Does this trail make me look fat?
I am striding out, walking, sauntering, staggering.
Finally, I stop to smell the sage, smashing a leaf and rubbing it under my nose, to receive what naturalist John Muir referred to as “glad tidings.”
Elevated thoughts like these pass through my head as I claw up Falls Creek Trail in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
From Hurricane Creek Trailhead, near Joseph, Ore., I hike 0.1 miles and turn right on Falls Creek Trail.
After 1/4 mile of strawberry blossoms, birdsong and a “butterfly blessing,” I reach Falls Creek Falls.
The falls thunders amidst clouds of mist.
Growing progressively skinnier, the trail begins switchbacking up the mountain above Falls Creek.
Some stretches are steep and like walking on marbles.
I find a walking stick to help with balance, thighs and glutes burning, stopping occasionally to soak in the views.
I walk through an aspen grove and see an Oregon junco. Calypso orchids and arrowleaf balsamroot bloom trailside. An up-canyon wind plays in the treetops.
At 2.25 miles (6,630-feet elevation) I slide down to a creek crossing just above another waterfall.
I could clamber across on three rocks just below the surging waterline. However, not wanting to go swimming, I choose to turn around.
In another 3/4 of a mile, and more than 1,000 feet elevation gain, I would have reached what’s left of the Joe Legore cabin and the Red Cloud Mine.
Beyond that, a faint trail — and boulder hopping, with some boulders the size of cars — leads to Legore Lake, Oregon’s highest at 8,957 feet, a place where mountain goats occasionally frolic. I save this stretch for a future challenge.
Only three other hikers share the trail. One gentleman says the downhill is easier than the uphill.
As I slide down, like a runaway freight train, I disagree.
As Fred Barstad writes in his excellent book, “Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness,” “The Falls Creek Trail is very steep, and in some places fine sand scree on the top of a hardpan trail makes for a ball-bearing effect underfoot. It may be difficult for all but hardy hikers.”
Barstad rates the trail as “strenuous,” and a friend, who took some pictures for the book and shared in Barstad’s adventures, says he is prone to underexaggeration.
“He would call a cliff moderate,” the friend said, joking.
One reviewer on alltrails.com calls the hike “stupid tough” with 4,100-foot elevation gain in four miles. “Descending was the worst part. It was like trying to walk on marbles practically the whole way down. Our legs were sore for about two weeks afterward, but it was worth it.”
My legs agree with that assessment.
Still, I can’t wait to go back and claw my way to Legore Lake.