Each year thousands of people summit Beacon Rock, the 848-foot tall core of an ancient volcano.
Traversing the mile-long trail of switchbacks, boasting an elevation gain of 600 feet, includes well-earned views of The Gorge. It is considered a challenging hike for most.
On Wednesday, Virginia Warren will join a handful of her girlfriends to make the ascent up and descent down this iconic basalt formation that juts into the Columbia River.
“I have been hiking it since I was a little girl,” she said. “I remember going up with my folks.”
What makes Warren’s efforts unique, is that when she makes the climb this week she will be doing so in celebration of her recent 90th birthday.
That’s right. Ninety.
For those who don’t know Warren, this sounds like an amazing accomplishment. But to her friends it’s just another reason to admire this woman who says ‘What the heck. You only live once, right?”
Warren began hiking the Beacon Rock trail to mark her April 16 birthday several years ago.
“It’s all uphill,” she said. “It might take me a little longer to do it than it did 90 years ago, but who cares?”
“I feel very blessed that I can even get out and walk at 90,” she continued. “Walking is what I do, I don’t drive anymore. If I keep walking, that keeps me healthy.”
Warren, a lifelong Camas resident, currently hits the community’s sidewalks seven days a week to walk three to five miles. She has placed a high value on health and fitness most of her life.
“I’ve always been active,” she said. “I was active as a child. I was active when I was raising my three sons, and building our house on Third Avenue. I’ve always been a busy person, I’m not one to just sit around and do nothing.”
But there is much more to this local historian than her annual hike up Beacon Rock, or her daily walking routine.
Warren has become the adopted grandma, known as Miss Virginia, to many of the children in her Goot Park neighborhood, where she has lived for 20 years. She has baked cakes for the youngsters on their birthdays, hosted ice cream cone parties (with sprinkles) for the families, and planned tea parties for the mothers.
“It was such a treat the first couple of times I did it, so I just continued.” she said. “I get back threefold of what I give. That is part of being a good neighbor, and caring. I love it.”
Earlier this year, she organized a “tongue-in-cheek style show” and invited eight young women from the neighborhood to her home. She and longtime friends Verla Jonason and Eunice Abrahamsen planned the event that included tea, stories, laughs and, of course, a fashion show. All told, Warren changed into eight different outfits.
“They laughed until they cried,” Warren said. “It was so fun, they were here three hours. They had such a good time.”
She has since performed the show for the women of Soroptimist International of Camas-Washougal, as well.
“You need to have a little sense of humor. And you need to have some fun in your life,” she said. “If you don’t, you are just going to sit there and look at four walls. People that sit around and complain should be ashamed of themselves. There are so many nice things to do for other people.”
Over the years, Warren has been a dedicated volunteer with a number of groups including the Friends of the Camas Community Center and the Two Rivers Heritage Museum, for which she continues to provide tours and talk to groups and at special events about local history.
For Warren, living happily for nine decades seems to come down to a rather simple philosophy. Finding joy in making people happy, and putting smiles on their faces.
“It just takes a minute to brighten their day,” she said. “There are so many little things that don’t take any money. It’s just time.”
When Warren makes that climb to the top of Beacon Rock Wednesday, surrounded by many of the people who are important to her, she will no doubt recall the memories she’s made over the years, in a town she never once considered leaving.
“I love this small town. I’ve lived here 90 years,” she said. “I think this is the best place ever. I wouldn’t trade little Camas for nothin’.”