Yesterday, I was with some friends in Hood River, Oregon. I needed to get to Oregon City. I wanted to show him sights that were new to him rather than going back via the freeway. I knew a back way that went over some pretty rugged roads very close to Mt. Hood.
As we went along, I got hit with a bad case of nostalgia. This road has some pretty awesome memories associated with it. Around twenty years ago, I was in much better shape than I am now, although at the time it seemed to me I was way out of shape.
At the time, I was Scoutmaster of Troop 98 in the WyEast District of the Boy Scouts of America. We were on our biannual fifty mile hike from Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. From there, the Pacific Crest Trail goes along canyons on the west side of the mountain and down to the Columbia River Gorge.
This was long ago enough that I could take scouts on trips like this by myself. Today, concerns about abuse require two or more adult leaders. We went through a lot of hardships on that trip. We lost some. No, they didn’t die. There were various reasons they needed to go home. We were met at Lolo Pass by a parent who took anyone home that couldn’t or didn’t want to finish the trip. I was sad to see them go.
Very few of us continued on. We went high above Lost Lake. I think I should rename it magnet lake, because three times now I’ve been dragged down along the Huckleberry trail from the Pacific Crest Trail to Lost Lake. No one forced me. I just couldn’t resist it. It was my first mistake. It wasn’t hard to talk the scouts into it. When given a choice between a short downhill trail to a beatiful lake we could see and uphill to a lake we had never seen, they chose with my help, the easier trail.
My second mistake was the next morning, so sore I could hardly move. I thought about ascending the Huckleberry Trail up to the Pacific Crest Trail and then even more uphill to Wahtum Lake. Then I looked at a seemingly harmless paved road that, according to the map, went along the base of the ridge and then a short jaunt up a road to Wahtum Lake. I convinced the Scouts that it would be much easier getting to Wahtum Lake if we took that road.
So, with not nearly enough water, we set off along the road. The day was fairly hot, but the gentle up and down of the road seemed preferable to the prospect of hiking up a steep mountain trail. Water disappeared fast.
Not being all that experienced as a hiker, I wasn’t aware of what hot asphalt does to your feet inside of hiking boots. I started to develop horrible blisters. I also didn’t know that when it comes to a blister, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. I didn’t want to stop, take off my boot, doctor my burning feet, and put the boots back on again. I just urged us forward.
Then my big mistake was revealed. We reached the turn-off for Wahtum Lake. No more gently rolling road. The grade got steep and didn’t let up for miles. My blisters broke open. The scouts and I were running out of water. The heat was baking us and we trudged on.
I prayed a lot that day. I truly felt someone was going to pass out from heat exhaustion. Long before the days of cell phones, someone would have perished and I would have been responsible. After an entire day of walking on scorching hot asphalt under an oppressive sun, we reached the top of the road.
In those days, you could camp down by the lake. Our thirst drove us down the thousand or so steps to the lake where we pitched tents and nursed our blisters. Those who still had the energy took a dip in the lake. The next day, we started our descent of the Eagle Creek Trail, all down hill and through cool, verdant groves. Heaven at last! My feet still hurt.
Yesterday, I stood near the top of the hill above Wahtum Lake and remembered those days. I strained to see the lake through all of the trees.
The day we took the road to Wahtum Lake was probably the physically hardest day of my life. It was also at a time of great uncertainty for me. I had struggled for months about whether I really wanted the job of Scoutmaster. It was at Wahtum Lake that next day that I resolved that from that then on, I would treat Scouts better, work harder to be a good role model for them, and strive to be a great Scoutmaster. Whether I accomplished them I’ll leave to others to judge.
It’s strange how such a difficult journey still stands out in my mind twenty years later or so as a highlight in my life. I longed to be walking along with those Scouts, uncertain we would all make it to the top. I made another resolution at Wahtum Lake yesterday. I’m going to work really hard to get in good enough shape to walk the Pacific Crest Trail from Timberline to Wahtum Lake and from Wahtum Lake down Eagle Creek Trail to the Columbia River Gorge. I’m going to try to treat people better, work better to be a good role model for people to follow, and strive to be a better man.