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I can honestly say this was the hardest hike I have accomplished. It was 6 miles of slamming my boots into Ice coated snow. I felt my muscles rebel as I climbed, my toes are battered and I am so happy to know I could do it.
Getting into the park was slow, the ice at all the entrances made none of them a practical choice. I ended up on the steepest as it had rails. It was a hand over hand pulling my self up on a sheet of ice. Getting down out of the park later should be interesting I thought as I was sliding all over bricks trying to cross the promenade to grass. Marching seemed the only safe choice as it broke through the ice coating on the snow.
There was no sign of life in the lower park so I started my march, literally, up the Dead Chief to the Short Cut Trail. It was lonely without the bird song and the squirrels leaping through the trees, but I knew it was safer for them all to stay perched safely out of harms way. The Short cut trail was beautiful and it was hard to know where to look at any given moment. The park gates were closed to vehicles and I able to enjoy listening to trees in the silence. at the top of the trail lay two large short leaf pines, more lives lost in the harsh winter storms. The larger of the trees had caused the small to fall as it slammed into the trees across the path. It’s root mass was so large I could walk under it to continue on my journey.
I headed to the Pagoda to see if the view had improved from the day before, it had. It was beautiful as the sun reflected off the snow and ice spread out on the valley floor. The ice cycles were melting and it looked as if it were raining in front of the Pagoda on the east side.
From the Pagoda I decided to travel on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail to the Gulpha Gorge Trail and on the Goat Rock Trail. The marching action tested my leg muscles and I had not even begun the hardest trail yet As I neared the trail head I saw an unusual sight, a Pine Warbler and a White-Throated Sparrow sparing for a pecking location. The rest hut looked a happier place from the day before. It had been the first time I had used it out of necessity, a refuge in the driving snow. Today it was sunny, bright and inviting, so I had not need to go inside. The Gulpha Gorge Trail was an obstacle course and I carefully maneuvered around each bent tree in hopes they would one day spring back to an upright position. The inclines were slippery, so a had to focus of each foot step.
I was relieved to connect with the up hill climb of the Goat Rick Trail, going up I had better control of my footing. The view from Goat Rock was as always gorgeous, it’s one of my favorite places in the park. When I climbed down from the viewing platform I decided to continue on the Goat Rock Trail to the North Mountain Overlook. The ice forest was back and I felt as if were transported to a fictional land. The trees sparkled in the bight sunlight, glinting like jewels. Half way up on my climb to the overlook I found one tiny wildflower peering up from the snow. It made my heart smile at it’s strength and will to live.
When I arrived at the North Mountain Overlook and Eagle was flying low occasionally brushing the tops of the snow covered pines. I felt as if I was soaring with him above the park and I stretched out my arms to feel the wind pass around them. After a twenty minute air ballet the eagle vanished into the gap between the mountains.
Morning had passed and I still had a couple of miles to travel to get home, so I decided to walk down Hot Springs Mountain Road to connect with the trails. It was a slow icy hike through the forest, the warblers and Juncos kept me company as I struggled to stay on my feet. I hiked to the top again to take the peak trail down as the grade was not as steep as the other lower trails.
When I reach the bottom there was still the task of figuring out how to get out of the park. I decided to exit as I had come in. To avoid falling I bent my knees grabbed the rail and began a semi controlled slide, then I remembered the stairs. Thankfully I was able to stop and take careful baby steps, navigating one step at a time. Home was across the street and I was happy to have made it back safely.
Some adventures test us.