A Family Climb Of Mt June
Mt June is a little mountain, 4,618 feet above sea level. It's normal route is only a little over a mile long, gains less than thousand feet and never get above class 2 in difficulty. So it isn't much of a challenge, and as such, isn't the most interesting mountain to write about - normally. This trip would turn out to be more challenging than we (myself, my daughter Zoe, my girlfriend Brook and her toddler Ryan)had anticipated. But for me this was worth writing about simply because it was the first mountain we had climbed together, as a family. Plus, Brook has never really spent any time in the mountains, has never backpacked or been to the backcountry, and since we became a couple last September (10 days after my last climb of the year), we have been looking forward to going to the mountains together. After a long winter, we had been itching to go. When I suggested Mt June to Brook, she was at first hesitant, but after my assurances of safety, agreed enthusiastically to go. We planned to drive up from Roseburg in the morning and be at the trailhead around noon(we had to make sure we used up enough time to get Zoe back to her Mom's in Eugene by 7:30). The actual climb to the the summit would take very little time, so we were also going to hike the Sawtooth trail to Mt Hardesty, a round trip of nine and a half miles.
Snow and Sun
On the drive up, I began to worry slightly about snow levels. Two days before, Roseburg was 105 degrees, and while I figured most of the snow at the three to four thousand foot levels must have melted off, it slowly occurred to me that maybe there still might be some issues getting to the trailhead. As we left the highways behind and began making the winding back-road ascent, I caught glimpses of the north aspect of Mt June, and could see quite a bit of snow still up there. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, considering that John Diamond, an early pioneer, named it Mt June because there was still snow on it in that month he first sighted it. As we got closer, I could see that the last stretch of road was still covered in snow, and as we got closer, it was clear we would not be able to make it any further. So we backed up, bummed but already trying to figure out a back up plan. A little ways down the road, we had seen a couple of cars parked and a trailhead sign posted, so we optimistically decided to give it a go. After we parked, I walked over to the sign to see if there was any information besides being a trailhead, but there was nothing, just a couple of hikers etched on a board.
What the hell, we decided, let's have an adventure.
The Broken Forest
From the get-go, it was clear no trail work had been done this year. The young, densely grown trees had been smashed down by the winters winds or snow or both, but the trail was somewhat difficult for the four of us. I carried Ryan, who is almost a year old, in our new baby pack, while Zoe, who is seven but loves adventure and has the endurance capabilities of Steve Prefontaine, and Brook, followed. Two or three times in the first mile we had to make wide detours around massive deadfall. It took total concentration to get through the brush without Ryan getting scratched. At first, Brook was nervous, leaving the trail and bushwhacking, but my reassurances enticed her through the worst of it. Once past the last grotesque detour, we started to ascend a ridge, switchbacks taking us to older and larger trees and a much more open forest of Douglas Fir but also Cedar and Ponderosa, with some wonderfully huge old growth.
Zoe and Big Tree
After about an hour into the hike, we stopped for lunch.
We still hadn't seen any signs, but I was beginning to strongly suspect that this trail would eventually take us to Mt June, but how far away was it? And how bad would the snow be? Where we stopped to eat the snow began. At this point we were all pretty happy just to be in the forest. During our stop I scouted ahead and realized the trail was easy to find and was mostly snow free, so I returned to finish lunch. While we were there, Zoe asked me to take a picture of this huge conk, fifteen feet up a tree.
The final stretch
As we continued on, the trail ascended gradually, following a broad, undulating, forested ridge at something close to four thousand feet. It was warm, but not unpleasantly so, with an occasional mountain breeze to cool our sweat. We all felt so happy to be among these ancient, towering trees, to smell that sweet forest smell. I am so lucky to have a daughter who not only appreciates these things, but loves to invest time and energy to get there, routinely completing hikes in the six to eight mile range without complaint or need of assistance. It's pretty cool.
Zoe powering on
Soon we ran into one of the hikers whose car was at the trailhead, and after stopping to talk to him, we learned that we were on the right path to Mt June. We continued on, taking occasional water breaks, but maintaining a steady pace through the trees. Soon we could catch glimpses of Mt June through the trees, and I knew we were going to get there.
The trail launched uphill, wrapping around from the north to the west side and soon we ran into our first serious snow patch. For myself, something like that isn't really an obstacle, even with Ryan on my back, but Brook was feeling a little nervous, but made it through the snow without incident. Ahead, though, it was obvious the trail was probably going to disappear for good.
I moved up onto the snow bank, which was admittedly steeper and bigger than the last one, but it was still nothing major, unless you haven't done something like this before (and happen to have a slight fear of heights as well). Brook had never done anything like this before, and at first she was worrying about Zoe and trying to keep an arm on her, but I knew Zoe was ok, so I just told her I would keep an eye on the kids and she could just focus on what she was doing.
"Are you sure we should go on?" She asked, seriously getting concerned, but I reassured her again that I wouldn't put them into a truly dangerous situation. Besides, I said, pointing up, the summit is right there. I could see it, fifty yards away.
So Brook gritted her teeth and after a little bit, the snow wasn't steep at all, just slushy, and we all made a beeline for the summit. Zoe and Ryan and I got there a little ahead of Brook and I made Zoe wait before we actually stood on top. I took this picture of Brook as she is overcoming the last obstacle before reaching her first summit.
Brook almost there!
Don, Brook and Ryan (Zoe taking this picture)
From the summit the foothills of the cascades unfolded before us, rising in a swell of green to meet the not-so-distant giants on the horizon - Hood, Jefferson, Three-Fingered-Jack, Mt Washington, North, Middle and South Sisters, Broken Top, Mt Bachelor, Diamond Peak, Mt Thielsen and Mt Bailey, with Bohemia mountain dominating the southern horizon. Brook had never seen mountains like this before, and it was great to see the look of awe in her face. It was wonderful to enjoy it with my family, to see my daughter taking to the mountains so enthusiastically, to know how influential this will be for Ryan.
Don and Zoe
We spent only a short time on the summit, knowing it would take a couple of hours to get back to the car, but it was a sweet fifteen minutes, taking pictures, expressing our appreciation of one another and our beautiful world. We ate a little, drank some water and headed out, this time trying to follow the partially-hidden path down.
We found our way off the snow fields by taking our time, I plunge stepped and tried to make platforms for Zoe and Brook to put their feet in. Needless to say, both their butts got pretty wet from sliding down the banks, but we got down from the mountain and back on the trail, feeling as though we had really earned our summit of this little mountain. We hurried back through the forested ridge, found our way through the deadfall once again and arrived in Eugene fifteen minutes past my scheduled drop-off time for Zoe. It had been a great day.
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