Silver Star Mountain: disoriented but dazzled
Posted by Josh Baker
How I got so turned around enroute to Silver Star Mountain, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I spent the night in a hotel. Perhaps it’s because I had my stepson’s turntable fixed that morning (kudos to Audio Specialties Ltd. for the quick service) and then returned it. Casey was happy, but I was leaving Portland for the Southwest Washington Cascades two hours late than planned. Perhaps the trouble started when I ignored the detour sign for Washougal River Road. It could have been the countless gravel switchbacks leading to the trailhead. Maybe it was a simple but crucial navigational assumption as I set out. After the fact, truly horrible signage in the area may have exacerbated the situation. At any rate, I was forty plus minutes into my hike when I had a revelation: I was on the wrong trail. Oops.
Frustrated, I headed back to the trailhead, ready to call it a wash. Once there, however, I quickly realized my navigational mistake and found the right trail–on the other side of the road. Doh! It was almost three o’clock, and I wasn’t sure if I had time to reach the peak, but what the heck. The Grouse Vista Trail headed uphill from the road, quickly veering to the right from the Tarbell Trail–without a sign. In half an hour, the views picked up, ranging from Sturgeon Rock to the northwest to Pyramid Rock in the foreground, forested ridges climbing toward Silver Star’s summit. Open wildflower slopes were reminiscent of Bald Mountain near Mount Hood. This was more like it.
At an unmarked junction (notice a trend?) close to a saddle, I popped over the ridge to see an impressive view into the next drainage to the east. I returned to the main trail and continued climbing in the heat of the afternoon. The trail got rockier for a stretch before ducking back into the forest. I passed two more junctions, the second of which was marked by a cairn. I could almost smell the summit. That’s when my phone blurted “Droid.” Hmm. Apparently I’d gained enough elevation to get cell service.
It was after four thirty, and I had a reminder text about a meeting I was supposed to attend. Uh oh. Did I mention things had not gone as planned? I was at least three hours behind schedule now, and in all the hassle and sweat, I’d spaced my fire department officer’s meeting. It was an hour down to my car and a ninety minute drive from there if all went well. My head hurt, but I knew I was close, so I continued climbing–quickly. Anger and guilt grew until I saw the stunning views from the top. Then for a few minutes, nothing else mattered.
The mountain fell away into a tremendous gorge, and the mostly open ridge beyond was spectacular. This did not seem like a peak under 4500 feet. Views were far ranging, stretching to Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and beyond. The rich green of the grasses contrasted with the tan of the ashy soil, the soft afternoon light, and the deep gorge below. It all added up to a gorgeous view from one of the more dramatic small peaks I have seen in the West.
A man and a woman in their thirties chatted on top, looking very relaxed. We talked for a few minutes, discussing where to hike on Mount Hood besides Ramona Falls and Mirror Lake (try Palmateer Point). I took some photos, then turned around, driven by self-imposed guilt to race back, even if it was too late to rectify my mistakes. As I plunged back down the hill without sitting for a moment, the pair probably thought I was a tad wacked. Truth hurts.
I flew downhill as fast as my stub factor legs will go, alternately checking my watch and my phone, meanwhile trying to avoid numerous rocks and roots. I finally got service two thirds of the way down. I quickly called the chief and offered an apology, knowing I would not make it by that point. As always, he took it in stride. This was not an emergency, just a mistake.
To put it in the context of the world’s most interesting man, I don’t always make mistakes, but when I do, I make the greatest mistakes. Seriously, the dazzling views made everything worthwhile, and because I was so late, I timed it perfectly to meet my wife for dinner near the airport. Serendipity lives. Hey, there are plenty of meetings in this life, but there is never enough time for the people you love.
Next Week: Part one of a trip to the Wallowas
About Josh Baker"The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” ― John Muir
Posted on August 17, 2012, in Flora and Fauna, General Hiking, Navigation, Peakbagging and tagged Audio Specialties Ltd., Bald Mountain, Gifford PInchot National Forest, Grouse Vista Trail, Mount Hood, Silver Star Mountain. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.