- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

MEHAMA, Ore. (AP) - The closer I hiked to the summit of Whetstone Mountain on a recent Thursday, the more it felt as though I was taking advantage of a deal struck with the Devil.

Amid warm temperatures and bright sunshine, through the old-growth trees of Opal Creek Wilderness, I climbed above 3,000 feet, then 4,000 feet, with hardly a bother from snow that would normally blanket the ground so early in the season.

It was a little weird.

This year has seen historically low snowpack in the Central Cascades - about 52 percent of normal - and the upside is mountain trails opening to hikers that wouldn’t typically be accessible until late May or June.

Whetstone Mountain Trail is a good example. Beginning at Opal Creek Trailhead, this little-traveled route climbs 3,600 feet and 5.5 miles to a spectacular summit where Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson dominate the horizon like gigantic ice-cream cones.

The downside, of course, is that less snow means increased danger of forest fires later this summer, making enjoyment of summits in April a bittersweet affair.


The hike up Whetstone Mountain begins at Opal Creek Trailhead about an hour’s drive east of Salem at the end of Little North Fork Road.

I’d brought snowshoes, a GPS, map and compass for the journey, since I was traveling solo and wasn’t sure what sort of conditions would be at the top.

The first half-mile followed the Opal Creek Trail, through old-growth trees to a wood bridge spanning Gold Creek with views of a waterfall and pool below.

Just 0.2 miles past the bridge (and 0.7 miles from the trailhead), the Whetstone Mountain Trail #3369 shoots off on the left. A registration box marks the trailhead - where someone has scribbled #3369 - and just up the trail you pass a sign for the Opal Creek Wilderness.

From this point, the trail starts climbing.

The pathway is well-made but was cluttered with springtime debris - I had to duck under and walk around quite a few branches. The trail climbs up switchbacks at a gradual but steady rate, ascending 2,744 feet in four miles.

I kept waiting for the snow to show up and eventually it did . sort of. Patches of snow covered the trail in segments above 4,300 feet, but it never caused much of a problem and I was beginning to regret carrying my snowshoes.

At mile 4.7 (or 5.3 from the Opal Creek Trailhead), an unmarked trail swings uphill on the left to the Whetstone summit. Finally, the snow began to pile up enough that I strapped on my snowshoes and headed for the 4,969-foot summit. The south face of the summit is rocky and steep, so I made my way around to the northwest side to reach the top.

The rounded summit was once home to a lookout tower and for good reason. While Mount Jefferson and Hood dominate the skyline, the view extends in every direction, across the Bull of the Woods and Opal Creek wilderness areas and beyond.

The entire hike - out and back - totals 11 miles and 3,900 feet of climb, a full day by any standard. The lack of snow makes for an easier trip then normal in mid-April, and that is cause for concern down the road.

But, sitting on the summit of Whetstone Mountain, looking at views of Oregon’s two tallest mountains and the vast wilderness surrounding them, it was easy to appreciate the moment.


The original story can be found on the Statesman Journal’s website: https://stjr.nl/P3qUFr


Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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