Mega-hike is a family memorial for fathers

Outdoors: Al Thomas

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Come 4 a.m. on Saturday, a small, hardy band of hikers will start up the steep Dog Mountain trail in the Columbia Gorge on the first leg of what they call the “Tri-Mountain Marathon.’’

They’ll hustle up and down the popular, wildflower-studded peak in eastern Skamania County, then drive west and start up the even steeper Table Mountain trail near North Bonneville at 8 a.m.

At 1 p.m., they’ll start up steep Hamilton Mountain trail in Beacon Rock State Park. By the end of the third leg, the group will have hiked 25 miles and climbed 8,000 feet of elevation.

But this is — only peripherally — a tale about hiking.

It’s really a story about a family’s way to honor the memories of their fathers on the day before Father’s Day in a way the late Bill Rudberg and late Blair Graybill would have approved.

At the center of this is Shirley Graybill, 64, of Vancouver.

Graybill was married for 40 years to Bill Rudberg, who died of a stroke in February of 2006. A Columbia Machine employee, Rudberg loved to hike.

Oh how did he love to hike.

It was Rudberg who, in 1994, concocted the idea of hiking the three steepest trails on the Washington side of the Gorge in a single day. Rudberg wore out a pair of hiking boots every 12 to 18 months.

Bill’s son, Todd, began the Rudberg Memorial Hike in 2006 as an annual way for family and friends to remember the man by spending the day doing what he might have done.

Rudberg’s widow, Shirley, remarried, in August 2008. Her second husband, Blair Graybill, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in January. He’d been a history teacher at Summit View High School, and in Walla Walla.

Graybill said on Father’s Day, particularly, she thinks about what she’s lost.

“And I grieve for my children, who don’t have their dads and miss them,’’ she said. “Now, I have two more boys.’’

Participating in Saturday’s mega hike will be Bill Rudberg’s son and daughter, plus two of his grandsons, ages 9 and 11. Joining them will be both sons of Blair Graybill, traveling here from Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Via the steep trails of the Gorge, this blended family will honor their husbands, fathers and grandfathers.

Shirley Graybill is participating, too.

While she’ll skip the 4 a.m. ascent up Dog Mountain, she’ll be on the trail at 8 a.m. for Table Mountain and 1 p.m. for Hamilton Mountain.

Anyone who’s hiked this trio of trails knows any of the three in a day is plenty. Table Mountain, at one point, gains 800 feet elevation in one-third of a mile.

Graybill said anyone who likes to hike is welcome to join the group at the starting times at the respective trailheads. The Table Mountain trip will begin on the west side of Bonneville Hot Springs Resort.

Both of her husbands, especially Rudberg, who lead group hikes for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, would have encourage anyone to come along.

“He learned skills, then he wanted to share them,’’ Graybill said. “He did a lot of Friends of the Gorge hikes and was a definite leader.’’

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor recreation topics for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4555 oral.thomas@columbian.com.