Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Grand Gallivant: A Brutal Hike

King's Mountain summit

Last Wednesday, it was finally time to head out for the four-day Strader Family Vacation: a trip down the Oregon coast. Zach and I were riding in a car with his dad Gary, and Zach’s sister Ivy and her girlfriend Heather would be taking their car and meeting us at the camping spots along the way. We left on July 5th in high spirits, and we (Zach, Gary and I) decided to begin the trip with a hike in Tillamook National Forest, King's Mountain.

The trail seemed easy enough in theory (the link about lists it as "moderate"): it was only a five-mile out-and-back. But upon arriving at the trailhead, we noticed that the elevation gain in that 2.5 miles to the summit was nearly 2,500 feet (for my St. Louis friends, that’s like climbing to the top of the Arch four times). This observation gave us a bit of consternation, but the three of us started up the trail anyway. It ran fairly flat for a while, and we reveled in the dappled sunlight, the heaps of ferns and moss, and little clear streams. Then the trail took a severe turn for the steep, and soon we found ourselves toiling up slopes that sometimes resembled a rock slide rather than a trail. Still, we were too committed to turn back now! (Besides, Gary was powering up the hills like a champ and we weren’t gonna be beat.) 

I staggered after the guys, walking on my toes because the slope was too steep for heels, sweat rivulets dripping from my lips and nose, face pounding with blood, lungs wheezing and gasping like I was going to hyperventilate. When the throbbing in my head began to hurt, I realized I was nearing heat exhaustion, announced it was break time, and flopped down on a rotting log. I hadn’t packed nearly enough water, but fortunately Gary had some extra Gatorade, which perked me up considerably.

After what seemed like hours of scrambling and trudging, we finally emerged onto the crown of the mountain, blinking in the sunlight at the fields of wildflowers all around, speckled with butterflies. The bluish hills spread out below us, patchworked with clear cuts, and we sat in the shade and tried to catch our breath. Despite its shortness, the ascent was definitely the hardest hike I’ve done since the PCT (and the PCT was never that steep!). I felt the adrenaline rush of the accomplishment.

The hike down strained our joints like crazy, as we tried to avoid falling on the steep trail. I was particularly proud of my save when I skidded out on some gravel: I fell to a crouching position, flailed my arms and surfed on my shoes for a few feet, then leapt into the air and jogged several yards before catching myself. It wasn’t graceful, but I avoided injury, so that’s a win.

When we reached the trailhead, we chugged water and ate some snacks and felt our bodies complaining about what we’d just put them through. My legs felt floaty and my head was spinning, but the endorphins had kicked in so I felt pretty good.

The best part of the day was going to the Tillamook Cheese Factory for lunch. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup with cheese curds, and finished it off with Marionberry cheesecake ice cream. After a hike like that, we all felt that we deserved it.


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