You get a bit of everything on this one. Loose talus approach, faint trails, non-existent trails, blatant bushwhacks, wet mossy groveling, fifth class climbing and scary rappels. You have to want a bit of adventure climbing to do this one and you have to enjoy approaches a bit too. The payoff is a decent fifth class summit that very few seem to see (as evidenced by the brittle, faded and frayed webbing that was left as the most recent rap stations on this). The Gorge never looked so good (or different). Give this one a try if you are bored with the regular Gorge hikes (although you start and end at Multnomah Falls on this, the grand-daddy of touron revelry) and want to enjoy some solitude and rare technical Gorge-ness.
You will also get to scramble up Big Cougar Rock on the approach, another nice and seldom-visited spot in the Gorge which is a great destination unto itself if you are pressed for time or don't want the technical portion.
Looking back down the Elevator Shaft
Follow the rock trail up into what is known as the Elevator Shaft (or in some sources the Fire Escape). This is a fairly loose field of moss-covered talus. Enjoy! (and watch your footing) The trail zig zags up the rock field and into a vegetated area with numerous switchbacks. You will probably lose the trail a few times but just head mainly up and through the brushy section here. The trail emerges into a larger rockfield. Head up, following the trail that eventually fades out. There may be some flagging from the Mazamas and an occasional stick pointing up from the rocks to mark the way. At the top of the rockfield, the trail heads into the woods just right of center into an archway of small trees.
A couple hundred feet into the woods, you will step over a fallen tree. Right after this, head right onto a very faint trail if you can see it and traverse right to the ridge where you will come to a faint "T" in the trail. If you head down to the right a quarter mile there is a nice viewpoint of Multnomah Falls parkling lot. To continue on your way to Little Cougar Rock, turn left and head up the ridge.
The trail is pretty well flagged (at least as of this writing) with orange tape and the trail is getting more worked in. Follow it up the ridge back and forth, mostly southeast, until it tops out on a plateau. From here, head east following the trail as best you can. For a while it is easy to follow as it is flagged but at some point along the plateau, the flagging will end and you will continue on faint trails, old roads, etc. to the east. You can stick to the edge of the Gorge rim as well until you crest a small hill and realize there is a steep dropoff in front of you. You will then have to head to the right (south by southeast), pick up another old trail and contour around the Gorge rim to where the trail starts to become more clear and apparent. As you round the rim and start to head somewhat northeast, you will come to a wooden sign posted on a tree that says Multnomah Falls 3 miles to the left (from where you started) and Cougar Rock to the right. This is a T intersection and you will want to take the left route to Cougar Rock.
The first gendarme you come to at Big Cougar Rock
Almost immediately you will come to a smaller gendarme where you scramble down on the right side around it. Below this rock formation you will come to another where you will contour around a rock on the left before coming to the start of the scramble up Big Cougar Rock. Drop packs here and if you would like, scramble up 4th class rock through the obvious slab/notch on the left to easier ground above. Continue the scramble up to the summit of Big Cougar Rock where you can enjoy excellent views of the Gorge and finally see Little Cougar Rock below you. Head back to your packs and be careful on the climb down just above the packs as a fall here would be bad.
Downclimbing the crux on Big Cougar (photo by Karl Helser)
The approach to Little Cougar Rock heads down to the east from where you dropped your packs. Contour down and around Big Cougar Rock. Stay fairly close to the rock but as you head down, curve around to the north so that you can scramble down the NE side of Big Cougar. It's tricky, if you stay too close to the rock, you will cliff out but if you heda down too much you will have to scramble back up a bunch. Once you are around BCR, you will see Little Cougar. This is the thickest of the bushwhacking here. Make your way to the col between BCR and LCR from the east. It will involve pulling yourself up by small shrubs over wet muddy mossy rocks. Ascend to the col and break out the ropes.
Bushwhacking up to the col
Start of the first pitch (photo by Karl Helser)
Continue on the ridge weaving between the rock. At one point a slopey slab is best skirted by a few steps down on the right and then back up around the slab. You will pass a rap anchor on the left. The crux comes on another slopey slab of about 5.5. Above this slab is another rap station that works as an anchor.
Climbing the route (photo by Karl Helser)
From here, you can belay individually over to the short chimney on the summit pinnacle rock. There is a piton with biner in the chimney to clip. Most of this route is probably class 4 with about 3 short sections of easy 5th class moves.
Working my way over and up the short chimney to the summit
To descend, we rappeled from the upper station and placed new (red) webbing (20') on 4/12/08. The rap is tricky in that you will eventually come to an overhang that will send you to your left but it will place you exactly where you need to be to continue down the ridge.
First rap down from the belay station/anchor near the summit (photo by Karl Helser)
We rappeled from the lower station too (and put new dark green webbing 12 ') down to the original tree anchor.
Second rap back down to the col (photo by Karl Helser)
You may be able to rap this in one rap with two ropes. We simulclimbed it with 3 on one rope although the middle got stuck at the crux a the third had to start to allow slack to climb.
From there, you have two options. Apparently, most scramble back down east and out the slopes there back to the Gorge Trail and back to Multnomah Falls. You have the option to scramble down west from the col but you will run into a wet cliff a few hundred yards down. A long 110 foot rappel from here from a tree will get you down to where you can hike out down a open rock field to the Gorge Trail. If you chose this option, make sure you bring two ropes. Choose your line down wisely as there are trees and rocks to snag ropes. It may not look like the ropes will make it but they will with a bit of room to spare if you rap from a tree on the edge of the cliff. You'll have to clean the ropes as you rap on this as undoubtedly, they'll get snagged or caught in trees, etc.
Final rap down the cliffs below Little Cougar
Dodge rates this as a I-3 climb which is comparable to Rooster Rock. We all felt it was a bit harder that Rooster although still easy 5th, probably around 5.4-5.5.
Mind the loose rocks on the ridge climb. Most of this was pretty solid but a few larger ones moved on us (including one we though about rapping from). Test your holds and anchors.
Looking down the route (photo by Karl Helser)