Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tire Mountain

In spring, expansive green meadows and vibrant wildflowers draw throngs of admirers to the vibrant slopes of Tire Mountain. Simply stated, Tire Mountain is one of the best wildflower hikes in all of southern Oregon and is certainly worthy of all the attention and worship. However, when summer arrives, the meadows dry out, the flowers become seeds, and the cruelly fickle hordes of hikers abandon Tire Mountain, leaving the humble mountain bereft, loveless, and lonely. But, having visited Tire Mountain recently, I can state the mountain in summer still puts on a show and is definitely deserving of some adulation after the spring floral fireworks have faded into yesterseason.

A beautifully shaded forest
I had taken a week and a half off of hiking due to a stupid tweaked back so I wasn’t really expecting to stride athletically up and down steep trails with nary a drop of perspiration. It was no surprise then that my legs were complaining pretty much at the start when the trail angled uphill through a dark and shady forest. Accordingly, I adjusted my gait to a more measured hiking rhythm and life was pretty comfortable hiking-wise from there on in. Because of my relaxed pace and my well known proclivity to stop frequently for photography, my six comrades left me behind and basically I hiked as alone and lonely as Tire Mountain on a warm summer day.

 Slime mold appeals to my little boy sensibilities
At the start, the forest was lush and green, with ferns and many other verdant plants brushing up against hikers’ legs as they walked by, it was a good thing there was no poison oak in the area! A few plant species served up some desultory floral offerings such as ram’s horn pedicularis, inside-out flower, and Scouler’s harebell. Not as attractive, but maybe more interesting, were splotches of slime mold, looking all the world like dog barf, which would explain why one particular species of slime mold is actually called dog vomit slime mold.

A bit of a cliff hugger, here
The first mile and a half or so of the hike is a workmanlike climb through the forest for the sole purpose of getting into the large meadows higher up. Advance notice of the meadow splendors to come was given when the trail passed through a series of smaller pastures where the thick forest started thinning out. Those lovely erstwhile green meadows of spring were now acres and acres of dry brown grass, parching underneath the hot summer sun. The terms "wildfire season" and "summer" can be used interchangeably in southern Oregon and while no fires were burning nearby, smoke from our neighbor to the south (California) hazed up the nice view of the North Fork Willamette River valley seen from intermittent open spots in the forest.

Peace in a forest canopy
As the trail gained miles and elevation, vine maple began to assert itself in the forest, making for a nice shady hike underneath the green canopy of leaves illuminated by the bright July sun. In places, thick patches of ocean spray bushes were blooming underneath the trees, making both bees and butterflies happy. Several small seeps ran across the trail, the water from the springs turning the local greenery even greener. 

One single farewell-to-spring
As stated, the expansive meadows that make Tire Mountain so renowned were no longer green. However, farewell-to-spring, a member of the clarkia family, was putting on a fantastic display, making the meadows still a worthwhile destination in summer. Cups of the pink flower with its distinguishing red splotches colored up the hillsides, bringing all hiking to a screeching halt while the camera busily engaged in taking photos of flower after flower. Ookow and elegant brodiaea contributed their own little brand of lavender to all the pink and red emanating from the clarkia en masse.

In the deep dark woods
The latter portion of the hike (or “life after meadows” as we like to call it) was a steady uphill walk to the summit of Tire Mountain. The forest was sublime here, and the hike took place in the deep dark interior thereof. While uphill, the grade wasn’t too taxing which was fine with me and my sore back. That would change about a half-mile from the finish, when the path went legitimately steep on us as it switchbacked up to the Tire Mountain summit. The trail had not seen recent maintenance so we had to clamber over a series of fallen trees and maybe a landslide or two.

Tire Mountain
As an end destination, Tire Mountain's summit underwhelms. There used to be a lookout here but it has long since been removed. The brushy summit is ringed with trees which effectively block any would-be view. But we do hike here for some extra miles and a sense of destination and after meeting both those objectives by reaching the summit, we immediately turned around and ate lunch in the deep dark forest below the mountain top.

"Time to carry me! "
The obvious line of humor in closing would be something about being tired on Tire Mountain but I’ve worked that one to death in prior blogs, no sense rehashing that jaded and faded old pun. Maybe I could go with a slight variation on the theme with "I hiked Tire Mountain and was tired. I then hiked Tire Mountain again and was retired!", but we'll let canine friend Arlie have the final word. Using nonverbal communication much more eloquent and expressive than any prose I could conceivably come up with, he theatrically threw himself down at the trailhead, his whole body posture saying “I am so tired!”

Worst camouflage ever!
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Floras Lake Loop

I had been doing so well, too. During the months of June and July, I had been cranking out a hike every two or three days, getting into hiking trim and losing a few pounds in the process. Then this hike happened. There was a photogenic fungus growing on a tree trunk and I squatted down to get a fungus level shot and "SNAP!" My spine suddenly felt like an adult rat getting squeezed to death by a large python of pain. I just inhaled "oohhhhhhh...." for about five minutes, looked at my GPS which said my car was about 2.5 miles away, and said a few bad words which might have offended jays squawking in the trees overhead. Oh, this was going to be a fun hike back to the trailhead!

Woods dark and mysterious
At the hike's pre-injury commencement, it was a sunny day but at the coast, just because it's a sunny day doesn't mean it's warm. Case in point was this particular morning which began with blue sky and bright sunshine spread out over the trail like a celestial picnic blanket of goodness. Despite the seeming summer vibe however, the air was cool to the point of being cold and a very active breeze made sure to keep hikers moving so as to ward off an attack of the shivers.

Cow parsnip attracted the bees
My basic plan was to hike the Floras Lake - Blacklock Point loop in a counter-clockwise direction, reserving the craggy point for the end of the hike. Because I've been feeling walky these days, I figured I'd drop down off the point to get in some beach hiking between Blacklock Point and the Sixes River for some vague distance to be determined later, depending if my walkiness was still with me or not at that point.

Most of the trail was surrounded by dense vegetation
It used to be you hiked across an airstrip at the Cape Blanco Airport, and what could ever possibly go wrong with hikers on the runway? A lot actually, but fortunately nothing bad ever happened all the times I had taxied down the runway on foot. At any rate, now there are fences put up all around the airport so cutting over to the Oregon Coast Trail from here would be sure to involve some criminal trespass behavior. However, an approved (presumably) side trail now takes hikers to the rear of and around the runway so no crimes were committed (presumably) on this hike.

Trapper's tea was a thing on this hike
On the other side of the airport runway, the Oregon Coast Trail is an old jeep track that runs as unerringly straight as a graph of a linear equation. The clay-like soil is like cement this time of year, baked as hard and unyielding as a dinner cooked by the ex-wife. The track descended ever so gently through flourishing vegetation consisting primarily of tall rhododendrons and flowering trapper’s tea. It was quiet too, my only company being the breeze whooshing through the trees and one solitary trail runner who exchanged greetings with me both coming and going.

A very windy beach
After several miles of easy hiking, I grabbed a side trail to the beach, somewhat to my regret. The wind was howling like a choir of twenty-seven off-key banshees and was as cold as a vampire’s handshake. I tarried just long enough to snap some pictures and hightail it back to the protective cover of dense vegetation. The photos say it was a sunny day and ostensibly warm but the photos lie, don’t believe your eyes.

A paintbrush glows luminescent 
I ate lunch at an overlook of Floras Lake, totally entertained by the sight of about a dozen windsurfers enjoying the brisk wind like so many giant gossamer-winged dragonflies. Me, I did my best to stay out of the buffeting bone-chilling air currents, choosing instead to look at some tiger lilies flowering along the overgrown Oregon Coast Trail.

From atop the bluffs
My planned route was modified somewhat because instead of walking to Blacklock Point via the beach, I opted to take the trail on top of the beach bluffs. It was much less windy that way and besides which, high tide had rendered the beach walk a bit risky. Atop the bluffs, the forest was lush and beautiful with trees gnarled and twisted by the frequent breezes that pummel the Oregon coast. And in that beautiful forest is where my back decided to ruin my hike. Obviously, there’d be no going to Blacklock Point this day, darn it.

The gloom matched my post-injury mood
To match my mood, the weather changed from sunny and cold to foggy and cold on the way back. Periodically, the trail would serve up a view of fog and not much else. Besides which, I was not all that interested in scenery any more, for some pain-infused reason. Nothing lined up in my back the way it should and my posture was crooked as the trees I was walking under. My walking motion was kind off-kilter as I sidled sideways on the trail like a like a scuttling crab with a limp. It really was a shame this happened because I had been hiking fast and furious, well on my way to a preset target of 500 miles this year. Obviously, some down time and a period of recuperation are waiting for me, we’ll have to see how that affects my goal. The other disappointment is that the photo of the fungus that caused my spinal demise wasn’t even that great of a photo!

It was all this photo's fault!
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Stein Butte

My physician tells me that if I exercise more, then I can live longer. Paradoxically though, it's one of life's many cruel little ironies that living longer makes it harder to exercise more so you can live longer. I had plenty of reason to ruminate on the circular logic of all this during a recent hike to the summit of Stein Butte, located almost astride the Oregon-California border. The labor to reach the Stein summit entailed a 9.4 mile hike with 2,400 feet of elevation gain on a day where the temperature was in the 90s, leaving me tired and sore when it was all over. No doubt, the hike was beneficial and increased my overall health but why does good exercise have to feel so bad?

Why you should use sunscreen
Beginning from the shore of Applegate Lake, right where the Middle Fork Applegate River, Elliott Creek, and the lake itself join forces and unite as one, the Stein Butte Trail wastes no time in heading uphill, and with good reason. Stein Butte's summit is 2,400 feet above the lake and you have just under five miles to get there. For math geeks like myself, that's just about five miles of nearly a 10% grade. The trail points due east across the map like a giant vector from advanced calculus class but from a lay standpoint, it's just a tough hike. 

Pretty to look at, so itchy to touch

The forest was the usual Siskiyou Mountains forest mix of oak, conifer, and madrone trees, with a lush green jungly undergrowth flourishing under the trees, comprised mostly of thick stands of poison oak bushes, just looking for an opportunity to torment susceptible and inattentive hikers. I'm happy to report that I managed to keep my bare legs from brushing up against any waving fronds of Satan's favorite plant, he'll have to try again next hike.

Some of the local fauna
Speaking of itchy things, mosquitoes were not much of an issue on this hike. The difference between mosquitoes in the Cascades and mosquitoes in the Siskiyous is like the difference between a piranha and a guppy. The Siskiyou mosquitoes will tap you on the shoulder and say "Excuse me sir, may I please have a drop of your blood? I'm expecting and need it for my million babies." Their Cascades sistren (the mosquitoes that bite are females who need the blood to lay eggs, no sexist or misogynist slant intended) don't ever bother to ask. So it was rather pleasant not to have to deal with the rapacious hordes of miniscule Dracula spawn, excepting for the one that I accidentally inhaled and ate while breathing heavily on the way up.

Forest typical of Elliott Creek Ridge
Speaking of "on the way up", there was plenty of that on this hike. The trail was basically following the spine of Elliott Creek Ridge by switching from the north-facing side of the ridge to the south-facing side, and then back again, ad infinitum. South-facing slopes tend to be dry and arid, populated with scratchy chest-high thickets of manzanita bushes. The north-facing slopes tended to be cooler, shadier, and well-populated with firs, ferns, and other assorted greenery. Naturally, I'm a fan of the north-facing slopes. However, the south-facing slopes had their own awesome vibe, for the lack of trees did provide some pretty good views of the nearby Red Buttes Wilderness.

The Red Buttes dominated the scene to the southwest
Elliott Creek Ridge dropped steeply away from the trail, bottoming out at its namesake creek, and then shooting back up to the Siskiyou Mountains. The Red Buttes Wilderness straddles not only the Oregon-California border, but the Siskiyou crest as well. Having hiked in that area before on the Boundary Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, I could pretty much slap names on all the peaks extending in an unbroken chain from White Mountain to Grayback Mountain. The Red Buttes looked more orange than red, their twin peaks standing forever at attention next to equally orange Kangaroo Mountain, which does not have kangaroos on them as far as I know.

Not one, but two false summits to
psychologically contend with
The view straight ahead, along Elliott Creek Ridge, showed a small rounded peak looming above. When I first hiked this trail, I was all happy and excited to see what presumably was the summit of Stein Butte, signifying a potential joyful ending to all the bad uphill grade, Ah, I was so young and innocent then and Stein Butte is a cruel and capricious taskmaster, serving up not one, but two false summits. So, now that I'm officially an old and grizzled veteran of this trail, I didn't get too excited about seeing the first false summit this time.

My car is down there by the lake
The good news though, was that while still going uphill, the trail eased up on the rate of elevation acquisition, choosing to continue the uphill trending grade in a series of up and down rollers. At bare saddles in between false summits, views to the north impressed, offering up good looks at Little Grayback Mountain, Mule Mountain, and the Applegate River valley. Down there at Elliott Creek Ridge's crusty feet lay Applegate Lake, its many arms full of blue-green water contrasting with the surrounding dark hills and mountains. I could see a tiny road bridge spanning a narrow arm of the lake and realized my car was tucked behind a wooded ridge just beyond the bridge. Man I've got a long way to go and then get back, and I'm not even at the summit yet!

The actual summit of Stein Butte
The last push to the summit was the steepest part of the whole hike but thankfully, it was short and painful, kind of like eating a ghost pepper sandwich, and I did that very thing on the Stein Butte summit. There used to be a lookout here but all that is left of the old tower is the rocky foundation rubble, which serves as a windbreak when there is wind and I sat there for a bit, taking in the views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. I had been looking at these peaks for much of the hike but the difference was that on Stein Butte, I could see in all directions as opposed to just whatever direction the ridge or forest would allow from the trail.

It was peeling season in the forest
I was fairly spent from the hike to the summit so it was a good thing the return leg was all downhill. As previously stated, I had a long way to go, so my pace was slow and relaxed and I took photos of whatever I was staring at during the moment. In the shady forest, the dappled afternoon sunlight began to lengthen shadows and the madrones were peeling off their orange paper-thin covering, exposing a green trunk underneath for all the world to see. I know just how those madrones feel.

Knobcones, waiting for a forest fire to germinate the seeds
After 4.7 miles of hiking from Stein Butte, the trail spit me out onto the gravel road where my car was parked. If exercise is good for me, then I certainly did myself about 7.3 favors. However, the hike had been tough, the day hot (I had run out of water about a mile from the finish), so the trying conditions certainly should have some deleterious effect on my life span. Or maybe it's just a wash, I'll just live as long as I live and that's that. I'll have to ask my physician and ignore her answer if I don't like it.

The last little push to the Stein Butte summit
Despite my grumbling about the workout, this is truly a great hike and I do recommend it on a day where it is not so hot. For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

North Umpqua Trail (Swiftwater Segment)

This was my fourth hike in eight days. Two of those hikes had been plenty rigorous, working out those leg muscles via plenty of uphill grade coming on the way to a mountaintop summit. So, when the daunting climb up and over Bob Butte on this hike on the North Umpqua Trail presented itself, my legs were plenty up to the challenge, scoffing "So, what about Bob?" Wow, it seems like if you exercise regularly then your body responds in kind by improving muscle stamina and strength while shedding some of those unnecessary pounds too. Who knew?

Thimbleberry contributed some fruity goodness
Because this has been the year of Covid-19, I've been mostly hiking alone. However, Oregon had recently modified the restrictive stay-at-home order and accordingly, the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club cobbled together a small schedule of outings, with some limitations so as to comply with the new guidelines. Accordingly, it was kind of nice to (legally) hike with people again. Since one of the limitations voluntarily implemented by the club was to keep hikes fairly close to home, it only stood to reason that the North Umpqua Trail would make it onto the roster of upcoming hikes.

Woodland phlox graced the forest floor
There were several options for hiking distances and routes but about half of our rather large (given the club's self-imposed group limit) and enthusiastic group opted for a straight-through hike on the Swiftwater Segment of the North Umpqua Trail. Rheo had graciously agreed to ferry us back to our cars at the end of the hike, hauling us in the back of her pickup like so many sacks of garbage on their way to the dump. We didn't complain (within earshot of Rheo) because the shuttle allowed us to experience the eight-mile segment in its entirety.

Just gotta love that shade on a warm day
It was obvious early on that this hike would be mostly about the lush forest growing next to the North Umpqua River. For the majority of the first four miles, the trail was mostly level and the vegetation lush, with tall trees providing plenty of shade which was appreciated on a warm summer day. The river was mostly heard but seldom seen as the forest cover did a pretty good job of obscuring the view much like the broad-shouldered dude wearing a cowboy hat that always manages get the seat in front of you at the movie theater.

Fireweed took over the burn zone
This area had been ravaged by fire several summers ago and after a couple of miles, the green forest was replaced by a dead forest with acres of ghostly snags reaching up to the blue sky above as if to send their forest fire anguish up to the heavens. However, death is part of life and vise versa, and the forest was already well on its way to recovery from the conflagrations of summers past. Because of the increased sunlight in direct proportion to the increased number of dead (ergo, shadeless) trees, sun-loving vegetation was flourishing in rampant exuberance. Fireweed, and thimbleberry were the main culprits but there were also plenty of young big-leaf maple trees taking root, in a sure sign that the forest will return at some point. 

Fern Falls, not feeling the wildfire love
In winter and spring, there are a number of seasonal creeks that cross the trail but on this summer day, the temporary creeks had pretty much all dried up. One exception was the creek at Fern Falls, a highlight of the hike that shows up at just under the two-mile mark. The fire has done a number on the formerly photogenic cascade, for now the small creek gully is choked and littered with fire debris such as trunks, limbs, and tree parts, generally. The increased sunlight supports a healthy layer of vegetation that further obscures the waterfall. While the hike is enjoyable and beautiful, the small cataract is not as impressive as it used to be.

Trail through the rampant greenery
Shortly after crossing on a footbridge spanning a nameless creek flowing in a deep gully, the live forest returned and just as we were beginning to overheat in the sun like lozenges melting on a hot sidewalk, we returned to the shade and there was much rejoicing. The cool forest was very much appreciated and the whole vibe was ferny thanks to sword ferns brandishing their fronds on the hillsides and over the trail as we hiked by.

Groundsel represented the yellow end of the color pool
At the four mile mark, the easy level walking ended as the trail inclined upward and began the climb up and over forested Bob Butte. From a technical aspect, I've never understood why the trail designers engineered this taxing section of trail this way, for it seems to me that the route could have just continued along the river like it had been doing for the first four miles. But obviously, it does prove that trail designers don't ever hike on the trails that they create, at least in this world. Although, they may forever have to hike on them on a warm eternal day, if you get my drift. However, after this week of constant hiking, my legs were more than up to the would-be daunting task of climbing up and over the butte. As I hiked, I contemptuously sneered at the uphill grade except for when nobody was watching.

Farewell-to-Spring put on a summery show
However, despite Bob Butte's lone failing of having a steep trail on it, the mostly wooded mountain did provide one of the main highlights of this hike. After cresting the high point of the hike, the venerable North Umpqua Trail then drops down to Bob Creek. On the descent, the slope sheds the trees and goes all rocky and grassy on us, with just a few odd oak trees scattered here and there. Accordingly, the open slopes provide a nice view up the North Umpqua River canyon, but on this day that vista was upstaged by a flowering clarkia known as Farewell-to-Spring, so named because the blooming clarkia is a sure sign that summer has arrived. The grass on the open slope was all dull and drab, having browned out weeks prior. However, the ample quantities of Farewell-to-Spring absolutely colorized the brown slopes in a spectacular display of pink interspersed with purple, thanks to some elegant brodiaea flowering in between all the clarkia. It was truly stunning and wondrous.

We ate lunch at Bob Creek
However, it was a bit too sunny and warm to comfortably lunch and laze in the rocky meadow, flower display notwithstanding, so our little hiking subset consisting of me, Wendy, Coreena, Misty, and canine pal Arlie walked just a bit further to the bridge crossing of Bob Creek. I don't know who Bob was but he certainly has stamped his brand on all named things in this area. At any rate, we enjoyed the rest, the shade, the rushing creek, and ghost pepper infused sandwiches. Well, maybe just one of us enjoyed that last item.

Wendy leads the way on the old roadbed section
From Bob Creek, a short uphill push took us up and away from the creek bounding in its ferny forested canyon and once the trail crested it was all gradual downhill at that point, and legs were thankful. The trail is an old forest road here and it was plenty wide enough for us to walk abreast as we hiked in easy companionship. Normally, I hike this section in the winter and on this summer day, all the seasonal creeks and cascades were just an evaporated memory, as fleeting and impermanent as a wisp of steam rising from a teapot spout. However, the forest was still lush and plenty green and it was a pleasant and shady walk before we polished off the hike with a crossing of the North Umpqua River on Tioga Bridge, where a short and breezy return shuttle in the bed of Rheo's truck awaited us.

Shadow play
All in all, another great hike on the North Umpqua Trail and for more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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.