McNeil Point

On Saturday, I went on a long hike up the side of Mt. Hood to McNeil Point. The guide book said that it would be difficult, and I must say that in this case, Mr. Sullivan was telling the truth. By the time that we stumbled back to my companion’s car, we were both beat to exhaustion. On the other hand, this was probably the single most rewarding hike we’d ever taken.

I’m a bit of a goofy hiker. I like to wear fatigues when I hike. Those silly full-on digital camo pants and occasionally the jacket as well. Mostly this is just an eccentricity born of my childhood desires to play army in the woods. Beyond my need to fulfill the unmet dreams of my youth, fatigues are surprisingly comfortable, durable, well-pocketed and inexpensive. All of these things balance out my childishness (at least that’s what I tell myself).

My second oddity is my new penchant for hiking in Vibram Five Fingers. This was my second 10 mile hike in these freakishly orange toe shoes, and they continue to preform beautifully. I have the advantage of wide, strong feet already, and the Five Fingers give a hippie-like connection to the ground that makes hiking a bit more visceral. I’ve had to train myself to walk in them, using careful foot placement and a stride that lands on my mid or fore-foot (as opposed to my heel). I’m a convert.

Now that we’ve laid out the rough geography of my ideosyncracies, I’ll talk a bit about the hike itself. We arrived early, carefully driving over increasingly unfriendly roads, at a packed trail head. Nearly every available space was taken up by Subaru wagons full of old white folks or Chinese tourists. This shouldn’t have been such a surprise, as this is one of those hikes that is only open for a few months out of the year, and we’d basically chosen the best possible day to make the trek. Silly us.

The next four hours were spent leapfrogging up the trail with a bunch of other hikers. Somehow this crowd of strangers should have stirred up copious ire, but the views (dare I say vistas) of Mt. Hood and the surrounding wilderness provided a suitable balance to the loud-talking middle aged women. As an icing to the cake, the upper meadows were in full bloom, and everywhere we looked there were fields of wildflowers.

Of course, it was a long hike. Ten miles is quite a distance for my hiking companion and myself. The three hours that it took us to descend were a study in atrocity and first world suffering. Just to make sure that I was punishing myself enough, I neglected to apply sunscreen, and now I have arms the color of a well-cooked lobster for my lack of troubles. At least it helps to take my mind off of the painful tightness in my calves. Humbling.

I’d give a more thorough report of the trail and such, but that is what guidebooks are for, and those have been written by better men than I. I will leave you with the photos I took and the lesson that I learned: “Use sunscreen you idiot!”