After I got back from Montana, being inside was not an option.
I was itching for the next adventure and luckily there was a cabin-fevery Bryan chomping at the bit to go play outside too. So a couple of weeks after we attempted to find winter up on Mount Hood and break in the snowshoes, we decided that the upcoming 60-some-odd-degree weekend was destined for only one option: Pechuck Lookout.
What amused me most was that because this is a somewhat grueling hike (though nothing compared to the one we did a few weekends ago which, at the rate I’m going, I will post about in roughly 14 years), it’s usually just the guys and no girls allowed (because let’s be honest, most girls will find something to complain about somewhere between the insane inclines, the cold nights, and the ever changing weather patterns that mean hiking in the rain more often than not).
So it shouldn't have been too much of a shock to me that a couple of the dudes who planned on going ended up having a tiny fit about a female joining in all the reindeer games. What was a rather pleasant shock was that apparently Bryan and Jake (whose little brother was one of the guys balking at the situation) went to the mat for me and reminded them that I was the chick who not only did 17 miles with them in one day, but did it without bitching.
Anyway, the point of this is that girls are just as badass as boys, and that Pechuck Lookout is AMAZING. And also that I'm really glad I took a screenshot of this text exchange from the morning we left because it makes me laugh and that's just what I do if you send me entertaining text messages (you've been warned).
After every last minute roster change you can imagine - including a drive-by past the house where a couple of the guys live just to see if they were awake yet so we could harass them into coming along - it ended up just being Bryan, Whiskey and me in the first rig, with Jake, Korbyn and Jake's dog Doc following a few hours later (delay due to a septic tank issue that, in my opinion, was an even better reason to get out of town and into the woods where outdoor restroom facilities are slightly more normal than using your backyard). As we wound through the back roads into the Molalla Foothills, we kept close watch to make sure there weren’t any other cars out there – and if there were, by god we were going to beat them there because this lookout is first-come-first-serve and with four people and two dogs, the thought of sharing wasn’t too appealing.
Of course when we finally got to the trailhead, sure enough there was already a little sedan waiting patiently for its owners to reclaim it. Still, we figured at best there were only a couple of folks already there so we packed up, took the now traditional nip of whiskey to baptize the hike, and started up the hill.
And yeah… Let’s talk about this hill. Or this whole trail, for that matter.
Bryan had told me that the actual trailhead was deceiving and that once we got up there, the break in the foliage that I would think was the gradual starting point of the trek up to 4,400 feet was actually not it at all – no, it was the immediate climb into the woods that you’d imagine was just a small cliff that would be our real starting point.
So a quick haul-ass up and off we went.
And let me tell you – it’s not supposed to be that warm or that beautiful this time of year. Ten minutes in and we were both regretting the choice of beanies and insulated outerwear. Know what else we were regretting? Not being in better shape. Because from the start, that trail was kicking my butt and thankfully (for my ego anyway) it was kicking his a little too.
Except not really, because while I was huffing and puffing and trying not to collapse a lung on a too-rigorous inhale, Staff Sergeant Bust-a-Move was up ahead of me bumpin' along to the music playing off his iPhone and raising the roof while flailing hiking poles around. If I'd have been able to move faster than a snail in molasses I'd have smacked him (which also would have been stupid because he's got like, I don't know, 80 pounds on me and could win a sparring match with his eyes closed and a smile on his face).
Eh, whatever, it kept me motivated.
Plus he’s pretty encouraging and won’t let me feel sorry for myself or let me get miffed about not being able to plow through the trails as fast as I want to, so I appreciate that.
Ten year old Whiskey on the other hand took to running ahead and doubling back every so often to talk smack about how slow we humans were so if anyone was being a jerk, it was him.
(but again, not really because who can be mad at that face?)
As we passed others on the trail out for day hikes, we got more and more encouraged by the fact that no one else seemed to be packing in for the night (though it bears mention that Whiskey was horribly disappointed not to grow our little group and kept trying to jump ship with all the new friends he was making along the way – he’s a flight risk, that one).
Finally though, we crossed paths with a couple of guys and found our bunkmates for the night – Neal and Marty, and Marty’s eleven year old corgi, Tad. They’d been there the night before and were out to explore Table Rock and the surrounding area for the day before coming back and hanging out at camp. They seemed like solid dudes and once we confirmed that they were both whiskey men, we both breathed a sigh of relief that we weren't going to be holed up with a couple of duds.
The last leg of the hike before the final ascent went by uneventfully and finally, we found ourselves at the bottom of the last hill where we dropped pack and wound down to the natural spring where Bryan could fill up his water bag with a purifier in it so that we’d have plenty of drinking water for the night.
You can guess how much fun it was for him to be hauling an extra 20 pounds of water up a 60 degree angle in addition to his pack for that final climb.
(This is where I’m really glad I’m a chick with crummy lung capacity so that I don’t have to be the one pack-muling anything more than my own crap up a mountain.)
So while He-Man hulked a third of his body weight up that last incline, and I struggled under the discomfort of my own gear in Bryan's old pack (which, for reference, is a men's large... I now have a women's extra-small), Whiskey decided that the last 10 feet of the hike was where he’d like to give us a communal heart attack.
The lookout was in sight and we were so happy to finally be there and drop our packs and enjoy the sun and eat lunch and drink whiskey… That it took us a little while to realize our little quadruped was missing.
“Hey, where’s the dog?”
“He’s right… Oh… Uh… Whiskey… Whiskey… WHISKEY!”
Now again, just for reference, it’s been my experience that when the Chief bellows like that, the Old Man comes running. So when the only sound left hanging in the air was the echo of panic because we had apparently lost his mom’s favorite dog, Bryan and I took off back down the trail in search of the little renegade.
Long story short, the dog who has always been such an excellent hiker had apparently gotten a little sidetracked and sniffed his way off the trail while we continued up to the lookout and then found himself all by his lonesome when he lifted his nose from the ground to find we had left him for dead. So Bryan ended up all the way back down toward the spring where he found a wide-eyed and panicked pup desperately looking for us in the last place he knew he’d seen us.
Pretty sweet actually if you ignore the lashing we would have incurred had we returned without a dog.
Anyway, once all heartrates returned to a normal pace and we were all within eye-and-earshot of one another, the only option left was to focus on the fact that it was pushing 60 degrees in January and eat lunch in the sun, followed by a well-deserved nap. It was barely noon and with Neal and Marty out hiking, and Jake and Korbyn not even on the trail yet that we knew of, there was no rush to start setting up camp for the night so the afternoon was appropriately lazed away.
After lunch Bryan set about putting his hammock up and I laid on the porch of the lookout to work on my tan (I hear you laughing… shut up). Once the Eno was up and running we tested it out and ended up dozing off for about half an hour until Whiskey’s sighs of distress over not being allowed to pile in got to be just a little too much.
It wasn’t long after that the other guys and Tad made their way back and we proceeded to get to know each other while settling in for the evening. Marty and Neal had already set up the downstairs portion of the hut, so Bryan and I claimed the upper level (after he swept it clean of the rat droppings – I feel like I’m still disinfecting my gear over a month later) and worried about how we’d get Whiskey up the ladder when the time came to hoist him into the roof for the night. In any case, we got our sleeping arrangements squared away, got a fire going and eventually, once Korbyn and Jake rolled in with Doc, we had ourselves a pretty wonderful evening.
The unseasonable warmth lingered just long enough into the night (still cold, mind you, just not as cold as January should be at 4,400 feet in Oregon) that it wasn’t completely unbearable if you weren’t immediately in front of the fire, and the night was clear as a bell. We all tucked into the lookout while we made and ate dinner with all three dogs giving us their best puppy dog eyes hoping for a scrap or two, and rounded out the night sipping whiskey around a campfire and swapping stories of one adventure or another.
When it finally came time to turn in for the night, Jake and Korbyn settled in downstairs, Bryan launched Whiskey up to our bunk, and the other guys volunteered to sit and wait for the last embers of the fire to burn out. Eventually though, we heard them come in and lock the door and finally it was lights out for everyone.
Now real quick here, let me break on this already overly loquacious post and explain what the upper level of this lookout situation was: basically, we climbed up a ladder through a sort of manhole cover and once situated, replaced the cover over the hole in the floor of the space and piled our gear on top because really, there wasn’t much other space to put it. The room was maaaaybe 7x7, if I’m being generous.
So there we are, it’s finally quiet, everyone is finally falling asleep, Whiskey is finally settled down enough to stop worrying about his fear of heights, and guess who has to go to the bathroom?
“Are you serious?”
“Can you hold it til morning.”
“Uh, nope. Probably not”
“I hate you right now.”
“I hate me too.”
(This of course is a loose rendition of the actual conversation that transpired, but fairly accurate as most of our conversations go something like that... Also worth mentioning, this is not a crucial part of the story , I just felt the need to point out that I’m annoying to hike with sometimes because apparently I’m that girl who always has to go to the bathroom.)
Anyway, aside from Whiskey’s shivering all night (he was not cold, he was in Bryan’s sleeping bag 90% of the night and that thing is rated down to like, -8 million degrees) we all slept fairly well, and woke up to a morning rainstorm that goes to prove Oregon is entirely manic and clearly off its meds.
We all huddled inside as the rain went back and forth on whether it wanted to clear up or not and made breakfast. Let this go down as the day I not only learned that a dramatic dog will confiscate your sleeping bag the second you abandon it, but that freeze dried eggs are a terrible idea and to always, ALWAYS go with the biscuits and gravy option.
But that aside, it was actually a pretty wonderful little morning there, the six of us feeling like old friends at this point and enjoying that sort of ethereal kind of feeling that mornings at camp always seem to feel like.
We sipped coffee out of whatever vessel wasn’t being used at the moment, never minding that everything has a fine layer of dirt and/or last night's dinner, and there was more than one instance where I just kind of leaned back against the stone wall I was propped against and made a point to really soak it in and enjoy that little sliver of life. If you didn’t know any better you’d have thought we had all known each other for years. Even the dogs decided they could tolerate each other by the end of it which for three old men with at least a decade of life behind them is a pretty impressive feat.
A few weeks later here and I honestly can’t remember if Neal and Marty left first, or is we did, but either way we got our gear packed back up, boarded up the lookout and after scribbling our names in the log book, began the pack back down the mountain.
Strange how it seemed so much less drastic on the way down, without feeling like I was going to die every ten feet or so. It was also just slick enough after the rains to necessitate throwing on our micro-spikes, so that made it feel a little more badass (I was also informed that I should consider just wearing spikes as part of my every day attire which, let's be fair, might not be a terrible idea considering I literally fell down standing still while we were snowshoeing).
Of course, no feat of physical exertion should go unrewarded so once we were back into civilization, a stop for burgers and beer was a no-brainer. I opted for the Western Bacon Cheeseburger which meant that I inhaled an all-beef patty with onion rings, bacon and BBQ sauce all piled on top and therefore maintained my status as the most ladylike of the group.
All in all, it was the perfect way to spend a weekend with good friends, and the perfect way to get me ready for what was next…
“You need to start running again and get your lungs in shape so we can do Bull of the Woods” he said as we marched down from Pechuck.
One week later at Buffalo Wild Wings…
“I have three days off in a row next weekend.”
“Sweet, where are we hiking?”
One guess where we ended up a week later...