Cougar Butte - October 20, 2007
Coordinator Richard O'Neill, narration and pictures by Richard O'Neill

I began volunteering to lead hikes for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club several years ago and it was about then that the phrase "Richard hike" began to creep into the club vocabulary. When someone said "that was a Richard hike" what they really meant to say was the hike was either or in combination steep, long, different, arduous, cold, perilous, wet, insane etc. I was not present at the last meeting but I was volunteered to lead this hike. So, although I had nothing to do with the selection of this hike, nonetheless, it turned out to be quite the Richard hike, through and through.

The weather called for rain all day, snow level was down to 3500' feet or so. Since the trailhead was at 4200' we figured to get some snow and we did. Snow was falling at the traihead and it was 32 degrees, a great day for a hike. So off we go, the snow was several inches deep and after a 1/4 mile we stopped to gawk at a frosty Cowhorn Arch. From the arch, the trail climbed steeply for the next 1/2 mile or so to a wooded saddle right before the burn area.

The burn area would qualify this as a Richard hike on a great day. The trail disappears and the way is brushy with blackberry brambles. The only means of navigation of the non-GPS variety are a series of markers that Lori Depew of the Forest Service tacked on the trees for us; she deserves a special shout-out from the Friends. 

Once we worked our way up a steep hill out of the burn area, the trail resumed up to Cowhorn Point. We were sort of in the clouds at this point and the snow was getting deeper but still hikeable. From the point, the trail dove down to a series of meadows, the trail was faint and we took a couple of forays up and down to locate the next marker on a tree.

We arrived at Cow Camp with a rickety corral around a spring and headed past a meadow to a rocky bench. We crossed one more meadow and then climbed a snowy slope on Cougar Butte. The going was steep again at this point. From there it was an easy stroll up to the summit where we actually saw blue skies. We ate lunch there, ever hopeful of seeing views through the dissipating clouds.

But wait, the clouds quit dissipating and then came in cold, dark, and grey. And cold. With a breeze. And cold, too. Lunch was eaten hurriedly and packs were quickly repacked and shouldered. It was cold. I had taken off my gloves to eat my sandwich and within minutes my fingertips ached with the cold. It took about 20 minutes for them to warm up again. So cold, so very cold.

We hurried back the way we came and on the way back, the snow continued to fall. However, once off the butte, it was warmer and there was noticeably less snow than there was in the morning. Between Cowhorn Point and the Cowhorn Arch, the snow gave way to slushy sleet and then to actual rain. And it was a balmy 52 degrees at the trailhead.

This hike will be a legend in club annals, definitely on the unique side and most definitely a Richard hike.

We stopped for hot chocolate on the way back but the cold was still in my bones when we arrived home. I built a fire in the living room and Dollie got mad because we don't even have a fireplace.


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