During the first nine months of 2016, I got into a great routine of doing weekly urban hikes.
Using “Portland Hill Walks” as my guide to assorted explorations in city parks and neighborhoods, I logged 15 of these hikes — each one of them enjoyable and educational. And then I stopped.
I took on two part-time jobs, then three, and found I no longer had time for these Friday morning hikes.
Yesterday, I got back to it. And, boy, did it feel good.
I did a 4.75-mile hike that began in the flats of Northwest Portland, near Wallace Park and Chapman Elementary School, and took me up into the tony Nob Hill and Kings Heights neighborhoods, into Forest Park, up to Pittock Mansion and back down again via a labyrinth of terraced hillside streets laden with BMWs, Jaguars and Range Rovers.
Little did I suspect that I’d find a backdoor entrance to Forest Park and hike for a ways on the Upper Macleay Trail and Wildwood Trail. Little did I suspect I would emerge at the end of this loop into a parking lot leading to the elegant Pittock Mansion and its spectacular view of downtown Portland.
Had I not taken along the book, written by local author Laura O. Foster, and followed its precise directions to take this left and that right, and to follow a handful of easily overlooked staircases, I would still be wandering those hilly neighborhoods.
Friday’s urban hike took me about 2 1/2 hours, much of it on steep sidewalks and forested switchbacks, reaching up to about 930 feet elevation at Pittock Mansion, the former home of Henry Pittock, the legendary publisher of The Oregonian, and his wife, Georgina. Coming down to level ground, my quads got quite the workout.
Here are a few takeaways from the walk:
Weather. Friday brought an unexpected but welcome drizzle. I stayed cooler than I would have otherwise, but the tradeoff was sacrificing a clear view of the Northwest Portland industrial area that included the hulking building that formerly housed Montgomery Ward. On a clear day I would have been able to see Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams, all in Washington state.
Staircases. I must have taken at least five shortcuts from one residential area to another, following Foster’s explicit directions. I’d probably never notice them on my own, even if I were walking past. But I find them to be little neighborhood jewels, ranging from 24 in one spot to a total of 280 steps on two staircases used for training by Portland firefighters.
Big-ass homes: Undoubtedly, I was traversing through neighborhoods where the city’s doctors, lawyers and business executives make their homes. While the gargantuan Pittock Mansion stands out as a historic home museum, jointly preserved and operated by the city and a nonprofit society, there are plenty of massive homes in Kings Heights. Many are constructed on stilts that I sure wouldn’t trust during an earthquake. Among those not on stilts, I passed by the former homes of Oregon Gov. Oswald West and U.S. Senators Richard and Maurine Neuberger. When he died suddenly in 1960, she ran for his seat and won a six-year term of her own.
Forest Park: Any time spent in this wooded wonderland is always good. I entered the park from a residential street and followed the Upper Macleay Trail to its intersection with the Wildwood Trail. I passed by a man and his dog; a dad with his daughter and their dog; and said hello to a runner as he passed me going uphill. It’s such a nice break from the concrete environment to pad softly on these trails and have your senses filled with fresh air and the sounds of a creek or two.
I hope to do another one or two these walks in August, so I can check off another couple of these on Foster’s list of 20 hill walks.
Yesterday’s hike was not only invigorating but, more importantly, it added to my repository of knowledge about Portland, a place that is abundantly blessed with topographical variety, neighborhood diversity and beautiful vistas.