One day, 6 miles, 1800 feet of elevation gain and two mini-mountains.

As soon as I knew I was going to go pick up my daughter Zoe today, I had this plan. Having been repeatedly frustrated in my recent attempts to get outdoors, I decided to take advantage of the day and make up for lost time, if only a little. Mt. Pisgah and Spencer’s Butte are the two most prominent hills in the Eugene area, and as a consequence, they are also two of the most popular hikes in the area. When I lived in Eugene I hiked both regularly, and while I still find time to hike Spencer’s occasionally, I haven’t hiked Pisgah in something like seven years. Only two or three times before had I hiked both in the same day.

I left my house at about 9:45 in the morning, noticing that there was a line of white on the hills surrounding our home, but not feeling overly worried about it. I was clad in synthetic layers and had my excellent hiking shoes on, so there wasn’t much worry about the weather. I love that about modern outdoor clothing, you can be in an absolute downpour and still remain dry, warm and cozy.

I drove to where our ‘family compound’ is, and picked up the money my brother was loaning me to pick up Zoe. Then I was on Interstate five heading north a little after ten. I arrived in Eugene an hour later, and headed straight for Mt. Pisgah.

With the volume of coffee I had already consumed (32 oz.), I really, really had to go by the time I got there, so I hurried out of the car and found the bathrooms. Then I was ready.

I had already decided that I would not be taking the ‘normal’ route, since it passes under some high voltage power lines and I really don’t enjoy hiking near those things, so I headed up the Summit trail, and within a quarter-mile or so, I was in the forest. Mt. Pisgah is mostly populated with stands of oaks, and is quite bare for a lot of it, but running down the west side of the mountain is a nice band of Douglas firs, big-leaf and vine maples, and the trail I was on (somehow I got diverted off the summit trail) veered off to the south. I took some footage of a really pretty old-growth Big-Leaf maple:

Quickly I left the trees and continued on a very muddy track heading south, now out in the Oak-savannah that is so prevalent in the park. I was certainly all alone on this trail, I did hear some voices down below me at some point, but I never caught sight of the speakers. As I sloshed along the trail, making a very gradual ascent uphill, I noticed that ahead of me were more power lines. Great. I had come this way purposely to avoid them and I was going to end up under them all the same!

The weather, which had been fairly threatening-looking, but hadn’t done more than cough up a few flakes, now started to look much more ominous. I wasn’t worried at all, since I had on lots of layers of synthetic clothes. In that setting, I am pretty fearless, and I love to experience weather at its most extreme, so I was hoping it would snow. I would definitely get my wish.

As the path ran under the high-voltage wires, I increased my pace. I really, truly despise being under them with their crackling and menacing nature. Seriously, I think they are really unhealthy. In any case, the path, shortly after passing under the wires, switched back towards the the north, and I had to pass under them a second time. Ugh. I love Mt. Pisgah but the number of huge lines definitely detracts from the overall experience.

So now I was heading back north, after nearly coming all the way to the southern end of the hill, and I really wasn’t sure which trail I was actually on. I had a suspicion that the trail would veer towards the summit as it went back north, and in a short time I reached the intersection with the actual Summit trail, the one I had intended to hike in the first place. At the junction, the trail went up at a rather steep angle, as I remembered from years before, and I knew the summit was within half a mile now.

The weather was now starting to spit out a few little balls of corn snow, but the wall of gray that I had watched as I hiked was now nearly on top of me. As I started up the steeper grade, it began to let loose

It was actually quite fun, and made what is ordinarily a run-of-the-mill hill hike into a much more interesting experience. It was all corn snow too, so it quickly turned everything white. I really was happy to have my GoPro Hero 2 along for this trip, obviously an ordinary video camera wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes in those conditions, so it was nice to have it filming the weather.

I continued on, not feeling particularly strong that day, but I pushed through it and reached the summit just as the storm was passing. There was no one else around. I had arrived at just the perfect time, clearing skies and solitude. I filmed a little bit of the summit, where there is a sighting pedestal showing what the different peaks one would normally see on a clear day. On the sides of the pedestal are relief style carvings of different fossils that have been discovered in Oregon. The bronze pedestal (which was once destroyed by a psychotic man but subsequently repaired), is dedicated to Jed Kesey, son of author Ken Kesey, and Lorenzo West. Jed & Lorenzo tragically died in a vehicular accident when traveling as part of the University of Oregon wrestling team.

As soon as I started heading down, the crowds finally began to arrive. I passed twenty to thirty people on the way down, but I felt kind of smug knowing I had enjoyed that spectacular summit all alone. Nevertheless, there were smiles on most people’s faces as I passed and I returned their happiness. I felt great. No pain, and in the midst of a storm, too.

It took me about twenty minutes to get back to my car, and then it was on to my friend Kathleen’s house, where my eleven year old daughter Zoe was having a sleepover. At this point another big front had moved in and was fitfully spitting out corn snow, even on the valley floor, so I wasn’t sure if we would make it up to the Butte. When I picked up Zoe, however, she said she wanted to go, and when we stopped off at the biofuel station so I could get some coffee, I asked her again, just to be sure, and she said she did. Normally I would have never let her go hiking in that much cotton, but we were going to go up the steep & short side of the Butte, which is just over half a mile long. We could be up and down before you could say ‘hypothermia’.

We drove to the south of Eugene, following Willamette street as it heads straight towards the Butte. At just over 2000 feet in height, it is the undisputed monarch of the immediate Eugene area. I have hiked the butte hundreds of times, and probably hiked with Zoe in the baby backpack (many years ago of course) fifty times or more, but she and I hadn’t gone up it together in several years, at least.

Zoe is a very able hiker, she did the seven-mile loop at Silver Falls State Park when she was five, she climbed Mt. Bailey when she was seven, and would have summited Union Peak if it hadn’t been for a pair of ill-fitting shoes. As it is, she still reached to within a couple hundred feet from the top. She is now a darned good rock climber and we have plans to do multiple easier mountain climbs together as well.

When we arrived at the butte, the trees were flocked with snow (real snow too, not the corn snow stuff), and we quickly got to hiking in order to keep warm. A woman and her dog startled us and she apologized as she went by, obviously in very good shape and soon getting out of sight. We followed in her wake, enjoying the stately forest beauty of the butte, such a different experience from that of Pisgah just a few miles away. In just a few minutes we reached the first rocky stairs that make this hike a more spectacular one than that of Mt. Pisgah.

We continued up the rocky path, admiring all the snowy beauty we were seeing on a late winter day. We stopped at a spot that breaks out of the trees for a moment and leads to a rocky outcrop with views off to the west. We took in the views and then continued up. The trail heads right back into the trees, then bends back to the left, contouring across the west side of the little mountain. Then the trail switched back again and we ascended towards the break in the small cliffs that guard this side. I followed Zoe with the camera as she scrambled up the rocks.

Within a few minutes we were standing on top. Not alone this time, there were five or six people on the summit, which it pretty typical. But it was nice to be up there with my eldest child.

We didn’t linger long on the summit, since we still had to drive over eighty miles to get back home to our cozy little place on the Umpqua. We scrambled off the east side of the butte and began hiking back on the ‘normal route’, which is a little longer than the route we had come up, and it snowed on us some more and by the time we got back to the car, poor Zoe was pretty frigid. We set out and soon were on Interstate Five heading south, happy to have enjoyed some time in nature, and some father-daughter time as well!


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