Angel’s Rest Trail

Last Wednesday I attempted a hike to Angel’s Rest, which is a viewpoint high on a bluff in the Columbia Gorge in Oregon. It was a 90 degree day, and I had been out taking pictures along the Old Columbia Gorge Highway, so I already had an idea what kind of heat was in store for me.

I had completed this hike in my 30’s, but not since. I attempted it about 8 years ago, but my hiking partner was experiencing health troubles, so we were forced to turn back before the summit. It’s a bit of a grueling hike, at 2.3 miles up the side of the gorge, but I’ve done more extreme hikes. Here’s the caveat: Not recently. As I rapidly approach 50 the way a fly rapidly approaches a windshield, I find myself with less of both energy and eagerness to climb mountains carrying 60 lbs of camera gear. However, approaching 50 as I am, I’m thinking that it’s more important that I do it.

I set out with the afore mentioned camera gear: the backpack containing my Hasselblad, lenses and film backs; a sturdy tripod; and the bag with my filters, meters, film, adapter rings, lens hoods, and, most importantly, a water bottle. As I mentioned earlier, it was about 60 pounds of gear.

So, at scant months from the age of 50, I started up the hill. The backpack almost immediately hurt my shoulders, but the first half mile went uneventful. I noticed a certain lack of certainty in my stride. I’m not as fleet of foot as I used to be.

I grew up on the east coast, in Pennsylvania, specifically among the glacier ravaged Appalachian mountains, and as such, was part mountain goat. I used to run down the rock-strewn trails at full speed, each footfall carefully placed. I forded the streams, and climbed the trees. Now, it’s been almost a decade since I’ve hiked the hills on a regular basis, and I can feel it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in bad shape for my age. I get regular exercise. Yet, my feet weren’t as sure on the stones and roots on the trail.

I tried to make the water last. I kept an eye on my skin (in case it became dry when it should have been sweaty), and level of thirst. I took a swallow when my mouth got dry. After just under a mile, I crossed a stream. I wondered whether it was safe to fill my bottle from it. I had heard of giardiasis in the mountain streams in the gorge. I asked a passing hiker, who was returning from the summit, but she didn’t know. I decided not to fill my bottle. Shortly afterward, the trail became steeper. I found myself stopping to rest more often. Hikers passed me and wished me Luck. I was determined to make it to the top, but my water was running short. My goal was to take pictures from the viewpoint, but I had noticed encroaching cloud cover before I started up, so when a hiker coming down told me that I was unlikely to get any pictures today, my spirit broke. I was tired, my water was almost gone, and I wasn’t going to risk a heat injury for bad photographs.

Back in the car, I fished under the passenger seat, and found another bottle of water. I’m going to try again.