Secret Trail to Old Growth
By Andrea Lynn
The mucky livestock smell is still here, even though the mule trains stopped climbing this trail more
than 100 years ago. It is .9 miles, possesses an average grade of 13 percent, and takes about 20 minutes to ascend at a good clip. A brisk pace, even a run that forces an eruption of earthy sweat up
under the wind breaker, is best. It’s easier to manage the trail’s steep grade at a quick pace, and it is effective use of the adrenaline that always flows more abundantly when considering the bear
population in these parts. Snug running shoes or hiking boots are necessary to make this trip successfully.
Two dewy noses are tucked into black cotton tails, hiding a few feet away in the brambles near the
trailhead. The fawns appear with their mother almost every morning to enjoy the insipid tender ends of the new canes that will hoist next year’s crop of blackberries into the caramel sunshine. This
year’s crop is already so ripe the berries smell like cotton candy, their warm leaking juices overrunning the plump berries.
Stepping softly past the fawns and onto the rocky trailhead, the flora of the conifer forest captures
the musty aroma put off by the bright green mold clinging between stone crevices. The luscious thicket canopy is always moist, even though the ranger’s fire danger sign in the shape of Smoky the Bear
warns of extremely parched conditions.
The grand trees, more than 200 years old, are the watchmen of the path. It is necessary to suck in
breath to pass around them, turning sideways and placing one foot directly behind the other. They are no doubt put off by the dust bombs that occupy space at their hems; pungent parasites. It is
difficult to pass by these fabulously playful forest fungi without pausing to crunch one open. It doesn’t take much. A gentle stomp will do the trick, and the burst as the fungus opens recalls the
scent of an overly toasted campfire marshmallow. A quicker pace is needed once the fungus dust rises; the stalking cloud of spores is noxious.
Halfway up is the steepest, murkiest part of the ascent. Hooves and four legs would be helpful here.
The tight hairpin in the trail mixed with the altitude and steep grade pulls any remaining oxygen out of the lungs. A lost stream sprung from an unseen underground source somehow scampers alongside
the trail, wetting the ground impatiently. Slipping and sliding to gain traction, a wet bottom is the inevitable outcome. About 400 yards to the top, the trail’s end still seems a year away. The
skeleton of the mammoth fallen cedar blocks the path. Climbing over its chest takes a while; no one wants to disturb whatever lives inside near its foul, sulfur-drenched heart.
Musky incense in the air indicates the end of the ascent. The intoxicating myrtlewoods line up
clandestinely behind the pines that guard their secret, and the upper meadow whispers hello, the soothing wave of the foxgloves a chorus in the briny breeze.