The Wolf of the Arch

I took a trip back to the area around the arch and ended up with a surreal experience that cemented this as one of the more legendary places in my travels. 

After exploring most of the area on the south side of the ridge where the arch is and then making my way under the arch, I remained curious about the rocky area on the northern side of that ridge.  Having only peeked from atop one of those rocks, it looks steep and brushy and pretty feral. There were basically two options: #1) come in from the top, which means you're moving downhill against the brush, but also means that I may not be able to easily get around the large rock at the top and down under the rocks...or...#2) come in from the bottom, where I was more familiar and fight brush all the way to the top. I chose #2. This was stupid. Flowers were all over the place.  Last time, it was mostly short rhododendrons and little else.  This time, it was a lot of everything else and the short rhodies were done.

 

These two rhodies were on the road in.

 

This trefoil was also along the path in.

 

A few columbine were hanging out where the climb starts.  In the second photo, a greyish-blue butterfly was blurring by.

 

As you'll see later, bear grass was everywhere at the top.  Down closer to the bottom, it was less common.  These two were the tallest I saw all day, measuring in at around 4' tall.

 

This is The Chute.  This is one of the most iffy points on the adventure.  This is also the most preposterous time when for interesting stuff to catch my eye.  And a hummingbird decided it would be a good time to repeatedly buzz me.

 

The view directly behind.

 

The view directly up. As I started to climb up from the tree, I spotted something cool in the more exposed part of The Chute:

These are candy sticks, a bizarre type of flower.  The second picture was from up top, but I stuck them together here. I scooted up and headed over to the north side, then dropped down.  There were inconsistent game trails, no caves, few interesting rock formations, and incredible amounts of rhododendrons.

 

This is near East Rock, which is the name I applied to the largest rock poking up through the trees.  That large, flattish rock looks like it may have an interesting story to tell.

 

How did it get here, shaped like this?  I'm thinking it was actually up as an overhang.  The supporting ground and rocks to the right eventually gave way and it sat like this.

 

This is East Rock, where I took the 360 degree photo last time.  It gives some amazing views.  While on top, I theorized there could be a cave below.  That does not appear to be the case.  The rock itself is mostly one big chunk that angles away from the top.  This was a tricky shot to get, as I had just escaped a large bee that grew far too interested in me.  The view was too good to pass up.  Shortly after a new bee found me.  That was a consistent theme of the day: bees being really interested in me.  I never got stung but it was a constant threat and annoyance. After making my way around the base of East Rock, I looked up to see the incredible face of the western-most rock as it towered ahead.  This rock is now dubbed The Hotel, as it looks like a looming haunted cliff-side hotel from a movie.  I was tired and the brush really thick and the terrain was only going to get steeper.  I decided to cut my losses and head out to the top of the ridge and explore up there a bit.  It was surprisingly easy to climb out.

 

I found some old cougar scat.  Everyone who isn't into outdoorsy stuff thinks those who are should be scared of cougars,wolves, and bears, but that is just not realistic.  Healthy, wild wolves have only killed one person in the United States, even dating back to when their numbers were high.  Bears in Oregon are really skittish.   As of this writing, there has yet to be a fatal cougar, bear, or wolf attack in the history of the state.  Bees and mosquitoes are exponentially more dangerous than cougars and bears, as are tweakers and off-leash dogs.

 

I ventured a bit further west and looked over from a different rock.  This place is going to be brutal to explore.  Next time, I'm going to start at The Hotel and work my way down. I headed away from this side and started making my way back.  I came across a gently sloping flat spot with bear grass and paintbrush all over.

 

This is looking down at the beginning of the spires.  Just below this is the triple cave.  I eventually stopped to eat lunch here.  It's a remarkably peaceful place to spend time. Here are some paintbrush photos:

These last few have a pre-shot color filter applied.  The glare from the sun was overbearing and I could not see the screen or much of anything from this angle.  I think I missed the framing a bit, but overall I like these. From here, I started to make my way back to the car.  I thought about going back down through The Chute but didn't want to do that with how tired I was.  Instead, I headed over towards the arch, thinking it would actually be easier to rappel down the rock face below it.  I had not planned on even going there today, but thought this was my best option. One thing for me to keep in mind was that the clock was ticking and a major storm was scheduled to blow in shortly.  In spite of the sunny photos, this was going to be a major event in my near future.

 

Some more plant life of this unique area.

 

Looking down into the bowl.  It took some doing, but I managed to visually identify the arch from above.  It was not obvious and took some doing, but it's possible.  I had to lean onto a rock and stare down below and eventually was able to identify the forest through the arch.  But I do not think there is a way to easily identify it as a rock arch on the plateau above. Because I was planning on rappelling down through the arch, I did not leave my rope to use to climb back out of the tricky spot at the top.  I took a minute longer to think about the terrain here and what it might look like in the rain if my other plan did not work out.  It did not look like something I wanted to mess with if I did not have a rope, let alone ropeless and wet.  I continued down and committed to the plan.

 

The sun and blue sky were still out but this would only last about 2o minutes or so.

 

Measuring base-to-base is tricky, as there is only one base.  The other sort of blends into the rest of the rock.  On top of that, there is a deep crevasse on that side, so an exact measurements are fairly subjective.

 

I spent some time here, hanging out, resting, looking at things, taking it all in.  The two trees that hide both the inside and outside of the arch are interesting in that they begin growing surprisingly close together.  The outside tree grows at such an extreme angle that it surely will not last much longer.  The inside tree is larger and basically grows on bare rock.  The one side is leaning at an incredible angle.  There is just no way it's going to last either.  There is a fair chance that the larger tree will go first and knock the other down.

 

Back to the matter at hand...me climbing through there.  I have done similar(ish) things in the past and have no problem doing it.  The question was whether my rope would be long enough.  The rock wall down below is about 18-20 feet tall.  What I had not taken into enough account was the distance between the tree I would be using to rappel down and the forest below.  My rope is 96' long, but I would be cutting that in half to rappel.  It was about 23' from the tree to where the rock dropped off at the wall.  I also had to contend with the really narrow footing below the rock wall.  It was steep and only a couple feet wide.  After that, the ground dropped a solid 50+ feet into the forest below.  No matter how I did the math, the best case scenario was that I maybe would barely have enough rope. I took some time to look around, then reassess the rope issue, remeasure.  I did this a few times.  It always came out to an uncomfortable number.  The reality never changed, though the weather did.  It had turned dark, grey, and the wind was picking up.  I realized that I was not stupid enough to rappel down and instead had to climb back out of there with my rope as a useless 3 pound weight in my backpack.

The wind was at a constant 15 mph with large gusts blowing on top of that.  I was spacing off right at the base of the arch and a large wind gust blew through, probably about 30 mph or so.  It made a really strong sound.  A few minutes after, the constant 15 mph wind carried a massive gust that would cement this moment in my mind for the rest of my life.  This wind gust was probably in the 50 mph-range.  As it grew, I heard what sounded like a thunder strike coming from the direction of the large ridge where the storm was bearing down on me from.  The thunder strike sound carried on as it echoed around, lasting about 3 seconds.  Never stopping, the sound continuously grew into a roar like that from a jet flying low overhead.  This lasted another 3 seconds.  The jet sound then reached its fever pitch and then changed into what can only be described as the howl of a 200' tall wolf with a 50' mouth.  This howl went on for between 5-7 seconds of awe-inspiring terror.  As the powerful wind gust died down, so did the unearthly howl.  In ancient times, many cultures took natural events as their god(s) talking to them, telling them things.  This was god talking to me, saying, "If you don't get out of there before this storm hits, you're going to meet me."  I pragmatically understand that this was simply a powerful wind causing volcanic rock to vibrate and push air back out of that archway.  But I don't think I'll ever believe that it was not a monstrous wolf letting the valley know of its arrival.  It was the most terrifying and wonderful thing I have ever heard.  I never want to hear it again and I simply have to hear it again.

Heeding this omen, I stuffed gear back into my pack and started making my way out.  I was still pretty worn out from my attempt at the other side, so the physical part of the challenge was not going to last long.  This was going to be a 100% willpower-fueled event.  I made my way up the first rope-only portion, which was sketchy, but it's only about 15' of vertical without any strong plant stuff to use.  Soon enough, I was at the 75' portion just below the top.  And it looked bad.  No strong vegetation.  The ground was less dirt and mostly just compacted duff.  There were few stable rocks or roots to grab.  With a rope, it's pretty easy.  Without a rope, it was perilous.  Thankfully, the rain had not started yet or else I would have little chance to get out.  Through this section, I had to make about 5 safety compromises, with 3 of them coming over a 20 foot span.  Digging my feet into the duff, at one point all of my weight had to rely on grabbing a completely dead husk of a tiny bush and hoping for the best.  As I climbed to the top and hit the plateau, I did not have time to take anything in or relax, as The Chute was still coming up and that would be more dangerous in the rain.  I quickly made my way down to it, paying close attention to the number of stray raindrops that were falling.  I hit The Chute and dropped down without wasting any time.  Once in the forest, I slowed down a bit and caught my breath.  Back down to the road, I did not care whether it rained or not.  I made it to the car and a short ways down the road before the deluge started.

On the drive back home, in spite of the surreal experience, I began troubleshooting the events and started making plans to return, both to the arch and to further explore the surrounding area.

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