Monday, November 2, 2020. It is unseasonably warm in Central Oregon. Time to take advantage of the weather and do something fun. Besides, it’s November 2, which is a day I always take to do something memorable and to reflect. If you don’t know the story behind November 2, I suggest you stop here for the moment and go back to a post that I wrote in November 2019. It’s titled “McCanns in the Emerald Isle and the meaning of 2 November .” After you get the context of that post, then come back here to read this one. Click on the link below to access it.
Welcome back! Now that you know the meaning of November 2, you’ll understand why I chose to hike Hager Mountain in Lake County, Oregon. It is a place I’ve never been to before; it has a fire lookout tower on top; and it is isolated enough to give me time to social distance during a pandemic and reflect on the last two November 2nds.
It’s about a 2 hour drive from Bend and the hike is 4 miles to the top with 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I had to make a quick trip to the college in the morning to pay this month’s health insurance, so I wouldn’t get to the trailhead until noon. The forecast was for 70 degree weather and clear skies—more like Mid-September weather. It gets dark at 5PM now, so the goal was to summit the peak and get back to the car before dark and find a campsite to spend the night.
The first snafu came at the Hager Mountain road turnoff from Highway 31 at Silver Lake. The road was being repaved a few miles in and I had to turn around and find another way. I drove a few miles north to another paved road which was badly damaged by the weather. From there, I could see the outline of Hager Mountain in the distance.
Hager Mountain is in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Deschutes National Forest and the Willamette National Forest, but less time in Fremont-Winema. The name comes from two historic individuals. John C. Fremont was an early Anglo explorer of this region. Winema, on the other hand, was a Modoc Native American woman who married an Anglo man and learned to speak English. She became an interpreter between the Modoc tribe and the U.S.Army during the Modoc War (1872-3). Her real name was Kaitchkona, but she earned the name “Winema” later on, which translates to “Woman Chief” in the Modoc language. Coincidentally, my office at the college is in Modoc Hall.
After getting off the horribly cracked “paved” road, I made a left onto a dirt Forest Service Road and drove about 5 miles until I connected with the original Hager Mountain road and hit good pavement again. I scouted out a few possible campsites for the night on my way to the trailhead. About noon, I found that I would be the only car at the trailhead.
The first couple of miles were not too steep, but continued gradually uphill through a forest of mostly pine trees mixed with bitterbrush and sedges. The forest was pretty open, and there were a lot of deer in the area. Occasionally there were trail markers on trees, so people could find the trail in the winter after the snow had buried the trail.
At the top of a ridge early in the hike, a clearing showed the top of Hager Mountain, with the Forest Service Lookout Tower on top. I had a long way to go!
This darn Covid-19 thing has seen me put on a bit too much weight, so I had to stop often to let my heart rate lower from that of a hummingbird to more like a human’s. If I took too long, I wouldn’t make it back to the car before dark. So, my frequent rest stops were brief….keep on going!
The trail switched back and forth as it continually climbed. For a while, the forest changed from Pine to Mountain Mahogany and the views got better.
The flora on the trail alternated between forest and sub-alpine meadow the rest of the way, depending on hill slope orientation. Finally, breaking out of the last part of forest, I could see the trail zig-zagging below the lookout tower.
There is a picnic table on a flat spot just below the summit….a great place to sit my pack down and fire up the backpack stove and heat up some water to make a mocha. From there, I took the camera and went up to give the lookout tower a closer look. It was a bit of a slog up here, but I made it, so I must be in pretty good shape for the shape that I am in!
I hear that you can rent this space out during the Winter and Spring starting in November, but the website said it was unavailable, probably due to Covid-19.
It’s almost 3PM, so no more time to dawdle if I’m going to make it back to the car before dark. Now, I have time alone on the way back to think about November the 2nd and the state of the world that we live in. The only thing that is getting in the way of that is a blister on my left heel that is starting to annoy me.
I stop a couple more times on the way down, not because my heart is pounding, but just to look back at the mountain.
On the way down, as the sun was getting low in the sky, I accidentally flushed out a Grouse from the underbrush. I’m not sure who was more startled.
Just before dark, I spotted some movement down the trail headed my way. HUMANS! What were they doing out here? I stepped to the side of the trail and let 5 young people pass by. They were just going up for the evening and would be having a picnic under the stars and then descending with headlamps in the dark. Sounds like the way I would like to do this the next time….with friends when Covid is over!
The sun was below the horizon when I reached the car, but there was still enough light to see. I drove back toward the dirt road where I saw good camping places, but drove slowly, due to the number of deer out. We call this time of day “Deer O’Clock.” If this was Alaska, it would be “Bear O’Clock.” Besides normally being crepuscular creatures, the deer were migrating from higher altitudes to lower altitudes, knowing that the snow would soon fly. In fact, a cold front is coming and snow is forecast for this coming weekend. This would be the last day of summer…..in November!
I found my campsite just off the dirt road and had to keep the car lights on to set up the tent. Then, I set up my camp chair and pulled out a beer. I prefer Full Sail Amber, but I think Mike would have liked an IPA better, so I brought a few Joe’s IPA brewed by Ten Barrel Brewing. Although Mike left us two years ago to the day, I opened a beer for him too. I alternated drinking some of mine and then sipping his. No need to fret about the beer getting warm, as it was getting colder outside. I put on another layer of fleece jacket and a hat and looked up at the night stars. Being so far from civilization, there was no light pollution from the city and the Milky Way was fully visible.
I was grateful for the time alone and gave thanks for there being Public Lands for me to escape to. I thought about my friends in the South, Midwest and on the East Coast who don’t have the amount of Public Lands that we have in the West. Where do they go to get away from it all?
These days, I don’t pray as often as I used to or need to, but time alone in Public Lands is good for one’s prayer life. I thought of a friend who was recently diagnosed with Lymphoma, and wished her well. Another friend is caring for a husband suffering from a stroke. Lots of people in the world are struggling with formidable challenges, which makes my difficulties seem trivial.
OOH! A meteorite just flew across the sky and left a long trail as it burned up in the atmosphere. The Leonid Meteor shower usually happens in November. That will be a reminder each year to remember all of the people I know who have passed on. As long as they are remembered, they live on.
I open another beer for Mike and tell him how I remember him. We didn’t do things alone together, but we always seemed to gravitate to each other during group get-togethers. I remember his sense of humor and his intellect. That made me wonder how people will remember me when I’m gone. Being a hopeless introvert, what impression would I have made? Also, since I have sometimes spoken truth to power, would I be remembered as a curmudgeon or an honest person seeking to better the world? I hope it is the latter, but fear that some will think it was the former.
I look my right and see headlights shining towards me from a distance. They are not moving. Since they are bright lights, I think it must be an RV setting up their chairs around in a clearing. They seem to be about a mile away, but still it disturbs the star viewing.
It took about 15 minutes to realize that the lights were moving upward. It was the Moon rising on the horizon between the trees! Once it got high enough to clear the trees a few hours later, no headlamp was needed.
The clear skies allowed for enhanced radiational cooling of the earth, so it was getting colder pretty fast. Time to crawl into the sleeping bag and hunker down for the night. I thought of how polarized our country has become, and thought of the upcoming election. I hoped for some healing within the country in the upcoming year. As the waning gibbous moon rose even higher, a couple of coyotes howled in the distance. They seemed to agree!
The next morning, the thermometer read 29F. I packed up in a hurry and took one last picture of a Public Lands sign on the way home. Time to go home and take a shower and return to civilization, hopefully a somewhat different person than when I left