First hike of 2021

Triumphant pose on King’s Mountain peak.

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.

At the bottom of the mountain we found some flowers, like these yellow violets, but at the top it was earlier in the season and there were fewer flowers.
Not a remarkable moth by any means, but a tiny ambassador of warmer weather.
I am a sucker for wildflowers.
Such a pretty hello from a flower amidst what reminded us of shamrocks. So I looked it up, and I think they ARE shamrocks, how funny I never knew this.
An unopened Trillium.

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.

Tillamook Burn. Image from Wikipedia.
Here I am trying to identify the top tree branch by comparing to the one in my hand. It looks like a redwood, but this area isn’t known for redwoods. The area is instead famous for Douglas Fir, which is what I think I have in my hand. Needles (leaves) on the unknown tree are flat, instead of a bottlebrush spray around the branch. And there are more joints to the branches than the long straight pieces in my hand.
A lovely sunny day in the forest. Nothing here to make us think of wildfire.

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.

It’s hard to see how steep this is, so I walked into the forest to look at the trail from the side, and asked Pedro to walk up and provide perspective.
This is the same bit of trail, only from the side. You get a better sense of the incline.
A few turns higher, as I was gasping for breath on the side of the trail, I saw that this view would also give a sense of how steep the trail is.

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.

Congratulations, you’ve made it this far!
A viewpoint as we neared the top. This is close, but not there yet.
Same view, only zoomed in. That land must be owned by timber companies, because you can see the logging has cleared big sections of forest.

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.

King’s Mountain summit, 3, 226 feet high (983 meters). The Mazamas are a mountaineering group in the region. They must have placed the box and sign, and may also provide trail maintenance. Over the hill a little bit is a hiker who arrived before we did, resting and contemplating the view.
You can tell this view is the summit and not the viewpoint in the earlier photos, because there are no trees in the way on this shot!
Click on this panorama to see what I saw. There are five other hikers and a dog in this shot.
We passed several patches of snow, yet unmelted.
These, bless their purple hearts, are blooming at the top. Snow be damned, it’s spring!
Pedro posed for me.
Aha! I found the smile. He smiles constantly, I promise, just not for cameras.

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.

On our way down the hill.
The sun continued to illuminate the trees.
At 4:30pm we are awash in sunshine. Just think, only a few months ago it would have been dark as midnight at 4:30pm.
There it is! Would I lie to you? The Tillamook Forest Elephant, rarely seen and remarkably quiet even while trumpeting, which explains how it survives predators.
Not to be outdone by Pedro’s keen eye, I spotted this Forest Octopus, with camouflage that makes it resemble tree roots.

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.

17 thoughts on “First hike of 2021

  1. Our White Mountains were also burned and logged to skeletal remains by about 1915. In Maine the logging camps around Khatadin are long gone, but not forgotten. I remember sleeping in my tent and feeling something jab me – it was a part of an old logging buggy. Somehow the forests came back, and thankfully have better protection now.

    1. Hold up, Lou. Do you live in New Hampshire? I used to live in Vermont. In fact, my Tara was born in Burlington when we lived north of there in a town called Milton. I did not spend much time in New Hampshire, but remember the area fondly. I’m glad to hear the forests are back. In some places in the US the forests were logged and never came back. Maybe in the White Mountains, like in Tillamook, there was an effort by locals to assist the forest with planting and protections, as you suggest.

  2. Good for you, Crystal! Our hikes so far are still up into the forest behind us but we will be extending our walks soon. We are hoping to pull off a short backpack trip along the Rogue River trail in mid-April. My goal is to get Peggy’s pack down to about 20 pounds and keep mine around 30.
    Fun to see a photo of Pedro.
    For your knee. Have you tried using hiking poles? I really never did until I hit the PCT two years ago. I figured that my 75 year old joints might not have much of a sense of humor. The poles helped a lot.
    –Curt

    1. I think your spot is lovely, that you have places to hike in your own “neighborhood,” and I think a backpacking trip along the Rogue River sounds perfect. I want to get into the Goat Rocks Wilderness this year. I haven’t been there for a couple of years and it’s time to go back. But before I do, I need to get my body ready for it. You know, I have tried poles. They feel like carrying luggage to me. I just can’t get the knack of poles, constantly banging them on things or catching them in bushes as I walk, and not knowing what to do with them when I need to use my arms to balance. When I have carried poles they tend to put me out of balance, when I typically have great balance and stability without them. I do recall descending from Mt. Fuji in loose gravel, and using the climbing stick I had to take the brunt of my downhill weight. I jabbed it directly out in front of me into the gravel and held my weight with my arms. I have wondered at times if a fat stick might help my knees a bit if I used it the same way. One of these days I may give poles another try, but for now I can’t think of how they would help. A 30 pound pack? Wow, seems wonderful. You would have the experience to do that, after your mega-hike on the PCT. I guess if you’re sharing with Peggy, that helps. My packs are typically 50 pounds, so that makes sense.

      1. Way back when I first started backpacking, Crystal, I had carefully selected and cut a walking stick from alder. I loved it for three years, until I left it behind next to a lake in Iowa, or somewhere.
        Balance is definitely an issue. One of my arguments against using hiking poles was that I lost the fine since of balance gained from hiking in the woods over difficult terrain. My other was that they looked too geeky. 🙂
        I now use one pole without a strap as a compromise. I found on my 700 mile trip down the PCT, I would put it on my pack, but would use it at the first sign go knee or ankle or hp challenges. –Curt

      2. I’m with you on the cool bit. I never qualified. It’s just that the walking poles insulted my wilderness ethos. I feel the same way about carrying a cellphone attached to GPS so I can know where I am or where the next water whole is. 🙂 –Curt

  3. I am in awe of your ability to climb that high for that long. I managed my little walk this morning but it’s always a struggle these days. E lives at 7200 ft as did I many years ago. 2500 is more than high enough when you live at sea level. Glad you have Pedro to go with. It’s always more fun when you have someone to share with. Enjoy the next hike.

    1. Bravo to you getting out for a walk! There are serious hills where you live, no joke. And I know you get out even when the weather isn’t great. That’s a good point about climbing up to a mountain peak when I live so low. My place is about 500′, but that’s low enough. Nothing like the days when you and I lived some place with elevation. It was fun to hike with Pedro, and a good motivation because he is in better shape than me and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by taking too many breaks. Next hike is tomorrow! I’m psyched. Also psyched because FINALLY we are at the end of our dry March. Holy Moly that was a long month. I was originally planning a dry January, but there were too many reasons to drink in January, ha ha ha!! But I have gone all March without a drop, and I can’t believe how hard it was. I do enjoy my whiskey and Pedro enjoys his beer, and damn if this wasn’t the longest month ever. I want to celebrate alcohol again with him, so I won’t have any tomorrow all day either, until after our hike in Forest Park. He’s going to bring beers for us, and we’ll each have one at the trailhead when we finish the loop. yay!

  4. I love everything about this. You did it, and your pose in the first photo from the top says it all. You’re a superwoman at 51. Except the mask – I can only imagine. When I used to hike, I needed all the air I could get. What a wonderful day you had. To many more.

    1. ❤ aww, thank you for the wishes for many more. Yup, I love the mountains so much I think it's why I keep doing this even when it's hard. That darn mask! I got rid of it. The ones Tara made for me at the very beginning are still my favourite masks: They fit perfectly and do not block my breathing even though they have multiple layers of fabric. It's the way they fit and don't collapse into my mouth when I inhale. Like every mask, I had a hard time a year ago, getting used to wearing them, but now I'm totally comfortable with them. But that is with regular breathing, not with mountain climbing! ha! The reason I bought the fancy masks was because I thought I might have to wear a mask while jogging one day. See, out here in the country, I do not wear a mask when I go for a run or for a walk, because I never come into contact with other humans. If I was ever to go for a run with Pedro at his house in the city, maybe I would need one. I still haven't worn a mask while jogging though. I think I would feel like I was about to suffocate and die. ha ha. Definitely can't use the fancy masks though. I'll go back to using the ones Tara made.

  5. Well, it is always easy to say that “age is in your mind”, which in many ways I agree is, but like you, there are all sorts of mysterious (as they can be haphazard in their appearance and disappearance) and very real aches and pains that plague my 51 year old body despite my attempts to relegate them to a figment of my imagination. 🙂 How wonderful that we can be so active when so many people can’t.
    How wonderful for a first hike – it really does the soul good to be outdoors when the weather turns warm. And to have a fun hiking buddy is an added bonus. Happy hiking this season.

    1. Thank you Jolandi! We are lucky, both for our active bodies and our active minds. Funny how you describe your mysterious aches. I have those too – just weird pains here and there for no reason. So far, most of them will go away if I ignore them long enough, hhaha. Yes, bonus buddy! Pedro doesn’t have much hiking experience and is eager to get out any time I suggest it, so he will help me with motivation. I have invited him on a long backpacking trip with me this summer, which he has never done before. It will be so much fun to share that part of my life with him.

      1. I am so happy you and Pedro found one another. And to have a long backpacking trip to look forward to must be really exciting. Enjoy the planning and anticipation. So much of what I enjoy about travel is just that.

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