Nikko was rather fearless and foolish, a tireless trail dog and a dining room mooch. He had selective deafness and a tail that wagged almost constantly. He would rest his snout on your lap if you sat on our couch and he was not afraid to steal food if you weren’t looking. He loved nothing more than racing down trails through the old growth near our old mountain home. If you threw a stick or a tennis ball, he would run all day, but he would rarely bring the item back, and he would never clue in about why I’d get frustrated. Nikko traversed many years and miles with me, and we had a lot of great times together.
Nikko was a tiny ball of fur at the pound in Bend, Oregon when we first saw him in 1998. He’d been abandoned in a burlap sack on the side of the road. He was so cute, Denise didn’t have a hard time convincing me to get him. Still, neither of us could have guessed that Nikko would survive so long. He always had an insatiable appetite, as if being abandoned as a pup made him neurotic about his next meal. Accordingly, he got chubby for a while, but he still managed to race ahead of me on hikes around Mount Hood. Flag Mountain, Castle Canyon, and the Salmon River were favorite spots.
He enjoyed visiting lakes and rivers, although not as much as his sister Rikki did. He liked to cool off, but was rather lazy and tentative about swimming. That’s okay. So am I.
Nikko was always up for a walk or a hike, even a simple release into the green of our backyard. He frequently got antsy in the car when he knew we were headed for a trail, and he had a little pathetic whine that went something like “whoo whoo woo”. While Nikko lived to run, he was also basically content at home. He enthusiastically greeted us when we got home, and besides a puppy’s shoe fetish (including a pair of slippers owned by the late great drummer from Ghana, Obo Addy) he stayed out of too much trouble. Never mind the tubs of leftovers we’d get careless about on the counter.
Odd stuff happened with Nikko. A few years ago, he got injured when he walked out the door a little slower than anticipated, and it was slammed shut on his tail. He didn’t need that last inch anyway. Five or six years ago, Denise and I were walking our dogs in the snow at twilight when we passed a bridge washed out by a flood. I just wanted to check it out. We had crossed it many times, but I wanted to see the destruction up close. Nikko followed me, then passed me recklessly, flying straight off the ragged end of the bridge into darkness. He yelped and was silent. The fall was about twenty feet on to a rocky bank. He was actually across the main channel of the river, so without an intact bridge and in the cold darkness, a rescue took some serious ingenuity and a lot of friends. Yet Nikko was fine. Shockingly, nothing was broken. Sure, he started waking up in the middle of the night to pee, but he hiked as hard as ever, and until the past year, he was still a thing of beauty running across a field.
Just last summer, Nikko accompanied me on a great hike up Mount Hood’s Cooper Spur. It wiped him out, and I could see his hiking days were fading, but he kept trying. Nikko was a goofy loveable creature who never stopped being a puppy despite his gray face. In some ways, he is a reflection of me.
Nikko, aka Nikko Biko Freako, was put to sleep this week, just weeks shy of his fifteenth birthday. We will miss him a great deal.
The weather has finally turned and western Oregon is back to sanity weatherwise. Not that I minded three months with less than half an inch of rain. The next nine months will more than counter that drought, I have no doubt. At the same time, life seems to get ever more hectic between teaching and firefighting and sickness, and I haven’t found the time to go for a real hike lately. It seems a good time to reflect on a favorite hike from recent years.
A couple years ago, I ventured up the north side of Mount Hood to Barrett Spur, a prominent shoulder visible from Portland. I had been to the foot of the spur multiple times coming via the Top Spur and Timberline Trails. That was a great hike, but a long one if I didn’t get an early start (living close to trailheads, I am slow moving at times). At any rate, I didn’t have enough daylight to get as far up the mountain as I wanted.
This time, I drove over the top of Lolo Pass and headed for the Vista Ridge Trail. The approach is longer, but the trail is shorter. The road gained a lot of elevation for me, and I had an easy hour-long hike to treeline. The north side of the mountain is stunning, all verdant tree-dotted meadows, glacial meltwater creeks (this route avoided any tricky crossings), all below steep glaciers and volcanic ridges luring one’s eye toward the summit of a great peak.
One in the lush Wy’east Basin, I found a herd path alongside a creek and headed up it. The going was easy for a while. Some routefinding was involved as I headed up steep scree sections and crossed a couple snowfields.
I slogged up the slope of the mountain until we were at least a thousand feet above treeline. The payoff was tremendous when I reached a saddle overlooking the Ladd Glacier on one side and the spur on the other. I scrambled through a stiff wind up the spur and reached a relatively flat but rocky ridgetop between glaciers. One word: spectacular.
The mountain seemed to be on top of me as I scrambled along the ridge. I wanted to go up, up, up, but I was not prepared for technical routes.
When I climbed Cooper Spur this summer, Barrett Spur quickly came to mind. Barrett Spur is a bit more of an adventure, which lifts it higher in my favorites list. Thousands of acres in the area were scarred in 2011 by the Dollar Lake Fire. It could be fascinating to contrast my memories and photos with the current look of the landscape. One day, I will venture back, and I would recommend a trip there to anyone else looking for a modest adventure.
My recent Cooper Spur hike is delayed by business, forgetfulness, and a longer drive than anticipated (partly due to gawking at last year’s wildfire damage). Still, I reach the Cloud Cap trailhead by noon. I have not been here for thirty years, and I want to go see the nearby classic climbing inn, but there is no time.
In arranging a parking pass, a wilderness permit, navigation, and a leash for Niko by the campground, my start is slow. Soon, however, I am walking the Timberline Trail, cruising through alpine meadows.
In just over half an hour, I hit the side trail headed more directly up the mountain’s open slopes. Wildflower patches punctuate the grey landscape. After a sidetrip to an old stone shelter built by the CCC in the 1930s, Niko is panting a lot. It is not hot; I wonder if the altitude is affecting him. He has been above 6000 feet a few times near Timberline Lodge, but we are already over 7000 feet, and he’s 14 now. We rest in the shade of a tremendous boulder for ten minutes. I offer Niko food and water; then we continue.
As the trail gains elevation and gets rockier, switchbacks increase, and our pace slows. Two men pass me while I pause at an overlook, but I soon get back in front. My hiking speed is modest, but I take few long breaks.
Eventually, the trail becomes a maze of tracks on a scree slope. Snow obscures stretches of trail, and there is no soil to erode, so people take shortcuts. It’s hard to worry about the trail; the views are spectacular. Above, Mt. Hood dominates all. To my right and below looms the Eliot Glacier. I can also see much of the Badger Creek Wilderness to the southeast, the long flank of Surveyor’s Ridge to the east, and a few of the big Cascade volcanoes, including St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams, dotting the horizon.
I crest the ridge in mid-afternoon. Multiple rockpile windbreaks have been carefuly constructed, as though neolithic masons lurk nearby. Niko plops down, panting. I worry about him and rest, taking photos and enjoying the views. I realize I should have put sunscreen on earlier, so I slather it on now. Without shade, the sun is merciless.
After five minutes, a man in his thirties catches up to me. We talk about the scenery. He says it is the best hike he’s ever been on. I can understand the sentiment, but I think I need to ponder a top ten list a bit longer. Time to move on.
I give the man an nod and continue uphill toward Tie-In Rock, the last safe spot on the spur, where I see a man descening. He hikes the last rocky, dusty pitch wearing a beanie and toting a camouflage backback. I note its unusual frame and wonder if it is military issue. We murmur greetings and pass. Later in the week I will read about injured vets getting some deserved rest below at Cloud Cap Inn. (“Air Force Wounded Angels” on http://www.oregonlive.com). Perhaps he is one of them.
The view from Tie-In Rock is stupendous. An obvious climbing route splits the rocks above with massive exposure. I am still over 2500 vertical feet below the summit. More than a dozen people have died on the Cooper Spur route. Nearby, more technical routes up Eliot Glacier looked tough, and the glacier’s lateral moraines amaze me.
When Niko seems rested, we head down. Descending, he is tentative on the rocks, and I must coax him a bit through the tricky sections. Just below the first high point I pass two men and diverge from the trail to a long snow slope, where I will half ski, half plunge step on my boots. One of the men jokes that he’d be on his backside quickly. I literally leave them in the dust, heading straight for the Timberline Trail on the snow. When I reach the trail, I look up and see I am at least a quarter mile ahead of the pair. Bootskiing rules.
The final descent becomes a grind. Niko walks slowly but steadily. I notice the man with the camo pack veering onto the Tilly Jane trail and wonder again about him, but I am tired and it is getting late. Left right left. I am very happy to reach the parking lot.
A Cooper Spur hike gains a healthy amount of elevation, and it’s not one to trifle with in poor weather, but it gets the hiker in a real alpine environment with relative ease. If you stop before the ridge crest, you still have great views and you can save an hour, making it much more moderate.
A few days later, an artist friend posts on Facebook about her trip up Cooper Spur. Coincidence? I think not. This is a true Oregon classic, a perfect place for exercise and, perhaps, a place for wounded angels to recuperate.