Bull of the Woods, part two

The last leg of the journey up to Bull of the Woods Lookout was a haul… Big Slide sits at a cool 4400 feet… Bull of the Woods is at almost 5600 feet. And it’s only a couple of miles to get there. So that was a fun elevation gain.

This was the only portion of the trail that we hit snow, and we had to have been pushing 5000 feet before we got there (and it was maybe 1/8 of a mile’s worth of snow at that). We threw on our micro-spikes and with him in the lead, all I had to do was follow in his footsteps over the icy patches of frozen snow that had escaped melting on their shaded hillside. Once we were through that, it was just another mile or so before we came up on the last couple of switchbacks that would bring us home.

We were nearly there, huffing and puffing pretty solidly at this point, when Bryan stopped in his tracks there his usual fifteen feet or so ahead of me and smiled while I caught up, not realizing just how close we actually were.
“Here, you get in front.”
“What? No, I’m completely out of breath, I’ll just slow us down.”
“Do you see where we are?”
I looked up ahead a little further than I had initially and finally saw it – the end of the trail.
“I’ve been here before – I want you to see it first.”
And if that small act of thoughtfulness wasn’t enough to make me cry, what I saw when I walked just a few hundred more feet certainly did it…

I was stopped absolutely dead in my tracks. There are only a few things that I have marveled at the way I marveled at the piece of the world surrounding me at that moment. I just stood there and drank it – Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, the Three Sisters, the lookout tower itself…

By the time I’d done the full panoramic I was facing Bryan again. He stood there smiling like he’d just pulled off the greatest surprise of the year and threw his arms up with something to the effect of “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Dude totally gets me. This is why we’re friends.
I actually teared up as I tried in vain to catch my breath. None of it even seemed real. But eventually I put my brain back together.

Now that we were finally at the summit, business could finally be gotten down to. We got the tower opened up and got things inside shimmied around so that we could get out of our still-wet boots and swap out select items of clothing for the comfier camp clothes once again. The inside of the tower was slightly less than tidy and the evidence of forgone maintenance work was piled under a giant blue tarp that Whiskey quickly made his own personal tent once we fired up the stove again and he was again convinced the one inch flame was going to come after and destroy him.

After lunch there wasn’t much else to worry about except for finding a strong enough signal so that Bryan could connect to YouTube and finally figure out how to use that damn beer making bottle we were so excited about. After a few careful viewings of the how-to video and several curses under his breath we finally had it – beer! Pale Rail on a mountaintop… BOOM.

We decided to take the party outside and propped up on the sunny steps of the lookout while a sleeping pup lay in the rocks at our feet. We hadn’t been out there too long when we heard voices coming up the other side of the mountain and I’ll be the first to admit, my heart sank a little at the thought of sharing the space for the night. After two days of not seeing another soul besides the two fellas I’d come up with, I wasn’t eager to have any reminder of civilization.
Luckily, after a brief conversation with the two women who had to have been in their late 50’s, we learned that they had simply hiked up just to hike back down (really? Not even a photo at the top? We were both confused but didn’t push it). So after a few pleasantries (including one of the women saying, “pardon my French, but it’s a damn beautiful day!”) (oh ma’am, if only you heard the way we talk to each other, we’d have so much more to apologize for than you do) (sorry dad, I’m working on the sailor vocabulary) they about-faced it and left us to our beer, at which point we agreed that we’d better be in that kind of shape at that age too because hi, it’s too pretty here to ever think about giving up hiking.

The rest of that late afternoon was spent around the campfire (much better luck getting that started at the higher, dryer points of Mt. Hood National Forest) where we passed a couple more freshly brewed pints back and forth, melted snow for more water (him) and caught socks on fire while trying to dry them out (me). As the sun dipped into the horizon and the winds picked up, it suddenly didn’t seem to matter how close we got to the fire, staying comfortably warm outside was not a long-term option so before the sky turned fully from pink to orange, we had hightailed back upstairs and started dinner.

(just for reference, that's the lake we'd camped at the night before)
Tell me, does a hot meal ever really taste as perfect and wonderful as it does when you’re out in the middle of nowhere? Because I’m beginning to think that’s my ideal dining experience. When did I become that person? And how do I make sure I never revert back?
So here’s where we really lived up to our wild and crazy reputations… With the wind building to a rolling boil outside, and temps getting lower and lower, and two days of packing up a mountain finally catching up with us (and I’m sure in no way related to the slight beer buzz), the pull of our cozy sleeping bags became too strong to ignore.

I think I conked out first. Who knows when the boys finally lost consciousness.
Around 11 I woke up to Bryan’s phone buzzing about something, and we both marveled at the gale force winds neither of us could believe weren’t about to blow the whole son’bitch down (anyone who gets that How I Met Your Mother reference automatically wins a cookie from me). But that old lookout stood strong, and were it not for the jet engine roar, you’d have never known there was anything more than a spring breeze whisping by.
Somewhere in there we both finally fell back to sleep, and with my Carhartt beanie pulled right down over my eyes and my sleeping bag being full-on cocoon, I didn’t even realize it was morning until I heard,

“Hey sleeping beauty, you might want to wake up for this.”

And that sunrise silhouette of Mount Jefferson just beyond the window in front of me? I’ll remember that forever. The wind was still howling like mad, and it was freezing once I abandoned the safety of my bag, but oh, was it worth it to walk around the deck of the tower and see the light’s first touch on the new day in full panorama.
Hot coffee, hot breakfast, and cold mountain air. It was some kind of heaven really.

Of course that brings us back to where we started… And unfortunately that means this story is not quite over yet. Because now that we were packing up and getting ready to make our descent...

“Oh shit. We made a BIG mistake.”
I think I had just snapped the last buckle on my pack as he said it.
“Oh god… What?”
“Remember how you made sure I had your spare key just in case, and I made sure to leave my keys in your car where they’d be nice and safe?”
“Remember which rig we left at the end of the trail?”
The only thing I could think to do was start laughing as I connected the tragic pieces of our little puzzle there.
So yeah, two reasonably high-functioning adults, miles into the middle of a National Forest, after three days of hiking and we were a good ten miles away from the car that held the keys to our endpoint vehicle.

I feel like many other combinations of people would have meant this situation was headed for a fight, passive aggressive warfare, or just general bitching about how stupid one of the other could have been to have locked the keys to the truck in my car. Fortunately for us, Bryan and I don’t really play that game and I think we laughed about it all the way back down the other side of the mountain.

We played out a few different scenarios for getting ourselves out of this pickle, but ultimately we decided to just get down to the truck, drop our packs and hoof it back the few more miles to my car at the other end of the trail, hoping to cross paths with someone on their way up along the way that we could con into giving us a ride.

So we made it back down, threw our stuff in the bed of the truck and took back off down the road… But not before I realized just in the nick of time NOT TO FORGET MY CAR KEY. Yeah, totally almost took off without the keys to my car. Wouldn’t that have been a hoot?
Good lord, Lairen.
It was a gorgeous morning so being outside a little longer didn’t really faze me too much. To be honest, I was still so amused by the whole debacle that I’d have been fine walking the whole way back to my car just to get a good story out of it. Bryan on the other hand was about eighteen steps beyond ready for the giant burger and beer we’d promised ourselves at the Carver Hangar on the way back to town so this unexpected delay was not as amusing to him in that exact moment.

Luckily, we’d only been walking about 3 miles when a car finally came into view. Of course it turned out to be a young guy from Russia who barely spoke English and his grandma (and their dog) so long story short (ha, right, now I decide to be brief, after 5,000 words) they accepted Bryan’s twenty bucks and gave him a ride back to my car while I waited on the side of the road with Whiskey and dozed in the sun.

About a half hour later both cars rolled by again and we were finally, finally, back on track. And apparently it was a good thing that car came along too because as it turns out we were still about five miles away from my car so… Yeah… Thank you kind strangers.
After that whole mess, that burger at Carver were possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten. And we almost got enjoy the whole meal in that great post-hike bliss were it not for me accidentally mentioning Bryan’s military service to the bartender and the creeper dude next to us at the bar who then tried to insist on paying for our meal (which B politely declined as he always does in that situation) but then couldn’t take the hint that we wanted to talk to each other and not him and would. not. shut. up. and thus kinda killing the rest of our burgers and beers.
I apologized over and over, but Bryan still leaned over and whispered a solid “I hate you so much right now” in my ear which considering this was Valentine’s Day Weekend, was about as much of a sweet nothing as I was gonna get.
True to form, I kinda couldn’t stop giggling about it which I’m sure helped his indignant rage bubbling just under the surface.
Eh. It’s kinda fun to make him mad, even if that’s never my intent.
So, we finished our beers and headed out and that was that. A most hilarious end to what easily became the best hike of my life.
3 days, 15+ miles, 2 pints of whiskey, 3000 foot elevation gain, 5600 feet at the highest summit, and absolutely infinite memories.

Bull of the Woods, you are my happy place. 


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