Six months ago, Mitch joined our Wednesday hikes up Spencer Butte here in Eugene.  We meet early, pay a dollar that goes to the Club, have one of us lead the hike, and take the 3.1 mile route 1500 vertical feet to the top.  It’s a “conditioning hike,” meaning people can go at their own speed, whatever suits them.  I like to go fast, as if I were hiking alone.  I’m told I’m fast, but I can think of at least 4 people in the group who are faster.  I do OK.  I’m not young, but the four who are faster aren’t young, either.

Mitch was in the back of the group the first day. He was overweight, and just making it to the top was an event for him.  He was pleased and so were we.  Several in the group use the hiking time to socialize on the way up, and nobody is racing.  I’ve done it in 53 minutes, alone, just to see what I could do.  The top part now has steps in places, which make it safer, but it’s an average 20% grade, and it is a real cardiac workout to do it.  My pulse tops out at 160, and I can take it just fine by listening to the pounding in my chest.

With time, Mitch began to hike better, both in appearance and on the trail.  He was 50, diabetic, and his doctor told him he needed to exercise.  Mitch took him up on it. He wanted to do some out of town hikes, which the Club offers every weekend and almost every day in the summer.  Somebody has to organize one and lead it.  We meet at a place arranged by the leader, everybody pays a dollar, five for non-members, we carpool to the trailhead and hike at whatever pace the leader has decided.

I’ve led about 70 hikes now, both in town and all over the west Cascades.  My longest hike led is 17 miles; I’ve been over 20 miles twice. I did a 22 miler in 7 hours.  I hike a trail before I will lead a hike on it.  That requires I “scout” hikes, sometimes even hikes I’ve done, because there may be snow on the trail, or blowdowns of trees, and I need to know if the hike is even feasible.  The Club gives credit for being on a hike, leading a hike, but not scouting one.  On early season hikes, I am also a volunteer, reporting and photographing blowdowns to the Forest Service and High Cascade Volunteers, the Scorpion Crew, so they can later prioritize resources to clear the trail.  I may join one of their work crews some day.

Anyway, Mitch asked me in June if he thought he could be able to do my Obsidian Loop hike on July first, a classic, requiring a permit, that goes through the Obsidian Limited Entry Area up near McKenzie Pass.  It’s a great hike with closeup views to North and Middle Sister, has a beautiful waterfall, and a couple of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.  By then, I thought he could.  The hike is difficult, with 12 miles and 2000 feet vertical climb, but half the climb is spread out over the first 3 miles.  I had scouted the hike 5 days prior, concerned about snow, finding a lot of it, off trail a lot depending entirely upon GPS and trail memory, making it difficult to complete the loop, so I was fairly certain we would have to do an out and back hike, not completing the loop.


Obsidian Falls on the scouting hike.  The trail is under about 5 feet of snow to the right.


Middle Sister from Obsidian Loop Trail.

Mitch thanked me profusely the day of the trip for scouting the Obsidian Loop Hike.  That was a pleasant surprise.  Usually nobody does that, nor do I expect it. I appreciated that somebody acknowledged that on my own, I had driven a total of 4 hours and hiked another 4 in snow, alone, rather difficult conditions, to see if a trail was passable.

On the day we all went, there was less snow on the path through the woods to the loop.  That was a good sign.  Other areas had less snow as well. I made the decision to go around Obsidian Falls, because of significantly less snow than had been present just five days earlier.  On the way down, however, I had to again use the GPS to try to find the track I had taken earlier, and we ended up glissading on hills where there was no clear way to get to the trail, which was buried under snow anyway.  One of the guys told me at the end, “Now, that was a HIKE.”  Another said it was one of the most beautiful hikes he had ever taken.  Mitch thanked me yet again for the work I did.  He had no problems with the difficulty.


Hill we glissaded down, not far from the trail.


High Country Lake.


Mitch started adding more on the Spencer Butte hike. There is a back way up to the top, longer, steeper, that he wanted to do.  He did it.  I led a 17 miler that involved climbing two cones, Collier, which is a long climb, and Four in One, shorter, where four vents came out of one cone. In addition to the 17 miles, the hike involved net 2700 feet of vertical climbing.  It’s the most difficult hike I’ve led.  Mitch did just fine.  I knew he would.


View from atop Collier Cone, with Belknap, Washington, Three-fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson (the largest) in the distance.


View of Collier Cone from Four in One Cone


Four in One Cone from the base

I had led three hikes in five days when I led a fourth two days later, up Spencer Butte.  The prior three hikes had all been difficult, but I felt I was rested.  In other words, I had no excuses.  Mitch and another man were with me on the first mile up to Fox Hollow.  There, we cross the road and continue on the trail upward.  I led to Fox Hollow; Mitch passed me on the road, and I said, “Go ahead and I’ll see you at the top.”

Mitch replied that I’d probably catch up to him.  When I hear that, I know I won’t.  And I didn’t.  He got up to the top, mostly still in sight, but at least a minute ahead of me.  He’s faster and stronger, no doubt about it.  Yes, I’ve got 17 more years of age on him, but he’s lost 40 pounds and is only going to get stronger.

Three days later, I led a hike that did the whole Ridgeline Trail in Eugene, out and back.  Mitch hiked it and asked if he could detour and climb Spencer Butte as well.  That added 3 miles and another 1000 feet to an already difficult hike.  I told him to go ahead. I didn’t find myself jealous at all.  The last time I did the hike, he started off fast, and I couldn’t have caught him if I had wanted to.  Mitch earned it.  He’s strong, and he’s good.  I am glad I had a part in it, encouraging him to do difficult hikes that I led in the Cascades.  I had faith in him, but more importantly he had faith in himself.

It’s great to see.  Even from well in the back.

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