Hiking runs through every inch of my body and although I can’t confirm this, I’m almost positive I was born with a backpack and hiking boots on. I’ve rattled by donkeys down the Grand Canyon’s careening trails. Witnessed dawn’s mist peek over the Andes and kiss Machu Picchu good morning. Gasped for air at a summit in the Himalaya’s in awe of Mt. Everest. Even retraced steps after intruding upon a feeding grizzly on the banks of the Yellowstone River. Hiking can lead to rewards that pictures can’t do justice. It’s the patient man’s natural lottery. And Lost Lake, within Mt. Hood Wilderness, became my lucky ticket.
Since moving to Portland from Las Vegas, I’ve been itching to get out and explore the surrounding wilderness. With a couple days of down time I began searching for interesting hikes in books and online. Lost Lake showed up in one of my books regarding can’t miss fishing destinations. After running it through Google I learned that Lost Lake is the second most photographed lake in Oregon, to only Crater Lake. Although the fishing was raved about for it’s trophy trout, I decided not to bring my fishing gear. Too often when I strap a rod to my backpack I forget to take in everything around me, focusing only on the singular purpose of bringing trout to shore. Without having any idea of what to expect on my journey, I left Portland early so I would have a full day to get in as many hikes as possible.
The drive to Lost Lake from Portland follows Highway 84 to Hood River, passing Multnomah Falls. There are hikes here that overlook the trickling falls, but every time I pass the parking lot from the highway there are so many minivans, RV’s, and busses that it turns me off. The falls are undeniably gorgeous as they plunge off a rock face within the Columbia River Gorge, but for me, hiking is something I do to get away from crowds. To actually feel like I’m part of nature, not on a tour. Especially when I’m alone. Continuing through Hood River I got on Dee Highway 281 for about 20 miles, before seeing a sign for Lost Lake and a prompt turn off to my right. Once off the highway, the drive opened up. Sprawling on both sides of the road were orchards of various fruits before the road swayed through the mountainside, allowing Hood River’s emerald undercurrents into view. After one last bend I finally arrived at the kiosk for Lost Lake.
The entrance reminded me of an entrance to a National Park, something I honestly wasn’t prepared for considering the namesake of Lost Lake (Indians termed the lake the ‘heart of the mountains’, which seemed to be a better name for the lake considering the crowds, even on a Monday). After paying for the day use area, I got my first glimpse of Lost Lake. It was breathtaking, as pines engulfed the bank around the 3.37-mile circumference. The water was harpooned by the sun directly overhead, crystalizing the deep water and cutting through the shallow water near shore. Mahogany row boats lined the north shore as fishermen began their days. I could have sat there all day, content to watch people splash through the water and listen to the birds overhead, but I had a map of trails in my hand and with it the adventures seemed endless.
I decided my first of several hikes would be the Lost Lake Butte trail, described as a 2-mile ascent climbing 1400 feet to it’s summit. The trailhead began just past the general store amongst a trail engulfed by overgrown shrubs and menacing trees. Sunlight was sparse throughout the trail, but the steep climb foreshadowed a passing of the tree line at some point. The air was crisp, and on my ascent I felt as if the trail was all mine. Spider webs glistened from tree to tree as I punched through them like a racer at the finish line. I wasn’t sure why I hadn't seen anyone else on the trail. Maybe the trail description advising people to ‘eat their Wheaties’ before attempting this trail scared people off, but if someone wanted to complete this hike, it could be done. It was steep, but after the initial climb the switchbacks allow for a more gradual climb, assuring that even a novice hiker could complete the trail in due time. This is one of my favorite things about hiking. It’s more about desire and persistence than athleticism or brawn. It may take some people longer to reach their destination, but it’s never out of the realm of possibility. If someone were to get tired on the Lost Lake Butte trail there are overturned logs peppered amongst the embankments of the trail.
I wasn’t exactly sure what my destination would unearth, but as the trees became sparse and views off the butte’s face revealed the Columbia River Gorge in the distance, I knew I was close. After a 45-minute hike, I came over the last peak and arrived at the summit of the butte. Four large boulders created a perfect spot to lay down my backpack as I took in the surrounding view. It was as if Mt. Hood shifted directly in front of my face, its white snow still glowing as clouds hovered over it’s peak. At the foot of the mountain pine trees zig-zagged, revealing past logging expeditions. I stood at about 4,400 feet, but felt smaller than ever. Initially this was going to be my first hike, but as I gazed over the valley, allowing my eyes to separate the mountains from the horizon, I stopped thinking about what I was going to do next and started realizing what I was doing now. Too often I worry about what’s next without enjoying what’s right in front of me, but hiking is the perfect remedy.
Hiking forces me to never take a step for granted, for one misplaced ankle turn can end a hike before it begins. Each turn on a new trail is a memory that can’t be erased. Sure, I have pictures of amazing destinations on hikes I’ve been on, but more importantly, I have stories for the journeys it took to get there. Machu Picchu wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t remember ditching everyone in our crew in a dead sprint to make it in time for sunrise. Coming up on a bear would have been insignificant if we would not have left our bear spray on the bank of the rivers. Seeing Mt. Everest wouldn't have been possible without taking breaths every 500 yards at the highest altitude I had ever hiked at. And the summit of the Lost Lake Butte trail wouldn’t still be painted in my mind if I didn’t decide to stop and enjoy the moment for what it was. Hiking fast over treacherous trails is a skill, but so is being able to stop hiking, and simply enjoy nature’s lottery.
So great to read & know that nature is still so powerful to your generation! Have you ever thought of writing a book? Your writing is exceptional!
I've been fishing with you (Man of Trout article) and now hiking and, I'm not a fisherman or hiker :) It's almost as if I'm right there with you! Your writing is capturing and relatable. And, your journeys into nature helps me put life into perspective reminding me not to sweat the small stuff. Consider persuing writing...I'll buy your book...seriously! When I start reading your articles, I find myself waiting and wanting it to lead into a storyline but remember that it's a two page article and not a novel. Good work!