We awoke Sunday to a picture perfect Portland day. The air was crisp with only the hint of humidity, the sky piercing blue with soft clouds scattered along the horizon. After a quick breakfast, Christina and I hopped in her car – a Subaru Forrester of course; what else would you expect from an ex-wilderness-guide-turned-Patagonia-preservationist-turned-travel-writer? – swung by Laura’s apartment, and were on our way to the state line before 8:30 AM.
At 9 o’clock, we pulled into a half-empty parking lot and looked up. To our right, rising hundreds of feet in the air, were the famous Multnomah Falls, a cascading stream stretching to the base of Larch Mountain. To our left, we saw the widening berth of the Columbia River as it neared the Pacific Ocean and the majestic mouth of Mount St. Helen far off to the west.
To reach the top of the falls, it was just a quick climb up paved switchbacks, tame enough for even a wheelchair to travel. And once we got there, the small crowds thinned and we set off for a leisurely hike up the 4000 foot peak.
Our guidebook suggested 5 hours for the round trip trek. The three of us were initially suspicious of this snail’s pace, but two hours and four miles into our adventure, Laura and I realized that the author must have had Christina in mind when he wrote his description.
A burgeoning photog, Christina would pause every half mile or so to focus, frame, and shoot not one picture, but six or seven or thirteen shots of the rocky creekbeds or imposing evergreens or teetering bridges. I was entertained by the impromptu pauses, and Laura, an accomplished photographer in her own right, enjoyed the opportunity to tease her older sister as she methodically checked and rechecked her shutter speed, aperture, and light meter.
We knew we needed to get back for an afternoon appointment, so after a treacherous climb up a narrow shale-covered section of exposed trail, just as we returned to the woods and caught our first glimpse of snow, we about-faced and set off to retrace our steps. It would be quicker going back down the mountain than heading up, we knew, but with the technical terrain and the stomach growls growing louder by the minute, we wanted to play it safe.
As we sat down to enjoy a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we waved hello to a solo hiker who’d been crossing our path throughout the morning. Though we were walking more quickly, every time we paused for a photo shoot, she would pass us, slow and steady as she made her way to the top of the mountain. When she spotted us this time, she took off her IPod and paused to chat.
It turned out that she was a regular on these trails; the week before, she’d hiked the 14-mile round-trip route four times. At first, she was scared off by the three-foot snow drifts through which she’d had to plod in order to reach the peak. But the more she hiked, the more sure of herself she became. And when she finally got to the summit and looked out at the mountains to the north, she was awestruck. Mount Hood, rising more than 11,000 feet in the air, loomed large on the horizon, snow capped even in late May. She felt like she earned that view, she told us, far more than the leather-clad bikers who’d driven up the fire road on the other side of Larch Mountain.
And looking at the plump middle-aged woman standing in front of us, huffing and puffing as she reached into her full pack for a bottle of water, I was sure that she had.
Me and Laura, looking straight out of a 1974 summer camp movie
Me and Christina – she’s leaning down several inches in this shot