Grass? Prairie?Names like this just don't seem right for a mountain to me. At least not Prairie. A prairie is a flat place found in Kansas or Nebraska. It seems like an oxymoron to call a mountain Prairie. Grass? Well, maybe that is more acceptable because a mountain could have grass all over it and still be a mountain but it may be best if I get along with my trip report and quit fretting over the naming of two wooded mountains in the Coastal mountains of Oregon....still, it they were in Kansas ...........
I had been in a Portland hospital all day friday, waiting nervously along with my son in law Andrew while his wife (my daughter) went through some nasty surgery to remove a cancerous growth. All turned out well but both of us were pretty much basket cases by the time the surgeon came out to tell us the results of the operation.
Andrew brought my daughter home from the hospital late in the day and I could tell he was pretty beat up despite the fact he hadn't been the one going through the surgery. The next morning, my wife suggested that I take Andrew (my son in law) and Kyle, my grandson on some type of a hike as she felt it would be good to get their minds off of what they had just been through as it had been a heavy emotional load. I was happy to comply since my daughter needed all the rest she could get and my wife was there to take care of her.
This brought up an interesting question, what kind of a hike? Well, like a boy scout, I always try to be prepared so I had the perfect answer to that question, it should be an easy hike and Grass and /or Prairie Mountains near Corvallis came to mind. Grass Mountain was one of those kind that you save for a rainy day in the off season since it wasn't a big deal and not one you'd want to use a good valuable summer day for. I was on the quest to try and get all of the 73 Oregon Prominence Peaks and so Grass and Prairie mountains would fit right in. I was thinking that perhaps both might be obtainable on the same day if my grandson was up to it but even one of the two would be a good diversion from what they had been dealing with at home.
Onward to Prairie Mtn.We gathered up our gear (which wasn't much) and headed out the door at 9 a.m., a rather late start considering that we had some distance to cover. Getting onto I-5 from near Wilsonville, we were soon heading south on our way to Corvallis and the little town of Alsea. I'll skip the details of the drive other than to mention that we seemed to be caught up in a traffic jam of Oregon University fans all on their way to Eugene for the big Oregon-Oklahoma football game. By 11 a.m., we found ourselves in the small town of Alsea and I decided that we should tackle Prairie Mountain, since it was a bit shorter hike from the gate and might be a good starter hike for my grandson who had yet to reach his 8th birthday. I figured from what I had heard from Dennis Poulin who had done Prairie already, that we would have a 4 to 5 mile hike from where we'd have to park at the gate.
I had mapped out the way in very intensely so we were able to nail the driving part down without losing any time on the way to the gate, a drive that involved a fair amount of mountain roads (logging type). We saw no one else until we reached Gunsight Pass and then encountered two hunters who were walking up and down the road there. They waved as we went by and it was not far from Gunsight Pass to where the gate was waiting.
Prairie MtnWhen we reached the gate, I was very surprised to find it open. Hmmmm, should I or shouldn't I? I'd hate to get trapped behind the gate if it was locked while I was on the other side of it but being adventurous, Andrew and I discussed it and we drove on through. We now would have the chance to pickup both Prairie and Grass on this trip if we had good luck with the gate remaining open.
We drove first up to the western highpoint and spent about a half hour there walking around, snapping pictures and sailing flat rocks off a precipice. My grandson thought that was great fun and of course it was. I took the time to make sure I hit all of the highest looking terrain and it seemed to me that the highest area was in some trees and rocks about 150 feet east of an old foundation of some sort.
From there, we drove back down the road until we reached a fork and then we went uphill to the east and using the aid of my GPS, drove until we reached an antenna and building structure where we parked. From where we parked, we walked up the road about 300 feet to the second high spot. Our views were handicapped by the low lying clouds but the fall colors were coming out so we still enjoyed the scenery.
Not spending much time at the second spot (I kept thinking about that gate), we finally were through with Prairie Mountain and we jumped back into my truck and headed for the gate, which much to my relief was still open when I reached it. We waved at the hunters once again as we made our way back the way we came and headed for Alsea and beyond.
Grass MountainAfter passing through Alsea and heading west, I pulled out Dennis Poulin's excellent directions and we headed for the next gate we wanted to find, the one that blocked the road that led up to Grass Mountain. Once again, I will not give you a road description since you can get that off of the Grass Mountain page but it was two p.m. when we reached the gate we were looking for. It was not open and most likely will not be opened again since the road behind it is being left to return to a more natural state. A couple deep washouts we encountered provided evidence that the road was not probably going to be used again.
We had had a snack up on Prairie Mountain so we were ready for a hike and the promise of getting a few miles in was music to me as I needed the conditioning (I always need the conditioning). The three of us found the road bed easy hiking and the main concern was not stepping on the myriad of large banana slugs that were busy racing across the road. Kyle surprised me and kept right up with Andrew and I and the three miles to the top just melted away. Dennis's directions were spot on and the hike went well with only one banana slug meeting an untimely death from a misstep by one of our intrepid party. Yuch...
The name Grass Mountain finally made sense as we got near the top of the mountain as a large grassy area covered a fair section of the southwestern slope. The summit itself was not dramatic since trees blocked views in all directions. Some concrete was found along with some rebar where the lookout had once stood and just a bit north of the old lookout site was a large rock with a USGS witness benchmark on it. I placed a register nearby and Kyle and I stood atop the rock and claimed the mountain to be ours. Well, at least for a brief moment in time it was ours, I don't know what we'd do with it the rest of the time. I searched and searched for the central benchmark but couldn't locate it. It might be under a couple feet of dirt or covered over with vegetation but I did mount a healthy effort to locate it, since benchmarks are one of the things I always enjoy finding on a mountain. I marvel at the guys who placed them, long before there were roads into the area and most of these mountains were brush fests.
We actually didn't spend much time on the summit area since it was so lackluster and with the time fleeing, we needed to get back to our vehicle and headed for home. The hike down was uneventful except for one more banana slug who didn't make it. I now kick myself for not taking a picture of one to share with everybody but after you scrape one off of your boot, the memory doesn't really need to be preserved by a photo of it.
A near disaster was averted when we found a Subway sandwich shop and were able to refuel our famished bodies before driving into Corvallis and back to I-5 to fight the traffic back to the Portland area.
PicturesKyle and Andrew near the western highpoint of Prairie Mtn
Kyle discovers one of the key landmarks mentioned in Dennis's trip report on Grass Mountain
Kyle discovers the reason why Grass Mountain is named Grass Mountain
Andrew and Kyle making their escape from Grass Mountain