Today Tay and I went hiking out near Mt. Hood, on Barlow Trail. This was a new-to-us trail, and one that was recommended as light traffic and not too difficult in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland. Actually, half our hike was on Barlow, and the other half was a detour towards Upper Twin Lake. We really, thoroughly, and truly enjoyed this hike. Despite it being one of the busiest hiking days of the year, and despite the fact that Mirror Lake, just a few miles away, was packed to the gills, we ran into less than a dozen people the entire time we were out there.
It was a six mile hike, three in and three out, and we averaged two miles an hour (though that was including the times we stopped to rest). The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny and upper 70s. The trails were actually pretty level a good bit of the way, and the inclines were easy, no scary, steep switchbacks. While there were occasional rocks and roots in the trail, and a few fallen logs, it was smooth hiking otherwise.
We encountered a pretty decent variety of wildlife. We saw a number of small toads, some greyish-brown, one reddish-brown, and one a lovely leaf-green. I was a bit surprised as we weren’t near any source of water, but I suppose the condensation at night is enough to keep them happy, and toads aren’t as water-dependent as frogs. We also saw a tiny little baby snake, dark dusty brown with lighter brown stripes down the sides and a rounded, non-poisonous head–no more than six inches long! We heard and saw several ravens; I forget just how big they get. No one who has ever seen a raven will ever mistake a crow for one again, that’s for sure. We also startled a lone elk; we both heard it bounding down the mountainside, and Tay caught a glimpse before it disappeared into the trees. There was a single Douglas squirrel on our way out, and a nesting osprey on the Columbia River on our drive home. And, of course, there were numerous blackflies and mosquitoes, who greeted me with “Mmmm, you’re the best thing I’ve seen all day!”
I really need to go through the stack of field guides I was given recently to try and identify some of the plants I saw, too. I know I saw lots and lots of wild strawberries; they were just blooming, and if I were to show up in a few weeks no doubt there’d be fruit (or empty stems, depending on how popular they were!). I know a conifer when I see one, and I’m pretty sure I know which one is Western hemlock, but I couldn’t point out a Douglas fir from a lineup. Clearly I’m not enough of a Northwesterner yet. I can identify cinquefoils, though (five petals!). And I knew that the puffball-looking mushroom near the destroying angels was probably not a safe bet to eat.
As I was walking, I saw numerous hoofprints from horses, the U-shaped imprints from the steel shoes embedded in the dry earth. I imagined the sound of the hooves striking the hard-packed dirt, and while my own feet were too soft, I could thump the ground with my walking stick and pretend. On our way out, not three minutes after I remarked to Tay that we hadn’t seen anyone on the Twin Lakes trail, three riders passed us. The first two were on large brown mules; the third was on a skittish, stocky, short-legged red bay mare who looked to have some pre-Thoroughbred Quarter Horse in her. Tay and I stood to the side of the trail and let them pass.
We really enjoyed the hike, and we intend to go back again at least a few times this year. If we hadn’t been getting chewed to pieces by the bugs (having unwisely not worn any repellent) by the time we hit Upper Twin Lake, we could have added another few miles to the hike, looped down around Lower Twin Lake, and then come back around to Twin Lakes Trail and back down Barlow. So we’ll be doing that another time. Plus there are numerous other trails that branched off from Barlow and Twin Lakes, and plenty of exploring to do. (And maybe next time I’ll remember the camera so I can get some pictures!)
While right now we’re day hikers, eventually I want to collect the right equipment for packing-in camping. Barlow Trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which attracts a lot of hardcore hikers who will walk it for weeks at a time. I’m nowhere near that point, but I want this year to at least be one where I get more experience with camping. Even if we don’t do the pack-in thing this year, I do want to spend more nights outdoors.
From a once and future thru-hiker: The experience of walking the PCT for weeks at a time is really on a completely different level from a more casual (day or overnight) sort of trip, and done for different reasons. Get out there and enjoy the trail, but don’t feel like you have to build up to week-long walks if you don’t want to. 🙂