Dateline: July 11, 2018
Help. Thanks. Wow!
The prayer that is sufficient for everything is applicable for this hike in all its essential bits. The impassible road; the belated arrival at the parking area; the soul-expanding, eye-popping majesty of Creation.
The day starts at 5:30 at the espresso kiosk where my favorite barista is on duty. She hasn’t been there the past couple of times and I’ve had to tell the replacement my order. As she whizzes up my 16 oz. extra-hot latte without asking what I want, she asks me about the hike I had been off on last time she saw me, remembering it had been my birthday. (That was three weeks ago.) I tell her about the unexpected adventure and we chat about where I’m off to this time. She asks me if I’ve been to Goat Creek (yes). I give her my blogger card so she can read about this adventure, and I’m off, off to a great beginning.
It is, again, my favorite kind of morning to drive south on I-5: the sun’s promise glowing just above the horizon through the fog, blue sky above as it clears. I’m going three-quarters of the way to Portland, so I settle into Flutterby’s comfy seats (made by NASA, I’ve heard), with my latte and recorded book.
I should have used the exit instructions on the WTA website, but Google Maps had a different idea so I have two sets of directions. It’s probably a short-cut from the north, so I take it, later wishing I had consulted an actual physical map first instead of waiting until I get lost. I have a pretty good sense of direction and a compass on my dash, and I like depending on them. With not much help from Siri, I get back on track eventually. Part of the adventure.
I heard about this trail in the Lewis River Region for the first time from a friend of my sister’s who was there over the weekend. “The road is the worst I’ve ever been on,” she told me. “Worse than Goat Creek?” I wondered. Now that was a bad road. WTA warned of the road to Silver Star too. “Must have a high clearance vehicle and 4-wheel drive.” Check and check.
First you drive 6.6 miles up a bumpy DNR road creatively named L1100, then you turn off onto Road 4109 “a road to the right going uphill.” It’s unmarked, as are several roads going uphill to the right before it. I watch for the clues offered by the WTA and hope for the best.
The “best” cannot be attributed to Road 4109. It’s not just potholes, but abysses. I go .4 of the 2.7 miles to the trailhead and stop at the grand canyon of ruts.
In spite of all-wheel-drive, Flutterby’s rear wheels are spinning without purchase. She’s digging in her heels, screaming “hell no!” The ravine on the right as I scrape vegetation on the left will swallow half the car if I fall in. Maybe, I think, CuRVy’s wheels—my 20-year-old Honda CRV that is no longer mine—could have hugged the edges, but Flutterby’s wider body is not going to flit by; there will be no return from a missed calculation. Plus I don’t know what’s coming up.
I briefly wonder what other trail I can find in the area, foiled again by a road as I was on my birthday. But, no! The road may defeat me, but the goal will not! There just happens to be room not only to turn around, but to park out of the way right there before the chasm. I will walk.
I lace up my boots, unfold my trekking poles, and take off.
I know I walk uphill at about 2 miles an hour, and I figure this will be all up. But there won’t be any photo ops, so I project an hour for the 2.3 miles. I’m already behind the time I thought I would be at the trailhead, what with chatting with the barista, getting lost en route, and the surety that Google Maps didn’t take the condition of L1100 and Road 4109 into account in their projections. Still, it’s only 8:45 and the hike itself is just 5 miles RT. I can for sure add 4.6 miles, albeit boring ones.
As I walk, my mind strays to my years as Daughter on Duty. I lived with my mother for almost five years before the road defeated me; but the goal did not. There was not a good option then for staying on the road I started off on, there is no option for this road but to choose another mode of transportation. I tried through those 5 years at home with Mama to take the high road, but often found myself on the edge of the rut I kept falling into, never learning that you can’t fight dementia with reason. You just can’t. Moving her to assisted living was not defeat, nor is this, they are just different roads to the same end.
At exactly the one-hour mark, I round a curve and there ahead the road ends in a giant keyhole, and the horizon opens up.
I would have felt the road hike worth it even if I went no farther than the parking lot. There is Mt. St. Helens and the vista that stretches to the silhouetted Olympic Mountains. The Pacific Ocean is out there somewhere beyond the towns on the valley floor and the patchwork of forest and selective clear cuts and reforesting. My father would be proud that I’m seeing the view not as travesty as I once did as a cocky youth, but as using and replenishing for another generation our renewable natural resources.
The WTA’s trail instructions are unclear. There are many options here as the two trails wind up the mountain, one on the west side overlooking the valley, the other on the east overlooking the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. But the WTA gave a cautionary tale about a stretch in which a slipping foot would be disastrous on Ed’s Trail, on the east side; so when I arrive at the junction, I will stay on the wide rocky Silver Star trail to the west.
At the diversion of the trails, my heart expands right out of my chest, my eyes open wide.
Mt. St. Helens has company: Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams; the three white queens laid out in a row. And, turning 90º, there is Mt. Hood. Snowy mountains against cerulean sky beyond verdant forests. I’m a little disoriented at first, viewing the girls not from the angle I’m accustomed to; but eventually I figure it out and name them.
I take a long drink of it all, then start up the trail not marked “Ed’s Trail.” Signage will remain sketchy (i.e. non-existent) as the trails enter and leave the one I’m on and crisscross the mountain between the two trails. I expect they all go up, though, to the pointed peak I can see above me. If I hit the scary place, I can always retrace my steps and take another route.
“How many stars could you see from here?” I wonder, when I come upon a fire pit on a wide windy spit of meadow.
As I hike, the sound waves are full of the hum of nectar-seeking bees in the profusion of paintbrush, Queen Anne’s lace, tiger lily, columbine, pasque flower, penstemon, Oregon iris, gentian, bear grass, elephant’s head, valerian, and on and on. Butterflies silently flit from bloom to bloom with the same goal. Is this even real?
I turn around when the trail begins to descend into the forest on the other end, backpacking country. After lunch on a rock at the top of world, I head back down the rocky trail until I get to a cross path I saw on the way up and take it. I reach the top and look down on the Gifford Pinchot, across to Mt. Hood. The trail continues both up and down. I wonder if it’s Ed’s Trail, and decide to give it a try for the return to the parking area. I can always return to the familiar safe trail, I tell myself again.
I meet two guys coming up. They confirm it is indeed Ed’s Trail; the best side, they say. They tell me the place “with a bit of a scramble” is on up, beyond where I came from. Yay! They have been here many times, they say, and have never seen the road like it is. They came in a jeep,. They tell me there are two 4×4 pickups in the parking area and more cars down where mine is. I’m not a chicken shit, just wise.
I get back to my car, meeting another rugged pick-up truck, and find Flutterby’s had company, and another car has just arrived. The driver directs me out of my tight parking spot without scraping bottom on the drop off between car and road. He tells me this is his favorite hiking spot. “Two years ago the road was not like this,” he says. If the road gets improved (which seems unlikely), I will go back. If not, I’ll move on to other trails. I have weekly summer hikes all laid out until mid-September with two weeks free for make-up dates or additions. Only two are trails I’ve hiked before. God, I love where I live.
What a day, what a way to forget the horrors of the world for a few hours and bask in the beauty of the way it was intended to be. Thank you, thank you to all that was, is, and will be that my legs can carry me to places like this for now. I think of my parents, who surely never came here, but would have loved it. I carry them with me always.
When I get home and showered, I sit on the deck with an Alaskan amber and the western tanager makes a return. A young one this time, it’s the second I’ve seen since my mother died, and only the third time I’ve seen one in the six years (I missed my anniversary last week, BTW) since my return to the PNW. It sits on the railing post, head cocked, observing me; like it’s looking right into me. Hopping two posts closer to the feeder, it turns toward me again. “Hi, Mama,” I say. It looks a moment longer then flies off, passing the feeder that clearly wasn’t its interest.