Black Butte, where the broken hearts go.
“I’m heading down south to do research on a hiking piece, if you don’t hear from me by tonight or tomorrow morning, call for help.”
I was getting my gear in order for an impromptu visit to southern Oregon when I realized I should probably tell someone where I was going. In a hurry to get on the road, I picked my housemate, Matt, to be the keeper of this information, as he was the only other person in the room, and a text to my mother would set off a steady stream of worried replies.
“I’m telling you…for safety I guess…and yeah, whatever,” I mumbled. Matt gave me his quiet nod of assurance.
The past year had been spent processing a bad breakup. It had been my first, serious, long term, ‘I have a partner now’ type of relationship, and it had ended. My heart was still hurting, like they do, and on this particular morning, I was feeling both excited for the adventure ahead and also very sorry for myself. Maybe someone would worry about me and miss me. Maybe I’d have a stand off with a cougar. Maybe I’d get stranded in a snowstorm. I didn’t care, I just needed to get out of town and out of my head.
On I-5, I began my ritual of blasting sad music and crying out my feelings, leaving as many of them as I could on the road. This road trips sad music selections included plenty of Roseanne Cash, Stevie Nicks, and Tom Waits. Heading towards Detroit Lake, I was in search of Marion Falls trailhead which is located between Breitenbush Hot Springs and Sisters.
An unmarked trail head, Marion Falls is a waterfall hike that is somewhat remote with no signage. A map, hiking book, or any online information is a must for this hike if you’ve never done it, and despite my neurotic gear packing and preparedness, I had left all three of these things at home and was out of cell range.
Snow was on the ground and I only had about three hours of daylight left. My gut was telling me to keep moving, there wasn’t a single person in sight.
Back on highway 20, with no chains, no studded tires, I headed toward Sisters, hoping my car would make it through the snowy mountain pass. I decided to haul ass to Black Butte, and see if I could get in a little bit of a hike before the sun went down.
My ‘99 Subaru wagon made it up through the snow to the Black Butte trailhead like a champ. With each slip and slide of the tires on fresh powder, I white knuckled the wheel and gave the car more gas. I was facing my fear of driving in the snow and giving no fucks. It was working.
The ascent to the top of Black Butte is just under 2 miles, but with an elevation gain of 1600 feet — this part is the ass kicker. With two hours of daylight left, I got on the trail and headed toward the top. I could make it up and back down in an hour right? I was determined to.
The climb up was hard, and I hit several feet of ice just before reaching the top. Did I have spikes or poles? Of course not. Coming down is going to suck echoed in my mind as I scrambled over ice, pulling at branches and rocks for safety.
Almost to the top, fully exposed with breathtaking panoramic views, I was huffing and puffing so hard my lungs hurt. I felt like crying again. What the fuck was I doing up there?! Now I was almost in knee deep snow and I still had to go back down in record time. This was hard, it was scary, and my lungs were on fire, but somehow I was loving it.
Forcing through moments like these made me forget about my broken heart. I was too busy surviving, there was no time to dwell on emotional pain and regret. I was fully present in my body and finally out of the cycle of negative self talk in my head.
A group of teenagers made it to top shortly after I did, they were all wearing soaking wet Converse sneakers on their feet. I was able to see both of the old fire lookouts at the top, and took some photos of the Three Sisters mountain range, which was in clear sight. The wind was whipping around, knocking any last little bit of self-loathing out of me. “Thank you mountains, thank you sky, thank you spirits,” I whispered at the top.
As I hauled ass back down the trail, the light grew more dim, and I got spooked. My victory high of making it to the top faced a sobering realization — being on the trail, in the dark, with no one else around. The light continued to fade, and I was at a high speed jaunt when I finally caught sight of three people ahead of me. I kept some distance behind them and was thankful to not be alone for the last stretch of trail. At least someone could hear my scream if the bears came for me.
It was dark back at the car, and I said a little prayer for the group of teenagers and their freezing cold feet. I got back on the road and headed toward Bend to find some dinner, a beer, and a place to stay for the night.