Saturday, September 3, 2011

King Mountain Trail Re-Visited

The directions to reach this hike are to take OR-8 W/ Gales Creed Road, Turn right onto OR-8W, Turn left onto OR-6W/NW Wilson RIver Hwy on with you will see signs for Glenwood / Tillamook, Turn right onto Elk Creek Road, Turn left to stay on Elk Creek Road, Elk Creek Road turns right and becomes West Fork Elk Creek Road. The trail head is close to mile marker 25 and has a small bathroom as well as quite a bit of parking. The trail head is to the right of the parking.

This hike is 5 miles with a 2500 ft elevation gain. It can be a loop if you head on to Elk Mountain but if you only want to do the one trail it is a up the mountain and back down the same way you came hike. 

The level of difficulty on this trail is "Connie Broke a Sweat many times and I felt the burn Level" We went through about 2 and a half mid size bottles of water. You really want to hit this trail early to take advantage of cool weather, pack some food and wear some shoes with lots of grip. A walking stick would be nice there are some parts where you have to double over to get up rocky steep parts of the trail.

The first time we tried King Mountain Trail we did not finish. We headed out too late in the day to take advantage of the coolness. We also had two dogs with us who were getting pretty tired out. The guides list this as an easy day trip trail. I am prone to disagree. While it is short it really gets the cardiovascular work out going and is continues in its steep grade for most of the hike. What it lacks in length it makes up for in challenging incline and your calves and thighs will feel the burn. My husband and I are not in great shape and moved up the trail at a steady but not speedy pace.

We were lucky enough to view an amazing site this morning. We were nervously chatting back and forth as we headed up the trail head about not being sure if we were ready for this challenge when we heard loud cracking of branches and something very large moving through the woods. The last hike we had gone on here had presented us with a tree with huge claw marks in the side. I am not used to seeing huge animals in the woods so I instantly started being worried that it might be a bear. I thought if we kinda make some noise going up the trail it would scare off anything that might be lurking. My husband bravely looked around though and we got to see two large elk. They were the most incredible thing I have ever seen. They are a dark chocolate brown. I think they were both female because they had no horns. They gently moved up the hill and away from us. I have seen an innumerable number of deer in my life but this was outside of the ball park. Their massive size was just astounding. The whole experience in combination with the beautiful silent morning woods made us both feel very small and so lucky.

As we moved further along the trail the wind started to pick up. The silence of the morning was replaced by the talking trees. The young trees made little squeaks while the older trees gowned and almost growled. Leaves fluttered down around us and littered the trail. They were not dead leaves or fall in color but bright green. The wind was really moving. It left the whole space feeling very alive. It felt as if some very old spirits were moving around us feverishly. Strong forest smells were carried to our noses and again we were reminded of how small we are.

The first part of this trail is very steep. Its like the test before you head on. There is a stretch that goes from the parking lot up up up to a stump where both times we have done this trail we have stopped really breathing heavy and have wondered if we can handle this trail. We always press on and the trail seems less daunting but it is always a moment of contemplation for us; wondering if we have the Oregon grit these other hikers seem to have. People pass us chatting away as if they are on a sunday stroll sometimes. It makes us feel like saps. haha!

The trail seems to be divided into three sections. The lower section is very shaded with pines covered in thick green moss. The floor of the forest is chest deep in ferns. Clovers are everywhere making little staggered shelves on the rotting fallen logs. Most of the trees are small in diameter but there are stumps with charred remnants on the side everywhere. I have not been to an old growth forest yet and can not fathom the hight these trees must once have been.

The second section lets a little more light in. You can view other mountains through gaps in the trees. Small red pipe like plants grow here and the moss is short and thick on the ground. The trail has a soft coating of pine needles here and the trail is smooth with mid size rocks and balls of dirt on the trail that will quickly put you on your butt on the way down if you are not careful.

The third and last part of the trail teases you with blue sky poking through the trees as you round a bend. There are lots of dead wind blown trees around and the trail can become rocky. Some of the rock you can use as steps and other times you have to use your hands as you double over to get up the taller sets of rock inclines. There are open spaces in the trees where you can sep out and start to see the vistas.

We missed the 2000ft mark but could tell we had moved past the point we had turned around before. We seemed to make it up these parts faster this time then the first. I still had to take lots of stops pretending to need to take photos so I could catch my breath. A few more hikers then there were in the morning were on the trail. Roger laughed at us because we were so tired and they were buzzing up the trail. I reminded him we put on our best faces too when we come across people and maybe they were doing the same. It is harder when you don't know what is next. I tend to navigate with markers of things I have seen before. Old stumps or cool rock outcrops. I could tell we were getting there though when there were large rock outcrops starting to jut out of the forest along the trail. Blue sky shown as we started to move along a more narrow part of the mountain. The trail also became more jagged and exciting.

We made it up to a large clearing. On the left was a gnarled skelliton of a old magnificent tree with a 3000ft sign posted on it. The trail had lots of loose ping pong ball size rock on it. The edge of the cliff dropped off creating a stunning and humbling view below.

I have never seen anything like this in my life. We did hike some pretty steep stuff in Maine. This didn't look out upon a sea of blue though but rather a sea of green. The impact of logging was drastically visable. You could see where massive amounts of erosion had swept the sides of the mountains where the trees were gone. Most of the forests were in tact though and it was incredible. We were able to get a peek of the road that had gotten us here with the river running along it. Smaller creeks cut serpentine patters in the valley.

We signed the guest book and Roger took a shot of me sitting viewing the valley. On our 5 year wedding anniversary he took a similar shot of me at the top of the Precipice in Arcadia in Maine. September 1st was our 10 year anniversary and this was the most fantastic way to celebrate it. We started the tough decent; the part you will be glad to have good shoes for and made it to our car. After we got home we took a nice long nap. This was a fantastic day!

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