08 Apr Nesmith Point
Often used to train for climbing mountains, Nesmith Point is one of the steepest trails in the Columbia River Gorge. Although the top doesn’t have the panoramic views like that of Munra Point, it has many tree framed vistas along the way that are great to admire while you catch your breath. Why is it that mountaineers use this trail to train you ask? It is because of its thigh throbbingly quick altitude change.
The Nesmith Point trail begins at the John B Yeon Trailhead and climbs nearly 3,800 feet in 4.7 miles, or about 10.6 miles round trip. Personally, my favorite time of the year to do this trail is during the spring. Due to its excessive elevation change it gives the sense that you are going through a multitude of seasons. If you are lucky, like I was one April, you can experience what seems like 3 different seasons over the length of the trail. From spring at the bottom of the trail to a powdery white winter at the top.
From Downtown Portland:
- Get on I84 East
- Stay on I84 East for 32.3 miles
- Take Exit 35 (Historic Highway Ainsworth State Park)
- Stay on NE Frontage Rd. For 2.2 miles
- Arrive at John B Yeon Trailhead just before you merge back onto the freeway.
Getting on the Trail:
- From the Parking Lot Start on Gorge Trail #400
- Within a minute or so you will turn at Nesmith Trail #428
- Stay on Nesmith Point Trail #428 for the majority of the hike before it turns into a small access road for the last quarter of a mile.
April is bipolar time for Oregon in terms of weather. You never know what you are going to get. I had a morning off of class so I woke up at 4:30 and drove out to the gorge. Nesmith Point had been on my list for a while, I really wanted to climb mountains. The gorge was full of clouds, but it was supposed to wear off shortly after sunrise. I arrived at John B Yeon Trailhead with dawn coming quick. I started in on Gorge Trail #400 and quickly passed by an old water tank before turning right on Nesmith Point Trail #428. For the first mile or so the going is easy and straight. The path is well maintained and was lined with spring growth. The biggest obstacle during this portion of the hike is the fording of a small creek, but soon the real challenge begins.
After a sharp turn left that marked an old junction with Gorge Trail #400 that was knocked out by a huge landslide in 1996, the climbing truly begins. I found a tree branch to enlist as a walking stick to keep me steady as I scaled the rocky, slick trail. This thing goes up, and I really mean up. The hike turns to a rock scramble at many points. As I ascend I notice that the environment around me has an eerie resemblance to Mordor. The scraggly trees have yet to be touched by spring like they were further below and the mossy rocks are suffocated by early morning fog.
For about 2 miles I keep on climbing up and up, turning left and right for switchback after switchback. My jeans soaked and my rain jacket closer to a sponge. Luckily, my work did not go without reward. When the clouds would break and I would stop to catch my breath and enjoy tree framed vistas of the south side of Beacon Rock and much of the Washington Side of the Gorge. On a clear day you can even catch Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. I had to keep moving though, as I went higher the temperature continued to drop. My burning legs and lungs were all that kept me warm. These never ending switchbacks finally end at a ridge line where you can see down into the McCord Creek Valley.
From here on out the trail is much easier to navigate with the majority of the elevation change already conquered. A new challenge began to arise for me though. The air was cold at this point and as I trudged on on the muddy trail the clouds that had cleared for a moment began to descend again. The streaks of sunlight on the fog turned dark and white snowflakes began to fall. This is April isn’t it? The snow was hardly sticking melting quickly as it fell in the puddles, but collecting in some quantity on colder branches and grass.
By the time I neared the final cross roads, where the trail turns into a small access road that takes you the last quarter of a mile to the top, everything was frosted by a thin layer of snow. Crunching quickly up the road I finally reached the cold, windy top and just in time too. The clouds dissipated making a window that gave me a view down at the sunny gorge below. Up there it was winter, but down there it was spring. I felt like I was in a different world, a different time as I saw boats motoring up the Columbia and a small private plane flying over the bright blue water.
I guess you could say that when you hike Nesmith Point, you go up so quick that sometimes, somehow you can time travel or at least season travel. It can be winter up there and spring down below providing you a window between both of these worlds separated by miles of wet trail. Soon my view of the Gorge was choked in as the clouds returned.
I contemplated sticking around for a few more minutes to see if another break in the clouds would come, but I was getting cold. My hands were starting to feel like old leather shoes from the cold, even after I ate my double stack PB&J. It was time to descend, a journey which ended up being far more slippery than the way up. I can not stress how much a walking stick helps here. Soon I made it back down the switchbacks and was back in springtime yet again. The sun was out now and I could really see how green it was compared to when I had left at dawn. When I got to the car, I couldn’t help but feel that I had been gone for much longer than just a morning. That is why I think Nesmith Point is best experienced during moody Oregon springtime.
Sources: Oregon Hikers