From the Blog

Travel Tuesday: Saddle Mountain

I’m going to do what I can to not swear during this post. My usual, natural inclination is to swear. I prefer to think of swearing as colorful intensifiers, not bleating inarticulateness. More often than not, I withhold curse words because they make me feel less dainty.

Right. So, Saddle Mountain. It was on our list of places to go check out while we are living near the coast. It was a beautiful day yesterday. We figure these beautiful fall days are in short supply as winter approaches, so we ought to use them to their fullest potential. So I think the words actually came out of my own mouth, “Let’s take a drive to Saddle Mountain.” I was the one to say it. I can’t blame anyone else.

Dave was enthusiastic, but cautious. “It’s quite a hike,” he said. “Strenuous.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought. We don’t have to go all the way up. We can stop whenever. I bet there are nice views even if you don’t go the whole way.

We packed water, salted peanuts and a big frickin honey crisp apple. I put on my stiff, grippy, waterproof Keen boots, with the extra arch support inserts. I have weak ass feet, but hiking uphill usually feels better than pounding flat pavement. I trimmed the ends of the extra arch supports to keep from crunching my toesies.

We don’t live that far from Saddle Mountain. It’s a constant presence on the horizon on the North Coast. But in order to get there, we have to drive south and come up from 26. It’s 3283 feet tall. We had a lovely drive through the park to the parking lot which was at 1680 feet elevation. The forest was moist and endlessly green. Over the weekend, we just had our first real rain in months. But the vegetation here seemed prehistorically green. Giant leaves, moss hanging from branches, new growth carpeting the forest floor.

We parked the car and poked around the foot of the trail. There were a few camping areas that looked lovely. The only sounds were the breeze though the silver birches and big, throaty black crows calling to each other above the canopy. Far above, impossibly far above, the rounded hump of the peak glowed in the sun.

And I said to myself, “I’m not fucking going up there.”

There was no place to go but up. I figured we could go a little ways, until we were tired. And by “we,” I mean “me.” I’m the flabby one. Dave somehow stays thin and had retained his soccer legs, though he hasn’t played soccer in years.

You know what I love about soccer? Dave’s legs. And his cute little butt. Sorry. Getting carried away with myself.

See? Not lying about the greenness.

We were already glad we did this. It beats sitting in front of a computer all day.

I noticed I got out of breath in the beginning when there was a steeper incline. I wanted to avoid getting so out of breath that my tongue and throat started to hurt. I knew that if I got to that point, it would take a long time to recover, and that constricted feeling would stay with me for the rest of the day. I was happy to make frequent stops for the sake of “taking pictures.” After the first little climb, I never noticed that I got short of breath, and while my heart pounded the whole way, I stopped when I thought my legs were going to buckle under me. Which was frequently.

As we climbed higher, we started to get views through the trees.

It was a bit hazy, but there was not a cloud in the sky. The breeze was warm, and there were no unnatural sounds, except an occasional plane passing overhead. As we stood at this spot, what I loved most was the smell. It smelled so good. Warm, sweet, sharp, clean. It was fantastic. Oregon is an amazing smelling place, yo.

We passed the one mile mark. The entire trail was 2.5 miles. And this was where my brain started getting in the way of clear thinking. I began wondering how hard it could possibly be to get to the top. And I wondered if I’d be disappointed with myself if we didn’t at least try. I know we could always say, “maybe next time,” but was hard to know when there might be a next time.

Did I mention that I’m out of shape? Did I mention that we are computer professionals with lily white hands and flabby ass bottoms? And when I say “we” I mean “me”? I spend so much time sitting, I’m surprised I can still walk. I don’t remember the last strenuous hike we’ve taken. It’s been month and months and months.

But we were enjoying ourselves. And I had already worked up a sweat. I regretted wearing jeans instead of shorts. We left home not knowing what the temperature would be like on the mountain. All of my clothes were sticking to me. But my feet felt good. We decided to keep going.

Trees grow straight up. The patterns and repetition in nature seem unlikely. But it’s natural. You think about that for a while.

We began to see more breaks in the forest and ribbons of black rocks. On some of the sunny outcroppings, we saw moss and little clusters of wild succulents.

Oh my god, succulent make me happy! Look at how cute! Like little red, green and yellow balloon clusters all happily clinging to the rocks.

Dave took this photo. He wouldn’t let me take any of these little guys home. Dammit.

We kept climbing.

It was now sort of settled in my mind that we were going to the top. I knew I would feel lame if we only went part of the way. The park had a useful handout that showed the trail and the elevation gain. We looked at the map and tried to estimate where we were and how far we had to go. I also used it to fan myself because I was drenched with sweat. My jeans and shirt now felt like sausage casings. And three sizes too small.

But now I was saying to myself, we’ve come so far. More than half way! How bad could it be to get to the top?

Oh, if I had known.

We were getting beyond the tree line. The trees fell away as the topsoil got thinner and the volcanic rock poked through. The trail was indeed treacherous, with bare rock in places, and washouts from springs and streams. On steep areas of the trail, they put down pads of broken rocks encased in chain link. It was handy and exhausting at the same time.

The views were getting ridiculous.

This is that same view from before, where I said it smelled good. We are now way above that mountain. This is looking southeast, I think.

We continued to huff and puff and at some point, I realized this wasn’t fun anymore. It actually sort of sucked. I could feel blisters forming on my heels and under my toes where I had trimmed the inserts to make them more “comfortable.” And there were fewer trees and more open grassy areas where the sun beat down on us.

This hike was now like climbing stairs. Now I was just putting one foot in front of the other out of sheer stubbornness. We were climbing steep areas that I knew were going to freak my shit out coming down. Climbing sucks because it’s hard and you have to use your muscles. But going down means my head has further to fall if I lose my footing. Picking my way down kind of scares me.

Climbing, climbing, climbing. Sweating my ass off, off, off. Not fun anymore. We knew from the map that the last little bit was going to be hard. Haaard.

Fuck.

Are you fucking kidding me, right here? Goddamnit.

It was right around here we passed a couple of women coming down. We asked them if it was worth it. And they hesitated! Hesitated, like they had to think about it! “Well, yeah, but there are bugs at the top. Nice view, though.” They advised us that the rest of the climb was the hardest part.

What are we going to do now, turn around? Fucking shit.

We picked our way down the “saddle” part of the mountain. It was so steep, they had built stairs along side the trail. My toes got crunched inside my boots and I got a little taste of what trudging down the mountain was going to feel like.

From the bottom of the saddle, a mountain appeared to the north.

I knew it wasn’t Mt St Helens, but it didn’t make sense for it to be Mt Adams. And we realized, duh, It’s Mt Rainer. I don’t know that it’s ever seemed so close.

At the bottom of the saddle, I tried to rally. We just had the last little bit to go. We were so close. I already knew my body was at the trauma stage, where I was going to be sore and miserable for the next few days. I was sweating. I was sunburned. My legs were like jello.

Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck. Not fucking fun anymore! Who’s fucking idea was this? Who was the fucking idiot that woke up this morning and somehow got it in her head that it would be smart to climb a goddamned fucking mountain? Fuck!

The rest was just like climbing stairs. 400 feet of climbing fucking stairs. My legs had nothing left. I had to stop every ten to 20 feet. The lactic acid in my muscles felt like poison. When I paused, my whole lower half quivered with fatigue. I was pretty much destroying myself at this point. I had no idea how much time elapsed. It felt like forfuckingever. One foot in front of the other.

The crown had one final huge step and Dave helped pull me up.

You know how it felt? It didn’t feel like victory. It felt like I wanted to punch myself in the fucking face. If only I had the energy.

There was a bench at the top, but the women who were climbing down were right, it was buggy. Impossibly buggy. Little tiny bugs that swarmed us and stuck to our sticky skin. It was gross. They weren’t so bad a little ways away from the benches. But that was the only place to sit down.

It was an unobstructed 360 degree view. Here was the view looking northwest to the mouth of the Columbia. From here we could see Fort Stevens, Cape Disappointment, Astoria, and Youngs Bay.

There’s our town.

Here’s a panorama from southwest to northwest. You can click on it to see it big.

It was not a great day to see far off mountains, but here you go. Looking northeast.

Saddle Mountain is only 3283 feet high. “Only.” But it’s got some serious mountain action.

Since the fucking bugs were really quite swarmy and gross, we couldn’t really sit and savor our efforts at the top. I didn’t want to sit on the ground because I had serious fears about getting back up. The sun had travelled a remarkable amount since we started, and it was beginning to feel like late afternoon. So we headed back down.

Did you think I was done whining? Did you think a person couldn’t possible whine anymore, like in their entire life? That’s where you’d be wrong.

Remember I said I was scared to go down? Yeah, that. All those super steep climbs, the ones like stairs, now we had to pick our way down. And it was like fucking stairs. Except no handrails, and with sharp pointy rocks and steep drop offs where you’d pretty much fucking die if you fell down there.

Here is a view of the saddle back in the other direction. Looks like fun, huh? It fucking wasn’t.

That’s a picnic table in the middle. I sat on that table twirled my feet around on the end of my ankles. I can’t climb down a steep hill like a normal person. I have to inch my way down with my whole flat foot making contact with the ground. So my ankles and calves were stone hard every step of the way. My fear was striking the hill the wrong way and rolling my ankle. Because then I’d need a fucking helicopter to come rescue me. I might have been okay with that.

Those pads of rocks that felt grippy on the way up now felt slippery and scary on the way down.

Fuck.

Somehow, Dave was not as bothered as I was climbing down the hill. He said he felt pretty good. Isn’t that cute? I felt my toes getting mashed into the front of my boots and I was figuring I would lose a few goddamned toenails after this hike. My legs were spent and I was less surefooted downhill, even on the flat parts. By the end, I had blisters on my heels, crunched toes, and my legs and ankles were nearly immobile.

I did not feel like celebrating at the end. I felt like I needed a goddamned ambulance.

The climb down took about an hour, and we realized the whole day had gone by. We had started before noon, and finished up around four. As I drove home, I expected my calves to completely seize on the pedals.

Okay? If you are a superhero, or you are in good shape, congratulations. If you’re not, don’t ever do this fucking hike. Not unless you’ve done something horrible in your life and you feel like you need to perform some kind of self flagellation.

Or if you are a fucking dumbass like me.

Sorry about all the swearing.

Comments

  1. Jim Sifferle says:

    I loved this post… funny, witty, and a great description on the little mountain that could (kick your ass!). I’m surprised Joy’s friend Tina will talk to me still… it was my bright idea to bring Tina along on a family hike up Saddle Mountain in mid-October in a rainstorm. The 360 degree view from the top of a raincloud was impressive. Do they still have the funky sign at the base that reads “Warning Hikers: Hazardous trail conditions above timberline; Experienced hikers only.” ?

  2. Aunty Laurie says:

    I feel your pain, as the non athlete in this family, I’ve had to threaten more than just Steve’s life, I had to threaten my life, that got his attention, (he’d have no one to cook for him) if he EVER even suggested a hike UP ANYTHING again!! But DAMN you make me laugh, your descriptions made my body hurt, but still I laughed, SORRY!! Do hope your feeling better, Steve always says moving around the next day helps a lot, but he’s a fuckin athlete he likes the Pain!!!

  3. Wow! How did it feel to get to the car, sit down and know you were done the hike? I’d bet orgasmic!

    • I was glad to never have to do that hike ever again. From the parking lot, we could see way up high, where the “saddle” was, and the teeny tiny staircase we had climbed up and climbed down hours earlier. I couldn’t believe our legs carried us up there.

  4. Two words: Hiking poles. They make a world of difference, going up steep trails, but most especially coming down. Loved the post, though, and hope you have recovered!

    • Emily, I did see smart people with hiking poles. I knew that was a great idea. I even had one for a while. I think it got left in Hawaii. I’m still sad about it.

  5. Heather, I totally have the same fear about going down steep trails. I don’t typically have issues going up (except for the whole out-of-shape part), but coming back down… that’s another story. When I was a kid, I literally used to scoot down steep trails on my butt, I was so scared.
    When I was in Scotland, I hiked up Ben Lomond. You know, on the Bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond? That’s the one. It’s “only” 3196ft., but the trail is really bloody long. I actually felt great until I was halfway up or so, then it got steep. It took forever to get to the top (the whole trail is just over 7 miles), and it rained and hailed and the wind whipped me. Argh! I finally, with much coercion and prodding, finally made it up to the top. Which was great! Yay! And then I was so happy to start on my way down that I was sloppy in my footing and slipped on a slab of rock. My ankle rolled underneath me and I slid down the hill. It was seriously the scariest thing I’ve ever done… luckily, I didn’t have any permanent damage, and I was able to walk down the rest of the hill (very shakily). I eventually made it to the pub and didn’t move for a couple of hours.
    Thank goodness I never have to do that again.

  6. Heather
    This is Oregon, Land of Hikes! You and Dave should get in shape by climbing from your apt to the Astor Column a few times a week.
    It was a great post, very funny. My wife Susan likes to point out all the people who get lost, have accidents, etc when out doing “exercise” things. I did get her to hike in the Ruby mts last year, she went 3/4 of the way up, saw a small lake and said no more!

  7. I went up Saddle Mountain a few years ago & turned around when I got to the saddle part. It was extremely wet & foggy, & I couldn’t have seen anything anyway if I’d gone any further. I keep saying I’ll go back on a sunny day with more grippy shoes, but it’s been about 4 years and I haven’t done it yet. Honestly, trying to walk on the rocks-n-chicken-wire parts of the trail was kind of scary.

    If it’s any consolation, the Mt. Defiance Trail in the Gorge is way harder, and less scenic until you’re near the top. Pretty amazing view once you get there though.

    A few photos from my Saddle Mountain trip, fwiw:
    http://cyclotram.blogspot.com/2007/07/saddle-mountain.html
    http://cyclotram.blogspot.com/2007/07/saddle-mountain-flowers-etc.html

  8. Okay! Excitement! I found that those little succulents were Oregon Stonecrop-Sedum oreganum. Native to Oregon. They make me happy.

    Oh, and it took a about five days to not be sore after this hike. I stopped whining after that. Sorta.

  9. First–what terrific photographs! Even at the top of Saddle Mt. when you were a teensy bit tired, perhaps? And the one of Mt. Rainier looming up beyond the mountain is wonderful. Back when we were “young” (in our late fifties) we climbed Saddle Mt. to see the wildflowers–in May, the trail is lined with them. Of course, to photograph them you have to lean out over NOTHING. I made it to the Saddle but after walking out a few feet over slippery gravel, with no railing, and realizing that it was a straight drop down most of that 3,000 feet I suddenly couldn’t take another step. My husband slowly led me back to a bench and we politely waited for those in our party who went to the top (apparently they lacked the self-preservation instinct). I can’t believe that they recommend this trail as a “family outing.” From your photos, it looks like they have added some flimsy wire “railing” and those rock “pads.” I don’t know, they look almost worse than the slippery gravel to walk on. I enjoyed discovering your blog and seeing your photos. Orygon–it’s a great place to live isn’t it (but should that just be our little secret?)

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