October 20, 2012

Sampling the hazards of driving mountain roads near Badger Creek Wilderness

Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams standing over the fog of the valley from Divide Trail
 It was fall and the Divide Trail in the Badger Creek Wilderness was my destination. As I drove to the trailhead, the sun appeared and began its daily climb in the sky. Cruising along road 4410, two does popped their heads out of a cluster of trees hugging the road. A mile further, two more does bounced out of a thicket and bounded directly toward the front of my pickup. While tapping my breaks, they quickly detoured and bounding parallel with the road as if they wanted to race me. It was another reminder of the need to remain vigilant while traveling the network of roads in these mountains.


Continuing to wind toward Lookout Mountain and gain in elevation, the views of Mt. Hood were outstanding. Larch trees, dressed in their fall yellow, mingled with the greens of firs and hemlocks.

Divide Trail ridgeline
The trail offered even better views. The ridge that accommodates the Divide trail runs east and west so that a turn of the head will show you the major Cascade peaks from Mt. Rainier south to the Three Sisters and Broken Top.
Rock outcroppings along the trail
The Hood River Valley was filled to the brim with low, gray clouds, but Tygh Valley to the east was clear and barren looking. Looking further southeast, I could barely make out what I believed to be Round Butte, located just south of Madras.

The physical features of the trail resemble a roller coaster. There isn't much level ground and what little exists is interrupted frequently by ascents and descents. Atop Lookout Mountain lie the ruins of a fire lookout. All the wood is gone, but the foundation, like remnants of other lookouts in the Oregon Cascades, remains.

            Along the trail, with Mt. Hood peaking over the ridge

A side hike takes interested hikers to tiny but scenic Oval Lake, which sits below the main trail in a small, steep cirque. After returning to the Divide Trail, I climbed steeply along the cirque wall and once again to the ridge top. This section of the ridge is topped by rugged and interesting rock outcroppings. From here, Badger Lake can be seen in the distance, lying at the bottom of a cirque of its own. The creek flowing out of Badger Lake proceeds through the canyon far below the Divide Trail and into the dryness of Tygh Valley.

 Yellows of Larch trees mingle with forest green

It had been a great hike on a great day. As I drove back down road 4410, I came upon a curve in the road that wound to the right. Through the trees I could make out a white pickup traveling the same road and coming my way. As our vehicles approached each other, I could see that the other pickup was traveling fast for this particular gravel road and on my side of the road. It became obvious the driver was not seeing me, and as our rigs converged I was forced to come to a complete stop, skidding and hugging the ditch on my right, hoping the white pickup would eventually see me. 

 About twenty yards in front of me the white pickup finally swerved to miss me. Out of the corner of my eye, as the driver passed, I could see he was wearing sunglasses and a blue uniform. I also made out the insignia on his door. He was a state policeman. Obviously glad he didn’t hit me, I wondered who would have shouldered the blame if he had.

 Mt. Hood from Lookout Mt.

I think the glare of the afternoon sun probably kept him from seeing me. The temporary blindness one can experience going from shade to bright sunlight when driving can be troubling. This can occur quite often when driving mountain roads. I can remember returning from a hike in the afternoon on the West side of the Cascades one day when the bright sun blinded me as I drove around a corner. Thankfully, I was driving slow, because after I slammed my brakes and the road dust settled, I was staring at the grill of a log truck. Having both stopped, the driver and I looked at each other for a moment before I slipped around the truck. I could see him chuckling as if he had been through this many times before.
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