May 5, 2007.
Saddle Tr–> Horsepasture Tr and back | 7 miles (?) | 2300′ ele. gain | 5:15 hr.
While everyone else was out drinking and eating burritos for Cinco de Mayo, I was out hiking in the Willamette National Forest. The goal: a former fire lookout atop Horsepasture Mountain.
I picked up the Saddle trail from the southern part of the loopy FR 1993. Judging from my map of the entire Three Sisters Wilderness area (of which my hike took up about 2 square inches) I am guessing this section was about 2 miles long. It began low enough in the forest where there wasn’t even a speck of snow, so I left my snowshoes in the car and began walking up this beautiful, wooded trail. Within 30 minutes, I encountered my first patch of snow. The dense, shady cover of the forest, combined with increasing elevation meant that I’d be wallowing in deep snow before the end of the trek.
After a short while, I crossed a logging road that was unmarked on the map. The trail kept on climbing, and since I wasn’t sure how long it really was, it felt like it went on forever. Every now and then, I had to retrace my steps and look around to locate the trail. Most of it was very clearly worn into the slope. However, some sections were overgrown with shrubs and seemed to swallow the foot tread altogether. The evergreens towering above were coated in snow. First, the melting snow fell gracefully to the forest floor like a gentle spring rain. This light drizzle quickly turned to a rain of icy projectiles and finally a sporadic bombing of wet, soft, snowy cowpies. I wished I’d have had my helmet. My raincoat was a thin line of defense against the guerilla attack from above.
I stopped for lunch on a soggy, moss-covered rockslide. It was a lovely afternoon. The clouds cloaked the sun, but I knew it was up there, just waiting to peek out.
A few minutes after my break, I came to two well-signed trail junctions 0.1 miles apart. Here’s where the real snow began. No one’s been up here in some time, I imagine. There were no sign of human footprints anywhere. Although the snowpack was firm, I still sank in several inches and fell in to my hips a few times. I seem to remember going face first into the snow a few times also…
After a mile or so of walking, the tight-lipped forest opened her mouth wide. The trail was no longer evident. Since my map was better for driving than for hiking, no matter how long I stared at my compass and my surroundings, I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything. All I knew was that I hadn’t hit the top of the mountain yet, so I kept climbing up. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to find the lookout. Even if I did, it had been so overcast that I wouldn’t get views anyways.
As I was pondering my situation, the clouds looked like they were about to give way. I kept O’Leary Mountain behind me and headed east up the snowfields. Before long, a wide, rocky field stood ahead of me and a huge panoramic view began to unfold. As I crested the ridge, I stood triumphantly atop a rock outcropping and spied the old lookout across a narrow ridge of snow. Just a few minutes later I dropped my pack there and had a look around. It was simply gorgeous up there. The Three Sisters were laid out in a row. Dark green ridges rippled across the vast landscape. Every trudging step through wet, heavy snow suddenly became justified. Now, if only I could spend the rest of the afternoon up here! With a little exploring, I found the summit benchmark and a bunch of smashed building materials where the lookout once stood. I again cursed my map, since the summit was not supposed to be near the lookout (they were practically on top of each other). I enjoyed the balmy weather, mountainous eye candy, and a healthy serving of Pringles before packing up and heading out.
I followed my tracks back to where the trail became obvious again. The mountainside took on a whole new look under the blazing, bright sun. It was wonderful. I took time to observe the lichen, trees, and budding plants on the trip back to the trailhead. I listened for birds, but my East-Coast ears are not yet trained for this West-Coast birdsong. I made some easy identifications of a handful of juncos and one Steller’s Jay, but puzzled over the other mysterious vocalizations that echoed through the woods.
In the summer, you can access this peak from an upper trailhead that cuts out the trek up the Saddle Trail. It’s billed as a quickie hike you can do after work.
Well, I prefer to do things the hard way. It’s more fun and less crowded!