Friday, July 23, 2021

Tam McArthur Rim

Several weeks ago, the Seattle Sounders had their way with my beloved Portland Timbers on the soccer pitch. After the game, while the salty tears on my cheeks were still wet, I read an online recap about this terrible tragedy and the headline put it thusly: "Seattle Mollywhops Portland". Now, if you peruse your Oxford English Dictionary to find the meaning of "mollywhop", your inner lexicologist will be unrequited, for "mollywhop" is more than likely a totally made up word. I'd love to create a catchy word like that myself, but it's no easy feat to meld two unrelated words into a single word that upon the first hearing, the meaning is nonetheless immediately clear. When you can pull that off my friends, you have reached the pinnacle of word nerdvana. The rest of us mere blogsters can only wish we could be that inventive. 

Lane leads the mad charge uphill

Speaking of words, how about some real words about our hike? I'd been only one other time on Tam MacArthur Rim (about 15 years ago) and back then, everything was covered with snow. Flash forward to present time and this latest rendition of the hike was arid, dry, and stultifyingly hot. There was no snow to be found anywhere on the rim and while you could legitimately blame climate change, the real culprit was the inherent difference between hiking in November and hiking in July. 

Short life expectancy for trees on Tam McArthur Rim

What was unchanged between now and then was the grade of the trail as it departed the shoreline of beautiful Three Creeks Lake. The path inscribed a switchbacking course to and fro through a thin and sparse forest where at least half of the trees were lying prone on the ground, right where they fell. Fortunately, the trail had been cleared by a trail crew so there was very little scrambling over downed trees which was fine with me anyway, for the grade of the trail was mollywhoppery enough to get me considering lying prone next to the trees myself.

The trail hugged the edge of the Tam McArthur world

It was kind of hard to tell what with the forest surrounding the path, but we were basically contouring up Tam McArthur Rim itself. Occasional breaks in the forest cover did serve up some stunning scenery. Directly below the abrupt edge of the rim's escarpment, reposed the azure waters of Three Creeks Lake with the surrounding fire-scarred terrain sloping steadily all the way down to central Oregon. A thin haze of smoke from the Bootleg Fire limited the visibility somewhat, otherwise I daresay we could have seen Chicago skyscrapers on the distant horizon.


Judging by all the dead tree skeletons on the rim, life is tough on trees up here. Accordingly, they were sparsely bunched. The soil was dry pumice, and our boots kicked up dust clouds that lazily floated above the trail as we scuffed along. But at least you could see the scenery in front of you as you hiked, and while I may have, given the right frame of mind, appreciated the scenery and geologic wonders we were hiking through, all I could see and focus on was the trail madly charging straight up a slope underneath the hot sun. Oof!

Psst, buddy! Spare some peanuts for a friend?

All the bad uphill stopped, officially at least, when the trail ended at a viewpoint. There is an ad hoc use path leading to Broken Hand that delivers plenty more uphill hiking but I was going to keep my promise to my surgical scars and limit my hikes to about 5 miles or so for the time being. So, my comrades abandoned me but that's ok, for I made new friends with numerous ground squirrels begging for peanuts at the overlook.

Broken Top and the Three Sisters rise above the escarpment

The untrammeled views here were astounding. To the east sprawled central Oregon and discerning hikers (like me!) could pick out the crater of Fort Rock just north of Hager Mountain. Yamsay Mountain was south of Hager and lay in the Bootleg Fire's red evacuation zone, yet there was no smoke to be seen other than a thin hazy layer floating on the distant skyline. Mount Jefferson was nearby with faraway Mount Hood coyly peeking over Jefferson's shoulder. In the forested basin immediately below the rim, sprawled sapphire-colored Three Creeks Lake and Little Three Creeks Lakes (there are several). A massive escarpment blocked most of the view of the Three Sisters although the tips of Broken Top and all Three Sisters loomed above the imposing rock wall. Way cool and it was a pleasure to just sit and take it all in.

Cobwebby paintbrush (castilleja arachnoidea)

All good things come to an end though, and eventually I packed up my gear and headed back down the trail. It was a lazy walk back, primarily because I'm lazy, but also because I spent a lot of time photographing the low growing rainbow of cobwebby paintbrush flowers populating the pumice plains on the rim. On the descent, I startled a pine marten, a seldom seen member of the weasel family, and that was also pretty cool. I also lightly rolled my ankle and took what I presume to be a spectacular tumble down a rock staircase, which was not nearly as cool as running into a pine marten. I think I just got mollywhopped by the trail.

One of the dearly departed

Now, I have spent more time than is advisable in pursuit of a word that could mollywhop "mollywhop". I've come up with sarahslapped, lanelurched, and in keeping with my header on the trail, tamthwacked. But apart from my feeble alliterative attempts, a fresh scab on my knee, and mostly pleasant memories of this spectacular hike, I've got nothing.

Little Three Creek Lakes, from the Tam McArthur overlook

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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