Staying Close To Home: Exploring the Columbia River
Breaking away from the daily grind can feel challenging these days when “normal” life has changed for so many of us in the past few months. Lockdown has been difficult for everyone and accessing the outdoors safely during this confusing time has definitely felt more complicated.
My husband, Brad, and I and our two dogs live in North Portland, just a short drive from the Columbia River. Normally our summers are spent traveling around the Western states, backpacking and climbing, and while we have done some of that we have definitely stayed closer to home since the pandemic started. Staying closer to home has meant finding new ways to enjoy the outdoors so when the opportunity came up to buy Brad’s dad’s 30 year old boat we kind of just thought “why not”?!
Since getting the boat we had been scheming up a plan to go boat camping out on the Columbia River. The time came recently when we had a scorcher of a weekend with predicted temps in the high 90s. We invited a couple friends along that have been in our quarantine bubble, packed a case of our favorite Pyramid brews, and headed out mid morning on a Saturday.
Our rough plan was to camp on Ives Island across from Beacon Rock on Saturday and climb at Beacon Rock Sunday morning. Ives Island is part of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and is managed by the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Dispersed camping is permitted on Ives but there are no facilities so it’s extra important that you follow Leave No Trace standards and pack out everything that you bring in.
Beacon Rock is a state park and the rock itself has close to 100 routes with plenty of options for beginners as well as more difficult climbs for experienced climbers. The routes are mostly trad but there are sport climbs as well.
After about an hour drive down the Columbia River and a bit longer trying to find the perfect camp spot we finally settled on a sandy beach in a cove with perfect views of Beacon Rock. We set up camp and then hung out on the beach while enjoying Pyramid’s Blazing Bright, Apricot Ale, and Outburst IPA, and watching the sun dip behind the tower of Beacon Rock.
The next morning we made an epic breakfast complete with bacon and huckleberry pancakes. After breakfast we packed up our gear and headed for Beacon Rock. We didn’t exactly have an alpine start so by the time we got to the base of the west face of the rock the sun was already starting to peer around the corner.
We heated up fast after a couple of climbs and quickly decided it was time for a swim and some lunch. As soon as we got back to the boat we took turns jumping off the side of the boat into the cooling waters. We hung out at the boat dock feasting on pasta salad, apple slices with cheese, and more delicious ice cold Pyramid beer.
After ample time relaxing in the sun and cooling off in the river we started up the boat and made our way back to Portland. Our first time boat camping was a success, ensuring that we’ll definitely be doing it again—and we’ll always pack some Pyramid along for the adventure!
Ali Lev is a Portland based freelance writer and outdoor adventurer. Check out more of her work at luckyalexandra.com.