The Unicorn Day Hike

“I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil,
this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and
their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.”

– Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

There’s really something quite special about undertaking adventures that you’re not quite sure you can do. Looping Mount Saint Helens on the Loowit in a day (30 miles, 6,000′ e.g.), or circumnavigating Mount Hood in a day on the Timberline Trail (38 miles, 9,000′ e.g.), they both fall into this category. They test your physical and spiritual resolve, they push you to hike and climb literally all day (and usually after dark, too).


Then there’s the Lamberson Spur to Timberline Trail Loop hike. It’s less on paper, at just 21 miles and 5,700′ e.g. Actually, it’s not on paper, because the trail that makes it possible was envisioned and partially built, but never completed. Lamberson Spur Trail ends three miles after it starts, at the staging area from the last big forest fire that hit Vista and Gnarl ridges.


Kate and I have done the hike or snowshoe up to trail’s end, starting at Polallie Trailhead, several times, gazing up at the high mountain while we lunched at the turnaround point. Two years ago I first broached the idea of continuing up several more miles, through the old burn, massive piles of blowdown, old growth alpine forest, and scree fields, all the way to the Timberline Trail. I studied it on Google Earth, looking for variations that would avoid the worst parts of the burn. There weren’t any.


I thought to myself, ‘this is a Craig hike, for sure’, and so I reached out to him. Turns out, he’d already done it, with Rigby the Hiking Dog, no less, back in June! So we set a date for a repeat in late Summer/Early Fall for the long days, intending to refine the route a bit and enjoy a long day on the trail. I hadn’t yet figured out my best route back from the junction with the Timberline Trail at 8,000′, but Craig had. Look how happy we are to pummel ourselves for the next ten or eleven hours.


We started out on a fine September morning with clouds and sun, stopping by Tamanawas Falls on the way. Craig amused me with a really funny story about how he contemplated off-trailing to above the Falls last trip, but didn’t. Pretty much looks like he would have cliffed out, so a wise end-of-the-day decision not to. 

I’ve hiked a lot with Rigby, he is still the hikingest dog I know.


After climbing up and following Lamberson Spur Trail #644, we paused at the ‘Helipad’, the scene of firefighting ops during the Gnarl Ridge Fire. Here, the trail ends, though there are traces of where it used to go part way up. Our mission was to clear the mile-plus of blowdown, gain the ridge, and stay on it until we faded left across the scree fields and gained the white post signifying we’d reached the Timberline Trail #400, at its highest point on Mt. Hood (~8,000′ a.s.l.).


In keeping with giving significant natural features memorable names, indicating deep meaning and unassailable character, we dubbed this unnamed trail ‘Susan Way’.


Blowdown is always a pain in the ass, blocking passage and trying to hurt you with broken sharp bits, and this was the Mother of all blowdown fields. Trees stacked upon trees, at times the only available route was to climb onto a tree, take it until you reached another tree, and tightrope walk your way up.



We spent a few hours getting through about two miles, until we finally were scooting along a knife ridge with a massively scary drop at times to the right, butt-scooting down a few steep ridges.



Our reward for clearing the blowdown fields and the ridges was…more scree. ‘We scree, you scree, we all scree for more scree!’ Sideways scree!



The clouds were spectacular on the high mountain, and gave us glimpses of the summit as we climbed up. At the end of the burn, we walked into the most beautiful, mossy old growth forest that escaped the fire. Look at the snow level on these trees, as indicated by the moss line!


I’m a pretty happy hiker. I found a tree to climb. Rigby wasn’t impressed.


Clearing the tree line, clouds broiled around us, we saw white posts and gave high-fives for reaching our high point goal. All downhill from here…well, sort of.

We gazed across the canyon at Meadows ski area, always impressed by its immensity.

We descended toward Lamberson Spur and hooked up with the Gnarl Ridge trail, headlights ready as we knew we would run out of daylight shortly after Elk Meadows, with a large stream crossing further down now consigned to darkness.

We just flew down the arrow straight Elk Meadows trail as we lost the daylight, still a few hours from closing our loop. I chased Rigby at a fast clip, powering over rises, drunk with the ecstasy of hours of continuous movement.  I’ve extended my endurance dramatically the last three years, and I find I get into a really pleasant zone after so many hours on trail. I had more power and felt faster after nine hours than I did at two. Then, I’m good for ten, twelve, even up to around eighteen hours on trail, so long as I keep eating and drinking. This has really pushed me toward more trail Ultras, with the confidence I can handle 50k trail runs without concern of finishing.

I hear Craig say behind me, ‘I hope that log is still there’ and my ‘hoo-boy’ detector goes off, here’s some fun!  I crawled across it, not wanting to risk my balance after ten hours on the trail on walking on a slick log.  Rigby ran across and looked at me like ‘Rut’s the big deal, Ruzan?’ Oh, and if you look close, the log is utterly compromised, splitting into pieces, and probably will be in the stream soon, if it isn’t already.  Thankfully, I didn’t notice that until we were across it.


We returned finally to the Lamberson Spur junction, where Rigby posed for some scary night photos.


We finally hit the trailhead after a few hours hiking in the dark, one of my favorite things to do.  As a kid, I’d run into the forest at night with my Aussie, Lucy, just to feel and hear the deep woods at night.   Our current Aussie, Luna, won’t be up for this level of hike for a few years even, but I look forward to someday showing her this part of the wonderful world in which we live. 

Miles of blowdown sure killed our moving average, but what a great day on the trail!

There’s a bat-shit-crazy option for the next time we do this hike, adding a few miles and another ~500-1000′ of climbing, some on snow, to visit the Bandit Rock/Boulder. It’s a giant rock that tumbled down from the summit block of Hood sometime in the last 20 years, visible from the top of Cooper Spur. I’ve been there once, and it seems a shame to pass just underneath it again, so it’s also on the menu for the next trip in June 2019.

Thanks to Craig for his photos, and to Rigby for being our stalwart adventure companion!


Additional excellent resources for this hike:

Lamberson Spur Loop Hike:

Bandit Rock Trip Report – truly, named after a box of cheap wine:

Warum bin ich ich und warum nicht du?

I am a girl, running in high alpine meadows
Brown dress, with yellow and pink flowers
Simple black boots, I climb higher, joyfully free
The shadow of the Matterhorn, above me
Fields of flowers, could there be anything better?

I am a child, in war-ravaged Berlin
The pain of hunger and sadness of loss
Filling my stomach instead of food
Alone, my family gone, my tears flow
I know no hope for my future, yet here it comes

I am a boy, running through tall trees with my dog
Stately Doug Fir, and tall Cedars bear witness to our bliss
We have no set destination, my pup and I
We journey for the pure joy of it
Timelessly, we roam, at least until dinnertime

I am a woman, tall and strong
I climb over boulders in alpine fields of Glacier Lilly
Bold; nearly reckless, some might say, truth be told
The rocky slope slides and I fall, inexorably toward Eternity
Contemplating my impending end, I agree

I am no one, I am a body walking
On this Earth, yet not of it
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
How am I all of these, yet none of them?

*with inspirational credit to Peter Handke’s ‘Lied Vom Kindsein’ (Song of a Child)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

McDonnell F-101B

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.


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.


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!


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.


Auntie Kate got her turn, too.


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.



Last Time to Manzanita

Kelley and I spent a lovely day at Manzanita Beach today with our pups, Luna the always-energetic Aussie, and Mila the Chewennie. Early in our walk, an older woman approached us with a gorgeous older golden lab, with a pronounced limp and obvious discomfort walking. She was such a lovely old girl.

Older dogs are sacred, beautiful spirits in failing bodies, elegant octogenarians of the canine world. Some have signs of hurt, or even abuse in their long-in-dog-years lives. Some are rescued from tough situations and find their love and trust again.

But the most special, the dogs that make my heart burst from my chest with love, are the gentle life companions like the girl in front of us, Charlotte. She was at once both charming and heart-wrenching, limping to the sea. We stopped and talked to her human, after waving a cheerful hello.

Unbidden, Charlotte’s story spilled forth. She was indeed an old and elegant dog, a deeply loved life companion. The pain of imminent loss spilled from her human, voice barely cracking with traces of deep sorrow.

“This is her last time to Manzanita today, her last time to the ocean. It’s her favorite place, and she’s a very sick girl with only a few days to live.”

Speechless, I stroked Charlotte’s head, sending her on her way with love and kindness. “She is a beautiful girl. She’s a beautiful soul”, I said.

As they walked away, my heart played a sad song, remembering another very special person, and her favorite beach. There is a storm of sorrow within me as I approach the first year mark, that day on the calendar my Mom passed last year.

I looked long at Charlotte walking away, and took her photo. I want to remember another elegant, beautiful soul. I think Charlotte would love my Mom. I hope she says hello when they see one another on their favorite beach, where Charlotte doesn’t limp and chases balls on the beach all day.

‘Should’ve brought the snowshoes’ said every hiker ever…

Kelley and I hiked to Tumalo Falls from Skyline Sno-park on Saturday, an amazing bluebird Bend day, coming on the heels of a long period of snowfall.  We tested out the snow and decided with all the previous traffic on the trail, it was well-packed enough for micro-spikes only.  On the trip out, that was mostly true, wandering along beautiful vistas of Tumalo Creek and through pine forests.


I hadn’t seen the falls in a very long time, and never in Winter. The ice build-up is truly impressive, where the water freezes and ice slowly climbs up the sides, and behind the falls. It’s quite a destination hike, and we climbed up to the top to look down on the falls.


There’s a pretty great trail from the top, too, if you head up and South onto Swede’s Ridge, but the knee-high snow told us we’d need to save that for another day.  We met a guy headed up, who had biked out to the Falls, who was heading that way.  We saw him again and he spilled the beta, ‘too much snow’.  He’d gone up a bit further than us and had been post-holing, with snowshoes, up to his knees.


On our return trip, the snow was softened quite a bit by the sun, and we both would have loved to have our snowshoes. Where were our “pinnacles of ultralight and aggressive all-terrain performance and traction”?  Our MSR Lightning Ascents were snuggled comfortably in the back of my Touareg, napping, all three pounds of them having been discarded as “not needed”.   We stumbled a bit, sank a bit, and still had a beautiful hike back to the TH.


Some MTB trails near Tumalo are one-way, which is genius, and others two-way.  Having one-way traffic solves a lot of problems, like having riders come blasting down on you while grinding up a long climb.


KAP rocking her Kathoolas 🙂 ❤


Happy campers on a bluebird day in Bend, OR. ❤

Taking the Nuclear Option

“You have to understand that it is your attempt to get special experiences from life that makes you miss the actual experience of life.” – Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul

If you have a friend, let’s say, who is greedy, intrusive, doesn’t respect boundaries, shares your private information for money, encourages divisiveness across broad groups of your peers, provides a platform for haters of all stripes, would you keep this friend, or would you finally decide they’re toxic, and decide to cut your losses, and leave the relationship?

I did it, finally.  Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, and with some sadness, my Instagram, all gone. The hypocrisy of Facebook’s mission to ‘connect’ us, spilling over to anger when the NZ shooter live-streamed his murders.  The constant broadcasting of negativity in the Twitterverse, punctuated with anger and divisiveness.  The encroaching signs of ‘Facebook disease’ on my Insta feed, as their new masters poke and prod, looking for ways to further monetize the platform.  The Oliva Jade ‘brand ambassadors’ hucking power strips for Amazon as part of her ‘faux-cool’ life.   And, the ads!  Those spooky tracking ads that could only come from combining multiple parts of my personal data, some of it only ever exposed to their algorithms by a single text or email.  I went to OHSU Urology and posted a FB photo looking out over the new construction, only to see banner ads for urinary incontinence just minutes later on my IG (I’m fine, that’s not why I was there).  And that’s with web activity, location tracking and history OFF!

I’m not sad for the loss of ‘acquaintance tracking’ where that girlfriend from high school who I haven’t seen in a very long time is on my FB (oh look, she’s a grandma!), or friends of friends who seem like perfectly nice people, but I’ve never met IRL.  I’m not going to miss being ‘shadow-banned’ by IG because I posted 7 times in a day, or getting thrown into Twitmo for telling Don Jr that he’s an even bigger asshole than his Daddy.  Or screening fifty new followers for trolls and bots who would report my colorful tweets.

No, I will miss seeing the brilliance of my friends and their adventures when we’re not together, or the beautiful sunset that I missed last night.  I’ll miss their stories of struggle, hope, and perseverance.   There’s so much more that I’ve come to depend on the convenience of social media to find, but the cost is too high. Now, the cost is measured in lives lost.  Facebook in particular keeps finding new ways to herd us into nice groups of product, not for our differences (which make us strong) but for our ‘like-ness’.  We are the product, and Facebook sits in our head rent-free, while selling us to advertisers or the Cambridge Analytica’s of the world.

There is some sadness in my heart, but zero regrets.  Saturday, I called my friend on the telephone instead of IM’ing, and we talked.  No ads, no meaningless distractions.  Just a person talking to a person. I wasn’t pummeled with the usual ads filled with content  based on our conversation.  It was glorious.

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