Tag Archives: trail life

Trail truths on the Cooper Spur

It was a shitty hike. There are a lot of things I could probably blame for it: a restless night of sleep, an even earlier than my usual ass o’clock wake up call, more altitude, more exposure, more wildfire smoke turning the horizon to opaque haze. I won’t though because it could have been a flat trail on a clear day at sea level after waking with the sun well rested and I still could have had a shitty hike.

Sometimes it’s just like that.

I say that now of course, it’s hilariously dramatic in my head as I’m chugging my way up the trail though. Oh the challenges I have to epically overcome. The first draft of this post was equally emo.

Sometimes I’m just like that.

The truth is, sometimes I would like to be better, faster, stronger. More adept at elevation, more versed in the mountains, less prone to injury. I wish I wasn’t so hung up on getting out on the trail because that would mean it wouldn’t be so crazy making when I can’t. I wish I was as passionate about something that came easier to me than this thing that I can struggle with so much sometimes.

This is actually one of the shorter excursions I’ve taken in awhile at about 6.5 miles round trip but also one of the more challenging. It’s pretty much entirely uphill with about the last mile off trail and picking your way over rocks without even the benefit of switch backs.

You start at the Cloud Cap trail head which is at the end of 8 miles of crappy gravel road and the skeletons of trees turned white by a forest fire, 5800 feet up the mountain. There’s a chemical toilet there, in a building with a door that locks and actual toilet paper, something I legit said a prayer of thanks out loud to baby Jesus.

From the trailhead, you’ll see Timberline trail in front of you, Tilly Jane to your left and then Timberline continuing downhill to your right. Go straight ahead on Timberline and make sure you fill out a form at the box as you enter into the Mt. Hood Wildnerness.

This trail is almost entirely uphill and that starts the minute you hit the trees before coming into Tilly Jane canyon then continuing to climb uphill through soft volcanic sand that is the bane of my existence. You will not see shade again until you are at this point on the way back to your car so stay on top of your hydration. Soon you’ll come to a junction with a sign for Cooper Spur. Go right onto Cooper Spur trail. The trail increases the incline a bit and the sun will be hitting your shoulder blades with all it’s might. Sun protection is key here.

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Soon you’ll come up Cooper Spur shelter, which has apparently stood for 70 years and somehow continues to survive the elements. Onward you go, the trail switchbacking and continuing to climb, sometimes following the ridge line that will give you incredible views of the glacier.

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All those wishes swarmed between my ears as the trail disappeared into a field of talus and scree and I started just picking the most direct route I could to hit the top of the spur.

Finally, finally, a deep breath as I top out and stand for a moment at the highest point on the mountain you can reach by trail.

In front of me, a stone circle, about thigh high and a large rock cairn. Buzzards circled overhead. I remember joking with a runner friend during a trail race that they probably smelled us and thought something was dead and thinking it was probably true at that moment as well. To my left, the magnificent Elliot glacier. Behind me, the spur dipped down from the point I was standing on to form a saddle between my feet and the terrifying north face of Mt. Hood. I followed it down for a bit and then felt that moment where I became unbound from my body and was no longer all the stories I tell myself.

I’m like that too.

And I think that’s the trick of all of this. To figure out how to live with all the contradictions that reside within you without the labels of good or bad, dark or light. Somehow we need all of it to carry us up the trail.

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Trail head: Cloud Cap

Elevation at start: 5850 feet

Length: 6.4 miles (ish)

Elevation gain: 2800 feet

Difficult: Yes

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The Kings-Elks loop that didn’t happen: apparently crying in the woods is a thing I do now

It was about the third switchback, not even that far up from the Kings trail head when the tears started.

My dog is dying.

We are almost two years past the cancer diagnosis and the surgery that took her left front leg. We knew then that we were borrowing time and it seems to have caught up to us. Cancer in her remaining front leg has metastisized to her lungs. The vet said we’d know when it was time and all that’s left for us to do is keep her comfortable until then.

I’m already sick of crying and she isn’t even gone yet.

For anyone who thinks that because there aren’t any tall peaks in the coastal range surely no trail could be that challenging, come hang out with me sometime. The trail up Kings gains 2500 in only 2.5 miles making it’s grade somewhere between this shit is ridiculous and kiss my ass hard.

I’d originally set out to do the loop from Kings to Elks mountain, a total of eleven miles and about 4000-ish feet of gain between the two mountains. It’s on my bucket list of stupid hard crap to do and right about now, I’d really like to experience something physically uncomfortable enough to get me out of my own head.

I don’t think there are enough switchbacks in the world to do that right now.

With every pounding heart beat, I thought about Keely’s journey. From skinny, starved, abused shelter dog on the kill list that I met in December of 2007 to cancer survivor in Sept of 2015 to where she is now. Her┬álife has been unfairly difficult. And I worry, always worry, that we haven’t given her enough good moments in between to make up for what she’s had to go through.

Dammit, now I’m crying again.

The thing about the trail, that I’ve heard plenty of people say, is it’s a metaphor for life but I think it’s a little more than that. I could escape my life pretty easily if I wanted to. We humans have found so many ways, many totally legal, to distract us from ourselves. I think the trail is a fun house mirror of life that you can’t escape. Even if you decide to bail a few miles in, you’ve got to get back to your car somehow so you are forced to face every crappy thought your scared little brain throws at you. It’s not pretty.

And that’s why I like it. Because it doesn’t give me easy. I’ve had too much of easy and never gave me anything but an ache for what was missing. So I go out there and find stupid hard things to do because then I can live completely in myself and every time I’ve face the scared, mean, angry parts of myself and managed to get back to the trail head, I’ve also found a little more empathy and compassion and forgiveness. Peace. I could use some peace right about now.

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But my time with Keely is shortening by the minute.

So I decided to shorten the hike and only get to the top of Kings and back so that I could spend more time with her, even if that meant just listening to her snore. One day in the very near future, I am going to desperately miss those snores.

Right about then was when I looked up and noticed the 2000 ft elevation sign nailed into a tree. That meant I only had about a mile and 1200 feet of gain to get to the top of the mountain. The last time I was there, it was raining and the entire area was shrouded in mist which gave the sense that the ground just dropped away to nothing once you get out of the tree line and I wanted to see what it looked like when it was clear. I can now comfirm that is absolutely true.

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At the top I said a prayer to the winds for peace. Not for me. For her.

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And then I went home and sat in the sun with my dog and didn’t miss the trail for a minute.

Trail stats: (Kings trailhead to summit only)

Trailhead

Difficulty: So this is funny. Tillamook state forest calls this trail ‘challenging’. Oregon hikers call it ‘moderate’ which is complete bullshit because they also called Cape Lookout moderate and having been on both of those trails, I can assure you, they are not even remotely the same grade. I’m sticking with my personal grade of ‘this shit is ridiculous’.

Distance: 5 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 2500 feet in 2.5 miles

Bathroom sitch: chemical toilet at trailhead.