Friday, July 10, 2020

Cowhorn Mountain

At the Windigo Pass Trailhead, we were getting ready to begin hiking, collectively performing our customary and usual pre-hike rituals such as lacing up boots, hoisting backpacks, and calibrating GPS units, all of us eager to begin hiking on a quiet Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to Cowhorn Mountain. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, would-be PCT through-hikers have been asked to postpone or cancel their epic trip from Mexico to Canada and try again in some future year when it can be done safely. So, it stood to reason that the PCT, normally busy with through-hikers this time of year, would be somewhat more calm and sedate. However, a hopeful and helpful "trail angel" had stocked the trailhead with water jugs for the through-hiking crowd and there were two such through-hikers availing themselves of the precious life-sustaining liquid when we arrived.

Trail angels show some PCT through-hiker love
We exchanged greetings with Fiesta, who was given that trail name because of a piƱata ornament hanging on her pack. Her friend had just joined her mid-trip and did not have a trail name yet, so I suggested Hey You until such time as she earned a proper trail name. While we were conversing, the mosquito scourge made their horrendous bloodsucking biting presence known to all of us and Fiesta let it slip out that neither one of them had anticipated so many mosquitoes and as a result, had no repellent on hand. "See this?" she said, pointing at her face which was well pimpled and welted with mosquito bites upon mosquito bites "This is Braille for 'Help!' "

One of two Windigo Lakes was visible from the PCT
As it turned out, I had an extra bottle residing within the dark depths of my day pack and I quickly dug it out and handed it to two very grateful human beings. They offered to give it back after applying a layer but I need the Karma points for my free pass into Hiker Heaven so I told them to keep the bottle and pay it forward. This little episode is one of the things I truly appreciate and love about the hiking community. We are all brethren and sistren out on the trail and we take care of each other, no questions asked. I've been on both the receiving and giving end and this would not be the first or last time trail assistance will be given or received by me. At any rate, it was really cool to commence hiking festivities by doing a good deed, every hike should begin that way.

Penny stops to admire the view
Walking in a figurative cloud of feel-good, we set out on the Pacific Crest Trail which immediately angled uphill through a shady forest. I'm sad to say the cloud of feel-good was woefully ineffective in warding off the thick clouds of mosquitoes pervading the forest. The trail was basically following a ridge crest that was the actual Pacific Crest of the Pacific Crest Trail. Because of our vantage atop the crest, breaks in the forest cover served up large west-side vistas of Mount Bailey, Mount Thielsen, and Crater Lake's rim. On the east side, one Windigo Lake was visible while generally flatter forested terrain rolled off into the desert country of central Oregon.

Patti: Looks kind of far
Cleve: Looks kind of tall, too
Penny: It's probably really steep
Me, Edwin, John: Yep
As we continued to gain elevation in the mosquito-infested forest, we could catch occasional glimpses of Sawtooth Peak, Diamond Peak, and Cowhorn Mountain, today's object of desire rising demoralizingly high above our current elevation. It seemed so far away too, we still had a couple of uphill miles yet to go. Best to duck back into the forest so we could avoid seeing the visual bad news in that regard.

Pasque flower beautified the rock gardens
As we gained elevation, the trees began to thin out a bit and we hiked in and out of small rock gardens festooned with scarlet paintbrush, purple penstemon, and showy white pasque flowers. The pasque flowers, a member of the anemone (or windflower) family, morph from eye-catching bloom into small orbs of fuzzy seed heads that resemble so many hairy-headed hippies from the early 1960s. Along the trail and in the open places too, were patches of snow totally at odds with the warm sunshine vibe.

Now the real work begins!
After four'ish miles of steady uphill hiking, it was time to jump off the PCT and do the actual climb to the summit. Oof, all that uphill hiking to get here was more like level grade hiking by comparison. The trail steepened considerably and legs quickly began screaming in the soft volcanic soil on Cowhorn's shoulders. About halfway up, my legs went wobbly (damn diabetes, anyway) so Patti and I sat on a rock bench atop a rusty red saddle and began enjoying the day and view while my friends continued on to the summit.

View from Crescent Lake to the Three Sisters
The views surrounding Cowhorn are astounding and we were suitably astounded. Diamond Peak is Cowhorn's immediate neighbor to the north and the forested basin between the two peaks was dotted with dozens of lakes big and small. The two large lakes were Summit Lake and Crescent Lake. Not as obvious as its lake neighbors, Timpanogas Lake (the source of the Middle Fork Willamette River) was also visible perched atop the headwaters of the Middle Fork Willamette's deep and formidable canyon. Beyond Diamond Peak and somewhat lost in the summer haze, were the Three Sisters and other members of that mountain tribe. And of course, there was massive Cowhorn Mountain rising directly in front, making us feel really small.

Cowhorn Mountain
There was lots to take in and photograph but as I ate, my replenished legs felt like tackling the climb to Cowhorn. Just as I was about to join the summit party as a late arrival, we could see our friends picking their way down like so many careful ants on a wall. Oh well, but I'm sort of kicking myself for stopping short.

PCT oasis
So, it was back to the trees and mosquitoes as we hiked the four downhill miles back to Windigo Pass. When you hike, you tend to breathe hard and I inhaled and swallowed four mosquitoes in what has to be some small retribution for the thousands of instances they've partaken of me. On the way down, Edwin and I took a small side-trip to a small pond that is an important water stop for through-hikers. The water was warm, tepid, and muddy, but when that's the only available water for miles and miles, then that's the water you drink. However, the water jugs at the trailhead have rendered moot the necessity of this small pond.

Comparing who's boots are better
We all decided that it had been indeed a grand hike despite the heat, the mosquitoes, and all the uphill walking. It could have been worse though, for Cowhorn used to have a "cow horn" that made the mountain much taller than its present height. In the early 1900s, a winter storm toppled the rock spire and like freshly neutered dogs the world over, it's just not as horny as it used to be. And I just set my quest for Hiker Heaven back a thousand points with that one.

Fuzzy-headed pasque flower, gone to seed
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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