Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Lookout Mountain

I'm absent-minded, I'll admit it. If there was such an award, I'd probably win the "Most Likely to Forget to Hike With Pants On" trophy. On occasion, I've been known to forget things like food, camera, boots, and hiking pants. But on that last one, let it be known I did not hike pants-less, I just had to hike with the wrong kind of pants. Anyway, I don't need help forgetting things and if life were to inadvertently misplace my gear somehow, my first thought would be that it was my own fault; especially when I'm hiking alone, like on this camping trip in the Ochoco Mountains in central Oregon.

A waving plum of baneberry blooms
The first mile or so of the Lookout Mountain Trail angled uphill and while the day sort of wavered between overcast and sunny, the overall feel was muggy and warm. Naturally, I worked up a thirst but when I pulled on my drinking tube, a mix of mostly air and very little water came through. What the...? I KNOW I filled up my hydration bladder with water before driving to the trailhead, so some more nefarious force was at work here. I sat down on the trail and pulled my bladder out for further inspection. There was about a half-cup cup of water contained within but there was nary a sign of leakage, tear, hole or any other explanation of why I was out of water. Likewise, my pack was dry so it could not have dripped empty while stowed inside the pack. I mean, I just KNOW I filled it up at the campground this morning, but in the absence of any logical explanation for the parched desert that was now my hydration bladder, it must have been my fault again. But dammit, I KNOW I filled it!

The trail provided plenty of quality meadow time
At any rate, I needed to deal with the dry reality of my situation and figure out what to do with this hike. Currently I was in a shady forest and per my GPS, there were springs and creeks nearby. However, there are also abandoned mines nearby and hikers are warned to look and not touch the historical tunnels, buildings, and equipment lying around the vicinity. The reason for the warn-off has something to do with mercury poisoning. So, the first decision made was to avoid refilling from the creeks and springs running across the trail, I wasn't desperate enough to want to risk drinking mercury or any other heavy metals that may have been contained in the water. The second decision was to curtail the full loop hike and just to walk until I was out of water. The lesser decision involved with that was to nurse the remaining water and try to stretch out its lifetime and as a result, the amount of mileage I could get in on this hike.

A small ball of ballhead waterleaf
So, continuing on uphill through the forest it was, while I kept analyzing and reanalyzing the bladder mystery and replaying in my head in an endless loop, my filling up the water bladder this morning. The forest was a bit drier than what I'm customarily used to in the Cascades and the trees tended toward ponderosa pines instead of Douglas fir. However, the wildflower species were friendly and familiar, consisting of old friends such as larkspur, balsamroot, baneberry, star-flowered Solomon's seal, and paintbrush. Less familar were profuse quantities of a low-growing bluebell and balls of ballhead waterleaf, which has a rather unique habit of blooming in small globes at the base of the plant.

One of the larger meadows on the trail

The trail was at this point, angling up and across a forested ridge when the forest disappeared completely while the trail skirted a large meadow consisting of knee-high hellebore plants, a.k.a. corn lily, Off in the distance, were a series of higher mountains without any particular distinctive or dominant peak on the skyline, so we'll just call them by the rather generic term of Ochoco Mountains. I probably would have enjoyed the scene a lot more without the worry about water.

Just gotta love a level trail in sagebrush
Shortly after leaving the meadow behind, the path made a sharp switchback and attained the ridge crest. The back side of the crest was more like a plateau, although it did slope gently downhill away from the trail. Most of that forest I'd been hiking through was now gone, supplanted instead by dense growths of knee-high sagebrush punctuated with the occasional juniper tree. Wow, that was a sudden and abrupt change in vegetation, clime, and overall vibe! I briefly entertained a notion of walking to what I perceived to be the edge of the plateau so see what I could see, but the sagebrush stretched out for a half-mile from the trail or more and that would have been a whole lot of leg scratching as a result. Best to stay on trail, Richard.

Mount Jefferson looms ghostly on the skyline
Ah, the trail. All trails should be like this. The trail was flat and just sort of wandered aimlessly though the low brush, generally hugging the abrupt eastern rim of the plateau. So while I didn't get to see much to the west, openings on the east side provided views of the surrounding Ochoco Mountains. Can't diss the west-side view too much though, because snowy Mount Jefferson was visible throughout, with occasional glimpses of distant Mount Hood and the Three Sisters, depending on the orientation of the trail at that particular moment.

Western peony was yet another sign I was not in my Cascades

But really, this hike was all about the rock gardens atop the plateau, which was part of Lookout Mountain, if not the actual summit thereof. The clay soil had baked to the consistency of hardened rock and besides which, there was plenty of actual hardened rock strewn about too. The wildflowers were putting on an impressive multi-hued display, although a passing hiker told me that this was nothing, the flowers would "really" start blooming about two weeks hence.  

This balsamroot protected by guard spider
At any rate, serious hiking came to a screeching halt and a lot of my trail time was now spent lying prone on the ground, staring at wildflowers and insects through the viewfinder. As is customary during wildflower season, the blooms were well populated by buzzing bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, and plenty of spiders eating and munching on said bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, and flies. 

Dwarf hesperochiron abounded in the rock gardens
Alas, I was now out of water, so I turned around at a muddy spring at a little over three miles in, and headed back the way I had come. Because I was getting thirsty (the lack of water becomes a mental condition, too) by the time I reached the cluster of trail junctions leading to some of the historical mines, I bypassed the mines and just charged downhill to the car, which had a jug of warm water in it waiting for me.

View to nearby Duncan Butte from the trail

When I arrived at the car and began divesting myself of some of my hiking equipment, the water mystery was solved. The back end of the Jeep was sopping wet, leading me to conclude that a suitcase or container of camping equipment had sat on the bite valve of the bladder, leading it to empty its liquid contents into the carpet. So, I'm still certifiably sane, I just knew I had filled it up!

A beetle in its tiny home
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. OMG Richard the whole time I was like but what about the water? Te cuidas amigo :)