When I first came to Portland, the go-to hiking guides were written by Don and Roberta Lowe. There’s always a nice picture in the back of the couple, clean-cut Don in his darkroom and smiling Roberta in a plaid pencil skirt and a sensible Pixie cut. As far as I know, no one else had decent trail guides to this area. They had the franchise. Nevertheless, I suspect they didn’t get rich. People in the olden days accepted a reasonable remuneration for their efforts and weren’t expecting the big score.
I used these guides to death. The glue on the spine didn’t hold up in the rain, and the pages kept falling out, which was actually handy, because then you could take the individual pages in your pack and reintroduce them to the complete volume later, after your shower and beer. Eventually other people started doing the work of documenting trail conditions and directions and elevation gains, but I kept with Don and Roberta for a good long time, because I already had the guides, and the new people were asking serious money for their books, and after all the terrain didn’t change that much, did it? I picked up a few new books but I haven’t yet thrown out Don and Roberta’s oeuvre, which now exists as piles of individual pages loose inside the covers.
“Not reliable,” meaning some of the trickles might dry up. Not: the water is loaded with Giardia and you’d best have four quarts loaded in your pack if you don’t want God’s Own Diarrhea for the next eight weeks.
Wasn’t that many years ago that I had their hiking guide with me as I introduced my friend Linder to the wonders of pikas and ferns and alpine meadows, and we hesitated at one juncture, unsure of the correct path to take. I fished out the guide and quoted: “Veer left at the old hemlock stump.”
“Murr, how old is that hiking guide?”
I consulted it. Well! Not old at all. Shoot! Look at that date. I was a young adult. Which could not possibly have been long ago. Nevertheless, I did the math.
“Um, forty years?”
Linder said nothing.
“Is that old?” I wondered. There was no answer.
Today I got out my Don and Roberta Lowe hiking guide to guess at how far Dave and I just hiked. We’d gone up to Salmon Butte, the site of a former lookout tower. The guide had a photo in it depicting the scene from the top: snow-covered peaks in the distance, a rocky prominence, and a two-lane road that is utterly not in existence at the moment. I had to do some more math to come up with the answer, because the current trailhead is a good mile and a half away from the Lowes’ trailhead. That kind of thing is happening more and more up here on Mt. Hood, and basically we approve. Some of the trails were accessible from old logging roads, and now those roads are being decommissioned. They pull out the culverts and return the streams to their natural topography; they use earth-moving equipment to shove some hummocks and low spots in, hoping to discourage motorbikes. The first few years these trails look unreasonably wide, and then the alders and such start to fill in, and by about year five you can hardly tell there was a road there at all.
Possibly your quadriceps can tell. We’re kind of tired. We had a twelve-mile hike with considerable elevation gain that used to be a nine-mile hike when the estimable Lowes hiked it. And that is just fine. That is quite within our capabilities. Spooky thing, though? This is such an amazing coincidence, and there’s no explaining it: in the forty years since our hiking guide was published, we got forty years older.