Sunday, July 13, 2008

This is where the planet greatened

Just got back from our annual pilgrimage to the Metolius River in Central Oregon. We discovered this paradise four years ago and since then we've made it a point to go back every summer. Oregon abounds in beautiful places, and even though I've lived here almost 20 years there are still parts of the state I have yet to visit, but the Metolius is so beguiling that I may never get there. 

The Metolius is a 30-mile river that emerges from underground springs at the base of Black Butte, about ten miles west of Sisters, and flows north into Lake Billy Chinook. It's crystal clear, and because its source is underground, drinkable, at least at our campsite, which is very close to the headwaters. It's a mecca for flyfishermen (catch and release only), and the water is a bracing 48 degrees year-round.

This year we weren't able to hike into the back country, as we have in previous years, because snow still blocks the roads above about 5500 feet. Instead, we hiked along a stretch of the Metolius we hadn't previously explored, below the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and spent a day cooling off at Scout Lake, but the highlight of our trip this year was climbing Black Butte.

We have a rather eccentric hiking guide that is full of interesting tidbits about spots in central Oregon. According to the author, Black Butte is older than any of the other mountains in the central Cascades; it was formed more than 780,000 years ago (the last time the earth reversed its polarity from south to north). Iron oxides in the rocks at Black Butte point south, unlike those in rocks in other central Cascade mountains. As a mountain, it is distinctive for its symmetry and its placement, just north and east of the Cascades proper. 

The hike itself is more challenging than some of our previous jaunts; it's a steep 2-mile trail with a 1600 elevation gain to the top (6436 feet). I begin feeling the altitude at about 5000 feet, so hikes like this make me very slow, as I must stop often to catch my breath. It's a bit humbling, because I'm in good shape, but I have to keep reminding myself that it's not a lack of endurance on my part, just that my body is used to absorbing oxygen at sea level, and there's just not as much oxygen up there. So I went slowly, but I had no doubts I could do it (I climbed Mt. St. Helens in 1990 with my brother, which is 2000 feet higher. 

The trail begins in forest, mostly Ponderosa and lodgepole pines, and ascends into meadows that top the mountain. Stopping often allowed me to really study and admire the myriad wildflowers we saw. The red trumpet-shaped ones are harebells, while the other reds are western columbines, and the purple ones are lupine. As we went higher the trees became shorter and scarcer; near the top I took a picture of a row of snags.

But the real views are at the top. There are mountains in three directions, nine peaks in all. We were surprised to find we could see Mt. Hood and even Mt. Adams (in Washington), in addition to the local mountains: Broken Top, South Sister, North Sister, Black Crater, Mt. Washington, Three-Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson. I felt as if I were walking on the roofline of the world. It's been awhile since I climbed a mountain; they are problematic for me, as previously mentioned, and I've forgotten how wondrous it is to stand at the top of one. I felt simultaneously proud of my accomplishment and humbled by all the beauty surrounding me.

Three days later, I am still stiff and sore from the climb, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat (albeit with more stretching before and after next time).

I wanted to post more pictures, but Blogger is being very slow. I'll put them into a separate post.

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