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News / Life / Clark County Life

Peace in the Pinchot: Hiker, dog find relaxing solitude not too far from home

Pacific Crest Trail beginning at Trout Creek has a challenging 8.6-mile out-and-back

By Will Campbell, Columbian Associate Editor
Published: June 1, 2024, 5:55am
2 Photos
The Pacific Crest Trail from Trout Creek to Sedum Point allows expansive views of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
The Pacific Crest Trail from Trout Creek to Sedum Point allows expansive views of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo Gallery

I found a five-hour hike through untouched forest in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where I didn’t see one other person the whole time. It was a dream hike to bring a dog, and my dog Luna needs to be out here in the woods to find a better sense of calm. Don’t we all?

Luna actually needs exposure to the woods where she can relax and not be on “high alert” where every sound or movement of leaves will trigger her immediate attention. The calmness is part of her training to find and dig up truffle mushrooms in the Western Cascades. Luna began training at the start of this year and hasn’t found one yet because black and white truffles ripen only in the colder months, but that’s a story to look for this winter.

So our hike on a mid-May morning was on the Pacific Crest Trail, beginning at a spot called Trout Creek, a 20-minute drive north of Carson. It’s an 8.6-mile out and back which has over 2,000 feet in elevation — difficult, but it dealt me some sights and sounds that I remember.

Gray skies cast over us when we began our hike and not long into it, it turns into an incline. There was a lack of road noise and especially plane noise as we hopped over rocks in creek near half-unfurled ferns. The only signs of humanity through this forest is the trail and a few sawed logs. In early spring, so many birds whistled in the trees.

I stopped and sat on the trail. Luna peered into the forest and wouldn’t engage with me, but I keep petting her until she relaxed and began to interact with me. It’s what some dog trainers call an “island of relaxation.” After 10 minutes, it was working as she started to look at me and sit for treats. We kept moving.

We crossed a cliff viewpoint where Trout Creek snaked through the woods. Along the trail, squirrels appeared from old downed-tree root networks. We entered a patch of sloped land where the forest floor lacked any green, almost completely dirt, and larger than normal old-growth Douglas fir tree trunks rose into the canopy overhead. We heard that whomp-whomp-whomp sound that’s faint and feels like a pressure increase in your ears. It’s like a thump. I think it’s from a ruffed grouse bird beating its wings against a log. There were trees that had fallen only halfway down and been hung up on another tree. The wind’s pressure caused the two to grind together in a jarring sound as we passed. Tiny pinecones littered the trail in certain spots.

I stopped again and sat with Luna, this time to create an “island of fun,” so I picked up a stick and tossed it along the trail for her to fetch. It was working. Luna was forgetting to be hyper-alerted to the sounds and movements of the forest. She was enjoying playing this game of fetch, and that’s what I need for her to be in the mindset to hunt for underground truffles in the winter. We kept moving.

We finally reached the end of this section of the hike, and a very steep and short trail led us up to Sedum Point — a treeless expanse of grass and cliff where small wildflowers bloomed. In the distance was a sliver of the Columbia River through the rolling hills of the Cascades. Spots of sunlight broke through the clouds, lit up patches of the steep forest and moved east with the wind.

I sat with Luna again and enjoyed the view. My process to train her to hunt for her first truffles will take at least a year, but already halfway through, it’s been worth it to see the forest from her perspective, to sit down in the forest and to play in it too.

Trail map: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/washington/trout-creek-to-sedum-point-via-pacific-crest-trail