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Gorging on the scenery

Two East County residents complete 25 trail challenge in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
by: contributed photo by Duane Ray Gresham resident Duane Ray photographed Wind Mountain, background, while hiking the Dog Mountain trail in Skamania County, Wash., which is one of the more strenuous hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. Ray took part in the Friends of the Columbia Gorge's

For Gresham resident and avid hiker Duane Ray, there's one hiking trail in the Columbia River Gorge that stands out as a personal favorite.

'Table Mountain,' he says, praising the Washington hiking trail for its spectacular panoramic views of the gorge and the demanding route that climbs almost 3,000 feet in elevation, as well as the beauty of the flowers when they're in bloom.

'I think it has the best range of flowers, bar none,' he says.

Corbett resident Dawn Gilkison says it's difficult to pick just one favorite hiking spot in the gorge, although Latourell Falls comes close because it's one she hikes often.

'My favorite trails always seem to have waterfalls,' she says.

Both of them know of what they speak.

Ray and Gilkison were among the 62 hikers - and the only East Multnomah County residents - who completed the '25 Years, 25 Trails' challenge, set up by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area on Nov. 17, 1986, the Friends of the Columbia Gorge challenged members to visit and complete 25 significant trails in the Columbia River Gorge between this spring and Oct. 31.

The 25 trails included local favorites such as Angels Rest, Eagle Creek, Multnomah and Wahkeena waterfalls and Larch Mountain to destinations at the eastern end of the gorge such as Tom McCall Nature Preserve and Catherine Creek.

More than 200 people took part in the challenge, according to Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

Those who completed all 25 hikes - documenting their hikes with photos and a journal or blog - received a two-for-one coupon for Sunday brunch or dinner at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Wash. The hikers will also be entered into a grand-prize drawing for a two-night stay at the lodge.

The total distance for all the trails is more than 150 miles.

New and familiar trails visited

Ray and Gilkison, both members of the Friends, say they learned about the challenge from the organization and decided to try it.

'I was going to do most of the (trails) anyway, so I thought I might as well do (the 25 hikes),' Ray, 77, says. 'One advantage is that it forces you to do something you haven't done before, such as the trails on the far eastern side, which is a long drive.'

'I thought it would be fun to do,' says Gilkison, 54. 'It seemed to be an incentive to get out more. And there was a prize, and that's enticing.'

Gilkison, owner of Positive Solutions Dog Training and part-time instructor at Clackamas Community College, says she started on the challenge early in March. She also created a blog, intothegorge.blogspot.com, to document her trips and upload photographs. She often visited each trail accompanied by her dogs or her partner, Eric.

Gilkison, a former science teacher at Reynolds High School and Reynolds Natural Resources Academy, also brought along the academy's unofficial mascot Mr. Thornsby, a unicorn corkscrew. She notes that her background in biology is a benefit as she's able to identify many plant species in the gorge.

Many plants - including flowers like poet's shooting star, Columbia Gorge broad-leafed lupine and Hood River milk vetch, among others - are endemic to the gorge, she says.

Since she had visited more than half of the 25 hikes before, Gilkison notes it was nice to have an incentive to travel east into the gorge and visit new trails such as Cape Horn, Coyote Wall, Dalles Mountain Ranch, Indian Point and the Memaloose Hills.

The Klickitat Trail near Lyle, Wash., which runs over a former railroad line, was one new highlight because of the scenic Klickitat River and canyon, she says.

Catherine Creek, known as a haven for wildflowers in the spring, was another favorite for Gilkison, not only because of the diversity of the wildflowers but for the landscape and basalt cliffs formed by ancient lava flows.

Ray, a retired physicist and a Mazamas member, says retirement gives him and his wife, Gisele, the freedom to go hiking throughout the week.

'We tend to look out and say, 'It's a nice day, let's go,' ' he says, noting that the beauty of the gorge area was one reason he decided to settle in Oregon after retiring in 1998.

Ray was able to visit several of the hiking trails more than once this summer, including his favored Table Mountain about two or three times.

Not all of the trails made for a pleasant experience.

Gilkison visited Dog Mountain in mid-October and dealt with strong winds and a heavy cloud cover at the top of the mountain, obscuring what would have been spectacular views of the gorge and surrounding mountains such as Mount Hood and Mount Defiance. Her plan to have lunch there was quickly abandoned.

'That's one example when you definitely want to make sure the weather is good, both at the bottom and at the top' of the mountain, she says.

Ray says some trails on the list were not as memorable because they lacked the scenery or the challenge while other new places, such as Lyle Cherry Orchard near Lyle, Wash., were a pleasant surprise.

'Of the 25 hikes, (there are) 15 I would be interested in going back to,' he says.

Hikers celebrate with birthday bash

Ray and Gilkison say they both plan to attend the Friends' birthday bash on Nov. 18. Two separate celebrations are being held that day in Portland and Hood River.

Ray, a former resident of Pennsylvania, observes that the East Coast doesn't have mountains like Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens or Mount Adams, or even the wide availability of public land that Oregon has, which was another reason he decided to settle in Oregon.

Gresham's proximity to both Mount Hood and the gorge is a fantastic benefit, he says.

Reflecting on the anniversary of the National Scenic Area, Gilkison says the legislation was a good way to preserve the open land and resources of the gorge.

Gilkison, who lives a half-mile from the scenic area boundary, acknowledges that some gorge-area residents don't like the scenic area's land-use regulations. However, unique places such as Catherine Creek could have been lost forever without the protection, she adds.