Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cowhorn Mountain

Cowhorn Mountain used to be a lot taller. But in 1911 a storm dehorned the mountain like a bleating 4-H project lamb. However, the natural desecration of an iconic landmark can be cause for celebration as the mountain summit is now much easier to attain.  

Cowhorn Mountain, from the Pacific Crest Trail
So with an "everybody say moo" where I was the only one mooing, the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club sallied forth onto the Pacific Crest Trail on a beautiful, albeit very warm, day. My recollection of this trail from prior hikes was that it was a  4 mile gradual climb to the mountain but the climb didn't seem all that gradual on this day. More than likely it was just me, the trail probably didn't steepen since the last time I hiked here.

One of the Windigo Lakes
The trail basically followed a rocky ridge leading straight to the 'horn. Most of the time was spent in the forest with occasional views to the local landmarks of Mount Thielsen, Mount Bailey, and the two Windigo Lakes below the trail. It wasn't long before camera-addicted hikers such as myself lagged far behind the main group.

We have to climb that?!

Periodically, we had nice views of Cowhorn Mountain which always looked insurmountably craggy and always was demoralizingly much higher than our viewpoints. Eventually the PCT brought us to the base of the mountain where a rock cairn marked the trail jump-off point.

Up, up, up....
Whew!  The trail immediately shot straight up the mountain in soft brown and black pumice. The trees thinned out and those trees attempting life on the mountain were gnarled and stunted. The slopes were littered with dead trees glinting white like bony skeletons. The top of the hill was actually a saddle and false summit combo where we traded black lava for bright red lava, it was like the mountain version of Jupiter's red spot.

Only another half a cowhorn to go
Jane and Robin were  lunching there, content to soak in the views from halfway up the mountain when I arrived.  The peak's jagged summit was right above us and I could see the little dots on top that was the remainder of the hiking club. Unfortunately, I could also see the faint path zigzagging back and forth up the spine of the crest leading to the summit. I tell you, I need to quit looking ahead.

Crescent Lake distracts from the scramble up
Just short of the summit, the path petered out altogether and the summit was attained by scrambling up a rocky stairway.  Use of hands is required and I put my surgically repaired wrist to the test. As I neared the summit, I could hear the heathens on top saying "Here comes yon laggard" or something along those lines.

Diamond Peak and Summit Lake
Cowhorn Mountain sports one of the best views in the Oregon Cascades. Directly to the north was large Crescent Lake, it's sapphire waters in a bowl surrounded by miles of forest. Surrounding the lake were a number of lesser lakes comprising the Windy Lakes and the Oldenburg Lakes.

Sawtooth Peak

We could see some mountains too, notably Diamond Peak and immediate neighbor Sawtooth Peak. In the far distance were snowy North Sister, Middle Sister, and the top of Mount Jefferson.

Al, on the Cowhorn dismount
After lunch, we picked our way carefully down the mountain where all that leg-braking left my legs wobbly as a jellyfish in a sea current. Walking 4 miles back to the car on tired legs in the heat made for slow going and I straggled in behind everybody else. It could have been worse, though, Cowhorn Mountain could have its horn and be taller than it is now.

The Pacific Crest Trail
For more pictures of the hike, please visit the Flickr album.     

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