September 18, 2012

No turning back after initial venture into the Table Rock area (excuse the poor pics)

Table Rock from near Rooster Rock
Years ago, Bones and Shifty, two friends since childhood, and I spent the early morning hours during an April day inside my tiny, rickety pickup, bouncing along washboard stretches of an old logging road, high in the Old Cascades of Oregon.              

Bones was wiry, dark haired and freckle faced. About 5' 10" and 145 pounds, his boyish appearance had bamboozled more than one person into thinking he was a pushover. Opinionated and somewhat abrasive, he never backed down from the friction these traits sometimes created.

Shifty was long and lanky and fond of martial arts. He had always aspired to be in the Special Forces but disdained taking orders. He was a natural born leader who always seemed to remain cool under whatever predicament we found ourselves in. At one time, Bones had given him the name "Shifty," and it stuck.
Bones on Table Rock summit ridge
I was just out to have a good time in the woods – or a good time doing whatever I was doing. Hooking up with Shifty and Bones at that age proved to be one big adventure. We relished new challenges. Whatever one of us did, the others had to do better. Competition often led to some chiding, but it was always good natured.

English: The upper Molalla River.
 The upper Molalla River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For weeks we had traveled a seemingly infinite network of logging roads in this small portion of Oregon's western Cascades, stopping now and then to explore the area's hemlock coated ridges, echoing canyons, basalt cliffs and open meadows. Some 40 million years earlier, this portion of the Cascades began its formation from the accumulation of lava and ash. It is much older than the parallel yet linked range to the east, which contains the major volcanoes of Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters and Mt. McLoughlin.

While the three of us travelled the mountain logging roads, it didn't matter which road we followed. Each turn provided a new view. Each mile flung us further into a land of new adventure, where we had rafted, climbed, rappelled and swam.

On this day, Bones recognized a road he had driven a few years earlier while deer hunting. We followed it upward into the April day's low, gray clouds, misting just enough to warrant an occasional swipe of my pickup's windshield wipers. To our right, towering second growth fir and hemlock stood hauntingly along the winding road like guardians of the dark and mysterious forest beyond. To our left, vast space extended out to the far ridge and down into the Molalla River Canyon below.  
Hiking near base of Table Rock
White patches - snow yet to melt from winter's heavy snowpack - soon appeared along the roadside, while thick clouds engulfed the vehicle. Like so many other logging roads we had driven over the past weeks, this one ended abruptly at a clear cut. I turned the pickup around and began to retrace our route back down into the Molalla River Canyon. But after a few hundred yards, Bones blurted, "Stop! I think this is it!"

We climbed from the pickup and stepped into the dark forest. From there, we followed a tiny creek upward into deepening snow. The hemlock branches hanging over the creek’s small canyon collected moisture from the thick fog and, every now and then, released a large drop onto our heads.

Eventually, we reached a large thicket consisting of vine maple limbs. We stopped for a moment and looked through the shrub-like branches toward a clearing. There, the dark forest gave way to a mystical blend of snow covered ground and heavy fog.
Near Table Rock Summit
"This place is different than the rest of these foothills," Bones said, as we stood mesmerized by the blend of white shades in front of us.

Through the fog, I could barely make out something - tall and grey - standing high above us yet at a considerable distance. Accompanied with a heaping dose of curiosity, we trudged up the steep snowfield toward the grey mass, with each step kicking our toes into the snow for traction. Protrusions and depressions suddenly began to appear through the fog as we moved closer. Black, vertical lines extended upward along the mass and disappeared into the low clouds above. Finally, we could travel the snow bank no more, stopped in our tracks by a collection of columns forming a mammoth rock wall.

It was then that I thought about what Bones had said earlier. He was right - this was a special place. I had been to the mountains, but never, until that time when I stood within that surreal setting, had I really felt in the mountains.
Sliding on one of the area's snow fields

Even climbing Mt. Hood a couple of times a few years earlier could not match what I was now experiencing. Mt. Hood's ascent had been more of an exercise in camaraderie and will; young men trudging up the South face of the peak with no other goal but to make it to the summit.

This experience was much different. Despite the lack of comparison one could make between the grandeur of Mt. Hood's summit and appearance of this rock wall, an enthusiasm was generated from this experience like none other I had encountered in the outdoors. Perhaps it was simply a matter of finally realizing a greater respect for the outdoors. My knowledge of the mountains had grown over time, leaving me with a greater appreciation for them.

Although I would later learn that I was not standing at the base of Table Rock, but another hunk of basalt below Table Rock, the entire area seemed special. Even later I learned just how special of a place this is, when it was designated by the federal government in 1984 as the Table Rock Wilderness.

That summer, I made several more trips back to this newly discovered 6,028 acre Mecca, to experience its glory, smell its trees, hear its sounds and silence and feel its aura so far removed from the city. From its summit, I basked in its sweeping vista: to the west - the Coast Range, seen through Willamette Valley haze; while in the East, the high Cascades, from Mt. Rainier to the Three Sisters looked like white incisors biting into a blueberry pie sky.

In June, the pink blossoms of the area's rhododendrons bloomed. A month later, rock pika's peeped from Table Rock's boulder strewn slopes. In August, the sky appeared bluer than I had ever witnessed. And in September, small clouds danced about on the swirling winds of Table Rock's 4,881 foot summit, so close I could nearly reach out and touch them.
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