Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cone Peak

It was a simple enough plan: Hike up the Cone Peak Trail, scramble up to the top of Cone Peak, then work my way along a ridge to South Peak, and depending on time and energy, maybe do Echo Mountain too. But a balky wrist sapped my enthusiasm for all this peak summiting and this wound up being a mountain climbing fail on a nice day for hiking.

Very little snow on the Santiam Wagon Road
I parked at the Tombstone Pass snow park and there was virtually no snow there in what surely is an ominous portent for a bigger and badder fire season. I did make sure to display my Oregon Sno-Park permit on the dash, for lack of snow surely would not deter the ticket writers from making their appointed rounds. The trail to Tombstone Prairie begins on the historic Santiam Wagon Road which was covered by mere inches of old snow. So not good.

So not good!
Snow is nature's timed-release water pill, and even though we've had lots of rain, the lack of snow bodes ill for the upcoming wildfire season. I tried to be happy about the lack of snow because after all, I would be enjoying an early season hike due to the aforementioned lack of snow. But still, I'd happily sacrifice hiking if it meant giving up the wildfires that will rampage in summer.

Tombstone Prairie
Anyway, the trail to Tombstone Pass descended from the Santiam Wagon Road under a thin cover of crunchy snow. Tombstone Pass got its name from a 1871 incident where 18 year old James McKnight accidentally killed himself when his gun discharged as he retrieved it from between two bedrolls. I believe there is an actual tombstone nearby but I've never seen it, but then again I haven't really looked for it either.

Aren't you glad there are
no pictures of hiker raisins?
Tombstone Prairie is a prime snowshoeing and Nordic skiing destination in a normal winter with snow in it but on this day the only prairie visitors were the occasional hiker and lots of elk, to judge by the number of hoof prints and piles of elk raisins. I didn't see any hiker raisins, but then again I didn't really look, either.

The Cone Peak Trail was littered with fir parts
Leaving Tombstone Prairie, the Cone Peak Trail angled sharply uphill and crossed Highway 20 before resuming its mad charge up the forested slope lying between Cone Peak and Iron Mountain. Apart from the occasional small drift, the snow disappeared as the trail climbed. The climate was almost balmy as the sun shone overhead in a cloudless blue sky.

First view of Cone Peak
After several long switchbacks and a whole lot of elevation gain, the trail broke out of the forest and entered a series of pumice barrens.  Nice views were had of South Peak and the tip of Cone Peak, each flecked with small patches of snowy dandruff on their respective bald heads.

Iron Mountain

Despite the name, the Cone Peak Trail basically sideswipes its namesake peak as it continues a loop hike toward Iron Mountain; an off-trail scramble is required to get to the top of Cone Peak. The rounded peak seems rather kind and gentle...until you have to hike up it. The first order of business once I left the actual trail was to beat through a dense stand of trees that raked at me as I worked my way through. As I fought the tree army repelling any would-be summiters, the slope was already working its way to near vertical. During this hand-to-branch combat, I was leaning heavily on my hiking poles and therein would lie the cause of my demise, hiking-wise.

The climb up was steep, to put it mildly

Several summers ago, I had crashed my bicycle and broke my wrist and jaw while on a ride in Idaho. Four surgeries later, I have a partially fused wrist and my wrist and I generally get along. However, the torque exercised on the joint during the climb left the unfused part of the wrist screaming "OUCH!". Lest you think me a namby-pamby, I will point out that I cycled 78 miles with a broken jaw and wrist. I do know how to handle pain, so if I say it hurts, it hurts!

Slippery slope
Unsuccessfully trying to block out the nerve signals emanating from a joint in distress, I tried walking with the wrist holding the pole on both the downhill and uphill side to see if it was easier on the wrist or not. Didn't help, so I folded my poles and put them in my pack and bravely soldiered on. The slope was incredibly steep and melting snow made the ground soft and slippery. Where the ground was harder rock, little pebbles rolled under my boots, it was like walking on marbles. The first time I put my hand down to steady myself, the wrist told me in no uncertain terms to never do that again.

All Three Sisters in a family photo
I sat down and ate lunch, hoping a brief rest might help. And really, the views were totally awesome once I quit focusing on the climb up. Nearest mountain neighbor Iron Peak was eminently visible, thumbing its lava pillar in permanent disdain at Cone Peak. The steep slope dropped away at my feet into the Hackleman Creek drainage with Browder Ridge on the other side of the valley. Beyond Browder Ridge were the glistening white peaks of the Three Sisters and Mount Washington.

North Peak, Echo Mountain, and South Peak

Just to the east was South Peak, Echo Mountain, and North Peak. Hikers without a throbbing wrist could work their way along the connecting ridge and along with Iron Mountain and Cone Peak, bag 5 peaks. The down side to that is that on the return from North Peak, 3 of those peaks would have to be bagged twice. That'd be a 8 peak hike! Feeling peaked just thinking about that, I made one last attempt at conquering the short distance to the Cone Peak summit. A few steps further, a steadying hand on the muddy slope made me change my mind and regretfully, I began the descent.

Cloud cover, at the end of the day
So next time, and there will be a next time, I'll wear a wrist brace and hopefully that should do it. And also hopefully, a snowstorm will hit in February and restore snow levels back to where they belong.  I'm more hopeful about the wrist.

Not your basic snowshoe trip
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

No comments :

Post a Comment