just west of the lake, there are some campsites? I noticed fire rings. I also crossed a small bridge over Gillette Creek. 

Gillette Creek bridge
Gillette Creek bridge

Further up, the trail intersects a couple of gravel roads along the way and noticed a group of tents. I wondered if they belonged to thru-hikers on the PCT (either going north or south). There were any people that I could see or hear. I continued onward.

I saw a few people near the bridge including a trail runner. It was nice to take off my pack and eat part of my sandwich. I decided to put on my hooded sun-shirt to prevent bugs or other stuff going down the back of my shirt. (In hindsight, I got a touch of poison oak/ivy but no bug bites).

Greenleaf Creek
Greenleaf Creek bridge
Greenleaf Creek bridge from above

On the way back, I wanted to stop at Greenleaf Pond. I'd heard voices when I was passing through before, so I'd hoped to have some privacy on the way back. I still heard voices but went down the trail anyway. A couple was leaving and graciously stepped aside to let me pass. 10 yards later I reached the dead end/campfire pit. I was expecting a shoreline like at Gillette Lake but it was all overgrown and swampy.

I paused for a bit so I wouldn't immediately catch up to the couple I'd just seen. I rehearsed what I would say if I did see them. Something like "I didn't realize that was such a short trail" or "guess there wasn't much access to the pond." I never saw them again.

Gillette Lake

When I got back to Gillette Lake, I figured I'd stop for a photo op even though there were still people on the shoreline. I only went as far as the edge of the water so give them space and privacy. I snapped a couple of photos and skeedaddled. I still had a bit of a hike ahead of me through the forest.

I saw few hikers going toward the lake, including two groups of hikers that seemed like over-nighters: two groups of three people. In both cases, only one of the three people seemed to have gear like a tent and sleeping bag. One group was comprised of three 20-something women and the other group was a dad and two teenage boys.

When I got back to the car, I realized my right foot hurt. I think the laces were too tight because I was wearing a thinner sock, the alpaca ones.

Fortunately, the bruised ribs didn't give me too much trouble. The pack weighed around 15 lbs but virtually all the weight was carried on the hips. It was a successful hike and I was glad to be back on the trail after the injury.