Back on the trails

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Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.
– T.S. Eliot

Larch Mountain Crater Hike – 6.06 miles

On Tuesday I set off for a new to me solo hike up at Larch Mountain. Longest hike of the year so far was 5 miles back in April. The year started off really well with walking and hiking on a daily/weekly basis, but around mid-March the routine fell completely apart. Coincidentally, or not, my stress levels during spring quarter were way off the charts compared to winter quarter, despite a lower course load. It’s taken the past couple weeks of school detox time to notice the impact of daily walking and weekly hiking on overall stress levels. It’s way past time to hit the trails again!

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Larch Mountain (4,061 feet and sans Larch trees) an extinct shield volcano that last erupted about 4 Ma ago lies within the Boring Lava Field and dominates the skyline east of Portland, OR. The stories I’ve heard about Larch Mountain revolve around biking. It’s an infamous 14 mile climb from the Vista House split. Someone once told me a story about a buddy who was flying down the road screaming with success after his first springtime climb. He wasn’t wearing glasses and was directly nailed in the eye by a large bug at 30+ mph. RIP eye. His friend informed me the accident did not deter his love of riding one bit (good reminder to always wear some sort of eye-protection while riding!). So Larch became “Eye-loss mountain”  – bugs, hills, “dannnggeerrr”.

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But when I started hiking down into the crater, the second growth forest embraced me and the smell of flowering bear grass and cedar changed “Eye-loss mountain” into “eye-full mountain”.  The crater loop is an excellent trail to practice some forest bathing, or as the Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku (森林浴). A calm, gentle stroll to tune back into the natural world. Roots and rocks, and pebbles keep your toes dancing down the trail, while sections of perfectly flat railroad grade ease the pain of climbing back up the crater wall.  I believe that a trail that puts you a little off balance creates a greater connection to your surroundings. An enhanced awareness so to speak.

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It was a great opportunity to put my new shoes to the test. The approach shoes that i’ve been hiking in the past couple years finally lost their traction. They were great, never had a blister, but always felt my toe box was squished at the end of hikes. So, I did some research, and switched to some Altra Lone Peak 2 trail runners.  After my positive experience hiking hundreds of miles in the approach shoe I’m never going back to boots (if I can help it!). The Altra’s are big yellow paddle shoes, but my feet felt great after these 6 miles – so far so good. We’ll see how they fare over the long haul.

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June is a great time to be hiking in the PNW. The wildflowers are still in bloom, and you can still find some pretty interesting fungi if you look closely. Because it’s been extraordinarily dry the past several weeks the bugs have not been too annoying. The trail drops from the Larch Mountain parking lot through a second-growth forest to the crater floor which can house a temporary pond if there has been enough rain. If not it reverts to a marshland, with skunk cabbage, and marsh marigolds (which I did not see), and other wetland vegetation. The trail skirts around the edge of the marsh under an old cedar canopy. You’re under shade nearly the entire hike. The trail switchbacks up the crater wall, a decent climb but never too challenging, until a completely flat one-mile section that used to be an old railroad line. There are a couple open spaces here that provide an excellent view North. Mt. St. Helens was in view, but the hazy conditions didn’t allow for a good photo. Another mile plus of gradual climbing takes you back to the trailhead through bear grass and rhodie land. The rhodies were past prime it seemed, but you could still find the occasional pink bloom.

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It felt great to be back on the trail despite feeling incredibly out of shape and maybe pushing the mileage a little. It feels good to push right up to your edge sometimes (as the T.S. Eliot quote says above), then you know how far you can go. I’ve been stuck at the 6 mile limit (mosty self-imposed) for a while, and this is the summer to push a little farther. I can’t wait to get out for another long hike soon!

The only minor bummer about the trip and that was that I forgot my CF card for my good camera and had to use the cell phone for these shots. But… any photo taken is a good opportunity to get back into the practice of observing!

Until next time, keep walking, and get outside!

Critter watch: insects, one lone chippie.