Smoke Ramblings

In his delightful book, Walking Up and Down In the World: Memories of a Mountain Rambler (1984), my old friend Smoke Blanchard (1915-1989), recounts aspects of his solo walk from Washington State’s northern border with British Columbia to Oregon’s southern border with California:

“The Cascade Range, where I left it, plunges satisfactorily down to the Willamette Valley. On my cross-California walk I was disappointed by the way the Sierra tapers so gradually into the flatlands. Oregon offered a decently steep transition from mountain ridge to valley floor. I’ve often wondered why I missed Eugene. It couldn’t have been because it’s too big; my favorite city is Tokyo! I suppose that, as a beeline from the South Sister to Cape Perpetua passes north of Eugene, I decided a visit to that interesting city would have pounded my feet on too much highway pavement. Junction City, though, is not my favorite.

“I’ve always liked the Oregon Coast Range, although it’s the least alpine of any mountain chain I’ve ever had anything to do with. In the Boy Scouts we used to ride horses over Mount Hebo, sometimes visiting funky farms so far back in the brush that they had no road access at all. Freight — disassembled hay-field machinery and canned goods inbound, mink fur and chittum bark outbound — traveled entirely by packtrain via narrow trails and frequent rover fords. Until the CCC road construction in the 1930s, some towns in southwestern Oregon could not be reached by wheeled vehicles.

“At Cape Perpetua the Coast Range drops directly into the sea. I balanced my bivouac on a ridge-crest elk trail aimed at the ocean. Four elk, bounding seaward at dawn, slammed on the brakes and skidded to a surprised stop only inches from me. I also was surprised.

“…There is no way I could have done justice to all the glories of the southern Oregon coast in less than a century. Some day I must return with full mountain gear to explore some quarter-mile-long beaches I bypassed. It would take a rappel descent and a piton-assisted climb up the opposite wall. Cliffs, dunes, bays, rivers, forested mountains, grass-covered mountains — the south coast parades all the manifold environments of the continent’s edge.

“Two scenes are still bright in my mind’s eye. Shortly after a 3:00 A.M. start, necessary to catch a boat across the Umpqua, I walked among high sand dunes in pitch darkness, suddenly a star gleamed almost underfoot! The pinpoint light, reflected in a small pond, kept me from blundering into the water. Fighting the toughest brush battle of my life on Seven Devil Mountain, I’d become almost used to being suspended far from earth on slender swaying branches as I bulldozed my way near a cliff. Once the lacing under me thinned, so I glanced down to judge my height above the ground and saw the sea!”

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