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On Top of Mt. Smokey

September 8, 2017

Oregon day hike on an unusual day

With much of Oregon suffering from forest fires, a threat of lightning strikes, and extreme fire danger after 3 months without rain, I postponed my backpack to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon. Oregon will recover, and it will all grow back. See my thoughts about the good that can come from this in the next to last paragraph.

Conditioning hike

I want to stay in shape for when I do get to go to the Wallowas, so in the meantime, since my pack was all ready to go, I grabbed it and headed up Hwy 26 toward Mt. Hood to go for a little conditioning hike up Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain above Mirror Lake. The sun was almost obscured by the smoke-filled sky, and I couldn't even see Mt. Hood.

Mirror Lake trailhead undergoing change

The Mirror Lake trailhead is being changed to start from the Ski Bowl parking lot in Government Camp, but it’s still accessible from the Hwy a mile before Ski Bowl – it’s just that the parking is limited unless you go up to Ski Bowl. Also, there is now a highway divider so you can’t try to do a dangerous U-turn to go back toward Portland – you have to go on up to Government Camp to turn around. A little inconvenient, but much safer.

 

Hwy 26 traffic was affected by fire in Columbia Gorge

The truck traffic on Hwy 26 was much heavier than usual because I-84 in the Columbia Gorge was closed because of the huge Eagle Creek fire, which was still out of control, burning 32,000 acres.

 

Woods and trail ever so dry

 The woods was very dry and still. The lake didn’t have a ripple on it. There was no wind. Even the birds were silent. It was like the whole forest and everything in it was holding its breath, waiting for rain.

 

Salmon  Huckleberry Wilderness

At Mirror Lake, there's a trail that goes on up the mountain. At that point, you're entering a wilderness area.

 Where the trail reaches the top, it’s like a boulder field of sharp-cornered rocks and slabs.

The smoky atmosphere was thick enough that Mt. Hood to the north wasn’t even visible, but at least I could see Mirror Lake down below. Normally, this is one of the best spots to take an awesome view of Mt. Hood up close.

 Somewhere on the way up, the 5 inch handle on my new Vivitar tripod must have come loose and fallen off, without my being aware of losing it. So I wasn’t able to use the tripod, because that handle is what tightens the cell phone to hold it in position.  I had just bought it to replace the one I broke on that Wyoming backpack a few weeks ago. It seems I’m skilled at breaking tripods or rendering them useless.  

So I tried making a little video by ‘selfie’ method. New at this. Oh well. You couldn’t see much anyway, because of the smoke, but maybe it will give people an idea of what it was like that day.

 Even with a rest stop to eat an Asian Pear, and a few other stops to talk to some other hikers, the round trip hike was less than 4 hours, because I was hiking pretty good clip. And 4 hours on a trail carrying a full pack beats my normal routine of 1 or 2 hours at the gym.

I knew there wouldn’t be any photo ops, but wanted to reaffirm that hiking doesn’t have to stop just because we have 16 fires going out of control across the western half of the state. There are plenty of places where we can still get outdoors, and I found the air at 5000’ elevation a little better than down lower and closer to Portland, where it was even thicker. I never need much of an excuse to go hiking.

 

The forest will recover.

First we’ll see fireweed. Then more and more wildflowers and other browse, which will be nice new habitat for deer and elk. And slowly but surely, new trees will sprout. Under 3000 feet, it’s usually the alders that come back first. Then the evergreens gradually take over. By that time the burnt trees will have fallen and will be feeder logs turning back to the soil. It’s a succession in about a 60 to 100 year cycle that’s been going on even before this continent was settled by migrants from Asia who came over the Bering Strait. There were always fires, from lightning strikes, and even from deliberate burns by the natives.

Postscript:

After I got home, we got a little rain in the evening. What a blessing.

More about Mt. Hood National Forest

More about Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness

More about the Eagle Creek forest fire in the Columbia Gorge

 

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