August 2, 2008.
3.5-4 miles(?) | 700′ ele. gain | 2:45 hours
The Flag Mountain trail is a scarcely visited, pleasant walkway along a wooded ridge near the town of Rhododendron. It was my first “mountain summit” since I’d injured my ACL in March. I found directions to this hike in the back of the Sullivan guide. The directions weren’t quite right in the book, so I had to ask a local to help me find my way. From highway 26, just as you’re leaving Rhododendron, turn right on Road 20. 0.8 miles AFTER THE BRIDGE, turn left on 20-E (also known as 2620-200). The trailhead is clearly marked on the right, with a small parking area for about 2 cars on the left. The trail is 2.1 miles one way, ending at another small road. I planned on hiking for about an hour before turning back today, hoping to reach the notable 2330′ summit. 🙂
The trail starts off climbing steeply as it switchbacks up to the ridge. I deftly ascended the trail in my Vibram Five Fingers, which I have grown to love. They complemented the soft, needle-covered trail perfectly. My weak left quad and recovering left knee manage the uphills with no problem; however, I dreaded the return trip. The area around the trail head was dotted with houses. The roofs quickly disappeared from view as the trail continued to climb. Shortly, I reached a rock outcropping that offered a meager view. The weather was overcast today, so the views may be spectacular in other conditions. I carefully scrambled to the top of the outcrop and ate some fruit. It felt great to be sitting on top of something that I had walked up to. Every bit of progress is a great achievement. It won’t be long before I will be able to climb big mountains again.
Back on the trail, I climbed some more to another small view. Once on the ridge, the trail mellowed out and rolled along with many ups and downs. The forest seemed brighter and less stifling here. The occasional ray of sunlight washed out the deep brown color a bit and warmed up the scenery. I appreciated hiking in solitude in the Mt. Hood National Forest on a Saturday afternoon. This was a great choice for me.
In about 45 minutes I reached what I called the “summit.” It offered a slightly better view than the other two bald spots and seemed to be a local high point. I took some photos here and then walked along for another 20 minutes or so before turning around. The trail started going downhill again, and I wanted to avoid adding any more downhill to my day than I had to.
Back at my summit the clouds had parted slightly. The tippety-top of Mt. Hood was visible among the puffy white ghosts. A gray white fin of rock stood out clearly. I decided later that this may have been the Steel Cliff. The top of Mt. Hood seems to be a distant memory now, and I am not as familiar with the features’ appearances when not covered by snow. Regardless, I was thankful for a view so I sat and rested here for a time as well. One of the most difficult aspects of recovery is being patient and knowing how long to rest or how long to push myself. My instinct leads me in the opposite direction…go, go, GO! Hiking for 10 minutes longer than the last hike, or adding 100 feet of elevation is a reasonable increment at this point. Fortunately, I am feeling exponentially better each week now and I am getting stronger at a faster and faster rate.
I reluctantly left the summit towards the car and, inevitably, towards the deadly steep descent. I relied heavily on my poles to help distribute the work and to help keep my balance. The flexible soles of my shoes allowed me to get a really solid grip on the ground, providing both physical and mental stability on the most challenging part of the hike. Just before I stepped back on to the road, another hiker started up the trail with her dog. I was amazed that I was able to get away from it all on a nice summer weekend.