Saturday, October 19, 2013

Iron Mountain

A friend of mine recently offered this solution for solving the next budget crisis and government shutdown: Lock up Congress in a room and until an agreement is reached, they can't leave except for food and bathroom breaks. I strongly disagreed with my friend:  Why give them food and bathroom breaks?

Iron Mountain's spire, from the summit
I offer the above paragraph to point out that the problem is not that members of Congress don't speak to each other to solve problems but that none of them are hikers. It's just too hard to not get along when hiking. In all my miles of trail, I have found hikers to be one of the friendliest bunch of people around. People of disparate backgrounds, different philosophies, and competing religions can all unite for the common goal: namely, reaching the car at the end of the trail and stopping for ice cream on the way home. Case in point was a recent hike to the summit of Iron Mountain by two people that can be as opposite as can be and I am referring to me and Mrs. O'Neill.

Scary things inhabit the woods
The full autumn show had passed us by but there were a few desultory yellow leaves as we started at the Tombstone Pass Trailhead. Tombstone Prairie was brown and dead due to the snows that had hit this area late September. The snow confused the vine maples and the leaves died on the vine, so to speak, and the dry brown leaves rustled with the slightest air current.

Autumn glory
After a short walk, we crossed busy Santiam Highway (look both ways before crossing, boys and girls) and the hike began in earnest on the Cone Peak Trail. "Up" was the operative word as the trail climbed almost 1,000 feet in just a little over 1.7 miles. No complaints yet as we were still pretty fresh and we enjoyed the shaded forest with the yellow and brown leaves in the understory.  The floor was carpeted with ankle-high thimbleberry, their leaves all glowing bright yellow.

Arrival at Cone Peak
Two miles into the hike, we took a respite from the uphill trudgery to admire views of Cone Peak and South Peak. The trail had left the forest and entered some lava barrens and the lack of trees led to the nice views under a deep blue sky. We also got our first glimpse of Iron Mountain with its distinctive pillar forever standing at respectful attention. We were trail-overlapping a family with two young girls around 5 and 8 years old. The kids were noisy with enthusiasm but on the plus side, we would not surprise any bears today. The parents are my candidates for Parents of the Year as they were taking the tykes on the full 7 mile loop, steep climbs and all.

Down into the murky woods
Leaving the slopes of Cone Peak, the trail then dropped down off a ridge and entered another shady forest which meant we had to climb out of the forest instead of staying on the level ridge. Why do trail designers hate their clients so? I think they should be locked in a room with no bathroom breaks or else be made to hike their own trails. But I digress.

How not to have a happy wife
So a brief climb took us around the shady side of Iron Mountain and then the fun started again. The side trip to the Iron Mountain summit was a seemingly interminable series of switchbacks up a treeless and rocky slope. It was about here we started to have our own budget crisis, hiking-wise. Fortunately, we averted a shutdown by making use of several stone benches conveniently sited at the switchbacks.  

That's it, I quit!
At a rocky viewpoint, Mrs. O'Neill lay down on the ground, her head dangling awkwardly as she was too tired to even remove her daypack. "That's it, I quit!" she stated ever so dramatically. "You go ahead to the summit, how far is it anyway?" I didn't bother to answer, pointing instead to the summit platform about 20 yards away. After a good laugh, she trudged the short distance to the summit.

Summit platform
The summit used to have a lookout on top but winds removed the structures several times so now we have a sturdily constructed viewing platform. A memorial plaque dedicated to Michael Robin, a lookout staffer who fell to his death in 1990, is a somber reminder about the danger of getting too close to the edge.  Nowadays, the summit platform is well railed to prevent another tragic accident.

The Three Sisters
The views were stupendous with the snowy Three Sisters rising to the southeast. Mount Jefferson was even closer, rising well above Crescent Mountain as it should, seeing how Jefferson is Oregon's second tallest peak. Mount Hood, 70 miles away, was clearly visible and amazingly beyond Hood was a ghostly white mound that could only be Mount Adams in southern Washington, a mere 128 miles away! Diamond Peak was brooding to the south and yet further south were the Crater Lake Rim peaks, faintly visible on the horizon.  To the west above the smoke filled valleys (it's wood stove season) was Mary's Peak, a Coast Range stalwart.  You really can see forever if you get high enough on a clear day.

Late afternoon
All good things come to an end and we picked our way carefully down the switchbacks and dropped back into the forest, descending into the Hackleman Creek drainage. As shadows lengthened, a short walk on the Santiam Wagon Road (now a trail) brought us full circle to our car. In a last cruel twist of fate, it was a very steep climb to the trailhead. I think Mrs. O'Neill wanted to lock both the trail designers and myself in a room with no bathroom breaks.

Uphill through the colors
For more pictures of this hike on a beautiful day, please visit the Flickr album.

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1 comment :

  1. Looks like a great "Richard" hike and wonderful views and colors. How long was the total hike???