Bailed out on Healy Heights

CC council crest park

Trying to get my bearings in Council Crest Park on a surprisingly wet hike Thursday, April 14. (Photo by John Killen)

With eight weekly urban hikes under my belt, it was time to add a new wrinkle: a hiking buddy. This week in particular, I couldn’t have made a better choice than my longtime friend and co-worker, John Killen.

Thursday started out innocently. We met for a pre-hike breakfast at Gigi’s Cafe in the Hillsdale neighborhood of Southwest Portland. As we chatted, we kept an eye on the gray sky, thinking and hoping that at most we’d encounter a light drizzle. Wrong.

As soon as we started on the four-mile route to Healy Heights, it started to sprinkle. Then rain. Then rain some more.

It didn’t let up until we were nearly done. By that time, a planned two-hour walk through hilly neighborhoods had become a three-hour outing, thanks to yours truly not paying close enough attention to the route described in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks.”

I mistakenly thought we were supposed to follow one road on a continuous loop when, in fact, we should have veered off and picked up another major street. By the time we discovered my error, we had strayed well off course in a maze of twisting, winding streets and had gotten pretty well soaked despite arming ourselves with umbrellas.

Fortunately, John bailed us out.

As an avid bicyclist, John has covered much of the city and the metro area on two wheels, so he was already familiar with many of the streets on this Hillsdale to Healy Heights route, as well as those surrounding Council Crest Park, where we inadvertently went astray. He figured out a shortcut that took us up a forested path and into the park and then back down to the labyrinth of streets and staircases in Healy Heights.

Had I been on my own, I might still be wandering the neighborhood, a first-time visitor trying to get my bearings. Thanks to John’s sense of direction and navigating skills, we got back on track and made it back to SW Capitol Highway. We rewarded ourselves with a cookie and coffee at Baker & Spice, a charming bakery a few doors down from Gigi’s.

The other great thing about having John along was tapping into his deep knowledge of the city. We worked in the same newsroom for more than 25 years. When he retired last year, a few months ahead of me, he took with him an impressive recall of historical events, facts, dates, political leaders, and neighborhood trivia.

Listening to John’s running commentary was like having a personal tour guide. We had just started our hike when he pointed out the second house on my right as belonging to a former governor that had been moved from the Portland waterfront.

Who else but John would know that George Lee Curry had served as Oregon’s last territorial governor before statehood began in 1859? Or that Curry County in Southern Oregon was named for him?

John again displayed his knowledge when we reached Council Crest Park, the highest point in Portland at 1,073 feet above sea level. Council Crest got its name from Native American leaders who would gather for important meetings, John told me.

Then, pointing to a bronze statue of a mother and child, John recalled an episode in the 1980s when vandals used hacksaws to make off with the piece, only to have it discovered during a drug raid across town a decade later. The statute was restored and put up again in a new location of the park.

Oh, and did I know that Council Crest was once the site of an amusement park operated in the same style as Jantzen Beach (now closed in North Portland) and Oaks Park (still going in Sellwood in SE Portland)? And that park operators dug a ditch and offered boat rides up there? No, I did not.

We covered more ground than we planned to and got wetter than we anticipated, but I have no complaints.

As is so often the case on these weekly excursions, I traveled on streets I’d never been on before. I was treated to the sight of a lot of fine architecture — including lots of angular, contemporary styles and gravity-defying homes built on wooded hillsides — in a part of the city that’s seemingly embedded in a rainforest.

In all my 30 years of living here, I’d never ever been on SW Fairmount Boulevard or SW Council Crest Drive, let alone Council Crest Park. I’d never been in Healy Heights or Hessler Heights, an micro-neighborhood made up of huge homes and featuring a private tennis court. I had no idea you could follow a trail through Marquam Nature Park and emerge near the Oregon Health & Science University campus.

HH tower

The Stonehenge radio tower, 607 feet tall and built in 1990 by rock station KGON-FM.

Had we done this hike any other day this week, we surely would have been treated to amazing vistas.

But with Thursday’s weather, we had to settle for squinting through the mist to distant landmarks downtown and at South Waterfront.

I’ll have to come back up here again on a sunny day.

Maybe walk through Marquam Nature Park.

Yes, do that, George.


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