Monday, July 17, 2017

"Steer-way to Heaven" ... Hike of the Week : Cow Heaven

First and foremost -- I didn't make up the terrible pun. But it does make me laugh, which is bad enough. Until I start thinking about what a steer is and why, probably, they wouldn't have been taken up the mountain to graze in the Cow Heaven pastures. But maybe.

We knew we wouldn't be able to hike the entire trail -- we'd read recent trail report of snow, and we only had a set amount of time to hike. How long? Well, it was either 6 or 5 hours. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

This weekend was our second "summit simulation" weekend: two progressively longer hikes. Saturday's was set for at least 3 hours; Sunday's at least 5 hours, or 3,000 feet of elevation. Of course, in my head it was 6 hours, but looking at my official training schedule, it was only 5.

We had hiked 3 mellow hours on the Baker Lake Trail the day before, then camped at Panorama Point -- really nice. Oddly enough, we slept until after 7am in our little tent, which is a lot later than we usually manage to sleep in the summer. Wil made breakfast while I broke down the camp, and we were on the road by 8:15.

The first challenge of this trail was to find it. Oh, sure, we had directions... but were hesitant to drive down what looked like someone's driveway in search of the trailhead. Luckily, it's just a few hundred feet from the ranger station, so we popped in and got confirmation that, yes, you drive up the gravel road and look for the wooden sign. I assure you, it was still a little odd, but we got there.

The flyer on the right is a "lost goats" sign ... I hope the goats are found happy and healthy!

My instinct is that they're fine ... I mean, bears aren't going to go after them, and there's plenty to eat, lots of shelter, etc. Of course, Wil mentioned cougars, but I'm going to say the goats are living it up. In Cow Heaven.

The trail set off through the trees, and soon reached a very wet stretch. Lots of moss, lots of ferns, and lots of water. It honestly looked a bit like something in a Rainforest Cafe.

For a while, the "trail" actually followed the creek bed.

Looking back -- seriously, Rainforest Cafe? Or Cow Heaven?

Then we climbed into a stretch bursting with ferns. Great big ferns up to my waist.

This trail climbs quickly, gaining 4500 feet in under 5 miles. And while the first half mile or so is mellow and meanders through shady glens, that all changes quickly.

Shady glen (above), SWITCHBACK HELL (below):

Okay, okay, so it's still a shady glen, but the switchbacks were nutty. And every so often we'd come across these exposed rock faces or massive boulders.

But, mostly, it was hilly. Sometimes when I take pictures of hills it doesn't look like they're as steep as they felt. This one sure does:

The trail itself was nicely built and well maintained, despite being little visited. We saw one downed tree (which we could easily step over) and one spot which looked like it had been washed out a little. And it just kept going up.

There were a couple of stream crossings, but not troublesome for a hiker in Gore-tex boots.

We were hiking and hiking and Wil said that according to his GPS, we were crawling along at about 1 mile per hour. We scoffed at this -- surely not! There must be something wrong with the GPS! And then we saw this. At just under 2 hours time-wise, and at 2.10 miles on Wil's GPS. #humbling

The trail started to get less happy packed dirt and more exposed rocks and roots. But on we climbed, every so often wondering if things were looking a little brighter, or if that cold wind was from the snow in the meadow. But that was all wishful thinking, of course. The trees did thin a bit, but that was really just enough to let the drizzle come through. That's right -- drizzle. A proper sprinkle. It was RAINING.

Not a soaking rain, and of course we had our waterproofs in our packs. But our spirits were well and truly dampened, and since we hit the 2.5-hour mark, we decided to turn back. It was either that or try to start a fire under this overhanging boulder. Okay, not really. But we did turn back.

We re-crossed some creeks.

Headed back down some switchbacks.

Recrossed my least-favorite crossing.

And continued down the trail. We did also sit down to have a break and a snack at about the 3:30 mark, nibbling on a Kind Bar (cranberry almond) and an Rx Bar (coconut chocolate) before we continued our descent.

Still SO FAR to go!

The whole time we were on the trail -- over 5 hours -- we only came across 3 people. And while I might have yelped when I was startled by the 3rd man, it was my fault. 

We took one #bootie in one of the streams:

But I think this one really captured our time on the trail -- lots of green, and a very steep drop!

Cow Heaven Trail

10 miles round trip (full trail*)
4500 feet elevation
* we hiked 6.2 miles round trip with 2887 feet of elevation


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