Saturday, July 2, 2016

Pyramids Trail

In my neverending quest to hike every trail in Oregon, I recently visited the Old Cascade Crest Trail Area west of Mount Jefferson where "short and sweet" would be the theme for the weekend. Or to quote the venerable bard William Shakespeare: "Though she be but little, she be fierce!" Or, in modern English: "We may be small, but we are mighty!" I'm not sure who authored that last quote but I'm guessing Mighty Mouse. At any rate, the Pyramids Trail weighed in at a paltry 4.9 miles but the fierceness came in the form of nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain in just over two miles. Plus, the whole venture was capped off by a hands-on rock climb to the actual summit of Middle Pyramid.

Mount Washington and the Three Sisters,
seen from Middle Pyramid
The long drive to the Three Pyramids from Roseburg made it early afternoon when I finally set foot on the Pyramids Trail. Immediately after leaving the trailhead parking lot, the path crossed a pretty little fork of Park Creek and entered a forest. Standing in the shade I warily waited for the mosquitoes to attack, bottle of Deet at the ready. The funny thing though, is this wound up being a mosquito-free hike and while that was odd and abnormal (just like me!), that's OK because the mosquitoes are indeed small but fierce in early to mid-summer.

Simply a beautiful trail

Anyway, after crossing the unnamed fork of North Fork Park Creek trickling gently across the trail, the trail began heading uphill through a deeply shaded forest. Still no mosquitoes, even after 10 yards of hiking! The next 3/4 miles of hiking was spent trudging uphill through the lush and densely vegetated forest while anticipating the coming mosquito attack, which thankfully never did materialize.

Queen's cup
White was the floral color of choice what with Queen's cup, Columbia windflower, and bunchberry blooming in pale profusion just an inch or two off the ground. The trail was well-maintained and that was a good thing because the impenetrably thick patches of devil's clubs flanking the path had been trimmed back. For those readers not familiar with devil's club, if it was not growing over the trail then that meant I enjoyed a scratch-free hike. I didn't realize it grew this far south, having only ever seen it growing north of the Columbia Gorge.

Entering the cirque below South Pyramid
It was rather jarring to suddenly leave the dark forest and enter a bright sunny meadow in a cirque basin tucked between South and Middle Pyramid. Looming above the large meadow was South Pyramid while Middle Pyramid (my destination) was hidden above the cirque walls. Sun-loving wildflowers such as monkeyflower, lupine, Indian paintbrush, larkspur, and columbine supplanted the shade-loving white-flowered plants cited in the preceding paragraph. The rocky slopes above the trail were brightly painted with all colors of the floral spectrum.

From the cirque, the trail began climbing in earnest, the grade eased (eased, but not easy) somewhat by sixteen switchbacks. I know there were sixteen because I counted, which is something you do when you hike alone and write your blog in your head while you hike. As the trail sashayed to and fro up the hillside, the forest alternated between sunny slopes flanked by vine maples; and cool, dark, shady forest with ferns growing under the firs. They say variety is the spice of life and if true, then this was like the kung pao chicken of hiking trails.

Mount Jefferson
At about the fourteenth switchback, I decided I was getting quite bored with legs constantly burning from the sweet fire that can only be obtained by walking uphill. But not to worry, a rocky and relatively level saddle was reached after two more switchbacks. Partial views of the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams (located in southern Washington) were all sort of visible through breaks in the tree cover. Unfortunately, totally unobscured Middle Pyramid's summit still loomed way high above and I almost would have preferred that particular view to have remained hidden behind the trees.

Here, vanilla leaf rules!
Even though Middle Pyramid was quite close, there still was some hiking to be done as the trail contoured nearly all the way around the mountain before petering out just below the summit. On the way up and around, a massive cliff wall loomed over the trail, the ample shade supporting verdant patches of false Solomon's seal, Sitka valerian, and vanilla leaf. The last 100 yards or so of trail was a brisk uphill walk through a shaded forest before the path unceremoniously ended on a narrow ridge sited at the base of a rocky spire.

Time for Richard to go rock climbing
The actual summit was about 40 feet above me on a cliffy rockpile so I dropped my pack and hiking poles and hauled myself up like some clumsy, yet incredibly handsome spider monkey. The camera came along with me because some things just don't get left behind. And predictably, the views from my small summit perch were utterly fantastic and expansive.

Neighboring South Pyramid
As stated, views were had of all the mountain peaks previously mentioned but now without the forest blocking the view. All Three Pyramids were visible with North and South Pyramid providing Middle Pyramid a geologic escort for all of eternity. Middle Pyramid is actually a pair of peaks and fortunately I was on the taller peak, meaning I didn't have to bushwhack to the other peak to compulsively attain Middle Pyramid's highest point. To the west, the Santiam Foothills gently rolled all the way to Oregon's Coast Range with Mary's Peak faintly visible on the horizon. Much photography and eating of oranges ensued from the crow's nest seat atop Middle Pyramid.

Danger lurking in a monkeyflower
On the return, all that steep uphill became steep downhill and a different set of leg muscles were set on fire due to the brisk descent. After the hike was finished off, camp was set up in the trailhead parking lot, and I still fully expected the mosquitoes to come devour me. Finally, at dinner time, several did come by to visit. They were summarily executed because although they are small, I am mightier and fiercer.

Cinquefoil seed, waiting to be a burr in your sock
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. After I met you on Coffin Mtn, I went and hiked this trail. Oh what a killer! It went up forever! I did encounter a few mosquitoes in the swampy part.

    1. Ha, I almost feel guilty and like I should apologize!

  2. Hey Richard, I met u on the summit of Coffin Mtn, as well as Linda. I hiked Bachelor after doing Coffin. Great blog! Kevin from McMinnville

    1. Hello Kevin, that was a fun weekend, great scenery and made new trail friends. Nice to meet you and keep on hiking!