Multiple fails or multiple wins?
On Saturday I went hiking with some awesome new friends. We had been talking about the trip for a week, maybe more: Diamond Peak, the first big mountain on the way up highway 58. The summit sits at 8750 feet and the views are supposedly gorgeous. We were psyched – enough so that we decided to leave Eugene at the luxurious hour of 6:15 in the morning.
Andrea and Brian brought their friend Emily along, and we managed to stay awake on the drive up through Oakridge. Soon we turned onto Forest Service roads and wound along the side of the Hills Creek Reservoir, an surprisingly blue man-made lake covering quite a few acres. The roads got progressively smaller until we turned onto a washboard gravel track and started climbing up into the trees. We had started at 460 feet in Eugene, but were soon passing signs announcing 2500 feet of elevation. 3000. Then 4000. And ever upwards.
When we got out of the car at the Corrigan Lake trailhead, we saw blue sky in one direction and angry clouds in another. Brian jokingly pulled out his weather radio, but we were here, so even if the weather sucked, we were going to at least start our hike. We climbed bark-covered paths through the tall mossy trees – just like so many other hikes I’ve done here, the forest felt silent, sacred.
Not too sacred though. We joked and played rhyming-word games. It had been a long time since I had gone into the woods with friends. These days, most of my adventures are solo. I loved our banter. Metatarsal feta-parcel, Brian said. I couldn’t stop laughing.
After not too long we passed Corrigan Lake – beautiful! – and came to an intersection. We turned left and began looking for a stream coming down the side of the mounatain. Brian and Andrea’s coworkers had said to follow the wash up to treeline, and that we would be able to see the ridge to the top and easily pick the right route from there. We passed dried-up stream after dried-up stream, unsure of which was the right wash.
Finally we picked one.
“This has gotta be it,” Brian said.
Roughly 500 feet later, the wash had disappeared and we were on flat ground. Right.
We zigzagged up the hill and finally found a good-looking streambed. A bit later we noticed a cairn and knew that we were on the right track, so we climbed upward through the bark, pine needles, rocks, and fallen brush. There was no trail, but we had a compass to make sure we kept heading in the right direction.
As we got higher up, the blue skies disappeared and we hiked into a cloud. It seemed to always be above us; we couldn’t see up the hill to whether we were getting close to the ridge. We hiked on, following our compass bearing, but as we neared treeline it got colder and the visibility was even lower. The ridge we were supposed to see so easily, and the peak we were supposed to be aiming for, never materialized. So we had a pow-wow.
While none of us thought it was dangerous to keep going, it just didn’t seem fun. There wouldn’t be a view at the top, and we wouldn’t even be able to tell if we were in the right place on a ridge. When we came down, if we were even a little off on our compass bearing, we might head down the wrong wash and end up in an unfamiliar place. While none of these were super troubling, we decided not to be peakbaggers and to turn around. We’d seen some hot springs on the map, and would check those out instead of the summit. We were proud of ourselves for coming to this decision.
Down we went, stopping for lunch at Corrigan Lake along the way. As we drove back, we began searching for Kitson Hot Springs, which were marked with a large “X” and bold type on the map.
After 25 miles of Forest Service roads we found the section where the hot springs would be. We guessed that they would be obvious from the road – there would be a pullout or maybe we would even see them – but they weren’t. There was a private road to the north and an unmarked tire track to the south. After reading the multiple “no trespassing” signs on the private road, we decided to take the 4Runner down the tire track and see if we found the hot springs.
The road ended in a giant, rutted pit; another truck was parked in the raspberry bushes to the side. I began stressing out because I knew that while I technically could back the car up the road, it would suck. So would turning around, though. I managed to back into the raspberry bushes next to the other truck and we piled out. We would search for the hot springs, and then worry about turning the rest of the way around.
Off we went towards the creek, which we could hear very close. But we were almost immediately foiled: poison oak everywhere. I was wearing shorts and Andrea was wearing Chacos. After checking multiple game trails, we ended up cutting through a mucky marsh and wandering towards the sound of the creek. When we got there, we encountered an precipitous dropoff. We could see the water, but we couldn’t get down there – it was a twenty or thirty foot drop. Besides, there was no indication of where in the creek the hot springs were. We did see buildings, though – undoubtedly belonging to the private driveway. There was little doubt we were trespassing, but that didn’t bother us as much as the idea that we couldn’t find the hot springs. We hiked out, careful to avoid the poison oak.
When we got back to the car, we found a man and his daughter dressed in orange with rifles. Deer season had just opened.
“Is this private land?” Brian asked.
“Yes,” the man replied. Shit.
“Is it your land?”
Luckily, the other truck belonged to this family, who offered to leave first and give us a little more room to turn around. They had a better shot out through the ruts. Before leaving, the revealed that they had wandered down to the buildings and crawled inside. The hot springs were inside, the man said; the pools were only a few inches deep and the water came in through pipes.
Oh, we all thought. Well that sounds lame. We were somewhat vindicated; if we couldn’t use the hot springs, we were at least comforted by the idea that we wouldn’t have wanted to. If they had turned out to be beautiful and amazing, it would have been much more disappointing.
I managed to turn the 4Runner around and drive away without bottoming out or otherwise ripping any other fragile, rusting pieces off the car, and we headed back towards Oakridge. We considered checking out one more set of hot springs, but by then we were done with this exploring business. Instead, we went to the Brewers’ Union and got beer and garlic-cheese fries. Much better.
I couldn’t say that our trip was exactly a success – we didn’t summit, we didn’t find the hot springs. But in other ways it was. We had a great time. We had some good beer. We saw a nice lake and imagined some camping trips. We didn’t get poison oak (yet).
And for me, it was refreshing. Almost everything about the day was different than what I would have done alone. I would have hiked all the way to the summit, trudging on through the fog and clouds and rain. There’s a very decent chance I would have gotten lost and made it out fine, but frustrated. I would not have looked for hot springs. If I had, I would have hyperventilated when confronted by a tiny space full of cavernous ruts to turn my whale of a car around in. And I certainly wouldn’t have eaten French fries.
So: a successful weekend after all! Here’s hoping that Andrea and Brian and I can have some even more successful weekends in the future.