“We can’t go any further!!” one of the hikers in the lead group yelled to me, the leader, as I approached.  “There is too much snow.”

We were about 4 miles and 1800 feet up Crescent Mountain from the trailhead on a day that was alternating between rain and snow flurries.  My thirteenth time leading hikes for the Obsidians, and I had everything I could handle.

I hadn’t planned ever to lead hikes.  Indeed, I had heard of the Obsidians, a hiking club, only by chance, when on a visit to Eugene before we moved, the person showing us around mentioned the Obsidian Lodge, as we drove by a large building set in the woods in the South Hills.  After we moved, six weeks later I suddenly remembered the club, looked it up, wrote them about perhaps my joining, hoping, “we would be a good fit for each other.”

We were.  One has to do three hikes to become a member, and on my first, up Rooster Rock in the Menagerie Wilderness, I found I wasn’t left behind.  Indeed, on the steep upper part, climbing 750 feet in a half mile, there were two of us in front, and I kept up a conversation with the other ahead of me.  I belonged in this country.  (Picture of Obsidian Hiking Group, Rooster Rock, 2014).

The leader on that hike, a dynamo, 73, kept telling me I should lead hikes.  I told her I couldn’t lead a hike without having done it first, so I spent much of the summer of 2014 doing hikes in the Cascades or on the Oregon Coast by myself.  I started with Eagle’s Rest, a 2000 foot climb, then did Hardesty, a 3500 foot climb over 4.5 miles.  I found a way to do Hardesty without backtracking, and did that 14.5 miler, with 5000 feet of climbing, twice.  I hiked Obsidian Loop, one of the classic Cascade hikes, on July 4, six feet of snow or more on the ground.  I later combined the loop with Opie Dilldock for a 19 miler.  I did Maxwell Butte, Iron Mountain, Castle Rock, and on a cold October day near season’s end, Browder Ridge, solo.  (Collier Cone, Opie Dilldock 19 miler, August 2014).

I started leading hikes in August, two months after I became a member.  I led Obsidian Loop twice, once in November, four days before the road closed for the winter.  That was a great hike, in fog and rain, not the usual way people see that country, which is usually in summer.

The non-winter of 2015 meant that hikes we normally did in June or July were able to be done in April.  Indeed, I led lower elevation Rooster Rock in mid-February, with trees in bloom.  Crescent Mountain was in April.  I had done it the prior June 29.

There had been some rain, but 12 of us showed up, the typical number that carpool, and we arrived at the trailhead high in the Cascades about 10.  The woods are dense here with Douglas Firs and sword ferns.  Early season hikes had a problem which I had not anticipated: several blowdowns, fallen trees, were blocking the trail.  While it didn’t snow much, there was rain and a lot of wind.  Saturated soils often cause trees to fall.

We started the hike by descending to Maude Creek, where we regrouped.  There had already  been three major blowdowns, and I led, finding the best way around them.  We regrouped at the creek, and I counted people, always counting, as I had on canoe trips nearly a half century earlier, when my campers went swimming.  I had to reach 12.  It wasn’t like there were other trails here, although that does occur on other hikes.  People can get hurt or have a medical emergency, and our median age on the hike was well over 60.

After the creek, I let people go at their own pace, staying in the middle of the group as we steadily climbed.  As we broke out into the first small meadow, there were several firs that had fallen together and required a few minutes to navigate through.  It was a mess.  (Upper Meadows of Crescent Mountain, looking at Browder Ridge to the south.)

This area was about the half way point of the climb, and I waited for everybody I could see, even backtracking to make sure whoever were 11 and 12 were OK.  They were, and I moved back through the group to the higher meadows, too soon for the wildflowers we had seen last June.  At the upper end of the meadow section, I heard the shout about the snow.  I looked and saw the six of my group clustered where the trail disappeared into the woods.  I knew the trail went up from there, and I found it easily, despite the snow.

Everybody followed, catching up when I looked for a way around a blowdown in the woods.  The snow was a lot deeper but still passable.  Nobody complained, and we climbed the last few hundred vertical feet to the summit.  This was the lunch spot , but I then went back down the trail, to find the last five. (View from summit of Crescent Mountain).

Three were about a quarter mile back, just past the blowdown, and they were doing fine.  The other two were another quarter mile back, and I wondered if I should turn them around.  I hated to do it, and we were fine on time, not as fast as I had wanted, but not in trouble either.  I can sense well time on the trail and thought if we didn’t stay too long on top, we would be down at a reasonable hour to get back to town.  (View towards Mt. Jefferson, hidden in the clouds).

The last two arrived at the summit and thankfully quickly ate their lunch.  A few who were cold asked if they could slowly start down.  I told them to go.  The view was beautiful in fog, with the trees below covered in recently fallen snow.  I pointed out Crescent Lake to the north, unfrozen, and Browder Ridge, below to the south.  We wouldn’t be seeing The Sisters, Mt. Washington, Three-fingered Jack, or Mt. Jefferson today.  I quickly ate, took a few pictures and was left with one other person.  She was having a little trouble with her gloves and told me to go, but I stayed and got her settled.  Gloves are important and if the hands are cold, other things might happen, like falling.  Once she was taken care of and started down, the count being correct, I left.  The hike down was uneventful.  The group walked about 11 miles; I might have done 13.

It was just a hike, nothing special, not a race, not a major climb, just a Sunday outing.  It was the day that truly I became a trip leader, realizing that it was far more than posting the hike online and showing up.  Leading is counting people, watching the clock, watching the sky, watching how people hike, looking at their body language, their expression, their gear, listening to their breathing.

The Obsidians give patches for those who do 100,200,300, and 500 hikes.  They also give them for leading 25,50,75,and 100 hikes.  I’ve now taken more 120 hikes and led 34.  I led Crescent again later, in a cold autumn rain.  At the meadow, the cold wind’s howling and the 45 degree temperatures led me to call off trying to summit in fog.  We turned around and got back down wet, but warm.  (Upper Meadows in fog.  It was windy and intermittently snowing).

Knowing when to quit is perhaps the most important part of leading.

(Black Crater summit, August 2015)



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