By Mack Robertson
It’s easy to become desensitized to the unique beauty of the places in which we live. Scenic vistas, urban trails and unique landmarks become part of the tapestry of our town’s identity that we inevitably take for granted. In June we launched the Summer Run Rally as a way to offer fun and inspiring challenges that encourage a more purposeful approach to running. The hope was to reignite the excitement and passion of running for anyone who needed a reminder of why they run. Last month’s “Point to Point” challenge encouraged participants to get creative by designing their own adventure route and to remember that the journey is just as important as the destination.
On a beautiful weeknight evening in August, we gathered up a few friends and set out to do our own version of the point to point that took us on a traverse along Portland’s Tualatin Mountains to the historic “Skyline Diner”, nestled in the West Hills of Portland. Along the way we tagged three familiar Portland high points: Council Crest, Pittock Hill and Cornell Mountain. We ended with some of the best milkshakes in town. Along the way, we all mused about how fortunate we are to have such great trails close by. We remarked at the feeling of remoteness being in the forest while still being in the heart of a busy city. It was truly what the Summer Run Rally was intended to be.
The North Tualatin Mountains are a spur of the Oregon Coast Range that separates the Tualatin Basin of Washington County from the Willamette River in Multnomah County. Human settlement in this region dates back over 10,000 years and these hills are peppered with historic trade routes. When looking towards the cityscape from the east, these are the forested hillsides that beautifully frame Portland’s Downtown. Due to repeated landslides and the unstable nature of the terrain, much of this landscape was undevelopable. Roughly 4,000 acres of the Tualatin Mountains were formally dedicated in 1948 as “Forest Park” which now encompasses more than 5,000 acres of mostly second-growth forest.
We began our adventure at Council Crest, one of Portland’s highest points and one of the few vistas that grants visitors views eastward of the Willamette River, Downtown Portland, and five cascade volcanoes on a clear day (Mt. Hood, Mt. St Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Jefferson) and westward toward Washington County and the fertile valley of the Tualatin Basin. While Council Crest is technically not part of Forest Park, but rather part of Marquam Nature Park, the two public lands are connected by nearly-continuous trail.
It was a gorgeous night and Council Crest Park was filled with families having picnics on the grass, dog owners playing fetch with their beloved pets and cyclists whizzing by on the asphalt of Council Crest Drive. From the high point we quickly receded into the shade of the forest and began our descent to the Highway 26 crossing and then back up the Marquam trail into Washington Park, home of the Hoyt Arboretum.
We navigated our way along the tight turns and winding trails of the arboretum and found ourselves in the dark and quiet Redwood area. This section of the forest is absolutely stunning and we couldn’t help but to slow down to take it all in. As our shadows grew longer and the trail users became fewer and farther between, the feeling of remoteness grew as well. Just as it began to feel like we were the only ones in the city, we turned a corner and crossed over Burnside Road, a busy thoroughfare used by Portland commuters.
The bouncy pedestrian bridge felt like it was going to launch us right up into the air as we ran across it, trying to match the pulse of the bridge triggered by the first runner. We then began the climb up to Pittock Mansion, the historic estate once owned by Portland newspaper baron, Henry Pittock. Being one of the best views of Portland, Pittock was full of people on this beautiful night. We took a moment to take in the views and realized we better start moving if we want to get these milkshakes before the diner closes.
We bombed down the hard packed trail from Pittock to Cornell Road. Another road that intersects this natural space. The sun was pouring out its last few rays of golden light and the forest looked magical. Once on Cornell, we opted to take a hard left to the Collins Bird Sanctuary rather than continuing on Wildwood Trail. The Founder’s Trail in the sanctuary is one of the more backcountry-feeling trails we have here in Portland. It is perfectly nestled into the hillside and gets very little use. The trail is less buffed out than its Forest Park counterparts and the odds of seeing another person are slim.
As we began the slog up the hillside, a barred owl flew right in front of us on the trail before ascending back up to an old snag where it watched us with intent interest. You could have told me we were 100 miles from civilization and I would have believed it. Just as night was beginning to creep in on us, we were spit out of the trail into a forested neighborhood. The blurred lines of the wild and civilization were perfectly highlighted by a young buck standing statue-still in the yard of a nearby house.
We began to power hike up the steep road. This neighborhood would be hell when it’s icy out. The road grows steeper before coming to the base of a long stairwell. We looked back to see last-light over the city as we crested Skyline Boulevard. From Skyline we took a right onto Greenleaf Boulevard to hit our third and final peak, Cornell Mountain.
Although Cornell Mountain is the highest point in Portland, it is wholly unremarkable. No views and the true summit is in someone’s yard so we stayed on the road about 20 feet below the true highpoint. From here, it was all downhill to the diner. We picked up speed on the gentle downgrade and floated our way to the Skyline Diner. Its neon glowed bright in the twilight. We perused the takeout menus on the front steps of the restaurant and reminisced on the adventure we’d just had. I must have run these trails and roads hundreds of times, but they felt fresh. Sharing some of my favorite trails allowed me to see them with new eyes and reflect on what makes my home trails so special. Finding fascination in the familiar is what the Summer Run Rally is all about.