One such trail is the trek up Kings Mountain. Ascending 2800 feet in a mere 2.7 miles, it has the reputation as an arse-kicking conditioning hike. Combining this trail with a climb up nearby Elk Mountain creates a challenging traverse, gaining 3500 feet elevation in nearly 12 grueling miles.
|The forest was full of ferns|
I'd heard lots about trails up these two peaks, but for some reason had never checked them out for myself. I really had no excuse - the trailhead was a mere 40 mile drive from my house, and I didn't have to fight Portland traffic to get there.
Finally one Sunday in early June, the opportunity presented itself. I really wanted to fit in a hike, but had a morning commitment. Then I remembered the Kings Mountain Trail. It had everything I was looking for - short drive with minimal traffic, challenging climb, but reasonable distance (since I'd be starting midday). And...I heard the wildflowers were blooming. Perfect! Time to check Kings Mountain off my list.
|Still a long ways to go|
The air was warm and humid as I pulled my car into the last available trailhead parking space. Starting out in a thick forest filled with bright green ferns, I quickly came upon my first trail junction. Impressed by the nearly new signs, I had no trouble finding the correct path to Kings Mountain.
As I was to find out, the trails climbing Kings and Elk Mountains were maintained by the Mazamas, a Portland Mountaineering Club.
|Unusual tree bark|
Then the climbing began! My path rocketed upward, and I soon found myself sweating and gasping for breath.
|A picnic table near the summit!|
The lower forests were full of wildflowers. I noticed monkeyflowers, bleeding hearts, tiny candyflowers, and some unusual brown blossoms that looked like tiny tubes. But once I passed the 1500 foot elevation mark (helpfully noted by a sign on a nearby tree) the flowers disappeared.
|Views I worked hard for|
After that point, my journey became a long, sweaty slog through endless woods. The path alternated between steep and steeper. Often I felt as if I was barely moving. Yes, "challenge" was a good description of this hike!
The trail passed through several different vegetative zones. The Coast Range mountains catch a lot of moisture that blows in off the Pacific Ocean, creating lush, dense forests, with unique plant life.
|Slopeside flower garden|
And then, I was nearing the summit, when I came upon a picnic table in a small clearing. Now that's something one doesn't often see at the top of a mountain! The inscription near the bottom stated the table was built as a Boy Scout's Eagle Project. I couldn't imagine hauling all the wood and tools needed to assemble that table up such a steep trail!
After a bit more huffing and puffing, and sliding on another steep, rocky slope, I emerged into a wide clearing. Wildflowers dotted the nearby cliff faces. Forested hills spread out below me. I was almost there!
Wildflowers were blooming in force! The final quarter mile to the summit proper took much longer due to numerous photo breaks.
But finally I located the summit sign, and after a quick cellphone selfie, opened the tube inside and signed a notebook that served as the summit register.
Then it was time to relax and take in the tremendous views.
|Flowers decorated the mountaintop|
I'd heard one could see the ocean from Kings Mountain's summit, however the day's cloudy skies prevented any far-reaching vistas. The rounded mountains of the Coast Range spread out below. Although most of the terrain was thickly wooded, sadly, ugly clear cuts marred several nearby hills. Logging has historically been the predominant land use here.
|One lone tuft of beargrass|
Logging was the cause of the most infamous forest fire in the Coast Range. In August of 1933, logging work ignited a huge fire that burned 240,000 acres. Know as the Tillamook Burn, it allegedly destroyed 200,000 of these acres in just 24 hours. Thankfully a huge reforestation project restored many of the burned areas, and the damage is no longer noticeable.
|Tiny forest flower|
I was surprised to see a large number of people straggling up to the summit. As I rested on top, a steady stream of hikers passed by in both directions. I even met several groups that were doing the entire Elk-King traverse. Going back down, I leapfrogged with a group of women that had already climbed Elk Mountain and were now on the homestretch of their journey. Hats off to those ladies!
After a wonderful rest, snack, and attempt to capture all the wildflowers with my camera, it was time to descend. A quick tightening of my bootlaces, and I was ready to tackle some downhill for a change!
After struggling uphill for over two hours, the first bit of descent felt great. But I think going downhill is much harder on the body than climbing, and it didn't take long before my quads and feet began to protest. The trailhead couldn't come fast enough!
|Very weird flower!|
Of course once I reentered the lower "flower zone" again, I took quite a few photo (aka rest) breaks to capture some more images of the unique flowers inhabiting this coastal rainforest. But don't get me wrong - I was mighty happy when the parking lot, and my car finally came into view!
|Lush forest near the trailhead|
A genuine challenge, so close to home! I loved the lush, fern-filled forests full of wildflowers and the sweeping summit views. With a bit more conditioning, I'd love to try the Elk-King traverse someday.
Oh......and I forgot to turn my off my gps when I got into the car and drove home, so it registered a grand total of 46 miles hiked that day! :)