Mount Jefferson Wilderness Part 1
Today is day one of my solo backpacking trip through the Mount Washington Wilderness. A trip within a trip so to speak. The plan was. . . (it always starts like this), to start my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail beginning at the Ollalie Trailhead. First I would drop off Valerie at the Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat Center for a solo of her own, then drive about an hour away to the trailhead and the start of my hike. I wanted to hike to Jefferson Park, a section that my Oregon Backpacking Guidebook refers as the most scenic section of the PCT in the state. But while glancing at some trail maps in the reception area of Breitenbush Hot Springs, I discovered that it is possible to start my hike from here. I mean literally right here at the hot springs. It turns out the people of Breitenbush have built some beautiful trail of their own leading into the national forest. The trail starts through the South Breitenbush Gorge, climbing some 3400 feet in just over 9 miles, to the Pacific Crest Trail and Jefferson Park. The area I want to hike. A big first day, but the coincidence seems just too good to pass up.
So I start my climb, immediately discovering that I have made the right decision. At the low elevation of 2400 feet, I’m hiking in rainforest. Old growth rainforest and like nothing I’ve ever experienced. So green! So lush! Ferns, rhododendrons, clover, mushrooms. Plants I’ve never before seen. And the trees! Giant cedars, hundreds of feet tall. Hundreds of years old. Hemlocks, eight feet around! I’ve never seen trees like this. Oh, the stories they could tell! And all along the way is the gently flowing South Breitenbush River. So crystal clear you can see every rock, every fish, every downed log below the surface as if looking through a swimming pool. Beautiful water. The ground is covered with layer upon layer of pine needles. So thick that as you walk, there is no sound. As if walking through an enchanted forest. A secret world where you’d expect hobbits and gnomes to be lurking in the shadows. A pristine old growth forest. Ancient and wise. And so I walk upon this padded forest earth with no sound. This land, known as the Willamette National Forest, explodes in vivid color before my eyes as I’m shown wonder upon wonder beyond my belief. So rare. Just so rare to see. So sacred and pure.
You cannot hike briskly through a forest like this. Better to wander, stroll, or even crawl your way through it. Taking in every minute detail. The moss. The lichens. The three-dimensional spider webs. The salamanders and tree frogs. And berries! Berries of every flavor! I will not be going hungry on this hike! For around every corner are blackberries, raspberries, and huckleberries. So one simply cannot hike in any kind of fast pace. Where else could I possibly be heading that would be more beautiful, more abundant, more perfect and pristine than this old growth Oregon rainforest? So I slow my stride and wander. Just wander and relax into this new and surreal landscape. And my eyes, wide open and alert, start to see the magic that is all around. For everything here is alive. And I mean everything. An ancient tree stump is covered in green velvet with as many as twelve fern plants growing from it. Out of a downed log are growing tiny pink and white flowers, vivid green plant life, and mushrooms of all different shapes and sizes. Even the rocks here are alive. Alive and green, covered with soft fuzzy botanical gardens of their own. They don’t even appear as rocks at first. But rather soft mounds of spongy life surrounded by ferns and flowers.
A fine example of community is represented here as an eight foot square section contains a uncomprehendable amount of plant life. However, rather than competition for space, I see a perfect symbiotic relationship. Life enabling life. Never before has the circle of life been so perfectly laid out before my eyes. No possible beginning to it. And no end. No life and death. Just a perfect flow of energy. I see only one species. Earth species. For what is what? Where does one stop and the other begin? Where do we draw the line? Make the separation? Without one, we cannot have the other. Without death, we cannot have life. And what is dead and what is living? A tree falls, creates soil for the plants, lichens, mushrooms, providing food for the insects, chipmunks, salamanders, providing food for the hawks, owls, ravens, mountain lions, and bears. They too die, becoming the soil once again, providing nourishment for the plants, lichens, mushrooms. And the cycle repeats itself. This circle of life. So hard to see in our cities of concrete and steel. But we are learning. We are becoming wiser like these ancient forests. For instance, right here in Portland, the city has partnered themselves with a company you may have heard of called Airbnb. Portland wants to make it known that it is their vision to promote the idea of neighbor sharing and helping neighbor. And in a time of need, such as a national disaster, homeowners are invited to open up their homes to families who may have been displaced. Free of charge on Airbnb. Instead of hotels doubling their rates in times of high demand, neighbors are helping neighbors with what they have. And Airbnb waives their service charges. This is just a small start, but it is also the start to a revolution. A shift in consciousness that says life is abundant! And there is plenty to go around. This way of thinking is not new, but rather an old way that has just been forgotten. Imagine a world where every action you make somehow helps someone else. And every action they take somehow helps you. A symbiotic relationship, like in these rainforests, between humans and fellow humans. Humans and their environment. Humans and animals. The ocean. And all of Earth Species. Yes, we can learn from these ancient rainforests. And the people of Oregon are learning already.
So I walk on. Down this path of enlightenment. And the wonders continue. Mile after mile. But it doesn’t take long for me to realize that with this lush green forest comes humidity. And as I ascend up and out of this gorge on toward the high country, my head is sweating profusely. My hat is soaked. My t-shirt is soaked. As a matter of fact, I am dripping sweat from head to toe! Not since perhaps the Red River Gorge in Kentucky have I sweat like this. I’ve forgotten the difference between the dry Rockies of Colorado and these humid lower elevations such as the Cascades. At stream crossings I dunk my head for relief but it is short-lived and within minutes, I am dripping sweat again. Interestingly enough, my energy is high. Very high, despite the heat. This I decide is because the advantage to these lower elevations is oxygen. Lots of it! In Colorado, I’m used to hiking on trails well above nine thousand feet. And many times above twelve thousand in the high country. My blood down here must be rich in oxygen. And so I hike along with vibrant energy, despite the fountain of sweat pouring from my head.
Last night thunder and lightning threatened but the rain never came. It was an unusually warm night and I slept on top of my bag. A massive view of Mt. Jefferson greeted me in the morning. Breakfast. Sautéed potatoes and bacon. Excellent. Ahhh, to be solo backpacking. Alone with myself again. When you make the choice to spend your life with someone, you can easily neglect that other very important relationship. The relationship with yourself. That’s why I believe solos are so important. Whether backpacking in the wilderness, relaxing by yourself at a hot springs retreat, or simply taking a weekend trip by yourself to your favorite city, hotel, or park. If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a trip all by yourself, you should try it. The first thing you will realize is the obvious. You are alone. This can seem scary at first. Especially if you are used to spending every day, year after year, with your significant other. But before long you start to rekindle that sweet, quiet little relationship with your inner self. The one you began as a young child. As you ventured out into a new world full of wonder and possibility. And then, like magic, you feel a twitch of that childlike sparkle again. That same sparkle from when you were a child. That same sparkle you see in an infant’s eyes. That same sparkle you had before you were born. And the same sparkle you will have after you die. And with a twinkle in your eye, you step out into the day with a new sense of adventure and the playfulness of a child. For this new day is yours and yours alone! To do anything you want with. And you realize what a joy it is to simply be alive! Healthy! Human! And on this planet! And taking in a long deep breath of life, you smile with gratitude, and head out for your day of adventure. You’ve stepped out of your routine. Out of your story. And are now creating your own reality. Minute by minute. Second by second. But the best part is going back to your partner after it is all over. That part when you walk in the door with that crazed look of pure ecstasy on your face and they say “what the hell did you do out there?” And you just laugh and give them a big hug and kiss. Because you are back! YOU are back. And the whole relationship benefits from it.
To be continued . . .