View Kings Mountain in a larger map.
This is, roughly speaking, the route
we followed up Kings Mountain.
For experienced hikers only!
The day Leora and I finished snowshoeing around Crater Lake, we headed back to her place in the Coast Range west of Portland. I had a day to kill before my train ride back to Seattle, and Leora offered a few hiking options to choose from. One of which she described as a little off-trail adventure up Kings Mountain.
I’ve been up Kings Mountain once before, but I used a decidedly on-trail option when I did that hike. Leora has done it countless times since she lives near the trailhead, but had never tried this particular off-trail option and wanted to do it with a hiking partner. And she knows I’m a hiker, and that I’m not at all inhibited by the idea of going off trail with nothing more than my wits and a topo map. =)
We parked at the regular trailhead for Kings Mountain, then followed the trail off to Elk Mountain. But no, we weren’t headed to Elk Mountain. We only followed that trail about halfway to the Elk Mountain trailhead. At which point we intersected a small creek without a bridge. That was our landmark to head off trail.
The directions Leora had included an old, overgrown road, but we quickly lost that and scrambled upstream, trying to avoid all the plants with sharp thorns that seem so prevalent in the Pacific Northwest. We found the old road again further upstream, having realized that parts of it had fallen into the creek over the years. The going was quick on the old road—at least when there was an old road to follow. Quick, being a relative term, as compared the speed of crawling on one’s hands and knees, which was probably our average speed when we got of the road.
Eventually, we passed an old log sticking up over the creek, and I joked that Leora should go out to the end of it and pretend to ride it like a horse for a dramatic photo. It would have been a dramatic photo, I thought, but I was just joking. Crawling out to the end of the log would have been needlessly dangerous! But Leora took the challenge a little too seriously and immediately beat a path through the brush to it.
“I was just kidding,” I told her. “I really don’t think you should be doing this!”
But no, she kept going, and when she was sitting out at the end of it, I went a head a took a few photos. May as well! After she got back off, safely (thank goodness!), I said that I would have never even joked about the idea if I realized that she was going to take it so seriously. I learned a valuable lesson, though—don’t joke around Leora about bad ideas. =)
We bushwhacked further up the creek, looking for a junction with another creek, finding a bunch of trash in some rather surprising places. Like an old homeless encampment. And another bunch of trash like some kids threw a party. But they had to do some seriously work to get out here!
We started up one particular slope—far steeper than anything else we had done before, and I started getting the feeling we were going the wrong way. That gut instinct that had my spidey sense on high alert. Part of my concern was the fact that the creek was a lot smaller than when we first started following it. I didn’t remember seeing a fork in the river, but maybe we missed it through all the brush? And if we did miss it, then we were going the wrong direction. And the slope just felt wrong to me. Too steep, too sketchy. We stopped and looked at our topo map, but deep in the valley, we really couldn’t see much to confirm our position or not. But I still felt we were headed in the wrong direction and convinced Leora to backtrack a bit.
We did so, and it was a good decision because we found the fork in the creek. We actually did see the fork before, but we thought it was one of those places where the creek split into two channels and would reconnect behind the “island”—but it never did.
We followed the other branch a short ways, then started veering up a steep hill directly away from the creek following some old game paths. The going was slow, mostly due to the steepness of the terrain rather than the brush. Once we got away from the creek, the brush wasn’t nearly as thick and the thorny bushes were largely left behind. But the route was steep. Very steep.
We took a break at a small landing to catch our breaths and admire the view, then kept pushing ever on and ever higher. We occasionally consulted the map, but it wasn’t particularly useful anymore. Basically, we just had to head ever upwards. The topo map showed a ridge with two towering cliffs on each side, and we were to follow up the side of the ridge all the way to the top of Kings Mountain. As long as we didn’t end up on the sides of the ridge, we’d be fine…
As the air became more rarified, though, our ridgeline became narrower and narrower, the cliffs becoming steeper and longer, and I started growing a bit more concerned about how safe this route actually was. At this point, tripping or slipping could prove to be quite painful and lead to injuries. The going got slower again as we picked routes ever upwards. Leora and I didn’t always follow the same routes upwards. I tended to follow less steep trails when available while Leora would tend towards the ones that went straight up. So I’d switchback away from her, then switchback towards her.
Sometimes we’d find a relatively good game trail that would be easy to walk on and we’d shout out to each other to let each other know it was there and follow it as long as we could. Then it would peter out and we’d slowly pick our way up the mountain again.
Then the trail came out to a particularly narrow ridgetop with a towering thousand-foot cliff on one side and an extremely steep slope on the other—a catwalk that looked more than a little dangerous to cross. The views were wonderful, but I didn’t feel at all comfortable with the idea of crossing it. I realized now that Leora was trying to kill me!
Leora had no problem going out onto the catwalk, but I was leery. In fact, I could probably get across it just fine. But there was no coming back if you tripped or stumbled along this section. You’d be dead before you hit the bottom of the cliff! Even if I could safely cross the catwalk safely 999 times out of 1000, those odds weren’t good enough for me. Nope. I wanted to know that if I should happen to slip or trip, I could survive it!
The fearless Leora crosses the catwalk… You can’t really see it
well in this photo, but that’s a good 1000-foot cliff on her left! Not quite
so bad on the right, but it would still be a bad fall either way! I backtracked
and went around on the steep slope on the right hanging onto branches
and roots the entire way. *nodding*
So I wound up scrambling down the right side of the ridge and slowly navigated around a steep slope that was more vertical than horizontal, grabbing into branches and brush to prevent myself from falling down the slope. If I did slip or fall, I could certainly suffer from some pretty bad injuries and probably need to be rescued, but at least it wouldn’t be a fatality!
Leora made better progress than I did along this section—it was a lot easier to navigate the catwalk than trying to navigate around it. And I was using my hands to get around as much as I was using my feet. Which was exhausting—I walk a lot, but I have absolutely no upper-body strength!
We took more breaks as natural landings presented themselves. Leora reminded me that she told me it was going to be a rough, off-trail trek, but I insisted that she did not. Well, okay, technically, she did say that, but a lot of people say a trail or route is “difficult” and it turns out to be no big deal at all. I’m conditioned to not believe people who claim a route will be difficult! So even if she said that, it didn’t matter because she didn’t tell me that she meant what she was saying! It’s an important distinction. *nodding*
After nearly five hours, we finally spilled out onto an established trail at the the top of Kings Mountain. In all, we probably covered… what? Two miles? I tried creating the route in Google so you can see the terrain it follows.
There’s a register at the top of the mountain, which I signed. Then Leora signed it. Then I signed it again. Then Leora signed it again. And… we’ll, I’ll let you read the details. =)
Then we walked back down the established trail, which took us less than an hour. Nearly five hours to get up to the top, and less than an hour back down to the car. Not an easy hike, but—sheesh, it was more difficult than snowshoeing around Crater Lake! And it doesn’t help that Leora is FEARLESS! Completely FEARLESS! =)