Here’s what you need to know about last weekend. On Saturday, I ran 15 miles (go, marathon training, go!). And on Sunday we dangled from a knife on the side of a mountain. I guess you could call it an active weekend.
But let me start at the beginning.
We woke up last Sunday morning to the sun shining through our windows. If the sun is shining around here, you go outside immediately, because you never know how quickly the weather will change. So we packed up some Cliff bars, water, and Eric’s Bear Grylls knife, and hit the road.
A friend mentioned hiking Mary’s Peak, which is the highest point in the Oregon Coastal Mountain Range. Before you get too impressed by that fact, be aware that the Coastal Mountains are much, much smaller than the Cascades. Mary’s Peak tops out around 4,097 feet, while Mount Hood (the tallest peak in Oregon) is 11,249 feet. Just a little comparison for you, along with some thrilling numbers from a girl who doesn’t really care for math.
I looked up hiking info for Mary’s Peak, and it warned that the roads leading to the trail head aren’t treated during the winter, so snow could shut them down. It snowed a couple weeks ago in the Coastal Range, but the info made it sound like we would probably be okay. Plus, the temperatures in the valley would be in the 50’s.
If we’ve learned anything about the weather in Oregon, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything. Temperatures were in the upper 40’s when we left our apartment in Eugene, but as we made the drive into the mountains, the temperatures dropped below freezing. Altitude makes all the difference, folks. I’m very glad I grabbed my coat before we left the house.
Anywho, onto the hike. We made it to the trail head with no problem (and no snow). And we hiked for a little while with no problem. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to us that if we needed to be concerned about snow on the roads, we should also be prepared for snow on the trail. And not just snow. Ice. Lots and lots of ice. It seems that some snow had melted and refrozen recently, leaving quite the ice skating rink on the edge of the mountain. Luckily, there was a lot of foliage on the sides of the trail, which I ended up using as a lifeline when the ice got a bit too slippery for walking. I was the girl bent over about 90 degrees, holding onto vines and small branches for dear life as my feet went in every direction. Imagine a baby deer learning to walk. That’s me.
Eventually the ice turned into lots and lots of snow. For two kids who haven’t seen much snow this year (our home on the valley floor just gets a lot of rain), we were pretty excited. Unfortunately, there was so much snow that we couldn’t see the trail anymore. But someone had hiked the trail recently, so we decided to just follow their footsteps. We followed them all the way out to a big clearing with spectacular views of the valley and the Cascade Mountains in the distance. Absolutely incredible.
From the clearing, we continued to follow the tracks in the snow for a few feet. Then they just stopped. We backtracked a bit to see if they headed off in another direction or something, and sure enough, they had gone straight up the mountain. So, abandoning the real trail, which I can only assume was around there somewhere, we also abandoned our sanity and decided to hike straight up the mountain. In the snow. And ice. Good idea, right?
The way up the mountainside really wasn’t too bad. The snow was packed enough that it almost formed stairs to climb about halfway up. Then we entered the trees again, where the snow turned to ice. It turns out that it’s a bit tricky to climb ice. Somehow, thanks to the strategic placement of trees and random foliage, we powered through the ice unscathed and wound up on the top of the mountain!
Although everything was covered in snow, we gathered that we had arrived at what serves as a parking lot during the summer. Apparently during the warmer months, you can just drive to the top. Lame.
From this parking lot, we hiked up a hill to a big grassy area with no snow and lots of steam. It was kind of crazy. From here, we could see the ocean to the west (or what we think was probably the ocean, as it was getting a bit too cloudy to say for sure), and the Cascades to the east. Incredible.
At this point, we’re realizing that unless we can find the real trail, we’re going to have to descend the mountain the same way we came up. Of course, there aren’t trail maps anywhere, so we wandered around the parking lot a bit, looking for footprints leading back down the mountain, but all we could find were a few prints leading nowhere. Now, what we should have done at this point was approach the couple eating lunch with what I can only describe as a domesticated wolf, and asked them how they got up the mountain. I honestly don’t know why this didn’t occur to us. Probably because we left our sanity at the bottom of the mountain.
So we did what we felt like was our only option (because my suggestion of just living on the mountain top until summer arrived and the snow melted was rejected by the husband), and returned to our non-trail. If we thought climbing up the ice was difficult, climbing down was going to be terrifying. At least on the way up, slipping wasn’t going to send you flying down a mountainside. This is where Eric’s Bear Grylls knife comes into play.
Eric brings this knife on most of our hikes, much to my chagrin. Really, Eric? Do you think you’re going to need to kill a bear on our hike today? By the way, bears have been on my mind during every hike since our trip to the Grand Tetons. But I will never make fun of that knife again. It was our only way down the mountain.
The ice was so slippery that we couldn’t find any place to put our hands and feet as we climbed down on our stomachs. So we took turns jabbing the knife into the ice and then hanging from said knife until we could kick our feet into the ice well enough to hold us while we moved the knife to the next location. It was a very slow, cold, painful process, leaving my legs covered in bruises and my entire body trembling from exhaustion. But somehow, we made it out of the icy section with only a few scary slips (including Eric purposely sliding down the hill into a tree to have somewhere to rest while I Bear Grylls-ed it for a bit more).
The section with snow packed stairs proved to be a bit more challenging on the descent as well. Apparently my short legs don’t do as well with huge steps, and I found myself on my tuckus pretty frequently. For future reference, jeans are not snow-proof.
At last, we made it back to the trail, with only a few more icy patches separating us from solid ground. After a bit more slipping and sliding (and some more foliage grabbing on my part), we collapsed our aching bodies into the car, thankful that the whole world was not covered in ice.
Lessons learned on this trip?
1. Consult the trail map ahead of time, and bring that trail map with you. We checked the map when we got back and discovered where we lost the trail. Apparently our trip out into the clearing led us off the trail, which was a switchback in the other direction. We also discovered that we didn’t actually get to the summit of Mary’s Peak, which I assume the real trail would have eventually led us to. But we still had an awesome view, so I think it worked out for the best.
2. Always pack an extra set of clothes to leave in the car. We had to wear our soaking wet shoes, socks, and pants for the 45 minute drive back to Eugene. Not fun.
3. Never laugh at the Bear Grylls knife.