Eagle Creek - Ruckel Creek loop


Susan and I took a day off of work, just before I headed out of the country again, to run a 27 mile loop in the Columbia Gorge on Eagle Creek to Wahtum Lake and Benson Plateau and down Ruckel Creek.

I few years ago we ran a 22 mile out and back on Eagle Creek and ever since then I have wanted to run the loop. I backpacked the loop years ago and had awful memories descending Ruckel Creek and was hoping running it would make it go by quicker. Ruckel Creek is ~4 miles downhill with a descent of ~4000 feet, but more about that later.

William Sullivan's map

The weather was forecasted for possible rain in the afternoon, but in the low 60s most of the day. Perfect running weather. I didn't anticipate that I needed a long sleeved shirt until we got to the trailhead and got out of the car. Luckily Susan brought one and arm sleeves, so we were all set and ready to go.
One of many waterfalls

Ann near the start

The Eagle Creek trail is one of my absolute favorite trails close to Portland, in the first 7 miles you pass at least 6 waterfall, each one them unique and different. The full Eagle Creek trail is 13.1 miles to Wahtum Lake, it is a gradual climb for the first 7 miles and gaining 2300 feet in the last 6 miles. By the time we reached Wahtum Lake we ready for a break. Susan commented on how nice the wind sounded in the trees, but all I could think of was how exposed parts of of Ruckel Creek are and that I sure hoped the wind stopped by then. We found a nice spot by the lake for a "lunch break", but the wind picked up more and we started to get cold, so we knew it was time to move on.

Tunnel Falls


Twister Falls




We still had ~900 feet of elevation gain before we reached the junction the the PCT and Benson Plateau. There were tons of wild flowers out and I think Susan stopped to take pictures of every one of them. Normally I don't care if she does this, but the wind hadn't stopped and it looked like the rain might start early and we weren't getting any warmer. I finally convinced her that we need to start running to get warm and take pictures later.

Ann at Wahtum Lake

Lilies

Rhodies still in bloom at this elevation

Iridescent beetle


By the time we made it to Benson Plateau we had finally warmed up, the wind had died down and the sun looked like it might make an appearance. The relatively flat plateau was a welcomed change from the last ~15 miles of climbing. Benson Plateau has a confusing network of trails (405, 405a, 405b, 405c), so you have to pay attention to signs or you will easily get turned around. We ran into a group of backpackers who had tuned on one of the wrong trails and made a big loop. After talking to them for a bit we figured out they were headed the same direction we were headed and told them that we would leave trail makers and the junctions, so they would know they were on the right path. Shortly after leaving them we came to the junction with Ruckel Creek Trail.

Chinidere Mountain on the PCT


Dry and windy shelter on Benson Plateau

Eagle-Benson

So began our 4000 foot / 4 mile descent. The trail on Ruckel Creek is well maintained but pretty steep and hard to run. Susan was smarter than me and pulled out her hiking pole pretty quickly to help her "run" down the steep hills. I finally gave in and got my pole out, it helped but we were still hiking more than running. There were a few rare flat spots, and we would holler, "yay we are running".  Though it was still overcast we got some good views of the Gorge. It took longer than 4 miles downhill normally does, but it wasn't as never ending as it felt when I hiked it a few years ago, but we were both very relieved when we saw the sign for Gorge Trail 400.

Hatfield Wilderness
Rainy view of Bridge of the Gods


Rainy view from Ruckel Creek Trail


Once we hit Gorge Trail 400 it was only a mile to the car. But a half mile from the car, the rain that had been holding off most of the day just let loose. We were soaked when we reached the car but it beats running a whole race in a cyclone.

Relaxing in Eagle Creek near the trailhead


A giant "turd slug" trailing pine needles-- looks ready for battle


Strange burn pattern

Yep, that's part of the trail


Wahtum Lake panorama



Wahtum Lake trail (from right to the log-bridge at left)

Precarious cairn

Snake puppet tree


Two lady deer staring down at us

Funky fungus

A change in ecosystem



Blow-down repetition


Lichen gemstone





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