In the Upper Woods

For some reason this has been an exceptionally busy winter. Not that I’ve gone anywhere, or even that I have much to point to as evidence of my activity.

One exceptional thing that I did a couple of months back, in the midst of a warm December. I took my son and a friend of his on a hike up the logging roads behind our place, onto the southern spur of Lookout Mountain. Since moving here, I’ve made a point of exploring the trails in this area–it makes a good run for the dogs. When I first began doing this, my wife and I named a few landmarks along the way for easy reference. There’s the Beaver Pond, where some beavers have thrown a dam across a stream and created a large marshy area with a fine forest pond in the middle; a little further up was Post Card, where you had a nice view of Mount Baker (until the trees grew up and blocked the view). About halfway up a steep climb was a ridge where we used to stop for picnics, looking down on Cain Lake and out at the peaks. That earned the moniker of Picnic Ridge. After the switchback you came to the summit where the logging road ended, and where some cretin decided to empty his load of garbage a few years back. Amongst all the cans and bottles and biodegradable boxes and papers were a bunch of used diapers. That’s how Diaper Peak got its name.

It had been a few years since I’d made the climb to Diaper Peak. After the twins were born we hiked up the hill less and less. Now that he’s old enough to ambulate, though, I decided it was time to get my son out into the wilds. I had heard that there was a trail that was built beyond the Diaper Peak summit, and I decided this was a good day to make the hike. I had visions of inspiring a love of nature and an interest in the environment in my boy.

Years ago, in my active period, a group of volunteers were working on building a connecting trail over Lookout Mountain to add to the network of trails they call the Pacific Northwest Trail. I volunteered to scout a route for them. My preferred route (after scrambling up steep hillsides and crashing through countless blackberry fields) took off from the top of Diaper Peak. That’s evidently the way the trail went when it was built, although it veered off the route I had followed, avoiding some of the steep slopes I had traversed for them.

The trail they built is nicely made. It travels up to the top of the southern spur of the mountain, then trends northwards until, I suppose, it connects with logging or access roads that climb up the western or northern slopes of the mountain. I didn’t follow it far enough to know which way it goes.

The boys tagged along behind me while the dogs beat the bushes in advance. We’d been going for about two hours when the boys decided they’d had enough. They sat down on some logs to continue their conversations: nothing much about nature…mostly gaming techniques and cheats. Knowing how much time we had left, I traveled on for a few more minutes. Then I went back to get them: what I found was too good for them not to see.

There are some massive trees at the top of that mountain. Cedars, firs, hemlocks, some of them around thirty feet in girth. I scrambled to the base of one of them and spread my arms to measure. I’m six feet four inches tall, and according to the old Italians, my reach is equal to my height. I had to scuttle to my right four times and then some to measure all the way around that tree. And that was only one of them. Farther up the trail we came to several more of equal or greater measure. There was one awesome snag that is at least equal to those. This tree had died maybe a century or two ago. When alive, it would have towered well over most of the other trees. It’s broken off at tree-top level, even though it must be around twenty feet around at that height. The trees it overtops are the same ones that measure thirty feet around at their base. Someday, and maybe soon, that behemoth is coming down. It’s rotten inside and it will collapse under its own weight. That would be quite a scene!

There is evidence of an impending logging operation in that area. Spray paint and boundary markers grace the trunks of trees around the summit. I pray that clearing the neighboring forest won’t destroy these trees, but I don’t have a good feeling about it. I expect the fairyland feel you get on this trail to suffer from it. The trail itself is already challenged by a thoughtless motorcyclist. I’m sure it’s fun to ride, but the bike doesn’t seem to realize that his tracks are ruining the slopes. Where he’s ridden up and down hills the rainwater sluices away soil, so there’s a gully forming. I’ve seen the same thing happen on the slopes of Saddle Mountain.

Now that the spring rains are here, I’m planning to revisit the old growth. I’d like to take along a good video camera so I can preserve something of the feeling you get in the upper woods. Maybe I’ll take my son along without his buddy this time.

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