Cold Warriors

Kate, Karen and I went down to Mt. Hebo in Oregon this weekend with Luna, for a repeat of the hike Kelley and I did last July.  It’s not a heavy hitter, at under 2k eg and 9-10 miles, but it’s so worth the trip.  Native Americans established their primary route over the Coast Range to the Tillamook area through this forest, thousands of years ago, right over Mt. Hebo. They figured that building paths down at the river level, through thick brush filled with Devil’s Club wasn’t nearly so attractive as using easily traversed ridgeline trails.  Go figure.

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Fires smote much of this area flat with blackened stumps around a hundred years ago, and it was re-planted several times.  Seeds from elsewhere were tried, resulting in sub-optimal growth compared to native Oregon Doug Fir (again, go figure).  As you walk from the moss-covered Spruce of the pre-plantation trail, the green, even now in very early Spring, is intense. Moss, bracken fern, it’s so lush.

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The transition to the plantation trees is abrupt as you enter and exit an area where active logging has recently taken place. The tall skinny trees lack understory, the forest has no diversity in its growth. We stopped a few times to cut out branches blocking the trail, and I cut out some small fresh blowdown that was blocking the trail.

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With a solid third left on the hike up, the trail disappeared into the snow and required me to consult my Garmin frequently to keep us on track as we neared the summit area. There was some brief entertainment watching a black 4×4 have a go at the piles of wet snow as we crossed Mt. Hebo road.  He didn’t make it.

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The post-holing thankfully was relatively short as we broke trail up the road and scrambled through the woods to pop up next to the modern communications arrays at the top.  The trail off the road is still flagged nicely, as it was in summer. Luna was not super impressed with the views from the top, but loved jumping in all the snow.

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While there’s nothing left of it today, this summit was the site of a massive USAF Radar Station from the mid-1950’s to 1980.  It’s since been utterly decommissioned and all traces gone, but it was enormous in its day and in a spot where the wind blows and it rains or snows 180″ a year.  Corrugated sewer pipes connected buildings like some giant habitrail.

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The people who ran it were my father’s generation, actually his co-workers of a sort, Cold Warriors.  My dad, Lt. Col. ‘Bob’ Robert Tracy, was a ‘Whizzo’, the weapons and radar officer and second pilot on a McDonnell Douglas F-101 ‘Voodoo’ fighter for much of his career.  This radar installation undoubtedly played a big role in their war games and training intercepts of ‘Soviet’ bombers (B-52 full of electronic gear).  It’s not hard at all to imagine the radio traffic, filled with military jargon, as they practiced over and over to defend us against a bomber-borne nuclear attack that never came.

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A seriously naturally curious little kid, I once asked my Dad why he had to practice so much, which led to me asking ‘How many bombers can you shoot down?’.  He answered ‘Five.’  Being the little geek I was, I knew that his plane only carried four air-to-air missiles in pairs, hidden in the fuselage on a rotating sponson.  They included options for nuclear-tipped warheads.  ‘But you only have four missiles, how do you get five bombers?’, I asked.  ‘The fifth ‘missile’ is my aircraft’, he answered.  I was only about eight or nine, and I’ll never forget that image of someone so dedicated to their mission that nothing else mattered.

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Rain and wind cut short my musings on the top, and we ate a quick lunch then headed back down the trail.  I had to stop and take photos of the mannequins that someone cleverly setup inside one of the modern facilities.

Walking down, as I watched Luna bunny-hopping through the snow, I thought about how the world I grew up in was locked in a global struggle with nuclear annihilation for the stakes, superpowers against one another.  The threat outside, the ‘other’, that’s what we were taught to fear as kids, East was bad, West was good. I’m glad I asked a lot of questions, and never went down that dark tunnel of false fear.

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I think we all had a serious sigh of relief when we reached solid, snow-free trail again, it’s been a long winter here, though most of the snow came late. Snotel maps tell me we’re above 100% of the 10-year average again in all parts of the state, so good to know for the fire season this summer.  Luna sure is a lot faster on open trail!

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We had another obligatory treat stop in the logged area, letting Kate and Karen join in the doggo fun.  Luna’s still a big puppy at 6 months, and though she’s strong, has growing left to do. Our hikes are shorter, with lots of stops and treats, plus the mythical full third meal of the day, dog food for lunch. Luna approves.

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Auntie Kate got her turn, too.

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We made it back to the trailhead, for a long and lovely conversation with one of the volunteer Forest Service hosts, and headed North to Hug Point, to end our day on the coast in sunshine and smiles.

 

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