Sunday, November 21, 2010

Beacon Rock State Park: Hiking to the Top of the World's 2nd Biggest Monolith

You are looking at Beacon Rock on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.

No matter what the measuring criteria, Beacon Rock, at 848 feet, is one of the largest free standing monoliths in the world. According to some, only the Rock of Gibraltar is larger. It depends on what is being defined as a monolith, whether Beacon Rock is the 2nd biggest, or not.

Devils Tower, in Wyoming is bigger than Beacon Rock. However, Devils Tower is an igneous intrusion, where Beacon Rock is simply a big rock.

Lewis and Clark made note of what became known as Beacon Rock, in 1805, but at that time the pair of explorers referred to it as Beaten Rock. Later the rock became known as Castle Rock and then, in 1916, the name was changed back to Beacon Rock.

In 1915 a man named Henry Biddle bought Beacon Rock for $1. He then spent the next 3 years building an elaborate trail of switchbacks, with bridges, plus handrails to keep hikers on the trail in treacherous parts. By 1918 the 3/4's of a mile trail to the top of Beacon Rock was finished, terminating at the top with a 360 degree view in all directions.

The Beacon Rock Trail quickly became a popular tourist destination.

And then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came up with a dire plan to destroy Beacon Rock to use the rubble to make a jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River, by Astoria. In preparation for blowing up the rock the Corps dug 3 massive holes into the rock.

I don't know how the Army Corps of Engineers was able to think they could take Henry Biddle's rock in this manner. Did they use eminent domain?

While the Army Corps of Engineers was working towards destroying Beacon Rock, the Biddle Family was trying to get Washington to take it as a state park. Washington was not interested in the offer, until Oregon indicated it was. And thus Beacon Rock State Park was born.

Beacon Rock is in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, accessed via State Route 14, around 35 miles east of Vancouver, Washington. In Beacon Rock State Park you'll find Hardy and Rodney Falls on the trail to the summit of Hamilton Mountain. There is a 1 1/4 mile nature trail and 9 1/2 miles of hiking trails, including the 3/4 mile hike to the top of Beacon Rock.

I have only made it to the top of Beacon Rock once. The trail to the top is the most complex system of bridges and switchbacks I have ever experienced. This trail would likely not be too much fun for anyone a bit acrophobic. But, for those who are non-acrophobic, if you are visiting Washington, and are in the area of Beacon Rock, you will want to take the trek to the top. You will be glad you did.

Below is a YouTube video that gives you a fairly good idea of what the trail to the top of Beacon Rock is like...

1 comment:

Steve A said...

Some that claim it as #2 would be wrong. That title would belong to the Stawamus Chief in British Columbia, thoug it would have been in Washington had the border been further north as it should have been.