Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Search of the Oregon Skyline - December 2011

Almost everyone has heard of the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Mexico to Canada.  But few have heard of the Oregon Skyline Trail.

 Pacific Crest Trail sign in Oregon
(not actual sign)

Constructed in the '20s and a marvel in it's day, the Oregon Skyline allowed the casual hiker a direct and scenic route across the backbone of the Cascades.  One could hire a packer and guide in Portland, then enjoy carefree days of beauty and solitude and pretty girls in bobbed hair on horseback.

 The route was changed frequently over the years, eventually to be supplanted by the Pacific Crest Trail, although they lived side by side for many years.  Earlier incarnations tended to hug the dry side of the Mt. Hood National Forest.  Later, due to "multiple use" pressures, the trail was routed further west, along Rho Ridge and beyond.  In the 1960s as road building and logging increased, most of this route was abandoned as well, leaving the fragmented remains to rot on the hills and revert back to nature.
An excellent (although short) writeup can be found on Trailadvocates.  Thanks Donovan H., Maharaj of Lost Knowledge  

 History of the route beyond maps is hard to come by.  I'd appreciate any stories anyone has about their experiences along the Oregon Skyline, but especially in the area surrounding the Clackamas.  

Close to the Winter Solstice, the days are very short up here in the Pacific Northwest, with complete darkness by 4:30 P.M.  But the freezing temps and buckets of cold rain more than make up for it.   

"BE AT MY HOUSE NO LATER THAN SEVEN!!!!" Don screamed at me through the telephone.  Well I hung up on that bastard in a clatter, and be damned if I wasn't at his fogged doorstep not a minute late?

It was foggy (damned foggy) as we passed the Original Certified End of the Oregon Trail (with gigantic circled "wagons" of steel and fortitude), but those Pioneer Ghosts were long gone as I bought Chai and a still warm Blueberry (yet mass produced) muffin from a roadside kiosk.  I doubt those pioneers had roadside Chai.

Foggy and gray we leave Oregon City, but then like a magic light the sun burst over the Clackamas.  

I have spent numerous times trying to find this small fragment of the Skyline Trail.  Unfortunately for me, the lower section is a tangled mess and heavily impacted by cutting.  It is also a very dense, almost tropically lush forest with thick vegetation.  Stationary thing just don't last that long.
But this time we were lucky.  After squeezing through a sea of very dense alders and young firs, we were able to pick up a section of the old trail.  Oh man our troubles were over.

It was very easy to follow.  For about 1/8 of a mile.

 long time gone

 And then we lose it in the clearcuts, popping out onto this road.
Powerlines hum in the distance along their own clearcut strip.  
The air was strangely calm.

 No longer pertinent.   Alas, abandoned too.

Well, after cris-crossing these old logging roads and my feet getting sore in new boots, we decide "the hell" with that horrible maze of recovering clearcuts, let's go back down through that strip of old growth forest.  

 Hey!  Howya doin?  We find blazes in the brush.

 Alas, sooner or later back into a clearcut.
  Fragments.  Dots on a map.  A forest is an incredibly dynamic place.  Maddening!  

 Don posing for wife

into oblivion, again

And then back to town, fueled by brewpub hopes.  The dark fog of winter has never left.

And that's what you get at the end of December.  
Down the Clackamas into Oregon City, into the night on many old roads.


  1. The earliest maps I have seen of the Skyline trail had the route layed out mostly on roads. There were connector trails when necesssary and road segments replaced piecemeal over the years on later maps.

  2. Thank you for your comment!
    In the 1920s the Oregon Skyline Road was built, connecting (now) US 26 with Olallie Country. It was the first such road in the area, with recreation a primary concern. It paralleled the Skyline Trail more or less, until the route changed considerably over the years. The road now too is endangered, with many sections lost to time and development. However, there are very nice stretches that really let you get a feel of those old days.
    I don't think the Skyline Trail actually died suddenly, it just slowly languished after the PCT took the spotlight.
    I spent a lot of time this summer looking for the Oregon Skyline, stay tuned for a future post!