Barry and I have wanted to hike Jefferson Park on Mount Jefferson for years, but the rough roads that lead to its trailheads have kept us from making the trip. After becoming owners of a car with enough clearance to handle the terrain, we finally planned to go this summer. Thwarted first by an issue with the car (love the clearance, hate the squeaky hitch) and later by potential thunderstorms, we put the trip off a few times. Until last week. It ended up being perfect timing - we missed the bugs that were our in full force weeks earlier and didn't encounter the crowds of hikers that we'd come to expect from our reading. We got a glimpse of moody fall weather and experienced gorgeous glints of summer over two days. At times on our hike up onto a ridge and then down into the lakes basin it felt like we were on another planet. At times the fog was so thick that we couldn't see far in front of us other than to navigate our way through massive rock piles. We made our way along a trail lined with trees covered in dewy drops. And we set up camp near Russel Lake. A night of rainfall made being in the tent feel especially cozy. When we woke the next morning, occasional breaks in the clouds that clustered around the peak gave us glimpses of the summit of Jefferson. And clearer skies on the hike out than we'd had for the hike in made for stunning views of eastern Oregon.
From Zams we took a train back to Friedrichshafen in Germany where we'd be catching a flight to Frankfurt and then the US the following day. What a different scene we encountered there compared to what we'd been seeing for days. We arrived in the middle of a week-long carnival clustered on the shores of Lake Constance. The city was loud, it was crowded, and while we were there we had to deal with logistics that we hadn't been thinking about for a while. We were exhausted. We fell asleep early, took a walk with our cameras the next morning before the chaos of the carnival began, and we started our series of connections home.
From our vantage point at Memminger Hutte, we scoped out the trail that we'd be taking the following day over a steep, rocky pass, Seescharte. From the hut the trail looked intimidating, but we found that the hike up it was actually really pleasant. We passed a beautiful little lake just beyond the hut and soon came upon a small herd of Ibex. Just above them, we hoisted ourselves up and over the pass to start the descent into a gorgeous valley.
It's funny that the climb up to the pass was what had scared me the day before while I studied at it from the hut. It was the descent down from the pass that I should have been worried about. While the valley was gorgeous and I was thrilled to have made the climb up, over, and into it, the trail that took us down to the valley floor was steeper than anything I'd ever descended and had loose, rocky footing. And it was a long way down. I was scared, I was moving at the pace of a crawl, and soon my knees were aching. Even though we were some of the first hikers out of the hut and had been hiking on our own for a while, once we reached this part of the hike groups were passing us over and over and over again. I felt humiliated. I kept telling myself, "You'll eventually be done with this descent and once you are you'll forget all about the nervousness and the pain. You'll be psyched to remember the views and proud that you finished a challenging hike." But the entire time I was also thinking, "Please let this end, please let this end." At one point, a helicopter swooped through the valley and rescued a hiker who'd fallen, not far behind us, off of the trail. That didn't help my anxiety much.
Finally, finally we reached the bottom of the valley. From there I could appreciate the majesty of the environment and give my knees a little break. I was happy to meander along a little river for a while before we started another gradual ascent.
But ascending could mean only one thing: more descending was soon to follow. We made out way up, up, up, and then in blazing heat we made our way down for the last descent of the trip on our way into the town of Zams. I was going at a snail's pace with knees and feet that hated me for making them take steps. But finally we arrived, made lodging arrangements, and had a big satisfying meal and cold beers. And like I'd told myself all day long, I was really proud of myself for completing such a challenging hike. Zams was beautiful. A private hotel room all to ourselves felt wonderfully indulgent. A hot shower and fresh towels for each of us (we'd had one towel between the two of us the previous couple days) was heaven. Having experiences like this with Barry is pretty much all I ever want to do - but I definitely would not have said that if you asked me in the middle of this particular hike.