Death Hike v.2007
It appears that I have bad luck with Oregon hiking. That, or I am just so gosh-darned Northwestern by nature that the world throws storms at me because she knows I can take it.
Saddle Mountain is rated “hard” and the sign at the bottom describes the path as “a constant climb”. Even still, with my current fitness level, it’s a pretty straightforward hike; out-and-back, about 2.5 miles each for a total of just over 5 miles.
The views are meant to be some of the best around and you’re surrounded by breath-taking panoramas for more than half of the hike, so you really get the bang for your buck. Funny thing about views, though – I have recently discovered that you can’t see through clouds.
The weather report for Saturday promised rain. Lots of it. My cousin was coming into town for the weekend and we’d planned to spend Saturday hiking. “What’s a little rain,” I thought, “A little rain never hurt anybody.”
Is this sounding familiar yet?
My cousin was of the same mind, having also been born and bred in the blustery weather of the Seattle area. We set off without hesitation, packs full of tuna fish sandwiches, carrots, apples, blueberries, and water. I was packing all of my camera gear in a brand new fancy ultra-rugged camera hiking backpack I recently purchased for just this purpose.
The hike started well enough. We were happy and energized. The trail was surrounded by astounding verdant foliage. The colors were startling and amazing. Things were great.
Then we reached the point at which the trail leaves the happy shelter of the forest and presses out onto a series of exposed ridges. The weather did not seem to bad, so we moved along happily, having finally reached the gorgeous wildflowers that the trail guide had promised us. We snapped pictures as we went but I opted to leave my large SLR packed up tight in the fancy backpack due to the constant drizzle. Instead, I shot with the little Elixim point and shoot digital that Sal bought me for Christmas for just such purposes.
As we continued, the trail found it’s way back into some forest shelter and we relished the respite from the wind that was starting to kick up.
It didn’t last long.
Back out on an exposed ridge, the storm came on in earnest, battering us with icy gusts of wind and pelting us with freezing rain. The views were amazing despite the fact that they were mostly blocked by clouds and we were bound and determined to reach the top. Conditions were rapidly deteriorating around us.
At this point I should mention that my cousin, having come down specifically for the purpose of a hike and with full knowledge of the weather forecast, managed to forget hiking pants, hiking boots and her raincoat.
I’m not kidding.
I hadn’t been able to come up with shoes or pants for her, but I stole one of Sal’s clear plastic cycling warm-up jackets for her before we left. So, although her upper body was dry, her legs were bright red from exposure to the wind and her running shoes had long-since soaked through.
I was quickly losing control over my fingers even though I’d been wearing gloves for most of the hike (they soaked through eventually and stopped working). Our hands hung like icy bricks at our sides and we pressed on. My fine motor skills were so poor that I could barely grab onto rocks to stabilize myself as we scrambled up slippery, rocky sections of the trail.
At about what looked to be about 100 yards from the top we were ruthlessly assaulted by a hail-storm. Raging winds brought the pellets in sideways and they bounced off our faces, jackets, and already frozen hands.
We turned around.
Although our pride was somewhat bruised, it was the right thing to do. The weather was unbearable and my rainjacket had given up the ghost – I was wet and cold all the way through. My pants (neither of us had proper rainpants) were also completely water-logged and were pasted to my numb legs.
The descent off the ridge trails was treacherous and slow-going with our frozen hands and legs. We wanted to move faster but the trail conditions were bad and getting worse. A small river was starting to form in its path.
At several points during this descent I screamed back at her, “This is F-ing CRAZY!!!” and she laughed maniacally in response. We were getting delirious and referencing King Lear.
Finally, back in the shelter of the covered trail, we ate a little food to replace our glycogen and then booked it down the remaining portion to get to the car. I ran for the last quarter mile.
Back at the car my fingers were so numb that I was not able to turn the car ignition over. Luckily, Jenny managed to get it done and we cranked the heat and held our hands in front of the vents for 15 minutes until our fingers moved properly again. As we changed clothes in the front seats I took the opportunity to snap a picture of what is left of my mountain-bike-endo thigh bruise, which is now 6 days into its healing process.
We high-tailed it to Cannon Beach for warm drinks and a lunch of steamer clams at The Wayfarer. Driving east on Highway 26 after lunch we passed the entrance to the trailhead and shuddered simultaneously.
We’ll be back for you, Saddle Mountain!!