I wanted to go for a nice long hike on the 4th, but I knew the trails would be crowded with usual masses of tourists and hipsters, so I choose the Tanner-Eagle Traverse. Starting from Tanner Creek, I knew the massive elevation gain and excessive distance would deter all but the real hikers, and by the time I hit Eagle Creek in the evening most hikers would already have packed it in for the day- it was the perfect plan.
I arrived around 10:30 to the Tooth Rock Trailhead. The area was already a complete mess- the few spots in the Wahclella Falls lot were already taken, so dozens of vehicles had been parked haphazardly along the edge of the road that leads up to the Tooth Rock Trailhead. I was worried I wouldn't find a spot in the lot, but surprisingly the Tooth Rock Trailhead was almost completely empty. Apparently people think its better to block the road to save themselves an extra 5 minutes of walking, then to park in an actual parking spot....
I really hope they all got tickets!
With the parking situation now behind me, I shouldered my pack and hit the trail. The first couple minutes are a bit disappointing as I had to follow the paved path along I84 until I hit the actual turnoff to Tanner Butte. But once the trail split to the right and my feet finally hit the dirt, things began to improve. It was a nice day, only in the upper 60s in the early afternoon, clear skies, and plenty of wildflowers sprinkled along the trail. Lately I have had a desire to learn the names of the flowers I encounter on the trail, so I set a leisurely pace and took pictures of all the flowers to identify at a later time.
Although the trail climbs steadily for the first 6.5 miles to the turnoff to Dublin Lake, it never actually felt steep. I was very surprised when I finally checked the GPS and realized I had climbed over 3,500 feet, it really didn't feel like that much. I chatted briefly with a couple of backpackers who were resting at the junction, then I dropped down to check out the lake. I walked clockwise around the shoreline, admiring the countless newts that frolicked in the warm water and made a mental note of the camping opportunities for future use. I filtered a couple liters of water at the shoreline, then took off back up to the main trail.
As I got close to Tanner Butte I passed a couple of trail runners who had started from Eagle Creek around 0800. We had a brief chat and discussed trail conditions before parting ways. A couple minutes further ahead I took the turnoff to Tanner Butte since everyone had been raving about the views from the top. From the summit I had a complete 360 degree view of Adams, Rainier, St Helens, Hood, and Mt Jefferson to the south- simply stunning and well worth the trip!
Back on the main trail I began to drop in elevation towards the Eagle Creek ford. The trail through this section obviously doesn't see much traffic, but it was mostly in good shape except for the occasional downed tree from last winter. This whole area also felt extremely remote and I went about 5 hours without seeing someone (which is always fun).
I managed to keep my feet dry at the Eagle Creek ford, but the very next water crossing just a couple minutes down trail was a different story. There was no good place to cross, so I just walked straight through it. At this point the temperature was probably in the upper 70s/low 80s, so it actually felt really nice. I could have stopped to change my socks, but I was too exhausted and just wanted to push through.
As I kept dropping down Eagle Creek I was smelling smoke and seeing a pretty decent haze in the sky. I assumed that some of the backpackers were getting a little carried away with their 4th of July festivities, but when I rounded the corner above Twister Falls I caught sight of smoke billowing from the far hillside. Several of the trees and bushes had caught fire (naturally I assume some idiot decided this was a good place to use fireworks, but who knows...). I hung out for a couple minutes as I debated turning back or pushing on. I knew I was on the safe side of the river and the fire didn't look very big, but the smoke in the canyon was pretty significant and I didn't want to have to breath it in for the next couple of hours. Eventually I decided to push on- I knew if the smoke became a problem that the scramble trail up to the Benson Plateau was only about a mile away and that would allow me to climb above the smoke.
Fortunately the smoke began to clear after a mile or so and I noticed a helicopter overhead circling the fire monitoring the situation. The trail was surprisingly clear of hikers up until this point- I wondered if the Forest Service had shut it down or if the smoke had scared off hikers. I eventually ran into a couple who was hiking up to Tunnel Falls who told me that people had been relaying word of the fire to each other and most people were leaving the area.
With the smoke now clear and a nearly empty trail, I started trying to push the pace a bit in order to break the 10 hour mark. I knew the time was slipping away, but did the best I could to keep moving. I was jogging at a pretty pathetic pace, but somewhere past Punchbowl Falls a female trail runner that I had seen earlier passed me on her way out. It's always nice to have someone to run with, so I fell into place and started running behind her. She pulled away pretty quickly, but I tried to keep her in sight as we neared the trailhead. As my tired legs started to warm up and feel more comfortable on the rocky ground, I pushed the pace and eventually caught and passed her as she stopped suddenly to adjust something on her pack.
Back in the parking lot I refilled my water bottles in the fountain and splashed myself with water. The trail runner I had been running with passed by and returned to her car, but I still had a couple of miles to go to get back to my truck. I debated following the Gorge Trail #400 back or following the paved path along the freeway which would save me about a mile or two and be less scenic. I eventually decided to follow the paved path- I was losing light and my feet were pretty exhausted at this point. I jogged the rest of the way back, then laid down in the grass next to my truck after I refueled on gatoraid and donuts. It was very peaceful just laying there as the skies darkened and I listened to the sound of distant fireworks.