Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cooks Butte expedition




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A few photos from Cooks Butte, yet another of our fair city's little mini-volcanoes. This is one of the more obscure ones. It's located in an upscale neighborhood on the south side of Lake Oswego, and the surrounding terrain isn't pancake-flat like it is around Mt. Tabor, Rocky Butte, Kelly Butte, and the others closer in to downtown Portland. So until recently I didn't know this place existed.

The city's map of the park shows where the small parking area is located. It's not right at the park, there's a short walk with a grassy field on one side, and expensive houses on the other. Apparently the city bought the meadow a few years ago as a nature preserve, which -- coincidentally -- also preserves the view for the houses here. I'm sure that had no influence whatsoever on deciding to buy the place, nosirree.

But enough snarkiness. The map I just linked to shows a bunch of trails around the butte, which unfortunately aren't signed or otherwise marked. And to make it more confusing, that trail map is incomplete. A brochure from the city shows a few more that aren't on the first map. One of these, the first right after the park entrance, is a ruler-straight trail that has to be the shortest path to the summit. And, as a result, is not very long but is ridiculously steep. So when you get to the first trail intersection inside the park, turning right sends you straight uphill, while going straight also sends you to the summit, via a more winding route with several switchbacks. It was nice of the city to provide multiple options, I guess. How they keep the straight-freakin'-up-the-hill trail from eroding into a muddy gully in the winter is an open question.

If you go, I'd encourage you to print either of the maps, or bookmark them on your phone if it speaks PDF, because it's easy to get lost here. Not extremely lost, since the park's not all that big, and you can still orient by the slope of the hill, but I usually don't get lost at all and I was briefly confused a couple of times.

There's a small clearing at the top, surrounded by trees, and there isn't exactly a grand view of the surrounding countryside. There's a sort of porthole in the trees facing east so you can glimpse Mt. Hood. It seems a bit underwhelming, but then you realize that to see Mt. Hood you're actually looking through the backyard of a house adjacent to the park. This being a fancy upscale part of town, no doubt there were lawyers involved in arranging this, and there's an official signed easement in place, and this is absolutely the most majestic view that could be arranged under the circumstances.

The clearing also sports a small bench with a view of Mt. Hood through the porthole, and a small boulder inscribed with what are described as philosophical sayings. Make of that what you will.

Other links at OregonLive, PDXTrail, Summit Cheese and ILoveLO.

I've found it's usually a recipe for trouble to visit somewhere for maybe half an hour and then try to describe the "feel" of the place. That always seems to attract people who tell me I got it all wrong, the place isn't like that at all, etcetera, and when that happens I'm generally not in a position to disagree. And this time around I'm sort of deriving the "feel" from the handful of people I ran across in the park, far short of a statistical sample or anything, even if I'd really talked to any of them in depth rather than the standard smile and nod. So now that I've provided enough caveats to negate anything I say next, let's get down to the glibness. As far as I can tell, everyone who lives around here is extremely rich, happy, insular, and apparently immortal. The average resident, as far as I know, is a 58-year old cardiologist with 1% body fat, who ultramarathons in his spare time, is a patron of the arts, has a 60,000 bottle wine collection stashed in climate-controlled long term storage (and doesn't drink the wine, because it's an investment), also collects vintage 60's guitars (and doesn't play them), also has a 23 year old ex-Playmate trophy wife, they spend their winters skiiing in Aspen when they aren't busy luxuriating at a spa in Tuscany, or ultramarathoning their way across the Andes. I'm quite convinced he's the average resident here, even if he doesn't actually exist.

But enough snarkiness. I go on and on and gripe and complain as I always do, but I have to admit there was something a little refreshing about the place. If I run into the aforementioned Type A cardiologist on the trail, and he sees my camera and starts prattling on about his Leica collection, well, I'll roll my eyes, because I can't not roll my eyes. But compare that with, say, Kelly Butte, where you'll likely be killed and eaten if the natives catch you -- well, in that regard Cooks Butte has a lot going for it. The, uh, "feel" of the place suggests that here, nothing bad has ever happened to anyone, nobody's poor, nobody's depressed, no one ever gets sick, no one ever gets old, nobody dies, and never will. Which I don't actually buy for a moment, of course. But I admit it's a lovely illusion for a while, just so long as they let you leave when you've had enough.

But then again, I could be wrong about the whole "feel" thing.

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