Trek #22: Saddle Mountain

For my 30th birthday yesterday, I decided to treat myself to a challenging yet equally rewarding hike. I found that I picked the perfect one, and it was the best present I could have given to myself: Saddle Mountain.

If you’re looking for the ultimate views hike in eastern Oregon, Saddle Mountain is what you want to climb. Hands down. At the summit you’re treated to mountain, forest, and ocean views, as far as the eye can see for 360 degrees around you. But first you have to climb the trail: a 2.5+ mile punishing incline of 1,640 feet that does not let up until you reach the top. It’s a lot of climb in a short span of distance. But I can assure you, the reward at the top is so, so worth it.

You have to get up this…

…to be treated to this.
(side note: 1,000x more impressive in person)

The first mile of the hike starts out innocently enough from the trailhead through the forest, through a series of inclines and switchbacks up the mountain. The trail is easy to navigate, and devoid of any major obstacles beyond the continuous incline. I remember thinking “This isn’t so bad and we’re almost halfway there!” not knowing that the steepest and most difficult section lies in the final half mile. It is here in the forest you’re treated to dense Alder, Douglas Fir, and Spruce trees and an array of edible berries, and, if you’re going in the height of summer, shade. Enjoy it here, because it doesn’t last.

Shortly after the one mile mark, you’ll leave the forest and begin skirting up the slope of the mountain, passing a variety of enormous boulders and rock formations, some which look freaking awesome:

And make excellent photo ops.

At around a mile and a half up the mountain, you’ll also be treated to some stellar views, mostly of the south western section of Oregon, as well as the land between you and the coastline (though you won’t spy the ocean until the top). In your immediate view, you’ll be able to see grassy hills full of wildflowers (if you make the trek in summer), and the rock cliffs which appear to be sprouting mini-succulents. Just make sure you watch your step, because it’s here that the ground beneath you gets a bit rocky, loose, and precarious. The trail narrows significantly as you continue your climb.

The final half mile or so is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls. This is the true challenge. The peak is in your sights, as well as the last section of trail right in front of you. It looks hella daunting, but don’t be discouraged. You’ll make a quick descent down the “saddle” of the mountain, a pretty deep plunge over wire-covered rocks. Then immediately up the slope for the final ascent. It is here that you’ll really want to be careful (the same can be said when going down the saddle), and just take it one step at a time because at this point you’re primarily traversing mesh wiring over loose rocks up an incredibly steep slope.  I was grateful to have Andrew with me whom was able to lend a hand through some particularly tricky spots. After climbing the steepest section of trail, at 2.6 miles, you’ll have reached the summit — a small triangular spot that used to house a look-out tower. All that you’ll find up there now is a four-sided bench and the most spectacular views. The clarity of your views will depend on the time of year and weather conditions. In the best of conditions, you will be able to spot Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Jefferson to your east, and the Pacific Ocean and a good deal of Seaside and Cannon Beach to your west, as well as plenty of forest in between. It was a bit hazy out in the distance due to the heat, but the sky was clear and we were able to see the coastline and ocean as well as expansive forest views. We weren’t quite able to make out the mountains in the distance, but were still able to see very far out. Take your time to enjoy those views before making the equally cautious descent back down.

Overall it took us 3 hours and 46 minutes to complete the hike, and that includes the decent amount of time we stopped at the summit. We chose to get an early start to beat the heat and the crowds. Saddle Mountain was an hour and 40 min from my Portland apartment. We started the hike just after 9:30 and reached the summit by 11:30. The heat was pretty intense by that point. Aside from two men who left shortly after we arrived at the top, we had the summit to ourselves. As we were making the return trip back to the trailhead, we passed a good number of people making their ascent. Our early start was a wise choice. We were back at the trailhead by 1:20pm.

To get to Saddle Mountain from Portland, take Hwy 26 West for approx. 60 miles. Turn right onto Saddle Mountain Rd, which is well marked with giant signage to Saddle Mountain itself, which also houses a campsite at its base ($9 a night if you’re curious). Take the narrow, winding road 7 miles before it dead-ends at the parking area/trailhead.

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Treks Down: 22, Treks to Go: 30

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