PHILOMATH, Ore. -- It was one of those fall days that had the potential to be perfect if the low-hanging clouds would just burn off.
On a recent Thursday afternoon in the Willamette Valley, the sun was working to come out as I drove from Salem through Corvallis and Philomath up to Marys Peak -- known for being the highest point in the Oregon Coast Range. Sure enough, by the time I got to Corvallis, the skies were clear and robin-egg blue.
As I drove up the winding switchbacks that lead to Conner’s Camp Trail at Marys Peak, sunlight danced through the brightly colored autumn leaves above me, and the temperature was brisk.
I parked the car, gathered my water bottle and a granola bar and added a couple of layers to start up the East Ridge Trail.
At the trailhead, there’s a small map that outlines the 5.5-mile-round-trip hike that heads gradually north through the Suislaw National Forest dominated mostly by Douglas fir trees. The beginning of the hike starts at a pretty low elevation and is very shaded (hence the extra layers). After the first few hundred feet, the trail crosses a gravel road that was blocked off by a gate but continues north through the forest.
About one mile into the hike, I came upon a bench that marks a fork in the trail. I stayed to the left of the fork and was led up a slightly steep and challenging hike to the summit of Marys Peak. All trails lead to essentially the same area at Marys Peak Summit, but almost a mile and a half after the fork, the East Ridge Trail opens up into a large meadow where you get your first glimpse of the mountains in the distance.
From the meadow, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters are all visible east of Marys Peak on a clear day. The ocean also is rumored to make an appearance on a clear day, but usually, it’s a bit too hazy.
After I passed through the short meadow, the trail continues on and leads to a gravel road. To get to the summit of Marys Peak, one can take the gravel road, which gradually wraps around the side of the small mountain, or you can cross the gravel road and take a more direct and steep route.
Of course, I took the fastest and most difficult way up, my patience growing thin after getting a glimpse of the East Cascades from the meadow.
Once at the top, the silence is overwhelmingly perfect.