Elk Mountain May 2022

The last time I hiked to the summit of Elk Mountain was this past fall. That time I was trying to see the sunset but I wasn’t able to stay that long. I got a late start on the hike but knew I had to get home and it would be super late getting back. If I was camping it would be easier to see the sunset from the summit. Once I hiked down I just had to get to my tent at the base of the mountain and not drive back to Portland. With the weather being good and my ability to stay during the week I headed to to Elk Creek Campground to spend the night to catch the sunset from the summit of Elk Mountain.

The sun set just behind King Mountain this time of year.

The campsite isn’t very far from my house so I got another late start. The site is first come first serve which is another reason I went during the week. I was highly confident of getting a site and when I arrived I had my pick of sites. That night there were only four of us in total. Surprisingly even this remote and with so few people neighbors can still be ass holes. Anyway when I got there I picked a site near the river and setup. Nothing fancy besides my tent. It was only one night and then I was heading home.

With my tent setup I took the opportunity to relax for a little bit before climbing the mountain. I grabbed a snack and sat on a rock along the river for a while. Lots of birds flying along the river feeding. The constant sound of the river flowing over the rocks was hypnotic. I could have taken a nap but I had someplace to be.

Wilson River

I started my hike up the mountain just after 4pm. Sunset that night was about 8:45pm so I had plenty of time to take the long way to the summit. My plan was to do the full loop. This way is longer but I had all the time in the world. As I started my hike I ran into the last people driving away from the parking lot. The trail and mountain I would have all to myself that night.

The weather was cool but as I started up the mountain I was getting a work out. It’s about 6 miles up the backside of the mountain and I had to make several stops to rest. When I came to the split for King Mountain I briefly thought about taking it. It’s higher elevation and from where I already was, closer. Getting back to camp would be longer so I opted for my original summit of Elk Mountain. The exposed gap near the top was a lot less windy this time. I didn’t have to brace myself like last time. Got some really horrible views of deforestation on nearby mountains. All this is state land and logging is a big deal around this area. I know it’s necessary but I think we can do better. I have to remember that this and King Mountain summits don’t have the most green and lush views. They are good don’t get me wrong. You just have the deforestation along with everything else.

After a little over four hours I made it to the summit with about a half hour before sunset. Unfortunately I misjudged the sunset. I thought my problem would be clouds but it was actually the season that screwed me. When I say the sun setting back in fall it was much further south on the horizon. Here in mid-spring the sun was setting further north which put it behind Kind Mountain and I basically missed the entire thing. Still a good view but maybe I should have hiked to King Mountain. I will have to remember this the next time I try to see the sunset.

With the sun starting to set the temperature started to drop as well. At the top the wind really picked up and on the exposed ledge it was really cold. I original wanted to do some writing or maybe draw but it was to cold to do any of that. I ate a snack and just looked out across the valley. Far off in the distance I could see thick clouds rolling in. It wasn’t suppose to rain that night so I wasn’t worried but they looked cool. From about six months ago it also looked like more trees got summarily chopped down as well which is unfortunate.

I stayed at the summit for as long as I could but it was to cold and windy to stay very long. It was going to be in the low 50’ at night and was probably already that at the summit. The cloud cover stayed to the south and directly over Elk Mountain. I figured I would get a good view of the stars without all the clouds. The sun was set but the night sky was still bright we’ll after. There was a lot more light pollution too that I didn’t expect so it really wasn’t that dark at the summit. I was cold and tired. It was time to head back down to camp.

The hike down was brutal. Coming up was hard enough but down was for sure worse. Going down the front of the mountain is pretty damn steep. I had my headlamp so I could see where I was going at least. The moon had yet to rise so it was my only source of light. Coming down I had to take many many breaks. I was exhausted from the hike up and this route just sucks on my knees. At times I felt like I was going to pass out so I would stop. Get my breathing and heart rate back to a normal and continue my journey.

My campsite was right along the river which was nice to fall asleep to.

It’s more difficult but shorter down the front of the mountain. It took just over two hours to get back down to the trailhead and camp. I’m sure without all the stops I could have made it back in 1.5 hours. It felt really good to finally make it back to base. I was exhausted but knew I just had to make it to my tent and no further. I stayed up for a bit that night to decompressing. Off in the distance was the sound of the river and I could faintly see some stars through the trees. I must have been delirious that night because at one point I swore there was a UFO. I kept following this dot in the sky moving way faster than it should have and turning in new directions rapidly. At that point I knew it was time for bed. Some more water to re-hydrate and sleep was what I really needed now.

As nice as the weather was and for exhausted as I was I didn’t sleep well. The neighbors made it difficult to stay asleep and my air mattress sucks. The one thing I had going for me was the mountains blocked the sunrise which allowed me to sleep in. That morning I didn’t even make coffee. I sat in my chair enjoying Mother Nature as the forest around me sprang to life. Nothing but the sound of the river and the birds to keep me company. I eventually packed up camp and headed home.

This was a short trip but a good one. I have wanted to do this for a while and now know it really depends on the time of year that will determine if there is a good sunset or not. I should try one night at King Mountain to see what it is like. I don’t believe there is a campsite at the base of that trail so it might be coming up the back of Elk Mountain to King and then back down the long way. That is just a really long hike to the summit for something that might pan out so I will see.