My wife thought I shouldn’t drive her to the airport; she would take the 5:30 a.m.shuttle instead.  I offered, because she could sleep longer and then sleep in the car.  She countered that she could sleep in the shuttle.  I took her anyway.

I was just rationalizing my desire to climb Mt. Henline in the Opal Creek Wilderness.

Coming back from the airport, I would go through Salem and detour to the southeast, eventually reaching the trailhead.  I had this trip planned as soon as I knew she was flying out of Portland.  I would enter the Opal Creek Wilderness, about 32 square miles, one of the nearly 700 wilderness areas that comprise about 5% of the US.  Call me selfish, but this was a place I wanted to hike, and coming back from Portland made it easier.

Only six states have no wilderness.  I’ve been in the largest, the Noatak-Gates of the Arctic contiguous wilderness, about 10,000 square miles, a tad smaller than Massachusetts. Imagine, Massachusetts with no cities, no roads, and no people, except for transient visitors.

Opal Creek is sacred ground.  The largest uncut forest in Oregon is here.  It was saved from the chain saws and the lumber mills, and it has only three trailheads from the road.  I took the one up the mountain, now my fourth of the 49 wilderness areas in Oregon I’ve visited in my four months here:  Cummins Creek, Three Sisters, and Mt. Jefferson are the others.  I have a lot of places to see.

Wilderness is not off limits to people, but mechanized travel and chain saws are not allowed.  I spent a summer volunteering in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and every bit of sawing we did was with a two man.  If the national parks are the crown jewels of the nation, which I think they are, the wilderness areas are kept in a safety deposit box.  If one is lucky, a key is made available for one to enter these areas.  Such areas may be busy, as is the Boundary Waters in August.

Henline, however, had nobody.  I was alone.

I started up the trail in a true natural forest, quickly becoming wet from sweat and fog, from the prior two days’ rain.  I climbed 850 feet per mile for the first two miles.  Fortunately, the trail was good, except for some rock slides I crossed.  I could hear rocks fall occasionally, witness to the nature’s constant change, slow but continuous.  At the top of the main climb was where an old lookout once stood.  Through breaks in the fog, I could see forest:  uncut forest, forest the way it once was, and still ought to be in many places.  Yes, logging creates jobs, but now one person can do the work that many others used to have to do.  Trees create paper, which we waste on things like false financial statements that almost brought down the world.


Rockpile in fog

Rockpile in fog

But I wasn’t having those thoughts.  I was thinking how alone I was.  No, today I would not have a view of the Cascades.  I didn’t need one.  In fog, I felt part of the place, part of the forest, part of the world I inhabited for the day only. I felt like I belonged.  I heard no cars, saw nobody, and imagined what it must have been like for the pioneers trying to get through this forest, in valleys where rivers ran unchecked, from the Cascades to the tidewater flats at the ocean, rivers called Santiam, Alsea, Siuslaw, Umpqua, and Rogue.

The summit was about another mile from the lookout, and Sullivan’s book mentioned it had no views.  Well, no views, no matter.  I was going anyway.  The trail went up and down, and some of the areas along a knife-like ridge were a little hairy.  Fall here, and nobody is going to find you for a while.  I’ve thought of that a lot at Cummins Creek.  Go into the middle of that place, and you are going to be where nobody has been in a long, long time.  Everybody would do well to have that experience from time to time.  It changes one’s perspective.

Trail in fog.

Trail in fog.

The summit was where the trail stopped.  I walked around it a little while and then returned to the former lookout, where I had lunch.  I just sat there, thinking.  I didn’t think about much, just fiddled around and did the things one does in the wilderness.  Finally, I decided it was time to leave, so I went down the trail, carefully negotiating the rock slides, to the car.  Leaving no litter and no trace was turning the key back in to Mother Nature, so the safety deposit box was locked.  There would be other visitors tomorrow or the next day, for sure; the trail had been well used.  Go into places like Cummins Creek, however, and one finds places where the trail is not very evident.  That’s good. I’d like to camp there some time.  It’d be quiet.

I eventually drove back out to the freeway and home.  I felt a little special.  Nobody on the road likely had any idea what I had done today.  I had gone into a wilderness area.  Other than a few footprints, nobody knew I was there.

This doesn’t happen every day.  Shame it doesn’t.


View from ridge

View from ridge

One of many rockfalls

One of many rockfalls

Simple sign for a special place

Simple sign for a special place


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