Thursday, May 10, 2012

Saddle Mountain

Saddle Mountain

This is a jewel of a hike. I go a couple of times a year and every time I find something new. It is located most of the way to the shore on Route 26 out of Portland. I have been there in good weather and bad, in cloud and sun, and always been inspired by the lofty views . This time out was unexpected cold, especially in the wind, but I had clear views to Nehalem and Astoria and the mountains of the Tillamook forest (some still with snow caps).

After doing Dog Mountain earlier in the week, I realized that this hike is much easier and shorter. First of all, I consulted my altimeter at the trailhead and almost thought it was broken. You start off at 2000 feet. So we only have 1000 feet or so to climb and 2.5 miles to do it. Easy!! Got an extra jacket and plenty of water? Ready to re-evaluate if we hit snow or sleet?  Then lets go!

The first 50 feet and I was stopped dead in my tracks. Hello, and who might you be? There was this splendid little run of a beautiful and graceful pink lily. Never seen these before but they appear to be pink fawn lilies. What an auspicious start.
Pink Fawn Lily

The first mile or so (and there are nice metal markers every 1/4 mile) is gentle to medium climbing through a pleasant pine and alder forest. Some nice views across the valley to Humbug mountain. Once again I heard the "hooom hooom" of a male grouse marking his territory. I now know of 3 places I can go where I always hear these guys. A couple of places you will cross a steep rock face. Be sure to look here for you first chance at some really interesting wild flowers. I am a little early in the season this time around, but there still are the starts of some chocolate lilies. Perhaps next week for them.
Clear Cut and Humbug

Continue up through the trees.  Now we come to an area that was hit hard by the wind and rain storms of a couple of winters ago. Large trees are helter skelter across the hillside and the trail has been cut (literally, with a chain saw) through the middle of the pile. A great little improvised log bridge takes you up to the first "official" resting point. Complete with a picnic table. If you are doing a family outing and some people are having problems, this is a good spot to have lunch and send some people back, because the hard stuff is about to start.

Another switch-back and we emerge from the trees (for now) and get our first glimpse of mountain since we left the parking lot. High, Majestic, and barren. With the rocks still having that feeling that they were very recently molten. You look closely at the rock wall and you can see what looks like a hardened glue with lots of smaller sharp black rocks stuck in it. So, now I want to be a geologist and a botanist.

BWESS Trail Technology

This is also where my only real problem with this trail starts up. A while ago, some hardworking people built this trail, did a lot of carving through rock, put up handrails and guides in some places and even built some very nice wooden pathways and steps. But something must have gone horribly wrong. Perhaps the path was too nice and attracted too many hikers to this wonderful setting. I envision the following community meeting:

"Listen people,  the mountain just cannot stand this kind of traffic, we need something that will limit the foot traffic. I propose that we eliminate the nice walkways and put in something a little more.... discouraging."

"Discouraging?" came a comment from the treasurer,  "What do you mean?"

"Something a little more difficult to hike. Something that makes the climb more of a chore and less of a picnic outing. Something of a challenge. What we need is the worst designed foot path technology in the history of humans walking upright. I call on our head engineer."

A man in the back stands, "Well, Mr. Chairman. Let me see if I understand the requirements, this path technology should be difficult to walk, presumably slippery with plenty of random protuberances to trip and grab. Ideally, it should be made of something sharp and hard such that only strong heavy boots could be employed. Hmm. And I guess it would be good if it had a surface that tended to trap those new fangled trekking poles, gotta look forward to the future. Does that sound like what you want?"

"That is it Exactly, sir."

"Well, I studied Civil Engineering at MIT for 6 years to get my Masters and I don't know If I can design anything sub standard enough for you. I have a friend that went to Harvard, however, and I am sure he can manage something. Of course, it will also be horrible expensive."

And thus was born the trail technology employed going up (and, curiously, down) Saddle mountain. A string of inches high mounds of sharp rock held together with chicken wire nailed into the trail way. Slippery in most any damp weather and treacherous on the best of days. I like to refer to it as Barb Wire Enhanced Slip and Slide (BWESS) technology. We hates it we does.
The Old and The New

So be careful. And don't let your trekking poles get stuck. By the way, I use a hiking staff and find it very valuable on a hike like this, even with the BWESS. Slow and steady.

As you are climbing up this part of the trail, take frequent breaks and look around. Really around. There is something to see in every direction. Toward the mountain, look at the many little flowers that are hiding from you. Stone Crop, Indian Paint Brush. On the right days, Oregon Iris and Tiger Lilies. Today, it was paint brush and wild parsley (orange on yellow).

Across the valley we are now getting a view of the north, Hey, I think that is the surf at Nehalem Beach. And there is still snow on the Tillamook hills (Could that be Kings Mountain?).  Then there are the bare rocks of the mountain. How did these things get made? There is this one geological feature which is a "thin" (one meter, two?) wide piece of rock that runs down through the moutain, then takes off by itself down the hill like a purposefully made wall. How strangely wonderful.

Ok, here is our second picnic bench. Lets take 5, drink some water, and look around. Here come some people down from the top, they say it is clear and gorgeous up there. This isn't always the case, so we are lucky.

Setting off again we go back into the woods for a while. This part isn't so hard. Here are a strong going bunch of Trillium. These things are done for the season in most of the rest of the state, but up here I guess spring is late. (oh, the Mount Hood hikers are laughing at me now, I am sure).

Little further and we hit another picnic table.  This is on top of the ridge, still in the woods. Looks like it may have been a little camping area at one time. This is a good chance to change your outfit if necessary. From here on we will be hiking the crest of the saddle and will be exposed to wind, sun, and, occasionally, rain. So a jacket or long shirt may be called for. This is also a place for a warning. If steep sides of trails falling away to certain death is a problem for you...... you should take an extra sip of water.

We emerge from the trees in a very nice alpine rock meadow. There will be lots of flowers here in the right season, some only indigenous to this little micro climate. Don't hurt them. Stay on the trail.  Practice your macro photography instead. But make sure you look up and away also. Here is the view you came for.

Today, my big find is my new little yellow friend, The Glacier Lily. Never seen them before this week, I guess you have to get up high early in the season to find them. They are pretty much the lone color up here this week.

The saddle has 2 big bumps and a low place in the middle. The first bump is a little steep and you have too negotiate some more BWESS but you will get to the low place and one last picnic table. Above you is the last climb. This thing has to be rated Very Difficult. But it is also pretty short. You can do it in 10 or 20 minutes. And you have the excuse of the flowers, Rocks, and scenery to stop and rest. This entire climb is that dang BWESS stuff. So go slow and careful, you don't want to twist and ankle or take a fall. The wire railways can even be useful.

The top arrives suddenly. And it is really the Top. An open space with a low fence surrounding it and no place to go but down. a very nice 360 view. To the north you can see the Columbia river and Astoria. To the south west you can see what must be Nehalem beach and Mount Neahkanie. Had too many clouds to see Rainier or St. Helens today... but I have seen them.
Almost to the top.
Looking down From the Summit. 

Tillamook Forest Hills, with Snow. (perhaps Kings Mt.)

And all the while you stand on a ancient piece of stone that was once viewed and commented on by Lewis and Clark when they wintered near Astoria at the mouth of the mighty Columbia river.

There is one little hand made bench at the top. I usually sit there and eat my lunch. I just about always meet someone to chat with and share the hike experience, perhaps click my picture for me. I find that people on the top of  mountains are universally friendly. So, take off your sweat wet shirt, put on a dry warm jacket, and enjoy life a little. Soon enough you can start you slow and easy back down to the parking lot and the long drive home. Ooooh, perhaps dinner at Camp 18?
This handsome devil follows me everyplace I go.

One little side trip. Take the offshoot trail back near the base of the climb this is clearly marked "Humbug View Point". This is a 10 minute walk, some steep hand cut  steps and then you are on top of a big rock with a really great view of the hike you just did. You can clearly see that strip of hard rock I was talking about. This would also be a great place for family or friends that didn't want to do the full hike to hang out with some walkie talkies and track your intrepid journey.
See that strip of rock?

Anyway, everyone should do this hike a few times. You can never see enough of it on the first time out. And you can feel secure in the knowledge that there is NO POISON OAK in the tillamook hills !!


1 comment:

  1. Darn, I wish I'd attended that committee meeting. Those MIT grads have all the fun.

    YOu've got an eye for flowers...nice balance to all that engineering :)