LESSONS IN THE CUMMINS CREEK WILDERNESS


“Well,” the woman commented in an moderately annoyed voice, “that wasn’t much of a lunch.”

We were at the eastern end of the Cummins Creek Wilderness trail, an east-west out and back of about six and a quarter miles.  I led the trip with six others, all of us members of the Obsidians, a local hiking group.  There is a similar group in Salem and one in Portland.  Non-members are welcome; they pay $5; members pay $1.  We carpool; the driver gets 9 cents a mile from each rider.  I like to drive; many don’t and sleep on the way back from the trail.

After three hikes as a non-member, one may become a member.  One of the more active members, seven years my senior, pushed for me to become a leader of a hike. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do it, but I did about 35 hikes on my own, learning the country, and led my first one 4 months ago into the Obsidian Loop, a beautiful Cascade hike.

I solo hiked the Cummins Creek Wilderness last June and saw nobody on the 12.5 mile out and back trip.  It climbs 1300 feet net, and another 400 feet of descent during the hike has to be re-climbed, so it ranks as a “moderate” hike by Obsidian standards.

It was the holiday season, so I didn’t expect many to sign up, especially since this was a hike without views of either the mountains or the coast.  Still, there were seven of us who were on the trail by 9:45, on the central Oregon Coast, just below 1000 feet elevation.

The group split up quickly.  There was only one minor trail junction, so I stopped to make sure everybody went the right direction.  I gave people “free rein,” to go at their own pace.  It soon became obvious that we were strung out over about a mile of the trail. I wasn’t too concerned, other than the fact some would wait at the turn around point, and others might have less of a break, since days are short in Oregon in December, and we wanted to drive back while still light.

The weather was cooler than expected, with a brisk east wind.  We all carry day packs with the “10 essentials”.  None of us expect to camp out, but bad things can happen.

I got to the turnaround point just before noon.  I had waited on the way about 10 minutes to see the next person behind me.  I was third to arrive; the other two had been waiting for about 10 minutes.  I knew lunch would be brief for the last pair; since we had to hike back it would be at least 2 hours’ walk.  I told the two there and the next arrival to start eating lunch if they wished.  Ten minutes later, everybody had arrived, and we started eating lunch.

 

Cummins Creek Wilderness in June 2014

Cummins Creek Wilderness in June 2014

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Old forest service road that is being allowed to grow back. Cummins Creek Wilderness; June 2014.

 

Five minutes later, the person who arrived first announced that he was going to “start back.” This was fine; we are pretty informal, and I am a new leader, leading my fifth hike.  Four others, becoming cold, since the low sun had disappeared into a cloud bank, decided they would start back as well.  It was then I got the comment about the short lunch.  Reluctantly, the commenter got up and began hiking.  I waited, looked around for anything left behind, and started back.  I don’t have to be last on a hike.  If I know a person is experienced, knows the trail, I have no problem leaving them.  On this hike, however, I wanted to be “the sweep,” so if somebody had trouble, I would be available.  My GPS had read 3.2 mph underway on the way out, and I was looking to arrive at the cars about 2:30 or even 3, depending upon the person in front of me, who was disappointed about the lunch time.

Obsidian hiker, Cummins Creek Wilderness, December 2014

Obsidian hiker, Cummins Creek Wilderness, December 2014

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Field of Sword Ferns, looking down from the spine of the ridge

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View of the Oregon Coast from Cummins Ridge Wilderness, near the transition zone from Sitka Spruce to Douglas Firs.

 

Quickly, I started closing the gap.  Nearing her, I stopped, took some pictures, since I neither wanted to pass nor hike at her pace.  She disappeared from sight, but I closed the gap again, and did the same.  On a previous hike near this area last week, she had stayed with the group.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I wasn’t going to say anything, either.  Why was she going so slowly?

I remained silent, often sitting for 3 minutes by the clock, allowing her to get further ahead.  As I sat, I discovered that while there were no “views,” I noticed more, a a huge field of sword ferns, Oregon Ash and a few Western Cedars at 2000 foot elevation.   I continued hiking, stopping again, until we got to the half way point back.  As I stopped, I started noticing the subtle change in the forest, as we approached the coast.  There was a remarkably sharp transition zone into water loving, wind tolerant Sitka Spruce and sun loving Douglas Firs. Both were huge, but clearly there were all Sitkas at one end of the trail and all “Dougs” at the other end.  An hour into the return, I looked at my GPS.

She was making 2.9 mph good.  She wasn’t at all slow.  She wasn’t holding anybody up.  The others were walking a lot faster.  I said aloud, “I’m with a bunch of rabbits.”  Indeed, my underway speed was 3.4 mph.  This translated to a 30-plus minute difference in finishing, and the person who left early not only was ahead on that basis, he was walking fast.

I had thought for an hour that the woman was slow.  I was wrong. Facts proved me wrong.  Two miles from the end, I passed her, knowing now it was safe.  Ten minutes later, I encountered others on the hike, reaching the car 2 hours after leaving the east trailhead.  The fastest person was sitting in his vehicle.  By 2:45, we were on the road back to Eugene.  We had a partly sunny day on the coast; in Eugene, the fog never did clear.

I saw a lot more of the forest than I expected to, each time I sat down for a few minutes and let the woman go ahead.  I was alone among the trees and the wind, in one of the special areas in this country—wilderness.  I also learned something:  just because somebody lags behind doesn’t mean they are slow.  The woman had 30 more minutes in the wilderness than the man who walked back fast and sat in the car.  Hopefully, both were happy with the outcome.  Perhaps the man thought the hike was too slow; the woman felt the lunch break was too short.

What I do know is that I showed six others a part of Oregon they hadn’t seen, which I now have seen twice.  How they viewed it was their business.  How I viewed it taught me something about the Cummins Creek Wilderness, speed, and not being too quick to judge somebody who appears to be too slow.  Maybe the others are excessively fast.

It’s all about relativity.  And getting the facts.

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