Saddle Mountain P2K

Tue, Jul 3, 2012

With: Adam Jantz

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


The Pacific Northwest weather turned on us once again, closing a small window of good weather we enjoyed the previous day for the climb of Mt. Rainier. Looking for something to do with rain back on the menu, we hit upon a couple of county highpoints, one in SW Washington, the other in NW Oregon, a few hours drive from each other. We did not get an early start, not leaving our motel in Woodland until after 9a - it was nice to sleep for once and we felt like we rather deserved it. Driving north on Interstate 5, a brown road sign indicating the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center caught our attention - another NPS stamp for Adam's passport collection. The visitor center turned out to be not right off the interstate as it seemed to indicate, but five miles east. It also turned out to be a state park visitor center, not run by the NPS. This was odd, since Mt. St. Helens itself is managed by the NPS. The ranger at the center explained that the NPS had planned to close the visitor center some years ago (there were three of them at the time), but offered to give it to the state of Oregon which has run it ever since. This was a setback as it did not seem to further his NPS stamp collection. It turns out Adam wasn't the first disappointed collector to the visitor center, and to help abrogate this injustice the visitor center offered its own stamp. This would add a bit of corruption to his passport collection about which Adam was understandably torn. In the end, despite his reservations, Adam took the stamp offered by the state.

We drove back to I-5 and then west on State Route 6 into Pacific County. Rain pestered us on and off for the next several hours. The highpoint is unnamed and not much of hike from what we gleaned from, barely 10 minutes' worth. But the drive is 8.5 miles on questionable logging roads and would require the use of Adam's capable 4Runner. With key waypoints loaded into the GPS, we had no trouble finding the A-line road mentioned in several of the trip reports. The problem was that we found a locked gate at the highway, not even getting ourselves off the pavement. Not letting this deter us, we searched the GPS for alternate roads that we might use to get us onto the network of logging roads on the south side of the highway. We drove up several branches of nearby roads only to find ourselves blocked by gates eventually. We had to admit defeat on this one.

Back on SR6, we continued west to US101, then south to Astoria, crossing the bridge over the mouth of the Columbia River, nearly three miles wide at this point. We drove through town, heading to the Lewis & Clark Visitor Center at Fort Clatsop, the site where Lewis & Clark and party wintered on their epic journey across the continent to the Pacific some 200 years ago. We did our part to stroll about the exhibits and learn bits of our nation's history, but of course we were really here for ... the stamp. So far we hadn't hiked a single step in the direction of a mountaintop. As we continued south on US101, we stopped in the town of Seaside when Adam spotted a thrift store. This too had become somewhat of a ritual on this roadtrip - looking for cheap SLR camera gear in thrift shops. Adam and his father have made a business of reselling this stuff on Ebay, so anytime there was the prospect of fresh finds, we'd pull over a see if they had anything worthwhile. They did indeed have some camera gear that Adam perused, but either it was over-priced or not of sufficient resaleability to make it worthwhile. Disappointed, we got back in the car and motored on.

South of Seaside we turned east on US26 and headed for Saddle Mountain. Finally, three paragraphs into a trip report, it's time to talk about a mountain. Saddle Mountain is the highpoint of Clatsop County. Not much over 3,000ft in elevation, it lies on public lands in Saddle Mountain State Park, with a narrow, windy paved road running north from US26 to the state park. A well-maintained and scenic trail leads to the summit in less than three miles. This was a sure thing, no messing with private property or logging roads on this one. But it was 3p before drove to the end of the road in the state park and started off n the trail. Clouds hung low over the countryside, obscuring the mountaintops including our summit, but at least it wasn't raining.

The western part of Oregon is very green and this was no exception. With abundant rainfall, the forest is very lush in the understory. Wildflowers were in bloom all along the trail. Some, like tiger lilies, wild iris and indian paintbrush were familiar flowers from California, others were less familiar and some were truly stunning. The trail was in excellent shape. There are several picnic benches set up at view spots along the way, though today there would be no views of note. We came across several parties on their way down from the summit and considering it was a weekday, it gave us the impression that this was a popular trail. Where erosion has been a problem, trail crews have installed wire meshing to keep the rocks and soil in place, sometimes to good effect, other times questionably so. On steeper sections the mesh could be slippery when wet, Adam and I both finding this out the hard way.

At the halfway point is found a small class 3 pinnacle overlooking the valley to the south. Adam climbed this (carefully, since it was wet) while I took his picture from the trail. After climbing back down we continued to the top. The summit ridge is kinda cool but short, and would have had superb views had we not been mostly in the clouds by this time. It took just over an hour to reach the top. A railing surrounds the grassy apex, with benches in the center to relax and take in the views for 360 degrees. Unfortunately it was cold, breezy and slightly drizzling (maybe just the breeze blowing the fog in our faces?) and all we could see were the clouds rolling across the grassy slopes about the summit. A small LBB (little brown bird) came by for a visit, mostly to see if we were eating anything that might leave crumbs. It left somewhat disappointed.

It was 5p before we got back to the trailhead, the outing being enjoyable despite its brevity and the poor weather. We would spend several more hours driving around northwestern Oregon, trying to get back to our motel across the state line. By a series of backroads we ended up in St. Helens, OR, just across the Columbia River from our motel in Woodland WA. We had expected there to be a bridge across the river between these two towns but were sadly mistaken. Not even a ferry to help us across. A better look at the map or GPS could have saved us much extra driving. The closest bridge was some 25 miles north at Longview, so off we went. Two hours of hiking today along with one official stamp and one illegitimate one for about seven hours of driving - not a very good ratio by any measure...


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