November 6, 2010.
Dickey Creek Trail > Tr #555 > short ‘shwack to summit and back | 15 miles | ~3000’ ele. gain | 7 hours
I set out again, alone and in the rain, to explore another bit of new territory. The Bull of the Woods Wilderness is sandwiched between Mt. Hood and the Clackamas River. The trailhead for this hike is accessed via 63 (near Bagby) and some overgrown gravel roads.
Based on the quality and quantity of signage, both on the way to the trailhead and on the trails, this is a well traveled place. However, I’d have the woods to myself for the next seven hours. The hike begins among large, beautiful trees. Almost immediately I had to cross a stream, and although the huge log draped across it looked passable, it was so high off the river I thought if I slipped and fell I might not ever get back up again. So I detoured about 20 yards downstream to a more sane crossing, and I was on my way.
The trail loses about 500 feet of elevation as it snakes its way down towards Dickey Creek. The scenery was distinctively autumn in Oregon. Mushrooms erupted through the forest floor both on and off trail. Moss carpeted the ground. Dead and dying deciduous shrubs turned an array of colors as they dramatically transitioned into winter hibernation. Newts awkwardly wriggled across the trail. I decided to count them as I made my journey today.
As I settled into a comfortable pace, I felt the understory closing in on me…I forgot my rain pants. I cursed every snowberry and rhododendron that brushed up against me with its wet leaves. Just before arriving at a beautiful pond, I had to walk through a very dense and overgrown patch of wet, leafy, and thorny shrubs. I was soaked from the waist down and I’d just barely gotten started. I began getting cranky, then got a glimpse of the beautiful lake, and calmed right back down.
The real elevation gain didn’t really feel like it started until I was almost halfway to my destination. The trail traveled up and down, east, west, north, south, as if it couldn’t make up its mind. I loved it; no one muscle group got very sore before I had to switch gears and activate another set of muscles. It only took an hour to get to the creek crossing at the 3 mile mark. I had to scoot across one log on my butt, then step across to walk across another log to get to the other side. With my pants now completely saturated I was ready to get the climbing started. At least that would keep my body temperature up.
But the trail seemed to take its time getting anywhere. I walked peacefully through moist woods until I finally came across my first shot at a view. “This must be the big slide!” I thought. I walked across a large jumble of rock left behind by an old rockslide and looked at the talus slope above me. Once across, the trail dropped back into the woods. Shortly later, I crossed another slide…and another. Finally I made it to the BIG slide, the one the mountain was named after. It sure was big; it rounded several corners and seemed to go on forever. Just after the slide, the trail to Big Slide Lake detours downhill and my route turned sharply uphill. I passed two more trail junctions before reaching the final stretch to the summit. The character of the trail changed from quaint old-growth to burly sub-alpine meadow. The soil was thin and rocky; the plants clung fiercely to the ground in every opportune location. The trail traverses steep meadows covered in grass, kinnickinnick and other rugged plant life. The views across the valley to adjacent ridges must be fantastic on a clear day. I walked until the trail took a sharp turn downhill. I hadn’t seen an obvious scramble trail to the top of the ridge, which was obviously back and to my left, so I had to make my own. I searched around for the best spot to angle up on wet, loose rock and dirt. A little bit of slick-as-snot slab was thrown in for good measure. I stuck to areas with the most preferable footing and solidly rooted vegetation for handholds. A few minutes of terror and I was atop the precipitous ridge. It was windy up there; the air was cold and drizzly as well. I looked around at yet another non-view and returned to the trail.
Once I was out of the wind and back in the safety and warmth of the forest, I continued counting newts, brushing branches off the trail, and admiring mushrooms. I noticed I was losing a lot of elevation that I didn’t pay attention to on the way up. The trail was graded so nicely that even the uphill sections felt like a breeze. With just about 2 miles to go, I stopped for a snack and clothing change and, apparently, a big yawn. I inadvertently swallowed something that must have approached the size of a hummingbird because it got so deeply lodged in my throat that a half mile of walking and coughing wouldn’t clear it out. I am glad no one else was out here hiking today to hear my desperate coughs. Whatever it was must be now laying eggs in my lungs and having a good laugh.
The last bit of climbing up out of the drainage was not as tiring as one would expect. It gave me one last chance to take it slow and appreciate the great diversity of fungus around me. It came in every color: red, yellow, orange, lilac purple, white, grey and brown. The various forms were dramatically different, from delicate coral-like clusters to thick, globular masses. Nascent fungi were just barely starting to poke through the soil, while older ones appeared to have been consumed by a cannibalistic mold. I was almost glad I didn’t have a camera because my hike would have taken twice as long.
Back at the trailhead, I tallied up my newt count: 15. I beat my goal by 5, ha! It was a fantastic hike, and I hope to return on a better weather day so I can catch some killer views (I’ve been saying that a lot lately). There are many hiking and backpacking options in this area that beg to be explored, as well as some fun, craggy little peaks to ascend.