Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stations on Saddle Mountain

My son Cody came home for Easter break last week.  He had most of the week off from his studies at Mt. Angel.  It was great to have him home and catch up on what's been happening in his life.  Cody mentioned that a group of his seminary brothers were planing to hike Saddle Mountain on Saturday and invited me to come along.  I haven't hiked with Cody since last summer so I took him up on his offer.

Cody and friends near the trailhead

Saddle Mountain is located in the Coast Range, about 10 miles from the Pacific ocean and the town of Seaside.  At 3283 feet, it's the highest point in NW Oregon.  The mountain is a cool saddle-shaped double peak (hence the name "Saddle Mountain") and on a clear day you can see from the ocean beaches all the way to Mt. St. Helens.  I've even spotted Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson from the summit.

Climbing the rocky trail

We finally got a clear, warm sunny day on Saturday.  Perfect for a hike to the top of a mountain with views!  Cody and I headed towards the coast and the Saddle Mtn trailhead for a rendezvous with his seminary brothers.

We met a group of about 20 young men from the Mt. Angel Seminary led by Father Ralph, one of the monks.  The group had brought along a large wooden cross and planned to carry it to the top of Saddle Mountain.  Cody said the seminarians were planning to hold Stations of the Cross once they reached the summit.

The guys taking in the view

With all my recent marathon training, I thought I was in pretty good shape.  But I was no match for a group of young men, most of them in their early 20s!  The group, with wooden cross in tow, took off quickly from the trailhead.  The trail goes up steeply from the start, and I lagged way behind the group, huffing and puffing. Only Cody, his friend Bill, and a couple of Filipino seminarians stayed with me (and I think Cody purposely hung back to be with his mother).  Yes, it was a humbling experience!

I'm not the only photographer! 

Since the trail gained elevation quickly, it wasn't long before we were rewarded with some great views.  The clear day provided vistas of the coast range peaks and forests.  The guys from the Philippines were very impressed with the scenery.  Cody's friend Bill was interested in all the tree and plant life, and asked me questions about the geology of the area.  Unfortunately, it's been a long time since my college geology classes and about all I could tell him is that the rocks were of volcanic origin.

Bear is happy to be back on the trail

Bear got to come along this time.  I'd left Bear home from last weekend's hike so I owed him.  Bear was very happy to be back on the trail with me.  He ran back and forth along the path, making sure everyone was accounted for.  It think he covered twice the distance that I did!  All the seminarians loved Bear and gave him lots of attention and treats.

Hiking across the "saddle"

Our group hiked up to the first summit and took a water and photo break.  Then the trail headed back down to the "saddle" between the two peaks.  After the saddle, the path climbs super-steeply all the way to the second, higher summit.  To prevent erosion, parts of this very steep trail have been repaired with chicken wire-wrapped rock baskets.  It's really tough stuff to walk on (especially on a wet day, which thankfully it wasn't).  Bear didn't like it at all, and kept ducking off of the trail whenever the opportunity presented itself.  We crossed a couple small patches of snow.  I was surprised to see some of the white stuff still hanging on, but I guess it's been a pretty cold spring.  Bear lingered on the snow patches to cool off his feet and quench his thirst.

Lunch on the summit

Finally us stragglers made it to the top of Saddle Mountain.  The rest of the group was spread out around the summit, talking and eating lunch.  I pulled out my goodie bag, and shared a sandwich with my hungry doggy.
The views were stunning as always.  I could see the ocean beaches to the west, and Mt. St. Helens' snowy peak to the north.

Stations of the cross service

After everyone had finished their lunch, Father Ralph gathered the group to begin Stations of the Cross.  The men passed out booklets to everyone, so we could follow along.  With each station, a different person took his turn holding the cross.  I'm sure the other hikers that happened to be up on the summit wondered what was going on, but they were very respectful and didn't interrupt the service.

Bill takes his turn holding the cross

It's been a long time since I've attended Stations, but I have to say the mountaintop location was a wonderful place to conduct this ritual.  Sitting on top of the world with stunning views of God's beautiful creations all around seemed very fitting.  It sure beat sitting in a dark, stuffy church.

The group from Mt. Angel Seminary

When the group concluded their service, all the seminarians and Father Ralph posed for a group photo.  I had a couple of cameras handed to me, and was happy to be the designated photographer.  I took a couple shots with my own camera too.  Unfortunately, Cody stood right behind the cross, so he isn't visible in any of my images.

Mother - son summit shot

But I was able to get one of the guys to take a photograph of Cody and I on top of Saddle Mountain.

Carrying the cross back down the mountain

Then, as fast as they headed up the mountain, the group packed up and started down.  Even the guy carrying the cross was moving fast.  I lingered shooting photos, so again wound up at the back of the pack.

The steep path down from the summit

The trip down was fast and uneventful.  A couple of the men in my "slow group" were getting tired, so I got to move out of last place for a little while.  (That is, until I stopped to take pictures).  Even Bear was pooping out, and he trudged slowly down the trail, pausing for rest breaks whenever he could.  At nine years old, I guess middle age is finally starting to catch up with him!

Trailside greetings from Cody and friends

It was a beautiful day for a hike.  The weather was perfect.  After such a cold, rainy spring, I was so happy to finally experience some warmth and sunshine.  I enjoyed the company of Cody's fellow seminary brothers (the slower ones anyway).  And attending Stations of the Cross on top of a mountain was a first for me.

Stats for this hike:  5.2 miles, 1600 feet elevation gain.  A good bit of exercise for a sunny spring day!

Happy Easter!


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