I rediscovered spring the other day.  Autumn is my favorite season, and I remember once seeing an ad for a place promising “Eternal spring,” wondering why on earth anybody would want that.  My experience in 37 years in Arizona was that spring sometimes followed fall, winter a no-show, or winter immediately transitioned into summer, like in 1989, when there was a week of high 90s in March.  I looked at spring as a brief reminder that a very hot summer was coming, with fires, probably not enough rain, and at least 5 nasty months before I could reasonably expect it would be cool again.

Even in Oregon, spring brings spells of hot weather, dryness, heralding a not as hot but far drier summer than Arizona.  Two years ago, we skipped right over spring and went from snow on the ground at 5000 feet to fires in the space of a month.  Last year, the summer dry season started in May and there was no rain for three solid months.  Early April this year was very wet, putting a dent into the several year drought plaguing us.  But the last two weeks of April and the first half of May were hot and dry.  A couple of systems moved in to cool things off, and a surprise low pressure system—surprise, because the models didn’t show anything six days prior—moved south, over water, and gave us a good soaking right before Memorial Day.  Those rains are like gold.  

As the last system started to leave, I was looking at hiking somewhere, which was a problem, because there was still too much snow in the high country to hike in, but not enough to snowshoe on, and the low elevation trails were full of blowdowns. Indeed, I had put in nearly 200 volunteer hours on trail clearing on 24 separate days out.  My trail viewing was on the hike in and close up and personal on my knees for yards at a time, throwing branches off the trail, after digging them out of the mud.  I got better upper body exercise by sawing small branches and trying to push large logs that we had cut off the trail.  

I was going to wait until the following weekend, but on Memorial Day I decided at 11am I was going to try to hike Hardesty Mountain, a 4300’ Cascade peak known for its arduous 3300 foot elevation gain, no views, and why would anybody want to do it.  

I like Hardesty.  Indeed, the reasons people give for not hiking it are the reasons I do. It’s tough, it climbs, and if it is foggy, I won’t have views anywhere I hike.  Doing it gives me a sense of accomplishment.  I have led hikes up there, once an out and back 18 miler up Hardesty across Sawtooth Ridge to Mt. June, and back, a total elevation gain of over a mile.  There is also the triangular loop that goes down from Eula Ridge and back along the not as level as one hopes South Willamette Trail, which I have been heavily involved in clearing this year.  I hoped Hardesty wouldn’t be too bad.  Eula Ridge was out of the question, because of the blowdowns. Doing trail work last week, one of the other guys told me he recently hiked down Eula Ridge and completely lost the trail at the bottom.  I’m not surprised.  He was lucky he got home that night.

Anyway, the day was cloudy with occasional drizzle, as I drove out to the trailhead, arriving at the time I usually finish a hike. It didn’t matter; sunset is late this time of year, and I wasn’t in a hurry.

I passed two women within the first quarter mile, and a half mile later, a runner came the other way downhill.  That boded well, although I knew we had cleared this part of the Hardesty trail just two weeks earlier.  I went through beautiful old growth forest, huge trees with reds and purples of an occasional rhododendron blooming nearby.  There were inside out flowers everywhere, and the false Solomon’s Seals were in full bloom.  Spring was just beginning here.  The last two flowers were going to seed in Eugene.

Inside out flowers. Their unusual geometry makes them ideal for bumblebees. Indeed, on this hike, I did see a bumblebee pollinate one.

I crossed the dirt road about a third the way up and then had a relatively flat stretch where I got wet from both the trail and the drizzle.  It didn’t matter.  I had a rain jacket if I wanted one, and I was well up the mountain.  There were only two down logs, and I kept going.  Past 3000’ elevation, I started seeing Fawn Lilies, which were in bloom about six weeks ago in Eugene.  Here, there were dozens.  I stopped for a drink at the Eula Ridge Trail junction, now only a half mile from the summit.  The last half mile is the last to lose snow in spring, and I was surprised to see it clear this year, with a multicolor pastel of purple Snow Queens and yellow Shelton Violets.  As I got higher, the yellow blooms of Oregon Grapes were evident.  They bloomed and went to seed two months ago in Eugene.  Almost before I knew it, I was on top where the old lookout was.  Now, the forest has grown up around it. Five years ago, when I first hiked up, there were some views of South Sister.  Today, it was too foggy to matter.

Fawn Lily and Shelton Violets

I came down the trail through a wavy mat on both sides of Oxalis or Wood sorrel.  There were a few Calypso Orchids, as the trail passed through the woods in moderately dense fog.  I had forgotten how lovely a “second” spring was at this elevation.  One had to wait, until the snow was nearly gone, and the first shoots of green were already pushing up.  It was wet without being very muddy, and it would only stay damp a little longer, before the heat of summer would dry everything out for another season.  

Oxalis, trail, and fog

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