Iron Mountain

In the Presence of the Past

Story and Photos by Mike Cothern

“Get out of here! Get off me!”

I turned to see my hiking partner Kent waving his arms in a frenzied manner as he shouted. Running back down the fifty feet of trail that separated us, I realized a couple dozen bees were swarming him. I took off my cap and slapped at the irritated insects before we both sprinted the last seventy-five yards up Grouse Butte. There we assessed the damage, finding that my friend had been stung at least eight times while I had been nailed only twice. We were at a loss for words—other than me asking several times if he was and would be okay—and resumed our walk in silence. The voice inside my head, however, would not shut up: “What a sorry end to such a disappointing trip.”

Kent and I had met in Bliss earlier that morning in hopes of making a day hike to a fire lookout perched on top of Iron Mountain. After driving up to and across the Camas Prairie, we left the pavement near Featherville and encountered a confusing web of Forest Service roads. We explored several routes and backtracked down one before I decided, since it was my trip, on what appeared to be our best departure point. While we both felt relieved to finally escape our vehicle, our hike began much later than expected.

Although the lookout, at an elevation of nearly ninety-seven-hundred feet, was visible as the westernmost peak of the Soldier Mountains, it was still six miles away as the crow flies. But that calculation had issues: neither one of us had yet grown wings and the trail we would be forced to walk did not cross the landscape in a straight line. The route instead looped around the head of a deep drainage and then meandered to our destination. Its length totaled twice the distance as that proverbial bird’s flight and rose almost a half-mile in elevation. And then we had to return to the pickup.

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