Sunday, June 13, 2010

Coasting: hiking through mud, mist and sun

Posted By on Sun, Jun 13, 2010 at 2:47 AM

At 3,280 feet high, Saddle Mountain, not far outside Seaside, is the highest point in northwest Oregon. On a clear day you can see Astoria to the north, Mt. Rainier to the north and east, Mt. Jefferson to the east and a whole lot of coastal Oregon to the south. Note, that's on a clear day.

On a soggy day like the one last week when a group of Bend hikers set off to reach Saddle Mountain's summit seeing ten feet in front of you was tough at times.

This was hiking through what I imagine it would be like to trek through Tolkein's mythical Mirkwood. A bit ominous looking at times with perhaps a troll under one of the wood bridges over a crystalline mountain stream or an Ent walking out of the forest to offer support and guidance.

The closest thing I can remember to having this feeling while hiking was while in the Scottish Highlands. That experience while roaming in the gloaming, like the Saddle Mountain hike, was a drenching yet beautiful.

The beauty at Saddle Mountain are the slopes of spectacular wildflowers.Especially in the diffused light under the misty skies that made each flower's brilliant colors seem even more radiant.

Besides the dazzling wildflower display, Saddle Mountain is one tough hike. Yes, it's only a mere 2.5 miles from the trailhead to the summit but the elevation gain is 1,660 feet.

Make that 1,850 feet by accurate GPS accounting that takes in not just the trail-to -summit height difference but also the dips and ensuing short steep ups along the trail.

What makes the steep hiking here a bit more difficult are long sections of gabion trail. A gabion is a box made of what looks like industrial strength chicken wire that's filled with loose rock. A gabion protects the trail from further erosion but makes for a slick hiking surface and they are notorious for breaking off hiking pole tips.

Gabion sections give an added cautionary nature to the hike as does a short downhill section of trail where a hiker stepped off to take a picture and plummeted to death this year. That same section also claimed another life when another hiker slipped on some late winter ice and sailed over the edge of the same precipice.

Nothing like that happened to the Bend hiking entourage which fared well. They slipped some, sweated profusely and saw enough moss covered trees to remind then that they were in a place where rain is the norm.

Coasting-Part II... Seaside to Cannon Beach and vice-versa.

On day two of Bend hikers go coastal, the group split in two. Some hiked the Tillamook Head south to north (Cannon Beach to Seaside) and some went north to south.

Either way, the hike turned out to be a muddy epic enhanced with downed trees. But it was sunny and a stop along the way at Indian Beach was the Oregon coast at it's-best with people enjoying the first warm sunny day in months and surfers (who knew there were so many in Oregon) forming a long lineup at the outer edges of the break.

For all the hard work, there was ice cream and beer for the hikers at the end in Seaside at the end of the day. And the realization that the town on a sunny summer Saturday makes Coney Island look downright tame.

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