The weather finally cooperated enough for us to get back to our originally planned 2022 hikes. For this outing we were heading back to one of our earliest hikes, Elk & Kings Mountains (post) to see how much we remembered from that first visit. When we made the conscious choice to take up hiking in 2010 the loop over Elk and Kings Mountains was our eighth hike. One of only a handful of hikes rated “Very Difficult” in all five of Sullivan’s “100 Hikes” guidebooks, and the only one in the Oregon Coast book, this had been quite the challenge for us. We were curious how nearly 12 years of additional hikes, and age, might change our experience this time around. We were also hiking the trail at a better time of the year having tackled it in the heat of mid-August the first time around. Our hope was that the earlier visit would provide a different experience with wildflowers and with the streams and creeks along the route.
Before we started the difficult loop though we stopped at Killin Wetlands Nature Park just outside of Banks, OR for a short warmup hike on the 0.7 mile loop. An unintended result of having altered the plan for our two previous outings was that this stop would mark our third straight outing visiting an Oregon Metro managed park. (Orenco Woods)(Chehalem Ridge)
We set off on a clockwise loop on the Peat Swamp Trail then stayed left at its junction with the Waterfowl Way Trail.
Peat Swamp Trail.
Our 6am start time paid off as we were not only the only ones at the park but we spotted a deer (too quick for a photo), two otters, several families of Canada geese, and a gadwall and a mallard.
One of the two otters that were swimming in the wetlands.
The gadwall amid a family of Canada geese. When we got home and looked closer at the picture we realized that one of the round shapes we took for a clump of mud was actually an animal. We can’t make out the tail to know for sure whether it was a beaver or a nutria but we’d like to think it was another beaver.
The beaver? turned a bit in this photo but we still couldn’t make out the tail. It does appear relatively large when compared to the adult goose though.
Waterfowl Way made a 180 turn and headed uphill through some small trees to return to the Peat Swamp Trail.
We stayed left again and completed the short but eventful loop.
From Killin Wetlands we headed west on Highway 6 to Elk Creek Campground and the Elk Mountain Trailhead.
We set off on the Wilson River Trail which began a 0.2 mile climb to a junction with the Elk Mountain Trail.
Fairy bells and bleeding heart.
Elk Creek below the trail.
Junction with the Elk Mountain Trail
While it had been sunny at the wetlands we had dropped under some clouds as we descended to the Wilson River Valley and found ourselves hiking steeply up into fog.
Viewpoint along the Elk Mountain Trail.
The blue sky is up there.
The trail was as steep and rough as we’d remembered.
We did climb out of the cloud to find that blue sky again.
White service berry blossoms and a huckleberry plant.
The trail made a series of ups and downs along a ridge crossing four saddles before climbing to the 2788′ summit of Elk Mountain.
One of the saddles.
Elk Mountain summit.
We spent a little time resting at the summit where we found a lone blooming beargrass with more to come.
Kings Mountain from Elk Mountain.
The blooming beargrass below some red-flowering currant.
While the 1.5 mile climb to this summit had been hard the next mile of trail beyond the summit took it up a notch. The trail dropped nearly straight down the rocky west face of Elk Mountain requiring us to use our hands as we climbed down the damp rocks.
Looking down the trail.
Heather on her way down.
After navigating the rocky descent the trail passed along some cliffs then climbed atop a narrow rocky ridge which it followed to an old roadbed where the hiking became temporarily much easier.
On the ridge.
Dropping down to a saddle along the ridge.
Near the start of the road bed we spotted a hermit warbler eating something off of some huckleberry bushes.
This was the first time we’d seen one of these pretty little birds, at least that we are aware of. Who knows how many we’ve seen fly by and not been able to identify them.
Mercifully on the old roadbed.
We followed the old roadbed for about a mile as it climbed to a junction at a saddle.
A clump of trillium.
Getting closer to Kings Mountain.
Coming up to the junction.
We turned left onto the Kings Mountain Trail which according to the pointer was 1.3 miles away.
The trail continued to follow an old road bed for a little over half a mile before dropping steeply to a ridge and switchbacking around an outcrop and finally crossing over a saddle.
Phlox, paintbrush, and chickweed.
Still on the old road.
At the ridge end above the saddle, the trail dropped down to the left then through the saddle.
Below the outcrop headed to the saddle.
Probably the most memorable part of our first hike here was needing to use a rope that had been affixed to a stump to descend a steep chute. While we both remembered that we had forgotten at what point we’d encountered the rope and after the steep drop off of Elk Mountain we convinced ourselves that the rope had been there. As we passed over the saddle we realized our mistake as the stump and rope were here and the 12 years had not been kind to the trail here.
Heather getting ready to start down.
The chute in 2010.
The rope was quite a bit longer this time, out of necessity, but we made it down and continued on. From here the trail passed below some sheer cliffs which had been a very nerve wracking experience in 2010. Apparently somewhere during the 549 outings that we’d done between visits I’d gotten much more comfortable with narrow trails with steep drop offs because this time there were no nerves but there were a couple of spots that required the use of hands to get up.
The trail is down there somewhere.
The trail then climbed to a high point along the ridge which Heather initially mistook for the summit of Kings Mountain. She was less than thrilled when I pointed out the actual summit a short distance, and one saddle, away.
Coming up to the high point.
View SE from the high point.
We dropped down to the saddle then made the final climb to Kings Mountain. We had seen a small number of other hikers up to this point but found several others here having come up from the Kings Mountain Trailhead.
Dropping to the last saddle.
Summit register at Kings Mountain.
Pacific Ocean in the distance.
Other hikers at the summit.
Saxifrage, possibly Saddle Mountain saxifrage.
Phlox, paintbrush, parsley, blue-eyed Mary, and chickweed.
From Kings Mountain the Kings Mountain Trail dropped steeply downhill for 2.5 miles to a 4-way junction with the Wilson River Trail. While the trail is steep and rough in a couple of spots it’s nowhere near as gnarly as the Elk Mountain Trail. We had remembered the descent as having given us trouble but in those days we hadn’t used hiking poles. Armed with proper poles this time the descent went much smoother.
One of the rougher sections.
Woodland buttercup and candy flower.
The 4-way junction.
We turned left on the Wilson River Trail to make the 3.5 mile hike back to the Elk Mountain Trailhead. While the hike had been challenging we’d been doing pretty well but we’d forgotten to bring any electrolytes with us and while we had plenty of water we both started feeling a bit off. We paused at Dog Creek which is right near the junction for a bit of a break before continuing on the final stretch.
The Wilson River Trail passed a wetland fed by several small streams before making a long gradual climb up to the junction with the Elk Mountain Trail.
One of the smaller streams.
Lily that will bloom in a few weeks.
Coming up on a footbridge across Big Creek.
A pea or vetch.
Unnamed stream crossing.
Rosy Birdsfoot Trefoil
The third type of monkey flower we saw on the day.
The junction is on the saddle ahead.
From the junction we dropped down to the trailhead where we thankfully had some meat sticks waiting that provided some much need salt and protein.
Cars to the left through the trees, we made it.
So what did we learn revisiting this challenging hike after 12 years? One is that we are more comfortable with sketchy trails and exposure after having experienced both many times since then. Secondly our bodies are 12 years older and they reminded us of that toward the end of the hike. Finally we were reminded that as much as we have learned about hiking such as the advantage that trekking poles can provide we are still prone to making mistakes and underestimating what we might need such as the electrolytes. It will likely be quite a while before you find us on a hike without some handy.
Aside from both stops being loops our two hikes for the day couldn’t have been much different from one another. The 0.7 mile loop at Killin Wetlands was short with a well graded trail that gained a total of 60′ of elevation while the Elk and Kings Mountain Loop and been over 11 miles (It’s just under 11 if you don’t wander around with over 4000′ of elevation gain. The gains were often steep, as were the losses, requiring the use of hands at times and included steep exposed drop offs. It was obvious from the number of other trail users that we encountered that most people stick to the out and back up to Kings Mountain but if you’re an experience hiker looking for a challenge or an early season training hike this is a great option. Happy Trails!