Mountain mishap gives writer new perspective
Feeling on top of the world, I wanted a vantage as expansive as my mood.
Summer vacation with my kids had concluded in sending them for a weekend with my parents. I’d accepted an offer on the sale of my house — and the position of editor for Distinctly Northwest magazine!
Things were looking up, and I was ready for the challenges ahead. What better metaphor in such circumstances than ascending the nearest mountain? Or at least what passes on the Oregon coast for a mountain, known for its spectacular view.
Humbug Mountain rises directly from the ocean to a height of 1,750 feet, making it one of the Oregon coast’s tallest features. Not exactly monumental proportions, but the hike constitutes more than a stroll. Three miles of trail circumnavigate the mountain with numerous switchbacks to minimize the uphill pitch.
The route is forested for nearly its entirety, so my partner and I didn’t worry about getting an early start. We spent a leisurely morning at our campsite in Humbug Mountain State Park before embarking around noon.
The coastal native in me should have made a stronger case for summiting Humbug in the morning. Summer afternoons on the coast often coincide with fog, particularly when inland temperatures are as hot as those we left behind in the Rogue Valley.
But we departed under blue skies and in high spirits. I was reminiscing on bygone days of my youth berry-picking alongside burbling creeks under canopies of firs, spruces and hemlocks. I relished the resinous scent of myrtle leaves crunching underfoot, the path bordered by wood sorrel carpets, furnished with ferns and upholstered in moss. At the trail’s fork, we took the east route, electing to save the loop’s west side for a leisurely descent after lingering at the summit.
But the longer we hiked and higher we climbed, the more apparent the fog. Its fingers twined with the evergreen boughs, where the moisture collected and dripped onto the forest floor. Also perspiring, we stopped at a trailside bench to rearrange clothing. I regretted bringing my broad-brimmed hat in such wan sunlight and was too hot to wear it for shielding intermittent drops of condensed fog.
As we crested the top, fog that completely obscured the view dampened our enthusiasm and, shivering, I hurried to put my sweater back on. The atmosphere swirled with the ocean’s own exhalations — heavy, rhythmic and redolent of brine.
We struggled a bit in the gusts to bridge two trees with our hammock, a repose intended for soaking in the ocean view. Instead, huddling under jackets in our nylon nest, we soaked up droplets shed from overhanging branches. My partner donned his beanie cap, as I suddenly realized … I’d forgotten my hat on the bench a mile down the trail!
I weighed going back for my hat — a two-mile detour, if we wanted to follow the westerly route down the mountain. What was the point of taking the west trail if the view was socked in with fog? But persuaded by another hiker that we shouldn’t miss it, my partner said he would wait for me while I retrieved my hat.
I practically jogged down the trail, propelled by gravity and a strange urgency. I passed a couple with three kids, who said they hadn’t seen a hat. I kept going, figuring they might not have noticed it. I’d already come this far, after all. At the three-quarter-mile mark, I thought I had stepped into some kind of time warp, where the formerly straightforward trail twisted like a labyrinth through the trees’ pillars.
Finally, I saw the bench and … no hat.
I was certain I took the hat off at that spot. And I certainly didn’t overlook it on the trail. Nothing to be done but climb back up the mountain and rejoin my partner, who likely was feeling a tad anxious. I traveled much more slowly this time, but steadily, stopping only once over the mile to shed my jacket.
A cold soda from my pack, left with my partner, consoled me a bit. I didn’t care for the hat’s color or shape all the much; its main appeal was utility. But I’d been spurred along by childish possessiveness: I couldn’t leave MY hat stranded near the top of a mountain.
My misadventure, in fact, perfectly fit the setting. “Humbug,” an English colloquialism from centuries past, means something that deceives or something that’s nonsense. The mountain, we learned, earned its name when a group of 19th-century explorers got lost en route to Port Orford, a “gross failure,” according to the site’s lore.
Maybe I should have accepted with grace the loss of a mere hat, I mused, instead of descending down a rabbit hole in its pursuit. Life poses plenty of challenges without needlessly complicating matters. Trust what the universe has in store, I vowed, descending the mountain a tad deflated but more clear-headed.
At the trailhead, we detoured to some interpretive signs we previously skipped and spied … my hat! Some good Samaritan had brought it down the mountain and hung it from the signpost, no doubt trusting it would find its owner.
Hat in hand, a grateful smile on my face, I turned away from Humbug Mountain with new perspective on future horizons.