What Real Voter Fraud Looks Like

A little over two years ago, I wrote a piece discussing voter fraud in America. More specifically, I explained that voter fraud is, more or less, fake news.

This was written in the context of Donald Trump, late in his presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton, attempting to cast doubt on the fairness of a potential loss – which at that point in late October still seemed a likely bet.

I explained how Republicans commissioned multiple studies over the past 20 or so years, trying to prove that voter fraud was a serious problem that required serious restrictions. And every single study eventually showed that voter fraud was more rare than lightning strikes and shark attacks.

Well, two years later, in the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina, running along the southern edge of the state up against the border of South Carolina, there’s some reason to think we might actually be seeing a real case of massive voter fraud. Well, more accurately in this case, election fraud. The kind on a scale that can –  and may have – altered an election.

And in this case, the culprit appears to be Republicans. Yes, those same paragons of virtue who gnash their collective fangs endlessly at the notion of millions of undocumented immigrants lining up to vote, somehow undetected. Those noble souls seem to have benefited from some sort of electoral trickery.

A shock you say? How could this be? It’s not like any Republicans have ever been hypocritical before.

Anyway, we don’t yet have all the details, but what is known looks suspicious.

On November 7, nearly a full day after polls closed, Republican Mark Harris appeared to narrowly edge Democrat Dan McCready by just over 1,800 votes out of 281,889 votes officially cast. McCready conceded the election, and both candidates agreed to work together for the future of the district, and mouthed a few other bipartisan platitudes.

It seemed that it was just one close race out of many, overshadowed by the historic implications of the 2018 midterms. There was more talk about the House majority shifting to the Democrats than one Republican-leaning district in North Carolina remaining in the hands of the GOP.

But then, in the aftermath of the larger election, stories started leaking out of the district. In the weeks leading up to the election, multiple people in Bladen and Robeson counties near the South Carolina border reported people knocking on their doors and requesting their absentee ballots. Many of these people had received absentee ballots in the mail that they never requested. The ballots were often collected without having been filled out.

The fact that there were so many absentee ballots was unusual. In six out of eight counties in the district, less than three percent of the ballots cast were of the absentee variety. But in Bladen County, more than seven percent of the ballots were absentee. And to reiterate – this was one of the two counties where people reported strange visitors offering to turn in their absentee ballots for them.

And it gets worse. Throughout the district, in each county, absentee ballots trended noticeably more Democratic than the in-person votes. 24 points more Democratic, to be precise. But not in Bladen County. There, the absentee ballots were eight points more Republican than the rest of the votes. Based on the number of votes Harris received in Bladen County alone – he would have to have received the vote of every single registered Republican, every independent, and a sizable number of Democrats. This is in a district that ended up virtually 50-50. It should also be noted that Bladen County had by far the most requested absentee ballots that ended up being unreturned – even more than more populous counties.

At this point, it should be pretty clear why this stinks. The numbers stick out like a sore thumb. It’s possible of course, that this could be county-related. Bladen County encountered similar absentee ballot shenanigans in the Republican primary in 2018, as well as the 2016 general election. That could mean an issue with the county that doesn’t necessarily require fraud.

But it IS highly unusual. Certainly enough to warrant further investigation.

Now, it’s not entirely clear that these issues swung the election, even if it can be proven to be a matter of fraud. Over the course of the counting, that initial 1,800 vote gap was whittled down to just 905 votes between Harris and McCready. But the total number of absentee ballots accepted in Bladen County numbered just 684, and 258 of those officially went to McCready. So, in Bladen County alone, even if there was actual fraud from the absentee ballots, it would not have meant the “real” tally automatically indicates a McCready win.

However, as always, there’s still more to the story. In Robeson County, nearly 1,200 requested absentee ballots were never returned. Some of that is normal, but it is an awfully large total number, and it could indicate some sort of ballot destruction.

Between the two counties at the heart of this controversy, some 1,364 total absentee ballots were cast, and 1,673 more were requested and not returned. 3,037 total ballots against a 905 vote gap. So it is conceivable that absentee ballot trickery in two counties was indeed enough to throw a tight election.

Leslie McCrae Dowless, a contractor on the Harris campaign, appears to have been the architect of the requests for additional absentee ballots in Bladen County. Back in 2016, Dowless himself spent quite a bit of energy alleging voter fraud in his own race for soil and water commissioner – a charge he never proved, or which he even provided evidence. His questionable behavior raised some eyebrows two years ago, and it seems he can’t quite quit shady electoral practices. In recent days, a woman named Ginger Eason has claimed that Dowless paid her to pick up absentee ballots – which she said she had no idea was an illegal act. Since then, a second woman has come forward with an identical story.

The election itself has not been certified, and McCready has withdrawn his concession. The state elections board has a hearing scheduled on December 21st, and they could eventually recommend the district hold a new election. There are a few things not yet known. We don’t know just how much the Harris campaign knew about what Dowless appeared to be doing. We don’t know what happened to the unreturned ballots. We don’t know if other counties in the district were affected by any of this. It’s possible the state elections board could have some of that information by the 21st. It’s also possible they won’t need it.

So, I’ve thrown a lot of information out here. It’s all kind of ugly and suspicious. It certainly looks like potential fraud. But here’s the thing – this isn’t remotely what the Republican Party has been railing about since Newt Gingrich ran roughshod through the Capitol Building. Harsh and restrictive ID laws would have done nothing to prevent this incident from occurring. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the Republicans from doubling down on more ID laws in response to what may be their own fraud. Indeed, North Carolina in particular has been a test ground for explicitly racist anti-voter laws pushed by the GOP.  And, it should also be noted that while they have been crying voter fraud, what they appear to have committed is more accurately described as election fraud.

So, the Republican Party has pushed the “voter fraud is real and scary” lie on Americans for years, and when it finally looks like a form of election fraud might have happened on a large scale for real – um, looks like they’re the ones who did it. And as a response, they manage to lie about it, and then try to spin it as vindication at the same damn time.

I know, I know, calling the party of Mitch McConnell a bunch of lying hypocrites is beyond redundant. They’re hypocrisy-proof. This is the party that shut down the government over deficit spending (during a time when deficit spending was actually a good idea), and then proceeded to blow all budgeting out of the water as soon as they took power (and it was then a worse idea). This is the party that spent an entire year refusing to participate in the lengthy process of putting together the Affordable Care Act, all the while screaming that it was being “rushed through Congress.” For a year. And then, as soon as they ran everything, they spent a couple days slamming through a massive overhaul of the tax system without allowing the minority party a chance to read the whole thing. They tried the same thing when attempting to repeal the very ACA that they refused to work on.

So yeah, even that was probably a waste of a paragraph. We know the Republican Party doesn’t take anything about governing seriously. As long as people they disagree with have trouble participating in the voting and governing process, nothing else really matters.

There’s a whole other piece I want to work on about how the Republican Party has basically perfected the art of minority rule, and manage to run most of the federal and state governments while losing most of the votes (although 2018 cut into that a bit). That’s gonna be a long one, and I’ve already likely exhausted the patience of any reader by now. But I do want to say that a big part of how the GOP manages to control so much despite having lost 6 of the last 7 presidential popular votes is exactly what I’m talking about here. Not necessarily election fraud, as it’s still is a rare occurrence. But, by scaring the right people in the right places, they can pass laws which disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. They can play dirty tricks to keep their political opponents from participating in the system. And they can do more or less what they accuse their opponents of doing. Yeah, there’s more to it than that. As always.

But hey, it sure looks from here that a Republican operative managed to commit election fraud on a scale that his party has falsely claimed is a widespread occurrence. It remains to be seen whether it swung the election, or whether it will be overturned.

But we can say this; the GOP is really good at one thing. They’re absolute masters of warning us what they’re going to end up doing. Runaway spending, capitulation toward hostile foreign powers, corruption, extreme partisanship, and now voter fraud.

It might be projection. But we can treat it as a warning.

Posted in Governance, Law Enforcement, Media, Myths and misconceptions, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking Report – Battle Ax Mountain

After scaling South Sister at the end of August, I noted that I wasn’t sure I would be able to do another higher-altitude hike before the weather turned cold.

Well, I still felt like I had another hike in me. And the weather hasn’t been that bad yet. I had a couple relatively close hikes in mind. One in particular, Olallie Butte, looked promising. At 7,200 feet, it’s the highest point between Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson, it has a decent trail that goes all the way to the summit, and it isn’t that far away.

Then, I started reading up on it. Apparently, some years ago, a treaty was settled between the US government and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and the Reservation took over part of the Willamette National Forest. That part included two thirds of the Olallie Butte trail, including the summit.

People do still hike that trail, but all signage has been removed, and the Reservation seems to discourage it. Attempting to ask Warm Springs officials what the official policy is goes nowhere. So while I haven’t heard of any issues climbing it, I also felt somewhat uncomfortable doing so when the people in charge of the land clearly didn’t encourage hikers. Especially since I was planning on taking pictures and writing about the experience.

Maybe next year, if I can get a firm okay from a reservation official, I might head out there. But in the meantime, I’d rather avoid being that guy. So, I looked elsewhere.

I really wasn’t looking for anything strenuous, but I was hoping for some good vistas. While perusing OregonHikers, I was excited to run across Battle Ax, a 5,558 ft shield volcano standing at the south end of the Bull of the Woods Wilderness, about 20 miles northwest of Mount Jefferson. It’s only about two hours away from Portland, and apparently has amazing views of the Cascades from the top. Sounded perfect. There were some warnings about the quality of the final six mile stretch of gravel road leading to the trailhead, but I figured if my car could handle the obstacle course leading to the Bluff Mountain-Silver Star hike, this should be fine.

I initially eyed Sunday, October 7, but the weather was cloudy and cool… not so great if I wanted vistas. So I waited a little longer.

Last weekend, I found myself with a free Saturday, clear skies, and highs predicted in the fifties Fahrenheit.


I woke up at 5 AM two Saturdays ago (the 13th), grabbed my pre-packed bag, layered up for the 36 degree (2°C) start, and headed out into the dark.

At about 7:45 am, I turned onto FR 4697, and started rattling uphill. Yeah… the road was bad. My Acura coupe is not an off-road vehicle. But going slow, easing around rocks and washouts, and taking steep points at angles kept me from doing any damage.

It felt like it took forever, but there was nobody else on the road, so I wasn’t annoying some dude in a Jeep stuck behind me.

After nearly 7 miles and maybe 35 minutes, I finally reached the “trailhead,” which was just a slightly wider piece of road a couple hundred feet beyond a fork. The left side went down to Elk Lake and a campground. The right side had the parking area and a rapidly deteriorating (seriously) road. Technically, there was parking farther down, too, but I was pushing my luck as it was.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I parked, grabbed my pack, and started down the road. After about a third of a mile, a steep and narrow trail veered up into the woods to my right. It was marked with a fairly small sign, though they did include another tiny sign just a few feet further up the path.

A small permit station stood just beyond the second sign, but it was in some disrepair, and no longer contained any permits. I figured I was okay without one.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail veered through the woods, moving inexorably upwards. It wasn’t quite as steep as some of the other hikes I managed this year, but the terrain felt pretty similar. After the first half mile or so, it felt like I could have been on Dog Mountain, or Saddle Mountain, or almost anywhere else in the region.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

About 20 minutes in, I finally got my first glimpse of Mount Jefferson through a gap in the trees. As it was backlit by the rising sun, few details were visible, but the outline was impressive.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It didn’t take long for me to start warming up. I unzipped my jacket and removed my gloves within the first half hour. It may still have been under 40 degrees, but it felt warmer.

Maybe the trail was steeper than I realized.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Parts of the early section of trail were made of a mulch-like material that was quite forgiving on the joints. Thus far, it was the easiest hike I attempted this year.

The ground was damp in parts, and I passed a sizable tarn after the first couple of switchbacks.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path leveled near the tarn, and then quickly steepened just past it.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

In a particularly marshy area, massive trees loomed imposingly over me.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Autumn colors brightened the underbrush.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

There was a noticeable layer of frost on sections of the trail.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

This was odd, in part because the temperature was a bit above freezing – and rising. Also odd because other sections before and after were damp, muddy, and occasionally covered in actual running water.

In fact, there were a handful of segments I encountered about an hour into the hike that made me think I had stepped off the trail and into a stream or creek.

Water poured down parts of the trail, causing me to backtrack briefly. It appeared to be a creekbed, but further exploration indicated I was still on the trail, albeit a mildly flooded section.

It wasn’t quite like parts of Mount Defiance or South Sister – where the tail disappeared altogether. But the trail did become far less clear at points.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

By 9:00, I was coming across a lot of early autumn color – mostly in the underbrush.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Many of these photos don’t do the color justice.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At one point, I got a nice view of Olallie Butte.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The foliage continued to do its thing.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Around 9:20, I came across a footbridge between two tarns.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Just beyond was a marshy field, a hybrid of tarn and meadow.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path gradually became rockier.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 9:40, I came up to a big talus slope. There was a trail worn into it, but it was sketchy at points.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I made my way across the boulders, a sizable rock gave way beneath my foot. I caught myself before sliding off the edge of the trail, banging my knee into another rock.

“Idiot,” I cursed to myself. “In Latin, Jehovah begins with an ‘I’!”

I pulled myself back up, and made my way across, my good-natured grumbling giving way to a partial recitation of the greatest movie of 1989.

Despite my self-amused reverie, I indulged a glance back up from where I came. I could see the bulk of Battle Ax receding from view.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I understood that the trail would soon double back, and head toward the summit. However, it was slightly discouraging to realize that I had to continue away from my destination before I could actually conquer it.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Another great view of the outline of Mount Jefferson, still mostly backlit.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 9:52, I reached a four-way trail junction. A campsite lay directly ahead, and paths leading off into the Bull of the Woods Wilderness veered to the left and right.

A sharp left, basically going backwards, led upward, back toward the mountain. After a short break for a snack, I made my way up the trail.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It wasn’t long before I was passing back across the big talus field – this time from higher up.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I made my way back toward Battle Ax, the views improved. Here is Mount Jefferson on the left, and I believe Three Fingered Jack on the right.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Interesting rock formations appeared on the slopes.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail got steeper, and began switching back.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path moved to the right side of a ridge, and became fairly strenuous.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 10:35, after a bunch of switchbacks, there was an outcropping facing north-ish. Mount Hood finally became visible, in all its picturesque glory.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At this point, the switchbacks ended, and I found myself heading mostly south, along the final summit ridge. I was at least 5,400 feet now, and for a while, I could see the summit not far off.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I hoped, the views were spectacular. To the right and below was the bulk of Mount Beachie. Back north, Mount Hood continued to loom impressively behind me.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 1050, I had to pick my way around a sizable rock formation, and found myself on the summit. The bare supports of what used to be a lookout tour were all that remained of a human presence at the top.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Well, that, and an Army Corps of Engineers marker.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

All around me, the views were gorgeous. The sun illuminated Mount Jefferson in greater detail as it ascended in the sky.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

To the southeast, the Three Sisters peaked over the horizon. On the right, the South Sister waived at me. Or maybe I did the waving.

Yeah, I really enjoyed that climb.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Here’s a sharper, albeit more distant shot of the Sisters, with Three Fingered Jack on the left.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And waaaaay off in the distance, Mount Adams stood silent watch over the Cascades.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

My obligatory summit selfie.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

One last view of Mount Hood to the north.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After 30 minutes on the summit, a bunch of photos, and some lunch, I got one last nice shot of Jefferson, with Elk Lake peaking out from behind a rocky outcropping.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I hit the trail to head back down and complete the loop, I could see a stocky black Lab with an elaborate harness and pack strapped around its torso. A short distance behind was a single hiker. The Lab greeted me with enthusiasm, and received well-deserved pats for her effort. The hiker who belonged to her chatted briefly with me. Then I was on my way. They would be the only people (as dogs are people too) I would come across during the entire hike.

The trail down was a series of moderately steep switchbacks, initially quite exposed. Excellent views of Jefferson continued for a while.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I also had some great views of Mount Beachie as I eased down from the summit.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Beachie could be hiked about as quickly as Battle Ax, and the trails for each met back up at a saddle near the road. If I gave myself more time, I might have considered a twofer.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

One more good view of Elk Lake appeared. The photo doesn’t show it, but I could see the wind pushing small waves across the surface of the lake.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I managed to get a final decent glimpse of the distant Three Sisters before they disappeared below the horizon. Another shot at the South Sister will be a must next year, but I’m hoping to make attempts on the other two by 2020 or 2021. I need to work on route-finding and technical climbing.

And make a few climbing friends.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I started descending into denser forest, but I had one last really good glimpse of Mount Jefferson, now seen in greater detail with the sun basically directly overhead.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The rest of the descent was pretty easy.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Around a quarter past 12, I reached the Beachie Saddle. It was a big wide open area that looked like a parking spot. I had the option to make a run up Mount Beachie here, or make a left and head back to the car.

I was tired, and had two hours to drive to get home, so I elected to be lame. Maybe next year…


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The final stretch of road started off decently, but eventually became impassable for vehicles.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 12:30, I reached the passable part of the road, and at 12:40 I was back at my car.

This was the shortest, emptiest, and quietest hike of the year for me. Just under 1,800 feet of elevation gain (and then subsequent loss), about 6 total miles, one hiker, and one friendly dog, in just over four hours and twenty minutes.

While not particularly challenging, I recommend Battle Ax for the solitude and the spectacular vistas. I will likely be back in the future.

Posted in Adventure, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Scary Time for Young Men

On the South Lawn of the White House, Donald Trump briefly stopped for reporters as he headed out to an event. Commenting on the current situation with his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, the president at one point said, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of.”

This awkward sentence fit nicely with other comments Donald Trump has made, with him arguing that false allegations could “ruin a man’s life.” Other people who support Trump’s nominee have made similar statements.

It’s instructive that there’s far more concern in certain circles for the men in these situations. It’s a scary time for men. Men’s lives could be ruined. Men could be fired from their jobs. Men’s families could suffer.

The problem here is beyond obvious. And yet, the President of the United States himself tells the world that not only is he concerned for men, but “women are doing great.”

So, I have to ask a few questions about what these poor men are going through:

  • Are men forced to look over their shoulder at all times while out in public?
  • Do men have to cross the street when a lone man walks up the sidewalk toward them?
  • Do men have to Wolverine claw their keys as they move through a parking lot?
  • Do men have to plot out walking routes away from construction sites, bars, dark areas, bus stops, alleys, parking lots, stairwells, elevators, subway entrances, doorways, garages, abandoned buildings, and any place where multiple men might be gathering?
  • Do men have to switch up their jogging routes to deter stalkers?
  • Do men have to avoid using headphones while jogging outside, just to make it harder for men to sneak up on them?
  • Do men have to avoid eye contact with men in public to avoid being immediately harassed?
  • Do men worry about being screamed at and cursed when they ignore or decline unwanted advances from men?
  • Do men receive constant sexual comments and photos from men on dating websites?
  • Do men have to zealously guard their drink at a party or bar, to reduce the risk of being drugged?
  • Are men forced to weigh whether or not the risk of harassment and doxxing is worth expressing an opinion on the internet?
  • Do men worry about being paid significantly less than half of their coworkers?
  • Are men frequently forced to make the calculation of how much sexual harassment to tolerate in order to keep a decent job?
  • Do men have to make the calculation of whether or not its worth coming forward about being assaulted, because rape culture is so entrenched in American society that even the President worries more about the accused than the victim?
  • Do men have to make the calculation of whether or not its worth coming forward about being assaulted, because only 6 in every 1000 sexual predators is actually sent to jail?
  • Oh yeah, and do men live in constant fear of not just being accused of rape, but of being raped?

Oh wait, I’m sorry, I was thinking about women.

It is fair to note that the answer to some of the above questions is most definitely… sometimes for some men. It’s certainly true that a culture of systemic misogyny also makes it harder for men to speak out against harassment.

But the answer to the above questions is a huge YES for most women.

Sure, Mr. President, women have it great now…

…compared with 1612, 1830, or even 1950.

But they deal with a hell of a lot more then men do, especially from men like the president.

The fact that there are functioning adults who initially responded to the Kavanaugh allegations with concern for the well-being of Kavanaugh, and not Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, is THE direct answer to that universal question, “why didn’t she come forward sooner?”

But since every other person seems to be so worried about the chance Kavanaugh is the real victim here, let me deal with one specific point.

I plan to discuss this in greater depth in the future, but to quickly get this bullshit out of the way:

False accusations of sexual assault and harassment are rare.

Really rare.

There have been numerous studies done over the years, of varying degrees of quality and scientific rigor. Incomplete police statistics, the tendency for victims to not report the crimes against them, and societal pressures all make it difficult to precisely gauge the frequency of false accusations. But the best data puts the range between 2 and 10 percent. Which means (depending on the situation), if someone says they were assaulted – without knowing anything about them or their attacker – the odds that they are telling the truth is between 90 and 98 percent.

If cold statistics are the only thing that one cares about, then it still leads to the conclusion… BELIEVE WOMEN.

Yeah, it’s a slogan.

And yes, like all slogans, it lacks nuance.

And yes, if one is accused of sexual assault, then there is a LEGAL presumption of evidence. The court system requires that the burden of proof rests on the accuser.

But Brett Kavanaugh isn’t on trial.

Whatever crime he may have committed against Dr. Blasey Ford occurred years ago. Fair or not, no court is going to charge him.

He isn’t defending himself from being imprisoned. He’s been nominated for a job which would likely give him the power to help strip millions of American women of the right to control their own reproductive decisions. He will likely cast deciding votes in cases that determine the constitutionality of laws that impact… well, everyone. Due to his political positions and the current ideological tilt of the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh would wield enormous power – if confirmed.

So yes, in this case, it’s reasonable to consider the very credible claims of someone who knows him, and his friends, and has been backed up by people who knew them both. I would hope the standard for Supreme Court Justice includes “not likely to have sexually assaulted someone.”

Even ignoring the statistical probability that she’s telling the truth about Brett Kavanaugh, Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations deserve consideration because of the potential gravity of his confirmation. Quite a bit will likely change if the Senate decides Dr. Ford isn’t sufficiently credible – or even if she is, but her allegation isn’t enough for them.

And if Judge Kavanaugh isn’t confirmed, he will still go back to his job on the US Court of Appeals. And he won’t go to jail. His life – not ruined.

And Dr. Blasey Ford will still have been assaulted.


Backtracking a bit here…

Do the accused deserve to have a chance to tell their side of the story?


That includes Kavanaugh, even if his issue isn’t officially a criminal one.

But listening to a woman tell her story of abuse, and considering it as well, doesn’t mean that the accused is suddenly being unfairly railroaded. It doesn’t mean it’s a scary time for young men. It means that a woman’s voice is actually being heard, which is a far-too-rare occurrence.

All credible accusations deserve credible investigations.

Worrying more about the very slim chance of a false accusation than of the very common problem of sexual violence is proof that women don’t have it as good as the president thinks.

And it’s another answer to the question, “why didn’t she report sooner?”

If the public response is, “what about his career?” when a man is accused of assaulting someone – we know we still value men over women.

Not all men (hashtag!) are misogynists.

But toxic masculinity is still a dominant force in our culture.

It’s not a scary time for men.

But it is scary that men being forced to face the consequences of their actions is considered scary.

The line between justice and perceived oppression depends a great deal on who has the power, and who is fighting for a fair share of that power.

I will admit that I’m scared.

I’m scared when I debate on Facebook with women who call Dr. Ford a lying bitch. I worry for the possibility of progress when the person tasked with leading the most powerful nation in human history has very likely assaulted nearly two dozen women, but publicly proclaims his concern for men.

We still have a lot of work to do before we can rest.

And I haven’t even addressed racial or wealth inequality today.

Posted in Civil Rights, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hiking Report – South Sister

I used to write about politics. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that politics were almost the only thing I would write about.

And when I say not that long ago, I mean, just a month ago.

Then I started hiking this summer. And I kept taking pictures, and I wanted to talk about my experiences and observations.

So, here we are. The A Skewed Perspective summer hiking tour.

Or something. I dunno.

I moved to the Pacific Northwest, and this is how I decided to spend my time. I have no regrets.

I’ll be talking about heavier stuff again soon, I promise. Or threaten, depending on your perspective.

But since I do live in the Pacific Northwest now, and I do have time to go find things to hike and climb on during my weekends – I’m going to keep writing about it. And my most recent such adventure happened this past Friday.

For years, certain mountains captured my attention. Most of these are in the Cascades. Maybe it’s the impressive topographical prominence, maybe it’s the picturesque quality of them, maybe it’s the fact that most of them are volcanoes… but for whatever reason, the larger peaks of the Cascades have called to me.

The Three Sisters complex just west of Bend, Oregon has always been among my favorites. Three peaks, all grouped together within a few miles of each other. All three rise to over 10,000 feet in elevation. All three are volcanoes, although the North and Middle Sisters are considered dormant – neither one having erupted in the last 14,000 years. The South Sister, however (the tallest of the three), is thought to have erupted within the last 2,000 years, and showed some tectonic activity as recently as the year 2000. It is considered an active volcano – a point that occasionally came to mind as I hiked it.

The South Sister, while the tallest at 10,363 feet, is considered the easiest of the three to climb. There are well-worn trails that cover most of the distance from Devil’s Lake Trailhead up the south slopes of the mountain to the summit – although the trail does become a bit… muddled at points. Some scrambling over boulder fields becomes necessary at times. It’s a challenge, but doable for someone in decent shape.

South Sister is also known as Charity. The other two are Hope and Faith. It’s often said those are good reminders as to their relative difficulty.

So, all summer, as I’ve hiked a variety of shorter peaks and lower-altitude trails in the Pacific Northwest, I started angling for one big climb near the end of the summer. Something that would provide amazing views, and get me out into the wilderness, while still being a hike that a novice could handle. Mt. Adams came up as an option – but I need some ice and snow climbing equipment that might have to wait for next year. Mt. McLoughlin was another possibility – over 9,000 feet, with a trail to the summit – but it’s also five hours from Portland. I will likely consider that one for next summer as well – but I wasn’t wanting to drive more than three or four hours from home this time around. Mt. Bachelor was another option. It’s also over 9,000 feet and hikable, and also happens to be an hour closer to home than McLoughlin. But just next door to Bachelor was a more challenging option – one that I’ve been thinking about for years.

So, that’s how I decided South Sister would round out my hiking summer. The third-tallest mountain in Oregon would be a challenge. But I believed I could handle it. It would be just me, in the wilderness, for the better part of the day. As I got closer to the day I marked, I became more excited.

So, let me quit babbling about the why, and let’s just get to the how.

Last Thursday, after work, I drove out from Portland, heading southeast in the direction of Bend, Oregon. I didn’t get on the road until around 7 pm, so it was after 10 when I made it to the Devil’s Lake Trailhead, about 20 miles west of Bend.

I considered bringing a tent and camping out at the campground by Devils Lake, but I really didn’t want to deal with the hassle of putting it together and breaking it down just to sleep five or six hours. I wanted to be up early, to ensure I could be done at a reasonable time the next day, so I decided to sleep in my car. Not the most comfortable choice in the world, but I was able to pass out and stay asleep for most of the night.

At 4:30, I was awake. Despite a bright moon, it was still too dark on the trail. I neglected to bring a flashlight or headlamp, so I decided to take my time. I stretched in the parking lot, ate a sandwich, and started organizing my backpack. By 5 AM, there were other people stirring in the parking lot and at the campground. The sun was taking its sweet time illuminating the sky, and so I dawdled around the trailhead until nearly 6, when I decided I couldn’t wait any longer.

I’ve spent more than 800 words setting this up, and since I tend to be too long-winded anyway, I’m going to keep the text part of this narrative to a minimum. Or at least, I’ll try to do so.

Anyway, I set out past the parking lot, along a trail that wound next to Devils Lake and headed about a quarter mile north to the highway. It was no longer dark, but the light was pretty dim.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail crossed the highway, and by 6:10, I was standing in line behind a half-dozen other hikers, waiting to sign in and get my day pass.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail set off north, into the woods. It was fairly steep at points, and I ended up pulling out one of my trekking poles within a few minutes of starting. The temperature was cool – under 50 Fahrenheit, and I had a light jacket and a hoodie on. But I could tell I’d have to shed a layer fairly soon. I tried to maintain a steady pace, but was warming up fast.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I was in the woods for about an hour. After one particularly steep section of switchbacks, the trail opened up and straightened out. The sun was starting to appear over the horizon, and I found myself on a wide, fairly flat plateau. Off to the north, I could see the mass of South Sister, catching the first rays of the sun.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I had read about this part. After the first two miles through the woods, the plateau is a relatively easy section that stretches for a good mile-and-a-half, before hitting the hard parts in earnest. It was around this point that I caught up to a couple other hikers (and was in turn passed by a few stronger ones). I slowed to chat for a few minutes, as well as answer a few emails from work. Even out in the wilderness, climbing a mountain, I can’t entirely escape responsibility.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The plateau sat a few hundred feet above Moraine Lake, which was visible to the right. This is a popular spot for campers seeking to make South Sister a two-day affair.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

To the east, beyond the lake, I could see the jagged peak of Broken Top, backlit by the morning sun.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The plateau gained and lost elevation, but was fairly flat – significantly moreso than the forested section that started my journey.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail became more exposed, as the plateau turned into a narrower ridge.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail surface was a soft, dust-gravel mix that reminded me of a really terrible softball field I played on a decade ago.

By this point, I had shed my jacket, as I was sweating profusely, but the wind was sharp enough to keep the hoodie on for the time being.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Sometime around 8:30, the plateau section was clearly ending, and the trail started getting steep again.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail was at times soft and dusty, but also littered with rocks. The going wasn’t incredibly slow yet, but I was feeling the altitude some. As the plateau ended and the steep stuff begun in earnest, I was around 7,000 feet, up from 5,000 feet at the start of the hike.


Looking back the way I came. Mt. Bachelor can be seen in the distance. – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At points, the trail seemed to branch off in different directions, and even briefly disappear, though there were no shortage of footprints providing some idea of where to go. Looking back the way I came, I could see the trail pretty clearly, which strangely made it easier to then locate where it picked back up above me. When the trail vanished, I had to scramble over some rough scree, and even some boulders on a few occasions.

At around 9:15, after some scrambling over a steep section of boulders (maybe 300 feet of elevation gain over about 800 – 1,000 feet of total distance), I found myself back on a recognizable trail. I had reached a spot that I would later hear referred to as “the false summit.”

Indeed, the actual peak of the mountain had disappeared from view more than a half hour before, and it had seemed like I had been making real progress. A pair of hikers I encountered back on the plateau had stuck near me for the last mile, and all three of us grumbled cheerfully at what loomed ahead.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At the base of the final push was a beautiful green lake, resting at the base of the Lewis Glacier, a thousand-foot chunk of ice carving out a massive indentation in the slope of the mountain. To the left was an exposed ridge with the trail running up. And up. And up.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I started up the slope. The trail was thick, soft scree that occasionally splintered and turned into multiple paths that eventually reconverged. It wasn’t too difficult to stay on the basic path, but the going was slow, thanks to the steepness, the altitude, and the material of the ground. I slipped some, but my boots were able to dig in fairly well. The trekking poles helped.


Broken Top and Bachelor in the distance. – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path was really just a tiring slog. The views were inspiring – which helped, because my progress continued to be… um, glacial, and I had to stop and catch my breath every few hundred feet.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The muscles in my legs were starting to spasm. I was beginning to have doubts I would even make it to the top. The scree became heavier, turned red, and the trail became more rock-filled. Finally, I could see the crater rim just a couple hundred feet above. The trail more or less disappeared, and from there, it was just a tough rock scramble.

At 10:56, I finally staggered up to the edge of the summit crater, gasping and wheezing all the way. Looking back down, the base of the mountain seemed absurdly distant.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Turning back toward the crater, I could see a massive bowl, maybe a quarter mile across. It was filled with snow and ice. Almost directly across the bowl was a rocky ridge, a hundredish feet above the snowfield. That was the summit. I could see a handful of ant-like figures clambering around on it.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

To my right and left, a trail appeared to wrap around the crater rim. I could either hike around the crater, or try my luck across the frozen lake. I didn’t trust my energy or balance to make that attempt. The crater rim would be fine. I went right. The views off the edge of the rim were more than worth the effort it took to get there.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I stopped and chatted with a hiker who I encountered earlier on the trail, but had powered past me on the final stretch. He was enjoying a well-earned snack, and enjoying the view. Apparently he didn’t feel up to clambering up to the true summit. We chatted about other hikes in the area, and then I bid him adieu, and pressed on.


It’s farther away than it appears… – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I took my time around the crater, stopping to take photos every time the view inspired me – which was often. Along the east side of the rim were a series of wind shelters made of stacked rocks, in U-shaped patterns. Nobody had tents up at that point, but it appeared to be a setup for summit camping.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail finally disappeared a few hundred feet from the summit. Some light scrambling was necessary to get to the actual top of the mountain. I was tired, but there was no way I would turn back now.

Finally, just before 11:30, I stepped up to the summit of South Sister. There was a small USGS reference mark just below a pile of rocks that marked the official high point.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

There was a group of hikers lounging on the summit when I arrived, although they shoved off pretty quickly after I got there. I know I looked pretty rough, but I’m assuming I wasn’t scaring them away.

Looking back across the frozen crater lake, I could see more hikers dragging themselves up on the rim.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The views around the crater were all amazing, but the real gem was on the north end, off the true summit. To the northeast was another great view of Broken Top.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And to the northwest were the other Sisters, Faith and Hope, looking jagged and ominous.


Middle and North Sisters – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Far beyond the North Sister I could make out Mount Jefferson, though it didn’t show up well with my cell phone camera.

I did manage a now-obligatory selfie… at least to prove to myself in the future that I actually did this.


It’s me! – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After about half an hour, some water, a sandwich, and a bunch of photos, I decided it was time to depart the summit. Also, another round of hikers was showing up, and I was hoping for a bit more solitude. I considered continuing around the rim in the direction I hadn’t yet tried… but I couldn’t clearly make out the trail at points, and I wasn’t feeling that adventurous. So, I headed back the way I came. By around 12:20, I was back at the crater rim, looking down.

Well, first, admiring the view more out than down.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And then down. Way down. I could see the trail along the plateau far below.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I started down, I immediately noticed a couple of differences.

The trip down was far less taxing on my leg muscles and my overall stamina than heading up. I wasn’t breathing nearly as hard.

However, it was hard to balance on the steep scree, and I kept slipping.

After some trial and error, I developed a technique on the steeper sections. I angled down, somewhat sideways, with my right foot forward and pointed slightly to my left side. Using my trekking poles for balance, I would sort of skid down a few feet at a time, pushing with my back foot here and there. It wasn’t pretty. I must have looked like an enormous, drunk praying mantis. But the locomotion was reasonably efficient, and as I made my way down the ridge alongside the Lewis Glacier, I made decent time.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Taking a break to glance back after 30 minutes or so, I could see how much ground I had covered.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The views continued to be spectacular, even from increasingly lower elevation.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I eventually returned to the lake at the bottom of the glacier. I could see hikers milling around next to it.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

From that point on, it was just a slow, increasingly warm afternoon, gradually heading down the hill. I lost the trail a few times, and had to scramble off the false summit very carefully, but on the whole, it was a smooth and enjoyable experience.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Just before 3 in the afternoon, I returned to the plateau region, and started my stroll to the forest and the final section.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The sun felt harsh, although it wasn’t oppressively hot at this point. The bright light did provide some stunning views, however.

Mount Bachelor loomed ahead.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Broken Top sat to the east, no longer backlit like it was in the early morning, but occasionally covered in shadow from passing clouds.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And directly behind me, the bulk of South Sister watched over me as I walked away from her.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I got a good look at Moraine Lake shortly before I dipped back into the woods.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I headed toward the trailhead, I came across several groups of campers hiking to the lake, to stay the night and take a shot at Charity the next morning.

As I dove into the forest, I found myself decompressing. This was a good day. So good in fact, that I’m now second-guessing whether or not I want to make this my last major hike of the summer. Maybe Mount McLoughlin or Mount Bachelor in a couple weeks?

Regardless as to what I decide, I’m glad I made this decision. The sunburn is taking days to heal, and my legs are still sore, but I would happily do this again. If one is willing to spend most of a day dragging themselves up a giant rock for the chance of some thin air and ridiculously gorgeous scenery – I recommend it. Also, it’s apparently wise to avoid weekends. I went on a Friday, and while it wasn’t crowded, I was rarely alone after 10 am or so. Take a weekday if isolation is ideal.

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Hiking Report – Silver Star Mountain

Well, I’ve done it again. I spent a perfectly good Sunday hiking around mountains in the Pacific Northwest. This time, I was last week in Washington, hiking the Bluff Mountain Trail.

When researching hikes around the area, I specifically looked for hikes with great views of the Cascades. As much as I love just being outside, communing with nature, I really enjoy spectacular views. I love mountains, especially big ones. And if I’m not quite ready yet to try to climb the big mountains, at least I can get good looks at them from more manageable places.

Silver Star Mountain came up in my research. Less than two hours from Portland, it’s supposed to provide views of some of the same peaks that can be seen from Mt. Defiance, but with less pain and suffering. It’s over 4,000 ft, and not incredibly difficult to ascend. However, Silver Star apparently gets pretty busy, especially on weekends.

So, I found a longer trail that starts from a bit west of the main routes up Silver Star. The Bluff Mountain Trail starts from a fairly high elevation (about 3,500 ft), and winds its way past two other mountains. After around six miles, the trail connects with the Starway Trail, and fairly quickly deposits one on the summit of Silver Star. My research promised me the Bluff Mountain route would involve great views along exposed ridges, and greatly reduced foot traffic compared to the other Silver Star hikes.

This past Sunday morning, I headed north from Portland, driving through Vancouver, Washington. Depending on the route, the drive from downtown Portland to the trailhead is in the 50 to 56 mile range. However, it takes nearly 2 hours, even with light traffic. The first 40 minutes got me to within a dozen miles – but the final hour was spent traversing winding gravel roads. The roads aren’t designed with passenger cars in mind, and there are all sorts of massive holes and divots and even some boulders in the road. There were plenty of points where I would have to creep over bumps at angles to avoid tearing up my relatively low-clearance car. But I did make it. It just required some patience. Also, there’s a bunch of deer out there, and they have no trouble stepping out in front of cars without warning.

Anyhoo, I finally parked at the trailhead. It was a wide, flat dirt area with sharp drops (and excellent views) to the east and west, and the start of the trail heading south. The trail itself is wide enough for a car – at least for the first 3/4 of a mile or so. But I was done driving at the trailhead.

Finally, at 7:50 in the morning, with temperatures around 50 degrees, I set out down the trail.

It starts out meandering up and down, but fairly straight south. The elevation changes seemed pretty minimal. There were some trees on either side, but frequently the road was raised above them and provided lovely views of the valleys and hills below.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

There were a couple trails that split off from the main one in this section, including one that led to a cabin off to the left. I could hear a dog barking up there. Considering the number of spent shotgun shells I found littering the trail, I assumed some hunting went on around here. I resolved to avoid looking like a deer as I made my way down the path.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I finally reached a flat open area, sort of like a mini-version of the lot at the trailhead. This area provided gorgeous views all around me, including of Bluff Mountain, Little Baldy Mountain, and my eventual goal, Silver Star Mountain, though at the time time, I wasn’t realizing that was Silver Star off in the distance.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018    –    The twin peaks connected by the saddle in the middle of the image, in the distance, is Silver Star Mountain.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018 – Mount Saint Helens through the haze.

Looking north, I could still make out Mount Saint Helens looming over me. However, the haze that’s been perpetually choking the area for the last few weeks (thanks to fires from California to Washington) was already noticeably thickening, and the views of the more distant Cascade peaks were fading from view. I had some hope it might clear up by midday, but – spoiler alert – ’twas not to be.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After a few minutes of taking in the views, I decided to press on. I noted, however, in this open area (which seemed to be the ending point of the driveway part of the trail), there was no obvious path onward. For some reason, I didn’t think to check the map I had queued on my phone. I just knew that I was supposed to push forward another quarter of a mile or so before the path started through the woods and on toward Bluff Mountain. I finally found an incredibly narrow dirt trail at the south end of the open area. It barely looked passable. I thought about doubling back for a short distance, to see if there was another trail opening I missed earlier. But that would have been sensible, which isn’t always in my vocabulary.

So I decided to try the narrow dirt path.


It didn’t take long for me to have to start shoving my way through dense growth, the “trail” barely visible beneath my feet. I could tell I was starting to move downhill, and was getting nervous about the path dropping out underneath me. I still don’t know why I didn’t turn back, though I was feeling a bit discouraged.

Finally, after around 300 feet or so of bushwacking, the path cleared up, and I could see an actual dirt/rock trail heading perpendicular to my path. I dropped down on it, and stopped for a breather. I pulled out my phone and actually looked at the map. And yeah, sure enough, the trail I needed started about 100 feet behind where I pushed ahead. I just didn’t pay attention as I hiked past it.

Fortunately, I didn’t injure myself. And I was back on a recognizable path. I looked south, and could see the bulk of Bluff Mountain, with Little Baldy Mountain sitting just to the right. The trail itself went left, away from the mountain, but this time I decided to trust my map. I knew this would take me where I needed to go.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail down the slope and into the woods, eventually heading toward Bluff Mountain, was full of wispy trees, wildflowers, and thorny bushes.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018



Hunter Breckenridge – 2018











And just to the east were some gorgeous views of the valley that would eventually lead to Mount Adams. Sadly, that mountain was obscured by haze. But closer to my location, the rolling hills and valleys were displayed in their full splendor.

After some time winding down the trail, and through the woods, I finally stepped up to Bluff Mountain. The trail veered to the right, running along the western flank of the mountain.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

To the west, across a valley, was the next mountain on my hike, Little Baldy Mountain. It’s talus-covered slopes certainly contributed to the “bald” moniker. But there was a history behind the name.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The Yacolt Burn in 1902 swept through this region, destroying huge swaths of vegetation (not to mention killing 60-some people). More than a hundred years later, many of the higher peaks remained empty of large trees, thanks to that disaster.

The trail on Bluff Mountain continued running along the side of the cliff, maybe halfway up between the floor of the valley below, and the exposed craggy peak above. Supposedly, the summit of Bluff Mountain could be reached via a quick scramble, but since I was new to the trail and the area, I decided to stick with the clear path for the time being. Perhaps a return trip with another person would prompt me to make that side trip.

At one point, the trail more or less disappeared as a recognizable path, and just became a pile of rocks – essentially an extension of the talus field that lead to the bottom.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It was a bit treacherous, but eventually eased up, and turned back into the dirt/rock path that had gotten me this far.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At some point, I looked back the way I came, and was treated to a great view of Mount St. Helens, gradually becoming more obscured by the haze.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail would eventually reach the point where the south end of Bluff Mountain ran into the south end of Little Baldy Mountain, creating the closed end of the valley between them.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail would veer right, off Bluff Mountain, and into the woods at the end of the valley. There were some lovely views of the north from that end – peaking through gaps in the trees.

At this point, it was a bit past 9:30 – nearly two hours after I started. In those two hours, the bulk of Saint Helens had finally been cloaked by the dense residue of the fires that continue to engulf so much of the Pacific coast states.

Meanwhile, as I made my way west through the woods, I looked down the the slope into the valley, and heard what sounded like helicopters first starting their rotors. Massive birds that I guessed may have been vultures took off, likely disturbed by my presence. They sounded enormous, although I only was able to catch glimpses of them.

The trail started moving uphill again, and I plunged into a wider wooded area. This was behind the south end of Little Baldy, and could have been a forest pretty much anywhere.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After maybe 10 minutes in this forest, I came out into a clearing, and begun looping around Little Baldy, along its western flank. This provided amazing views to the south, toward Oregon, as well as my eventual target, Silver Star, off to the west.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018 – Looking at Silver Star Mountain from the talus covered western side of Little Baldy Mountain.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Briefly glancing up and to my right, I could see the talus wall looming above me. This was also something intrepid hikers and climbers would sometimes scramble. There were apparently some interesting pits dug into the field at the summit. Maybe next time, with an early start and a friend or two, I might make a run at it.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail on the talus field stretched all the way to the north end of Little Baldy, where it finally turned left, into an area of dense vegetation. At this point, it was nearly 10:30.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail headed west, gradually becoming more exposed.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018 – Looking back at Little Baldy.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018 – Getting closer to Silver Star

The ridge that ran between the northwest corner of Little Baldy and the northeast corner of Silver Star stretched mostly straight west for about a mile and a half. At around the halfway mark were a few switchbacks, as the trail gained elevation, wrapped around the north end of the ridge, and came up to a wide exposed area, with 360 degrees of views. The drops on either side were substantial, with the north end a little steeper, but both likely near 1,000 feet. Even with the haze preventing views of the more distant peaks, it was spectacular. It was around 11:00 at this point, when I met someone coming the other way. A hiker pushing his mountain bike laden with packs very gingerly along the rocky trail. We chatted briefly, he told me how much this part sucked for someone with a bike, and I let him know it probably wasn’t going to be getting any better for awhile. I wished him luck, and we went our separate ways.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I continued pushing down the ridge, enjoying the views and solitude. At one point, as I neared Silver Star, I could make out tiny dots making their way across the saddle between the two peaks. I accelerated my pace a bit, hoping I could summit before noon.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018 – Looking back the way I came.

By 11:30, I was directly underneath the summit (maybe 700 feet or so below), and the trail dove back into the woods, heading around the north side of the mountain.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

There was a steep, narrow trail leading off to the left that I assumed was a shortcut. I could hear voices up that trail. I decided to continue with the planned route, but perhaps next time, I might explore a little more.

At 11:45, I reached the trail junction. The Bluff Mountain Trail finally intersected here with the Starway Trail, the shorter route that heads north toward the Silver Star Trailhead,


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The next stretch was much steeper than what I had been dealing with. I was still feeling pretty good at this point, but I imagined this last bit up to the summit could be draining.

There was one straightaway, gradually drifting southeast, with an interesting cairn in the middle of a trail junction.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The final approach was pretty quick. It only took about 10 minutes to reach the summit saddle from the Bluff Mountain-Starway junction. I stepped up into a big open area. Directly east was the valley I had just hiked past, with Little Baldy off in the distance. To my right was the lower summit, and to my left was the true summit,


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018    –    Silver Star summit, from the saddle.

I trudged up the remaining slope. At 11:58, four hours and eight minutes after I started, I reached the top of Silver Star Mountain. There were a couple hikers sitting on a ledge, looking east, enjoying lunch. I walked past them, and up to the shattered base of what was an old fire lookout station. While the haze was only getting worse, I could still see quite a way. The ghostly outline of Mount Hood was barely visible through the smog to the south.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018 – The ghost of Mount Hood can barely be seen here.

To the west, birds-of-prey swooped above the trees, enjoying the air currents flowing through the valleys.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Off to the east, I could see the way I came. If I looked carefully, I could make out much of the trail, including along the talus slope of Little Baldy.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I took a few minutes for myself, took off my pack, and enjoyed a breather.


By 12:15, I decided to head back down. More hikers were coming up the saddle, and I was hoping to be back in Portland by 6 PM. Better get moving.

I headed back down the saddle, made a right down the final slope, and down to the Bluff Mountain junction.

From then on, it was just a steady hike along the ridge between Silver Star and Little Baldy.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Occasionally, I would glance back at the receding form of Silver Star.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

About an hour after departing the summit, I was back on Little Baldy.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Then behind Little Baldy, vaulting over logs in the woods.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I was walking across the west side of Bluff Mountain…


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And then by 2:30, I was stepping off Bluff Mountain, heading back up the trail, toward the long driveway back to the trailhead.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

This time, I stayed on the trail, and realized that I indeed did miss the trail turnoff earlier that morning.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018 – Silver Star now in the distance.

The final leg north toward the car felt like it took forever, although much of that was due to the fact that it was finally getting noticeably hot.

At 3:20 pm, I stepped off the trail, and walked up to my car.

This was a fun one. I got plenty of exercise, walked more than 12 miles, got to hang around three mountains, reaching the summit of tallest one. I only encountered one person on the Bluff Mountain trail. Everyone else I met was on Silver Star itself. I recommend to anyone looking for some solitude and some great views (depending on the state of forest fires in the region) to take the long way. I wouldn’t call the Starway trail part crowded, but there definitely were people making their presence known. But east of there, along Little Baldy and Bluff Mountain, I felt truly alone.

And it was glorious.

Just drive carefully on your way to the trailhead, especially if you don’t have a vehicle built for rough terrain.

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Hiking Report – Saddle Mountain

I’m really loving summer in the Pacific Northwest. Still in my first summer here, this past weekend (July 29th to be precise) I just went on my third hike.

This time, I brought my friend (and coworker), JB. I had been eyeing Silver Star Mountain in Washington for my next hike, but then out of the blue, he asked me if I wanted to hike Saddle Mountain. I hadn’t seen it when researching hikes and climbs, but lo and behold, it was fairly close to Portland, and happened to be similar in length and difficulty to my last couple hikes.

It didn’t take much convincing. It looked like a good hike, with some great views.

So, Sunday morning, JB picked me up from my home in downtown Portland, and we headed west on 26, through Beaverton and Hillsboro, past the western edges of the Portland metro, and out into the countryside. Unfortunately for us, plenty of other Portlanders were heading west as well, likely making their way to the coast to escape the heat. We slogged through 25 mph traffic (with 45 to 60 mph speed limits) until we finally made our turn just 15 miles or so from the coast – about two hours after we started.

Seven miles north along the narrow and winding Saddle Mountain State Park Road finally brought us to the parking lot at the trailhead. The lot was fairly crowded, but we managed to find a space at around 12:30 in the early afternoon. No permits or fees were required to park, either. There were a bunch of semi-drunk college bros making lots of noise in and around the lot, but they were fairly easy to ignore.

We set off pretty quickly. The path picks up from the trailhead, moving pretty straight through the woods – starting at an elevation of around 1700 feet above sea level. On either side of the trail are a handful of pre-made campsites. It starts off sloping fairly gently upward, gradually curving from a southeasterly direction to the first sharp switchbacks as it turns north toward the first of the two summits.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The forest is dense, with plenty of heavy foliage in the early going. The trail itself was fairly wide, albeit with some narrow spots.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

JB and I made pretty good time at the beginning. The high temperature that day was expected to hit the high 90s back in Portland, but at that point, in the shady forest, it wasn’t too bad.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

In the first half hour, the trail was never excessively steep, though we did gain altitude fairly quickly.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After a time, we were high enough on the flank of the south end of the mountain that we could get an impressive view of the valley as we hit clearings.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

With each switchback, the view only got better. The trail was surrounded by lush plant growth, albeit with occasional dead spots.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

JB and I continued our trek up the the path. The trail was mostly dirt, but plenty of rock was strewn about to help encourage twisted ankles.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We kept up a fairly brisk pace without rushing.

There was a decent amount of traffic going up and down, but never enough to feel crowded.

Shortly after the one mile marker, the trail started getting steeper.

It also became more exposed, spending less time winding through the woods, and more time running alongside the cliff face.

We also observed something the Oregon Hikers page warned us about – that there was extensive chain link fencing embedded into the trail itself – specifically in the steeper and more exposed sections.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

This fencing was amazing in terms of providing traction in those steep areas. We would later observe that it was even better on the way back down. Areas that would have caused me to slip and slide on other hikes were easily traversed – often far faster than I otherwise would have managed. In fact, there were points where it almost felt like cheating.

However, the fencing was harsh for bare feet – which is why that Oregon Hikers page recommended that people avoid bringing their dogs up the mountain.

As JB and I made our way up the trail, we noted that the fencing seemed like it would be harsh on some dog’s paws.

And yet, plenty of people had dogs with them on this hike. Some dogs appeared to handle the fencing better than others – though it did come up as an issue later on.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As we came around the west end of the southern peak, we dipped into the woods a couple more times.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At one point, we came across a narrow wooden bridge stretching over a 30 foot or so gap.

As you can see in the photo, the bridge had partially warped over to one side. The wood itself was quite slick, and my hiking boots were absolutely zero help gripping the surface.

Naturally, both JB and I started sliding to the dipped edge of the bridge.

What arrested our descent was not some sort of thoughtful repair, but instead, a wooden plank nailed on one side. Our footwear caught the board, and allowed us to stagger across. It was not the most elegant solution to the problem, but we managed to handle it.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We neared the summit of the lower peak (kinda), but ultimately edged around it, still a few hundred feet short of the top. We slipped back into the woods for one final jaunt, then came out into the open – and there was our goal – the north summit. And dammit, we had to drop back down a couple hundred feet, then back up… well, many hundreds of feet more. We were in the saddle part of Saddle Mountain.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And there were some gorgeous views while we traversed the saddle.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We started back up. And the pictures really don’t do justice to the scale. The final push was reeeeally steep. It wore us out as we slogged up the path.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It was exposed and hot, with the sun blaring down on us.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We ended up taking a few breaks on the final summit push. I had been pausing to take photos periodically, but at this point, every pause was just to catch my breath.

Of course, it may not have been all that strenuous to someone in better condition than myself. Like that little puffball Pomeranian that trotted up to the summit just behind us (yes, it had people walking it).

That final hump of the saddle probably took us only 15 or so minutes, but it felt significantly longer.

However, our patience and tenacity was rewarded with some stunning views from the top. To the west, we could just barely see a sliver of ocean, though it was partially blocked by haze. Summer fire season at work. To the north was another hazy view of the Columbia River, and Astoria.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Directly south of the summit (and about 50 feet down) was a short ridge with another trail. JB and I briefly discussed taking a detour and checking it out on our way back down, but neither of us were feeling that energetic at that point.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Just west of the observation area (enclosed by a metal railing) was another rocky chunk that a few intrepid hikers climbed around on. I declined to step too far out onto it, as it was quite exposed, with some pretty serious drops on three sides. But it looked pretty.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Here I am, very sweaty, and fairly tired. I didn’t look great, but I felt pretty satisfied.

Also, note that I brought a bit of my hometown with me on my shirt.

KC isn’t exactly a climbing mecca, which is one reason I’m glad I moved.

But all the same, sometimes one needs to rep the hometown.

Anyway, after an appropriate time resting and gawking at the view, JB and I skirted around the college kids hanging out on the summit, and started making our way back down.

As I referenced before, the fencing embedded into the steeper parts of the trail was a huge help on the way back down. JB and I made it fairly quickly down to the bottom of the saddle once more.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Heading back up the south section was brutal, but once we got going steadily downhill, we were able to take our time and pick our way down, chatting and joking as we went.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We made it back to the big exposed area on the south end of the south summit, and trudged down the trail.

At one point, we came across two hikers and their dog, a massive German Shepherd mix laying on her side, breathing hard, with her feet wrapped in handkerchiefs and rags. We asked the hikers what happened. Apparently it was a combination of heat exhaustion and damage to her paws from the fencing on the trail. We offered to try to help carry her down the trail, but they informed us they had already called fire and rescue, who had claimed a 30 minute ETA. We pondered trying to use a spare t-shirt as a hammock to try to carry the dog, but it seemed likely to tear, as well as be difficult to handle. It sucked walking away, but they told us they preferred we keep moving. So we did.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I should note when we finally came across the fire department volunteers hiking up past us, it had already been longer than half an hour. We also were skeptical that their big one wheel off-road stretcher dealie would have been easy to wrestle across that slippery bridge… but it was out of our hands at that point.

A little after 3 pm, we staggered back to the parking lot. It had been a fun hike, with some amazing (albeit hazy) views. It was also a little more intense than we expected.

Compared with my recent hikes, I would say Saddle Mountain is quite a bit faster and easier than Mount Defiance, but maybe on par with Dog Mountain. It’s a little shorter than Dog Mountain, but has a tougher final push.

In a couple weeks, I’ll be (hopefully) heading out to Silver Star Mountain, and if all goes well, at the end of the month will be my attempt on the South Sister. I will almost certainly be posting my reports of those hikes here.

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Hiking Report – Mount Defiance

This is my account of my hike up the Mount Defiance-Starvation Ridge Loop – or, how I learned to stop worrying and drag myself up and down a really big hill.

So, I promised to do this one again. Well, this blog feature.

The Dog Mountain hike back on my birthday got that hiking bug going again. I’m hooked, and I need my fix. Fortunately, the peak of the last one provided a great view of my next target.

Right across the Columbia River, just an hour(ish) east of Portland, sits the hulking mass of Mount Defiance, the remnants of an old shield volcano looming up against the river.

Mt. Defiance has a reputation for being a particularly grueling hike – arguably the toughest in the Columbia River Gorge. Naturally, this intrigued me. After all, Dog Mountain was reported to be somewhat taxing, and I handled it fairly well, so what’s so hard about a longer version of the same thing?

Yeah, you can see where this is going.

First of all, it’s amazing what just a couple weeks of time can do to insulate one to the memories of hardship. The Dog Mountain hike wasn’t the most intense I’ve experienced – but it wasn’t easy. My leg muscles were sore for days after, and my ankles are still experiencing twinges from when I kept rolling them on the way down. A lot of that was due to my lack of conditioning – but also – these hikes aren’t easy.

And Mount Defiance was significantly harder than Dog Mountain. Those who said it was a rough one weren’t joking. Naturally, what I really wanted was the longer version of the hike – first up Mt. Defiance along the Mt. Defiance Trail, then back down along the Starvation Ridge Trail, creating a nearly 13 mile loop. Almost 5,000 feet of gain, followed by 5,000 feet back down. It sounded a bit daunting, but mostly just fun. And again, with the hard parts of Dog Mountain fading into memory, the daunting aspect wasn’t my primary concern.

Overconfidence is a silly thing.

Anyway, let’s get into it.

Last Saturday, (Happy Bastille Day!), I drove east along the Columbia River, and arrived at the Starvation Creek Trailhead, about 50 minutes from downtown Portland. It was 6:30 in the morning, and the parking area was quiet. There’s a decent bathroom facility at the site, with a water fountain. There are multiple trails that lead off from the trailhead, but the one I wanted led down along the highway, back the way I came.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I tightened my boots, stuffed my pockets with protein bars, strapped on my water pack, and posed dramatically. Well, for a moment. Then I looked around self-consciously, because I realized I looked really silly.

And I started off. Down the path I went!


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Um, the paved, level path, running along a major highway. Huh. Well, the Defiance trail runs about a half a mile along the road, shaded with trees. It feels like an urban park for a short while. It’s almost idyllic.

After a short distance, I came across another path connecting with this one. It came from the woods to my left, and is currently blocked off with barriers and signs, warning of danger.

That’s a good point to briefly segue here. Late last summer, the Eagle Creek Fire burned around 50,000 acres of forest throughout the Gorge. A 15 year old was playing with fireworks during a particularly dry time of the year, and… well, the kid screwed up. Even now, 10 months later, many trails and hiking areas are still closed to the public. The eastern border of one of the closed zones is literally my southern leg of this hike. So it made sense that other parts of the trail might be closed.

Now, the section in question was the Starvation Ridge Cutoff – which would come up for me later on. But for now, scary signs told me to keep out. I wasn’t heading that way anyway, but it was a glaring reminder of the damage that can be done by a single careless person. So kids, listen to Smoky the Bear, or something.

I carried on down the nice clean path that wasn’t burned to a crisp. As I walked in the early morning light, enjoying temperatures in the low 50s Fahrenheit, I heard a loud screech over my head. It took me a second to realize what I was looking at, but there was an actual bald eagle soaring past me, heading along the path before veering right toward the river. The thing was huge! I wasn’t sure whether or not I should salute, or alert the FAA.

I looked up past the eagle, and got a glimpse of my immediate future. The mountain loomed over me.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Further down this path, on the left side, was my first waterfall of the hike. Cabin Creek Falls, a multi-tiered, 220 foot fall, was partly hidden by a huge boulder, that created a natural enclosure for the pool at the bottom.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Finally, after the surprisingly long jaunt along the highway (still at river level), the path veered off to the left, away from I-84 and into the woods.

At this point, there still was no significant elevation change. The pavement remained for another few hundred feet, when the path passed through a picnic area.

A lone hiker passed me coming the other way, looking pretty disheveled. I hoped that it wasn’t a sign that the trail would be overly crowded. I also hoped it wasn’t a sign I would look that rough by the time I reached the end.

Past the picnic area, the trail continued feeling like an urban park.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Finally, the trail got interesting, as I came up on my second waterfall of the day.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Hole in the Wall Falls, a 95 foot high man-made waterfall loomed behind a small wooden footbridge.

This particular waterfall was created as a tunnel diverting water from Warren Creek higher up the mountain, to prevent the creek from damaging I-84.

Considering it was created back in 1938, it seems like a fairly impressive piece of engineering. But more importantly, it acts as a lovely backdrop, as well as sort of a gateway to the serious start of this hike.

Because as soon as I crossed the footbridge, the path turned rougher, and became far more vertical than what I’d been experiencing. After a short while, I found myself


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

in the powerline corridor. The Starvation Ridge Trail junction came into view. This was


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

where the return leg of my journey would meet back up with this part of the trail.

According to the really handy guide on oregonhikers.org (they aren’t paying me, I swear), this was where the real fun was about to begin.

Well, pretty soon. The steep switchbacks where still a few minutes away.

And as I entered more exposed parts of the path, I got some great views of the Columbia River Gorge, including my old pal Dog Mountain, over on the Washington side. In the early morning light, there was a serene quality to the view that I can’t quite articulate.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After gawking at my old friend, I had one more waterfall to contend with.

I came upon Lancaster Falls, another two-tiered waterfall system. This one was technically the largest of the three, but from my vantage point, I could only see the relatively short (maybe 20 feet) lower tier. The 250 foot high upper tier was apparently best viewed from a weigh station about 200 feet below me. Well, that wasn’t an option.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

You know what else wasn’t an option? Staying dry.

So, to backtrack slightly, I was spoiled by the Dog Mountain hike. Other than a brief issue in the woods on the far side of the summit, I never had a problem staying on the trail there.

Mount Defiance, I quickly learned, was a bit different. Technically, the trail I was taking this day runs as a complete loop up the mountain, around the summit, and then back down along Starvation Ridge. But there are spots when the trail seemingly disappears, and one had to clamber around on rougher terrain to locate the trail on the other side. Further up the mountain, this took the shape of talus fields, which I’ll be talking about later. At this point, it was the 50 foot (or so) wide basin of Lancaster Falls. I was annoyed at myself as I spent probably five solid minutes bouncing around on the east side of the basin, trying to find the spot the trail continued. After some time, feeling embarrassed despite being alone, I noticed the trail picked up again – past the boulders and ankle-deep pools underneath the falls. There was a slight slope to the basin, and I suppose a reeealllly reckless person could find themselves slipping and sliding to the edge, which would result in a briefly exhilarating fall into the trees below. But I was cautious, and tend to enjoy not dying on a rock in rural Oregon. So I eased my way across, and picked the trail back up on the other side.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It wasn’t long before I would get one final gorgeous view of the Gorge looking west, and then the switchbacks finally started. From there, the trail started it’s winding path south to the summit.

And from then on, I just went up.

And up.

And up.

Oh yeah, did I mention I went up?


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I don’t believe I’m in terrible shape, but I’m also not exactly at my best. Plans to ramp up my cardio pre-Dog Mountain were halted after tearing up my ankles on that hike, and I haven’t really picked it back up since. So it wasn’t long before my breath was ragged, my heart felt like a drum solo in my chest, and my legs were burning.

And I was having an absolutely marvelous time. I wasn’t keeping count, but according to the trail guide and my GPS, there were something like 21 switchbacks over the next mile. My still-sore legs (eight days later!) can believe it.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Occasionally, I would get a glimpse of the Gorge through the trees.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trees themselves were gorgeous. Although around switchback number six or seven, I started to notice burn damage on many of the trunks.

There were also plenty of trees on the ground, although not so much that it badly disrupted overall coverage. From what I could tell, most of the fire that burned through this section was ground fire. There were some trees felled, but for the most part it resulted in scorched trunks, but still living trees.

Sometimes I would have to hoist myself up and over a log blocking the path. Sometimes the logs were blackened and charred. I’d pull my hand away and realize that it turned black from the carbon residue. I remember at one point taking a selfie and realizing there were black smudges on my face where I wiped away sweat using my charcoal hands.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

This log provided me a nice step instead of making me vault over.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

A little before 8 am, the switchbacks became less tightly packed, and the slope itself gradually turned less drastically steep. There was less exposure, and the surface felt more like a hill and less like a cliff.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I finally took my first break at around 8:10. I tore into a protein bar and took in the sounds of the birds.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After I stopped moving, I was able to pay more attention to the wilderness around me. By this point, I could no longer clearly hear traffic along the highway.

As I paused, it felt like I was first really paying attention to the fact that I was no longer near “civilization.”

I could see what appeared to be a blue jay, yelling at a squirrel.

A chipmunk saw me and dove under a nearby log.

It’s really amazing what one can observe just by being still and quiet. I think people miss a lot as they go through the bustle of their daily lives. I know I certainly am one of those poor souls… at least much of the time.

Sitting on a log in the woods, with only the sounds of nature around me… it was a clarifying experience. I took so much in that didn’t involve other people, or traffic, or glowing screens.

For a little while, I couldn’t move, because I didn’t want the feeling to end.

Also, my legs were tired.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Anyway, eventually, I dragged myself up off the log, and started trudging back up the mountain. By this point, it was around 8:30, and the slope had straightened out and was heading pretty directly south.

By 9 am, the trail was growing steeper. It was curving through the trees, and with the ash on the ground, felled branches, and lots of leafy debris, it was a little hard to follow for a few minutes.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Not completely sure how this log was staying in this position… Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I was getting tired, and having to take more breaks. I also realized I may not have filled my water pack as far up as I should have, because even though I was trying to sip from it at a measured pace, it was already running low.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And in the distance behind me, I could start to hear voices. Two hikers were coming up behind me, punctuating the solitude. I could feel myself growing irritated, though much of that may have been fatigue and annoyance at my own lack of preparation.

Still, I wasn’t making terrible time, and I knew I was getting within around a thousand feet in elevation from the summit. Distance was still at least a mile, though.

I continued on. Even though I was dripping with sweat, there was enough of a breeze coming through the trees to keep me from feeling overheated. And I still had enough food and water to keep my going for the time being. I mean, it was just supposed to be a dayhike. I wasn’t on a Himalayan expedition. Not yet, anyway…


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Finally, after rounding the bend on a particularly steep and narrow corner, I came out into a clearing. Forgive the language, but holy shit, was the view incredible. From the northwest corner of the mountain, a bit below the final summit, I could see… well, everything. To the northwest was a clear view of Mount St. Helens, looming in her volcanic, intimidating way. To the east from there was Mount Rainier. I hadn’t realized that I could see that far… and indeed, it was clearly more distant than St. Helens. But there it was. And then, further east still, was Mount Adams, looking pretty much exactly the way a mountain should look. Snow-covered, bulky, but still graceful.

These next few pictures will hardly do the views justice. My battered Samsung phone is hardly a substitute for one’s eyes. But it’s worth posting:


From left to right – Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams… Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Mt. St. Helens – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I stood admiring the view – and maybe catching my breath, the voices that had been growing louder behind me came around the corner.

Two other hikers came bounding up. Both were significantly younger and in better shape than I was.

Sort of like how I felt back on Dog Mountain a few weeks back, my irritation with having to share the


Mt. Rainier – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

mountain with others faded as I actually interacted with them. My introversion is a powerful force – in my own brain. But now and then, people don’t suck quite as hard as I make them out to in my mind.

So, after a very pleasant chat, commenting on the scenery, as well as discussing other hikes, my two fellow hikers moved on, while I scrambled around on some boulders,


Mt. Adams – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

trying to force my phone into taking better photos.

Also, I may have used that amazing photo-op as an excuse to take yet another break.

Finally, I bid the clearing adieu, and set off after the now-fading voices.

The trail started to narrow, and was winding its way through thick brush. The dirt path ran into a massive rock field. In the climbing parlance, the fields are called talus. Except when they’re called scree. Or something like that. Anyway, I think these were talus fields. Also, along with the loose rocks covering the slopes, the trees were becoming more sparse.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

A little before 11, I came up to the final summit trail, a junction that formed a loop around the summit, and joined back together. I decided to go right, because the guide page said it was longer, prettier, and more difficult. In theory, that would mean the way back would be easier, which I could probably use by that point.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Now would also be a good time to mention that both the fly and bee population of Mt. Defiance were… substantial. And every time I’d hunker down on a rock or log to take a breather, I would feel/hear dozens of the little suckers buzzing around my ears. It wasn’t completely intolerable, but it was annoying.

But I digress.

By 11:00, I was firmly on the big talus fields that covered the west side of the summit. It was bright, exposed, and a bit unnerving. Also – it was gorgeous to see. I’m glad I decided to take the full loop around the summit, because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

There were a couple sections of the talus that had paths built in, but there were a couple others that were just the boulders, and I had to scramble along them until I figured out where the trail picked up on the other side.

It was about this time, as I stopped to admire Mount St. Helens to the northwest, that another hiker overtook me on the boulders. At least twenty years older than me, with a pair of hiking poles, he appeared to move slow and robotically… but somehow was ripping along the rocks without a sign of stress. If I weren’t annoyed at being passed by an old guy, I’d be impressed.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

So, as I tried to shove away my own neuroses, nature once again decided to work its magic in distracting me.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I lurched around the bend, now on the south side of the summit loop. And there was Mount Hood, being the perfect mountain once again (sorry, Mt. Adams, I still love you).

I paused on yet another talus field, just above a massive forest, and took in the sight of Hood. I’m normally used to seeing the mountain from the other side – and a bit further away. This was a nice change. One day, I’d like to get a crack at Hood, but since Mount Defiance was kicking my ass on a dayhike, I’d imagine it will be some time before I’m ready for that one.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Eventually, I pressed on, now turning back north to the summit. And, at exactly 11:16, the summit came into view, where I was greeted with… a radio tower and fenced-off communications compound, complete with a gravel access road. Yeah, that takes away a bit of the romance from the journey.

But there were a bunch of boulders on the south end of the summit, and sitting on them allowed me to relax and enjoy lunch while gazing at Mount Hood. The three climbers that passed me were all on the rocks, enjoying a well-earned break.


Me on the summit of Mount Defiance – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After nearly five hours and six and half miles, I had done it. Well, half of it. I was at an elevation of either 5,010 or 4,959 feet, depending on the source.

By 11:30, other hikers were arriving at the summit. My goodwill toward other human beings was starting to diminish once again. So I bid farewell to people who would doubtless pass me up again soon, and wandered around the back of the communications compound to pick up the northbound summit loop, and headed back down.

The route down somehow felt steeper. Some of that was fatigue, I’m sure. Also, I had run out of water, and was really wanting to get back to a water fountain.

It took about an hour, but the steepness eased a bit, and I came up on Warren Lake. Campsites dotted the shoreline. The view was tranquil and quite lovely.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It also gave me a chance to wash off my charcoal-covered hands and face. Priorities.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Moving on northeast from the lake, the path was fairly flat for nearly a mile. I came across a junctions for other routes, and after some time, the trail began dropping faster once more. I was heading more or less north, back to the Columbia.

My legs were getting sore, and balance was increasingly shaky. I wasn’t turning my ankles like I was going down Dog Mountain, thanks to better-laced boots and ankle braces – man, I’m getting old. But I was feeling run down. The hike wasn’t THAT long, but even with the gorgeous scenery, it was feeling more like a slog.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At around 1 pm, I got a glimpse of the peak of Defiance through the trees. Several large talus fields lay beyond, paths only marked by large cairns. My clumsiness made some of the scrambling rather interesting. But I survived, and continued hobbling along.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

By 2 pm, I was hitting some tight switchbacks. A lone trail runner came zipping past me. He gave a brief hello, and kept jogging. He was the last person I would see until I got back down to river level.

Around 2:20, another massive talus field beckoned.

Only this one had an incredible view about halfway across.

I hunkered down on a rock for yet another break, and took in the sight of Mount Adams, posing majestically to the north, dominating the skyline of southern Washington. It was magnificent.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After that was just a long, steep, winding drop through the woods. The views largely disappeared, as the path sunk down in between the valleys.

I staggered on for another hour or so. My mouth was dry, I was drenched in sweat, and my left knee and right ankle were both giving me grief. I was still enjoying myself, but lamenting my lack of conditioning. And I was moving slllllooooow.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

A little past 3:30, I stumbled into a clearing. Well, make that the top of a cliff. Here I was, back at the Columbia River. Or, about 1,400 feet above it. At the top of the field was a massive powerline structure. I could hear something screeching at the top of the framework. It took me a minute to locate, but when I did, I realized I came across an osprey nest. And Mama Osprey made it clear I wasn’t welcome. I tried to move quickly underneath the power lines to pick the trail back up.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I looked down to catch a great glimpse of the Gorge below, as well as the exposed switchbacks that would take me down for at least the next 400 or so feet.

The osprey kept swooping down close to my head, so I made a beeline for the trail, and motored for the first switchback, hoping she would chill out once I got down below the top of the cliff area.

Fortunately, that did help, and she went back to the nest. Meanwhile, I was feeling increasingly off-balance and tired. The view below me was spectacular, and just a bit unnerving. Also, across the Gorge was a clearer view of Dog Mountain. Of course, Dog Mountain is “only” 2,900 feet from top to bottom, but it was a cool moment to look at a massive formation and be able to say to myself, “I climbed that.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Dog Mountain – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After snapping out of my self-indulgent reverie, I continued staggering down the hill.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The exposed section finally dove back into the trees, giving me much-needed shade.

I could hear I-84 clearly now, and I thought I could make out the sound of one of the waterfalls.

Naturally, every time I managed a glance through the trees down to the river, it still seemed like it was miles away.  My glacial pace lurching down the trail wasn’t helping matters.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Finally, I came up on the Starvation Ridge Cutoff Trail Junction. This point, around 600 feet above the river, would represent a significant shortcut to my return journey.

Naturally, it was closed.

I will admit to being tempted to try to rush the return, braving whatever hazards lay beyond. In the back of my fatigue-addled mind, I figured if I came up to an obstacle I didn’t think I could clear, I would just turn around and take the long way home.

On the other hand, I like living and all that. If the Forest Service or whomever thought it was important to close the cutoff at both ends, it probably wasn’t worth saving half an hour if it also meant risking a nasty fall.

So, a deep sigh, some grumbling, and I turned around and took the long way, back west parallel to the river, and around and down.


Can you see the power lines with the osprey nest? – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At around 4:30, I found myself back on the paved road, strolling along the highway. It made for a nice cool-down period, as I moseyed back to the parking lot at the trailhead. It took me around 10 hours to stumble around 13 miles, as well as 5,000ish feet up and 5,000 feet back down. There are people in better shape who could (and did!) do it in half the time. But for someone only just getting back into serious hiking, I felt accomplished.

As I was driving back home, I didn’t want to think about clambering around on rocks again for awhile. However, a week later, I’m already preparing for the next one. Ideally, I’ll be getting into better shape for future hikes, too.

Tentatively, the next couple hikes will be Silver Star Mountain in Washington, and Saddle Mountain on the Oregon coast. I’ll probably be boring people with my experiences (and photos) from those hikes as well.

Posted in Adventure, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Acting Guilty

Generally, when one is accused of a crime, and one doesn’t want to be thought of as guilty (whether actually guilty or not), said individual would be wise to not… y’know… act guilty.

Okay, I’m starting off on a snarky foot. Lemme backtrack just a bit here.

Within Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives for election tampering, was a paragraph that explained those operatives were working with somebody connected to the Trump campaign.

That individual wasn’t named, but I think it’s a safe bet the Trump team will distance themselves from that person as soon as the name is revealed.

Once the specifics of the connection are publicly established, I would bet it wouldn’t take all that long to figure out how close to Trump the conspiracy gets. Special Counsel Mueller may already know that answer by now, or at least have a good idea.

I use the word conspiracy, as “collusion” is a largely meaningless term in a legal sense. But a criminal conspiracy charge (or something similar), seems increasingly likely to be directed at one or more people within the Trump campaign.

Now, this part alone makes the “witch hunt” mantra laughable. But what’s more significant is figuring how closely connected this individual is with Trump himself. To quote Senator Howard Baker, “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

That’s a question that deserves an answer.

To those who are screaming at Mueller and Rosenstein to “hurry it up,” and “end the witch hunt already,” I only have this to say:

*     It took two years and two months from the Watergate break-in to Nixon’s resignation.

*     Iran-Contra resulted in indictments of a dozen high ranking people, took six and a half years for the final report to be published, and arguably should have led to the downfall of both the President and Vice President.

*     Whitewater started as an investigation into a money-losing land deal in Arkansas in the 1980s, lasted eight years, and eventually transformed into a sprawling investigation that uncovered the fact that the president lied about an affair. Oh yeah, and there was no criminal action involved in the land deal.

*     Meanwhile, in the year 2018, Robert Mueller is investigating whether or not a successful American presidential campaign knowingly sought and received assistance from a hostile foreign power in order to improve their election chances.

With these things in mind, my question is, what’s your hurry?

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to note that foreign election meddling is at least as significant to the American people now as Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater were in their days.

So why not wait and see where this goes? If one is a supporter of Donald Trump, isn’t it important to know whether or not he conspired with a foreign entity to defraud the American public? If it were a president I supported, I sure as hell would want to know the answer to that.

Innocent until proven guilty? Sure. But a hint of guilt requires investigation. And persistently guilty behavior warrants a persistent investigation.

If Trump wanted to prove he wasn’t in Putin’s pocket, he should probably stop doing his best to tear apart alliances that provide a counterweight to Russian influence. Like when he called the European Union “a foe” of the United States, or demanded that Russia be returned to the G7, or when he vaguely threatened to dismantle NATO.

It would probably help if he didn’t insist on meeting with Putin after Mueller’s fresh round of indictments, or stand on a stage with Putin and admit he believed Putin’s denials of election interference over the evaluation of the entire US intelligence community.

Oh yes, he did that. When asked directly about whether or not he would denounce Putin for the Russian election hacking, he rambled on about Hillary’s emails for awhile, then his rambles veered to the topic, and he said, “…With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, my people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said, they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties.”

And then he rambled back over to Hillary for awhile longer. He does that often. But in the middle there, he did this other thing, where he said he believed a dictator of another country over the word of his intelligence chiefs. He did this right next to Putin himself.

Former CIA chief John Brennan described Trump’s meeting and comments with Putin as treasonous. While it’s true Brennan has made no secret of his personal distaste for Trump, is there an argument there? As I’ve written about before, Trump himself is no stranger to tossing around the word treason rather loosely.

As I described in that earlier piece, treason is described as (according to Title 18 of the US Code), Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States. 

Can we describe Russia as an “enemy?” Well, we know quite clearly that the Russian military intelligence coordinated and carried out extensive hacking operations against American political institutions, primarily those allied with the Democratic Party. We have solid evidence that they funneled money and assistance to Republican candidates, using groups like the NRA. And of course, we know of plenty of examples of communication between persons associated with the Trump campaign, and Russian government and business officials.

“If it’s what you say, I love it.”

Remember that gem from Don Jr., responding to Russian offers of dirt on Hillary Clinton, and the subsequent meeting, of which details have changed several times?

Remember the emails between Wikileaks and Roger Stone? Or the other emails between them and Don Jr.?

Remember George Papadopoulos bragging about his Russian contacts?

We know the Russians DID compromise both campaigns and actual voting infrastructures. We know Trump himself publicly requested these acts. We know members of the Trump campaign sought out Russian (and others) assistance.

We know quite a lot.

As of this writing, July 16, 2018, we don’t know for certain if Donald Trump knew what was happening with Russian interference, while it was happening.

There are those who might know. There are those who do know, one way or another.

Whatever the truth is, it’s clear that Trump doesn’t know one thing in particular: It’s better to swallow his ego and acknowledge what everyone else knows, than to act guilty.

He was willing to stand on a stage in Finland, and tell the world he trusted a dictator over his own intelligence officials.

I don’t know for certain Russia is an “enemy” in the sense the Founders intended. But any nation that seeks to undermine free and fair elections in another is – at the very least – a foe. There should be no question that they attacked the US in 2016, and seek to continue those attacks two years later.

And for a national leader to blatantly support such a foe certainly feels wrong, if not specifically treasonous.

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Yesterday, I penned a brief missive on my Facebook page regarding pleas for civility in the political world. I’m not sure I said everything I wanted to in that initial post, so I’m going to spit out a quick follow-up. I hope this makes some degree of sense…


Less than two years ago, a famously vulgar man managed to eke out an electoral college win in the US Presidential election, despite frequently uttering crass language, owning a long history of racism and misogyny, and frequently calling for violence against his opponents. Oh yeah, and that whole… whaddyacallit… constant lying thing.

And believe it or not, despite this, I have previously found myself agreeing with those on the left (and some of the more genteel pundits on the right) who argued that Trump opponents would be best to avoid sinking to his level. Michelle Obama famously exhorted the Democratic Convention to “go high, when they go low.”

Nearly two years after that convention, Donald Trump is president. And to list the failures and harmful acts of his administration in a comprehensive manner would now take many thousands of words. Hell, it took me almost 6,000 words just to list his faults and failures BEFORE he became president.  If one has been paying attention (and has avoided trapping themselves in a self-sustaining media bubble), they likely already comprehend the disaster that has been the Trump presidency.

Suffice to say, while a lack of civility has been a good way to describe the atmosphere of this administration – it isn’t even close the root of the problem.

Yes, Donald Trump frequently tweets insults about people he feels have wronged him – usually celebrities, politicians, and members of the media. Yes, he famously bragged about sexually assaulting women with impunity. And he certainly implored his supporters to physically harm those who opposed him.

Donald Trump is an uncivil man (to be extremely generous). And doing the same things he does back to him would be a pointless and unfortunate endeavor. I personally don’t recommend it.

But lately, something else has been happening, thrown under the larger umbrella of “uncivil” behavior. Citizens opposing the words and actions of the President have been pushing back with more than just scathing thinkpieces, or participation in the occasional subuded march down their local Main Street.

The White House press secretary was asked (politely and discreetly) to leave a restaurant. A senior policy advisor and the head of Homeland Security were both heckled at other restaurants. The Florida attorney general – a prominent Trump supporter – was heckled at a movie theater. A comedian called the press secretary a liar to her face. A Democratic congresswoman expressed support for the aforementioned shenanigans.

Naturally, politicians and pundits on the right have had a field day with this. “So much for liberal tolerance” is basically a reflex statement for many American conservatives. Yet, those snowflakes have been blowing up at every perceived transgression against them for ages now, so it’s not like there’s any surprise recent events have, um… triggered them.

But now, prominent centrists, and even liberals have also been aghast at the perceived poor manners of those opposing Donald Trump. There seems to be a reflexive urge among some to treat “civility” as an overarching principle that must never be compromised.

But this definition of civility has such a narrow scope.

When I mentioned near the beginning of this piece that I agree it’s best not to behave like Trump in opposing him – that’s not the same as saying “confrontation should always be avoided.” Telling a liar to their face that they are indeed a liar isn’t what I would call uncivil. Allowing a harmful lie to spread and be accepted by the populace as fact – well, I think that’s far more harmful to civil society.

Being polite and attempting to stick to the old norms clearly isn’t working. The Trump Administration doesn’t care about facts and rational debate.

I’m not saying we have to act as though norms are meaningless. But we do need to understand that only one side cares about them anymore, and if we ever want them to exist again, we may have to stop pretending that David Brooks and Thomas Friedman represent the modern conservative consensus.

Sarah Sanders is the propaganda spreader. She parrots the lies of her boss – and the rest of this corrupt and incompetent administration.

Kirstjen Nielsen is in charge of an already highly problematic law enforcement organization that exists primarily as a massive overreach against supposed threats to national security. Much of the blame for the manufactured humanitarian crisis of forcibly separated refugee children lies at her feet.

Stephen Miller is an avowed white nationalist, and is the primary architect behind explicitly bigoted policies like the anti-Muslim travel ban.

Pam Bondi, as Florida Attorney General, solicited and (then received) a bribe from Donald Trump in order to back away from prosecuting his tax fraud.

All of them have supported and defended (and in 3 cases, worked for) a man who has averaged more than 6 public lies a day for the past five hundred plus days, who is a confessed sexual predator, and whose administration is guilty of providing aid and comfort to dictators, disrupting global trade, badly crippling the chances of slowing climate change, worsening economic inequality, rapidly increasing the national debt, and disenfranchising millions of voters (to name but a few misdeeds).

Why are we allowing the conversation to shift to civility?

Let’s look at it another way:

Have you ever pointed at something in front of a dog? Generally, the dog doesn’t look where you’re pointing. They usually look at your finger. They miss the… um, point.

That’s what we’re dealing with here.

Worrying about civility is completely missing the point. If protesters physically harmed Nielsen or Miller, or the restaurant owner gave other customers Sanders’ home address – or if something equally wrong had occurred – THEN we could talk about the need for civility.

That’s not what happened. But what did happen isn’t what’s important here.

People who have been entrusted with running the American government are committing long-lasting harm against this country, and its people. They’ve managed to cause harm to people who aren’t even citizens.

For months, they’ve been HOLDING CHILDREN HOSTAGE for the sake of scoring a potential legislative victory.

Why should we allow them to be comfortable about this? Why should we, as citizens – THEIR BOSSES – allow them to cause the harm they’ve caused without some pushback? Sarah Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen, Stephen Miller, and Pam Bondi are supposed to be accountable to the citizens of this land. Americans exercising their right to protest is something that only strengthens our democracy.

Protest isn’t always “civil.” So what? Why is that suddenly the point? Why is the party of “Grab them by the pussy” so worried about people playing nice? And why is the opposition so worried about offending the pussy grabber?

Why the hell are we looking at the finger, and not the problem that its pointing to?

I do my best to be civil in my personal affairs. I say please and thank you, and do my best not to interrupt. I try to avoid using personal insults. When all things are equal, I think this is the best way to operate on a daily basis.

However, things are not equal, and have not been equal for some time.

Push aside talk of civility. Don’t let them distract you. There are serious problems we need to talk about. If it takes making the causes of these problems a bit uncomfortable from time to time, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes to force change. Being nice certainly hasn’t helped.

Sarah Sanders had to take her dinner to go. Her boss instituted a policy of taking children from their parents as they came to the border to seek asylum, then held them in detention in order to force a vote on his pipedream of a border wall.

Why are we focusing on Sarah’s dinner?

Posted in immigration, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Hiking Report – Dog Mountain

And now for something completely different…

The world of politics, diplomacy, refugees, and climate change isn’t going away.

But, once in a while, a vacation is helpful.

This is going to be the start of what I hope to become a (semi) regular series… I want to talk about hiking and climbing. In particular, I want to actually hike a trail and/or climb a mountain, and then talk about it here. These pieces won’t necessarily be trip reports in the same vein as what you might find on http://www.oregonhikers.org/ or https://www.summitpost.org/. But they will be my personal thoughts on the experience of these trails.

Last October, I moved to Portland, Oregon from Kansas City, Missouri. The move was for work, but I’ve always loved the Pacific Northwest, and always hoped to end up here. In particular, I loved the mountains and the hiking. This is – for my money – possibly the most beautiful part of the United States. And since hiking and climbing are already among my favorite activities (apart from online rabble-rousing), I was excited for the chance to spend time wandering around this area. So, I decided to give myself a birthday present. I took the day off work, and set out along the Columbia River for my first serious Northwest hike in about a decade.

I knew I wanted elevation, but I also knew I’m in mediocre shape – and now closer to 40 than 30. It would be wise to build myself up before trying to tackle something serious. So, after some research, I came up with Dog Mountain, in the Columbia Gorge, on the Washington side. Fairly steep and strenuous, but not particularly high, long, or dangerous. The vistas look lovely, and every trip report seemed to be enthusiastic. If Dog Mountain proved to be something I could handle, then perhaps in a couple weeks, I would look across the Gorge at Mt. Defiance – a hike nearly twice as long and twice as high.

So, emboldened by this research, just this past Friday morning, I set out from my home in Portland, and headed east down the river. Dog Mountain is just past the town of Stevenson – about an hour from downtown Portland. The trailhead is a wide gravel parking lot right off of Highway 14. It tends to get busy on the weekends, so I made sure to be there on a weekday, relatively early. At the time I arrived, there were only a couple other cars in the lot.

An information/pay station stands near the start of the trail, as well as this sign:

Dog Mountain Trail Start

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

3.8 miles to the top? Piece of cake.

Mmmm… cake. Dammit, now I’m hungry.

Okay, where was I? Right… time to start walking.

At this point, it was about 8:15. I originally wanted to show up earlier, but a warm bed slowed me down just a bit that morning.

Speaking of walking, I have to emphasize that a good pair of hiking shoes is invaluable. Maybe something with some ankle support. You’ll appreciate that – especially on the way back down.

The trail gets steep right from the get-go. It starts off wide and is initially mostly gravel, but gradually turns into dirt – albeit with a healthy amount of fist-sized rocks scattered along the way.

There’s a pair of restrooms (compost toilets, no sinks) just a few hundred feet from the start, but then after that, it’s just you, the trail, and the woods. And possibly many other hikers, though at just past 8 AM on a Friday, the trail was mostly empty.

Dog Mountain Trail lower trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail inclines steeply, with plenty of tight switchbacks through the woods. Now and then, a gap will appear, providing lovely (but still low) views of the Columbia Gorge.

Dog Mountain Trail early - view through the forest

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And now and then, obstacles – usually trees – dot the path.

Dog Mountain Trail - a tree in the trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

You’re going to take this path for the first 0.7 miles. And I will admit, after scoffing at “only” 3.8 miles at the start, I quickly gained respect for that whole gravity thing. Walking 0.7 miles on level ground with a smooth surface is pretty easy. Doing it uphill on dirt and rocks is… well, less easy, especially if you don’t pace yourself. Despite the 55 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, my hoodie came off pretty quickly. Stylishly wrapped by the arms around my waist, of course. I felt kind of silly even bringing it, as I was quickly dripping with sweat. And now I looked like a scruffy imitation of an 80’s preppy teen bully.

Dog Mountain Trail - Early switchback

Look – a switchback! Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As one heads up the trail, it’s highly recommended to stay on the trail. Poison oak abounds, and an attempted shortcut between switchbacks might end up being rather… uncomfortable.

Dog Mountain Trail - a tree off the trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

But the vegetation is lovely, even from the trail. And animal life is plentiful, although they make themselves heard more than seen, as birds chirp overhead, and the branches shake with squirrel gladiatorial games being waged in the canopy.

Well, that’s the mental image I had. Maybe hiking alone was a bad idea.

But I digress.

Meanwhile, after those 0.7 miles that feel just a teensy bit longer – you come to a junction. This is the “difficult” path versus the “more difficult” path. Every guide I’ve read tells me there isn’t actually a huge difference in difficulty between the two paths – but the merely “difficult” path to the right (a newer and shinier one, I might add), is vastly more scenic, running along the edge of the mountain closer to the Gorge.

Dog Mountain Trail - Fork in the road

Decisions…  Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I’m more than willing to take the advice of people who’ve already been there – and I did kind of show up for the vistas. So, about 25 minutes into the hike, I took the path to the right, and plunged into the woods.

I noticed the wind was picking up a bit, but I was still warm enough to justify the hoodie remaining firmly around my waist. But my now sweaty legs were objecting to my choice of wearing jeans, instead of something lighter and looser.

As I pushed forward – and up (mostly up), I found myself in a wide forest, where the path was mostly straight, and the forest was filled with evenly spaced, mostly bare trunks. The effect was surprisingly spooky, but also quite serene. At this point, I had only encountered one other pair of hikers on the path, and they were on their way down. I had the mountain to myself, and it was exactly what I was hoping for.


More switchbacks!   Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Look up! Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Oh yeah, and there was also the spooky hut. It showed no sign of recent occupation, although my expertise in these matters is limited. Also, my urge to suddenly re-enact Scooby Doo was powerful at that point. I let out one Zoinks!, and moved on.

Finally, 1.2 miles past the juncture – and about an hour into the hike – I came out of the forest to a clearing – the lower lookout. There were views of the Gorge in both directions, and it was absolutely stunning. It was also fairly windy up here. The hoodie ended up coming back on.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


It’s me, being stoic. Or, maybe just silly. Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After some time enjoying the view, I headed back up the trail, back into the forest.

The trail was noticeably steeper at this point, and the bare lower branches of the trees at this point were covered in moss. They looked kind of like broken green ladders.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 9:30, I reached the point where the “More Difficult” trail met up with my bunny slope. A sign very kindly informed me of my progress:


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The sky had darkened at this point, and a mist had started to fall. I’m not sure what the difference is between fog and a cloud, but I was in a light version of one of them.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At around 9:50, I finally caught a glimpse of the summit meadow, just above me. The trees were now mostly behind (and below), and the trail was more exposed. Also, the cloud/fog/poison mist was pretty heavy, and I couldn’t see the gorge, or even much of the mountain below – which was admittedly disappointing. I was hoping the covering would be on its way before I reached the summit. I did get a brief glimpse of the gorge below through a fleeting gap in the clouds, and it felt like a bit of a tease.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The wind was also picking up strength. I rounded a bend to the left, and there was the old fire lookout point, also known as Puppy Dog Lookout. It was just about 10 AM. At this point, the view was still pretty minimal, but I could tell I was up high (2525 ft), and quite exposed. It appeared that the final push to the peak was starting here. So, I rounded the bend, and trudged into the wind and mist through the meadow.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The next sign on the trail was not all that useful.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The meadow became steeper on both sides, until it turned into a ridge, complete with some rocky outcroppings. The steepness of the path, the limited visibility, and the high winds, all combined to create a disorienting effect. I had to slow down. I can’t say I felt like I was in danger, but the conditions were harsher than I had anticipated.

Finally, as the trail narrowed, it switched back one more time, and then up to the top of the summit meadow. There were some wildflowers left, but not like some of the photos I’ve seen from late May and early June.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path itself started to level, no longer heading steeply up. This was a bit of a relief.

The wind, however, was stronger than ever. I’m not a great judge of guessing windspeed, but a very rough estimate of 30-40 mph seems about right. Gusts maybe closer to 50. The grass and the flowers were dancing with some enthusiasm. A few hundred feet past the last turn, there was a spur up and to the left, that went hundred feet or so. It ended up in a dirt covered clearing, with a small ring of trees at the top. This was the summit. Further behind the summit were much larger trees, towering over me. I recognized that they started behind the ridge, much lower, but it was a strange effect, to be at the top of a mountain, looking up at treetops.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


I lingered for a few minutes, but the view wasn’t improving, and a couple pairs of hikers were appearing on the summit with me. I headed back down the spur to the main path. I had the option of returning the way I came, or heading forward down the path.


The summit grove. Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

According to the maps and guides, this would take me back to the fire lookout through more forest.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I figured I should see as much as possible – and maybe the forest would help block some of the wind.

It was only a few hundred feet from the summit spur to the start of the forest, but I quickly discovered that this was much denser and heavier than the woods on the lower part of the mountain. The rain had made the leaves wet, and the ground mushy. At points, the vegetation was so heavy that I couldn’t see where my feet were stepping – which is not a good thing when walking down an unknown (to me) trail 2900 feet above the ground below. I didn’t last long. Pushing through the brush, stepping off the trail repeatedly, and having to duck beneath branches that would make Danny DeVito do the limbo was more than I felt like dealing with. At least the path back had the potential to be scenic – and more importantly – I could see where I was going. So I turned back. I found myself back on the summit meadow. I even ran back up the spur to the summit itself, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the clouds would start to clear. But… not yet.

At about 10:35, I decided to start heading back. Back down the meadow, back to the switchback and the ridge on the west side of the summit slope.  Then, as I glanced to my right, I could start to see a shimmer through the clouds. It was clearing up! And I could began to see this great view everyone raved about.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I followed the path down the ridge, heading back to the fire lookout. More people were now popping up on the trail. I was grateful I started out when I did, so I was able to enjoy the first half in solitude.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The winds were still strong, but they were blowing the clouds away, so that was something. Just before 11, I made it back to the lookout. And by then, the clouds had largely cleared. Just in time.

Yeah, a written description couldn’t do it justice. The photos really don’t, either, but it’s closer. Please enjoy these, and consider taking a trip to Dog Mountain, yourself:


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Below is me again, pointing at my next target – Mt. Defiance. If the image were better, you could get a better view of the peak of Mt. Hood just poking over the ridge.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After a few minutes of photos and gawking, I turned back down the way I came.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

No longer fighting gravity, the path was quicker… but I also failed to tie the top part of my hiking shoes, and I kept rolling my ankles on the rocks in the trail. Part of the problem was me being clumsy, and part of it was my rubber ankles… Still, to the poor souls slogging through this, make sure you have good hiking shoes, and make sure you have ’em laced up all the way. Because ouch. My ankles are still sore, two plus days later.

But I kept staggering downhill, now muttering hello to hikers coming up the other way every few minutes. Definitely glad I started early.

Funny thing was, despite my general disinterest in interacting with strange people, I was pleasantly surprised to note that there was a sense of camaraderie among my fellow hikers. People asked me how the hike was, if there were flowers on the upper meadows, even just how I was doing. It was all pretty normal stuff – but for me, it was a good feeling. I stopped to chat briefly with a couple groups as I made my way down, and I didn’t hate it. And that seriously is a big deal for me.

Just about 4 hours after starting, with aching ankles, I clambered down to the trailhead.

I’m not an expert hiker. I’m not all that experienced. But I’m now living in an excellent area to become more experienced. If things go well, I’m going to do this again in a couple weeks. Dog Mountain got me hooked. It was long and intense enough to feel like I made a real effort, but it also wasn’t so grueling that I couldn’t handle it. The views were stunning and the environment was just lovely in general. And even the people I encountered were universally friendly.

This was a good day, and I hope to share more of them in the future.


Posted in Adventure, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments