A Multigenerational Hike Through An Oregon Gem

A grandfather, mother, and son set out for a hike up beautiful Saddle Mountain in the Oregon Coast Range. They're rewarded with incredible views and a priceless family experience. Read this first hand account from Mountaineer Rebecca Sanchez.
Rebecca Sanchez Rebecca Sanchez
June 19, 2019
A Multigenerational Hike Through An Oregon Gem
Willapa Bay, Washington as seen from Oregon. Photo by Rebecca Sanchez.

When I get to the top of a summit, I have an inexplicable urge to stretch my arms wide open, put my palms up toward the sky, and soak it all in. Like being one with nature through osmosis! My soul is breathing it in. Innate and metaphysical, ritual with nature calls me, and it can only be fed atop a mountain. I found it again on Saddle Mountain in Oregon.

As a family, we set out in a multigenerational line headed up the trail through the alders: my father, myself, and my son. We simply sought a day hike in pleasant weather. My son, armed with Sibley’s tree identification book; me, armed with my Canon AE-1 and a roll of Kodak 200. My father carries no extras except for snacks. Early spring, in the Oregon coast range, is more likely than not to be a host to rainy weather; and in fact, my last hike up this trail with my father was in a foggy mist. But this morning was a gem. Clear blue sky beamed in every direction, and the only hint of moisture was in the low hanging fog that rested in the ripples of valleys below us.

We carried nature books and cameras “just in case” opportunities arose. Arise they did, and we started to lose time… and the grandfather, due to all the “stop you in your tracks” sights along the trail. Bird chirps sent my son to a phone app in which he would listen to the corresponding bird calls while spotting the darting tree swallows. He’s a natural science undergrad, so nature’s plethora of avian life had him scouring our path in search of a better glimpse between this branch or that twig.

As a parent, it warmed my heart to see learning drive him. We watched and identified birds and bonded. Once or twice, we could see his grandfather pausing along the trail above us, making sure we hadn’t fallen off a ledge bird watching.

The trail revealed more magic as we hiked on. The geology of Saddle Mountain tells a violent story of Earth’s formation. Bold, bald rock faces made us feel the need to lean towards the mountainside for lack of trail width. Vertical rock upwards to our right and steep rock slope to our left made us feel like walking on the side of a ball. At a switchback turn, right in the middle of a forested area, a long, jagged outcropping of rocks jutted up about seven feet above the ground in a long arc; it looked like the spine on a stegosaurus. Should have brought a trail geology book too!

Each bend in the trail brought us to another ethereal panorama either towards the inner coast range or to teasing glimpses of ocean as we made our way closer to the saddle. We paused to take in views that no camera could capture with any adequacy. All a traveler can do in such situations is point, with dropped jaw, at her fellow hiker and nod. When we crested the lower peak before the saddle, our attention was stolen again. A red tail hawk rode the high breeze, and we, the land-bound, could only gaze on with envy and awe. No bird book on earth could transcend the vision of morning light glowing through his fan of rusty tail feathers. The wind carried him on, making way for a distant view of the Pacific Ocean. There it was, and we knew that the highest peak was going to prove worthy of the final push today.

We had lost sight of my father for a time. The tree swallows, hawk, and beautiful scenery had captured our attention. But he, unladen with cameras, binoculars, and reference books, had plodded on ahead. We could see him now, standing on the slope opposite the saddle, watching our progress, but he marched on toward the peak.

The trail drops quickly into the saddle, plummeting slopes down either side, and a steep, narrow path climbing up towards the top. I slogged behind, catching my breath now and then; my son paused for more birds, birds who zipped up the slope on one side and disappeared down the drop on the other. They covered this mountain height on each side in mere seconds while I carefully made each footfall count in the crumbly path.

And, finally we summited. A 360-degree view of blue sky and green. I felt like Julie Andrews swinging her arms and singing on the mountain top in the Alps, but I was on the bare rocky dome of Saddle Mountain in the Oregon Coast Range. My arms went wide, stretching out to the West, South, East….and there he was, my 73-year-old father, already at the top! He beat us and was already having a snack like the 1600 feet behind was a piece of cake. Insert here the sound of the Roger’s and Hammerstein record coming to an abrupt stop!

But my attention didn’t stray long. I did a double-take and realized that I caught a glimpse of Washington’s Willapa Bay… from Oregon! Another turn of my outstretched arms brought me to Mt. Jefferson to the southeast, and Hood, and Adams, and St. Helens, then Rainier. Unprecedented… at least in my book.

Time, accomplishment, and epic views with my family is priceless. We were there.

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