Saturday Pedro and I got an early start and drove West into Tillamook State Forest. He is diligent about his training, but I’ve neglected mine, and when I chose two hiking options near each other: King’s Mountain or Elk Mountain, Pedro recommended the 5 mile (8 km) hike, which is shorter. In retrospect, I am grateful, because the 2.5 miles (4 km) to the summit climbed 2,520 feet (768 m) and two days later I was still feeling it.
It was a sunny warm weekend and we joined the line of cars heading West on Highway 26 toward the coast. I hoped most of them would continue to the Pacific Ocean, leaving the trails to us. The parking lot at the trailhead was full, though, and we had to double back and park at an overflow spot. It was easy to get started and I realized in 20 minutes that I did not need my jacket. Too late at that point, so I took it off and used the arms to tie it around my waist.
I had hiked Elk Mountain years ago, and recalled the extremely steep start of the trail. King’s Mountain trail wasn’t so brutal at the beginning, and I was relieved. We walked through dense forest of many tall, skinny trees and ferns, and admired the rays of sunshine falling through onto our path. It was warm and lovely.
The original forest was nearly wiped out by four huge wildfires from 1933-1951. The area and the collective devastation is referred to even today as the Tillamook Burn. At first people believed that the earth had been too scorched and would never again sustain a forest there. Local activists took on the challenge. Seventy-two million tree seedlings were planted between 1949 and 1972. All kinds of Oregonians helped, from kids to state prisoners. In 1973 it was declared the Tillamook State Forest. One thing that helped was the climate, as there are parts of these hills that receive over 100 inches (2,500 mm) of rain each year. I am not kidding when I complain about rain all the time.
The only bad part of the day was the mask I wore. I had bought the mask after doing research and finding the highest rated mask of all for workouts. The review raved about how amazing these masks are. I bought it with full confidence. It’s actually the worst mask possible, with the layers of fabric so tightly woven that no air passes through, and the structure of the mask built so the fabric easily folds right against your face. As I heaved and gasped on the uphill section, I sucked the fabric right into my mouth and was completely suffocated. Not the kind of suffocation where it’s a little awkward getting used to it, the kind where almost no air was coming in at all. Great for virus protection! I had to hold the bottom open to breathe – not great for virus protection. When we couldn’t see other hikers, we took our masks off. I reasoned that it was outdoors and as long as we distanced, we were pretty safe. I’ve had one Pfizer jab, Pedro has none so far.
After a couple hours, the hikers passing us on their way down the hill gave us encouraging words, “You’re getting pretty close!” And that helped.
The last mile was really tough. While the first part of the trail was a serious incline, the last part was distinctly steep. At a couple places, I had to use my hands on nearby rocks to help pull me up. I tried a couple of times to get photos that showed the incline, but it is hard to show incline when one is standing on the incline looking up. I found a couple of perspectives that helped show it though, and I included them above.
There were distractions along the way. Sometimes a quick chat with other hikers. Everyone was up there: kids, grandparents, dogs, and all the usual young sporty types. Also, since we were close to the city of Portland, I saw great diversity on the trail, with faces reflecting heritage from a dozen nations. That was good to see. I live in a small country town filled with white faces, and I miss seeing the variety of Americans I used to see when I lived in Portland.
A great thing about people on trails is that they are nearly always happy.
We arrived at the top in the early afternoon and the sun was beating down, defying the morning’s forecast for afternoon rain. The views were inspiring, and as many hikers had promised, it was a hard climb but so worth it.
We ate some snacks at the top and then laid back on the grass and dirt and soaked it up. After a good long rest we made our way down the hill again. I tried to return the favor as we passed red-faced hikers with chests heaving as they climbed past us, and told them how close they were to the top. Near the bottom, Pedro was lucky enough to glimpse a rare Tillamook Forest elephant – an elusive animal almost never spotted by the casual hiker.
My bad right knee cried and cried all the way down. They say “age is in your mind,” and that’s true in multiple ways but not all ways. I am hugely grateful to be 51 and happily climbing mountains when other 51-year-old bodies in the world do not allow it. So I clench my teeth and laugh off the pain and keep hiking.
Last spring I found a steep, steep hike that is closer to me, in a gigantic park near Portland called Forest Park. We are going to hike that one this week, and like I did last year, I’m going to try to make myself hike it all the time. It will be good conditioning for backpacking, which I have not done for over a year and it’s beyond time to climb deep into the mountains once more.