This past Labor Day Weekend, I joined up with several of my friends from Washington, and we set out on a relaxing three-day hike along Eagle Creek in our neighboring southern state. We arrived at the trailhead shortly before darkness completely settled over the land, and, equipped with our headlights and a sense of overconfidence in our night-hiking abilities, we kicked up the dust and hiked until our weary legs could go no further. Several miles along the trail, we precariously grappled with the Vertigo Mile, a slender part of the trail dug into the hillside, perched above a vast gaping chasm overlooking Eagle Creek. During the day, this section involves pushing past groups of dayhikers and stopping for numerous photographs. At night, however, the foreboding void that signals the presence of the trail edge is pitch black, with a small misstep resulting in an unfortunately fatal fall. We waltzed passed it without any incidents, aside for the occasional derisive comment toward some of the less height-loving members of our party.
We found a small trail branching off into the underbrush, and after sending two well-experienced scouts to perform a quick reconnaissance of where it led, a small committee was held and the vote resulted with our party pitching our tents (and a solitary bivvy) alongside a thicket of vine maples and the bubbling creek. We built a small fire and cooked skewers of frozen steaks that was brought along for this specific purpose.
After hanging up our bear bags and turning into sleep, we fell asleep to the rustlings of nocturnal forest dwellers foraging for crumbs of delicacies left around our cooking area. We awoke in the morning to a scene remarkably different than what we had fallen asleep to. Across the creek from us was a towering cliff face, masked in the previous nighttime darkness.
After a warm breakfast of oatmeal and tea, the weather turned a darker shade of gray and a glistening blanket of mist began to creep over the creek valley. I hastened to gather my gear up, scrunched the rain fly over my pack, and then carefully set off across wet rocks and logs to explore the other side of the creek while the others built a fire to keep warm.
I was met by a slippery basalt wall, crumbling as it weathered through the ages in this valley. Patchy with moss covered handholds and blotched with a vibrant yellow lichen that resembled a blight-stricken noxious disease, it looked rather hazardous, and I did not do any climbing on this wall.
I returned to camp, and we hiked out in the ever-increasing muck of weather famous in the Northwest. We plodded along until we reached a more spacious campsite a few more muddy miles down the way.
The gang wanted to get their lift in, so they did a quick Wilderness Workout to get their blood flowing before jogging down to Tunnel Falls.
After that refreshing run alongside the steep path, we decided to go swim in one of the many deep pools along Eagle Creek. The air was bone chillingly cold, and with the added misty percolation upon our bare skins, our blood began to withdraw from our extremities.
The water was crystal clear and slightly warmer than ice.
Dive mask on, we explored the encapsulating blue waters.
We set a time limit of 12 minutes to reduce the risk of hypothermia. Gradually as our blood crystallized in our feet and circulated around our shivering core, we got used to the water and it became an enjoyable ice bath.
After drying ourselves off and putting on warm clothes, we headed back to camp. Along the way, two of us turned down an almost hidden path and, after bushwacking for several yards, we ended up beneath a magnificent waterfall flowing over the craggy basalt. We named it the “Fountain of Youth” and marked it’s location on our map for future generations to also come and be renewed.
Later that day after an early dinner, I left the guys and took off on a solo hike three miles up a steep path to a place called “Camp Smokey” that intersected with the Pacific Crest Trail. I left with the hope that I would run into a thru-hiker, and I brought along a small bag of trail mix specifically to give him or her to repay the debt that I owed to the number dayhikers I had met on a previous hike along the PCT. The clouds had risen slightly from their earlier descent down the valley, and as I crawled up the steep incline, I slowly rose toward them.
I bushwacked through thickets of thimbleberries and snowberries as I crept up the hillside. Eventually, I found myself in a forest, with fog all around me. I named it the “Forest of Solitude” and sorely wished that I had brought along one of my buddies. But since I didn’t, and we had planned on them coming to find me if I wasn’t back by 10 p.m., I continued on toward the top of the ridgeline where Camp Smokey awaited.
After reaching Camp Smokey, I did indeed find a PCT thru-hiker who was grateful for my trail mix. I chatted with him about trail conditions and challenges. After awhile, I bid him farewell and set back down the long lonely path that I had arrived from. As nightfall swiftly began and I rushed back down the hill, I saw tongues of gold stabbing into the foggy forest.
I quickened my pace and brushed aside the foliage blocking my way until I came to a small rocky lookout where I could see the sun falling below the hills.
Gazing upon the gorgeous sight, it dawned on me that once the sun disappeared, darkness would be close at hand. I had my well-used Black Diamond Storm headlamp, so I wasn’t too worried about my descent back into the valley, but the perceived risk was definitely real. As the elevation declined, I eventually came out on the initial ridgeline where the path gave way to a steep drop off. Clicking my light onto it’s brightest function, I managed to get back to camp safely, but it was definitely an adventure!
The next day, we awoke to the sun shining, birds chirping, and Eagle Creek rushing by.
It was a marvelous weekend away from the every-day hustle and bustle of life near Portland.