January 27, 2017.
4 mi. | 700′ ele. gain | 2:15 hr.
Hiking is mostly viewed as a seasonal activity. It’s what you do when the summer rolls around, the ski lifts are closed and the fallen trees are cleared. But to me, hiking is one of the most basic human expressions that can be enjoyed any time of year. Just because a hiking trail isn’t maintained for year-round travel doesn’t mean you can’t figure out how to travel on it in a safe and enjoyable manner.
This was my first time visiting Chimney Rock. I had done a bit of research online, but there were no maps of the route. It was only 2 miles long so, really, how difficult could it be?
There was a trail marker at the parking lot and a line of footprints that very quickly petered out. I was on my own. After a short while I saw no sign of a trail. The ground surface felt wrong. Every direction looked like it could be the right way. And I really had no idea where the rock even was.
I took out my phone and pulled up Google Maps. Ahh, so that was the problem. I had headed north and west up to the top of a ridge. Chimney Rock was south and east from the trailhead. Basically I had covered no ground in the right direction, and I’d have to drop back down off this ridge to get back on track. Time to try Plan B!
I flipped myself around and started hiking along the ridgeline, scanning the terrain around me. Across the valley, I spotted a line of tracks that looked like a trail. Alright! At least I knew where I was headed, even if I did have to drop all the way down just to climb back up again. This was turning this wimpy 4-mile round trip into more of an adventure.
I kept my eyes on the tracks as I descended and then re-ascended up the other side of the valley. Once I got on the line of tracks I realized that deer, not humans, had left them. It still felt like maybe the deer were following the actual trail and that I was going in the right direction. There was only one way to find out.
Following the trail eventually became difficult. It clung to the edge of a steep and icy hillside that was in the shade. A slip here would be really bad. So I decided to kick steps in the snow, traveling directly up the hillside, to flatter ground. This plan worked out well. Once out of harm’s way, I noticed a soft indentation in the snow. The trail! I followed the indent until Chimney Rock burst into view. I was almost there.
At the base of the rock I wandered around looking for the perfect lunch spot. The views above the Crooked River were gorgeous. It was just me and the crows up here.
The sun shone brightly, cutting the chilly January air. If this place were just a little closer, I’d come out here more often. It was beautiful. Despite the screwy routefinding in the beginning I was really enjoying myself.
On the return hike I paid closer attention to the actual trail location. After following my deep, secure steps down the steep hillside I picked up the trail and followed it back to the car. As it turned out, I missed a big switchback right near the start of the trail, sending me way off track. Whoops.
Having some basic routefinding skills as well as being able to adapt your plans on the fly are really important when venturing out on a winter hike. No one’s there to mark the trails, plow the snow or clear the trees. It’s up to you to use your own resources and make your way safely. In a world where so much is done for me, for my own safety…it’s nice to have a pastime that requires a bit of brainpower and decision-making to take care of myself!