Living out west certainly has its perks. I had one day left in Oregon, and I was caught choosing between two of the big ones I miss. The mountains in the east where I live now barely compare to the great mountains in the west. Also, as a native Californian, the Pacific Ocean holds a special place deep in my heart. As I lay down to sleep for the night, I deliberated this choice: drive 50 miles to the ocean or 50 miles to the mountains?
By 7am, I had eaten breakfast, filled my pack with supplies, and set my sights eastward. On to Mt Hood National Forest! After a week of temperatures in the 90s and full sun, the low fog and completely clouded sky was refreshing. The misty cool air, I thought, was an essential part of the Pacific Northwest experience that I was finally getting. I felt so invigorated that I hiked rapidly up the switchbacks, sometimes nearly skipping and jumping with happiness to finally be back in western mountains.
I kept an eye on time to estimate my distance traveled. Around 40 minutes, I slowed my gait, sensing that I was near my first destination and wanting to savor the first view. I sat for a while to absorb the still water of Mirror Lake, with Tom Dick and Harry mountain towering above, and the sounds of families awakening in their campsites floating through the air. As one of the earlier hikers, I felt grateful to experience this in such peace, as the lake’s shores were much more populated on my way down.
I continued on to summit Tom Dick and Harry mountain, a total of 1710 feet in elevation gain. Tall trees flanked the trail on either side, and the narrow path indicated less foot traffic beyond Mirror Lake. Abruptly, the trees gave way to a wide talus slope. I paused, looking down, then “Squeeeeak!” High pitched voices came from multiple unseen individuals below, taking turns announcing their presence. I might have never figured it out, but luckily I had read the day prior that American Pika, tiny relatives of rabbits, live on talus slopes in Oregon. Even more luckily, I noticed one that decided to eye me, still mostly hidden behind a rock, a mere five feet away from me. A bundle of leaves sailed behind another unseen pika, to be stored away in a larder for winter.
As I decided to let the pika go about their morning business, I stood up and was surprised by Mt Hood. It was as though it had snuck up on me, silent and looming in the distance. I hadn’t expected quite yet to see Mt Hood; since I lost my cardinal directions along the trail, I was genuinely amazed to see it. At over 11 thousand feet tall, the size of this old volcanic cone is at once disorienting and other worldly. Its immensity made the sounds of the highway and the pika seem to fall away, and the trees seemed modest and small. I had no words, only the emotion of overwhelming awe.
It took great determination to turn my back on Mt Hood so that I could continue up to the summit for an even better view. Once there, I sat on a rock, watching the snow-capped mountain play peek-a-boo through the clouds that enshrouded it, gleeful like a child whenever it appeared. Though my muscles in my legs still ache days later, that will pass. The memory of that tranquil summit and view, the sound of the wind and animals, will stay with me forever.