My buddy and I hadn’t climbed anything in a long time. Saturday, February 7 was going to be nice, and we knew it. I’ve always wanted to climb Saddle Mountain in the Coast Range, and this day was going to be clear. Off we went, but not before doing a quick warm-up on the trails of the Sunset Wayside (and warm-up was exactly what we needed, since there was still ice on the ground).

By the time we got up the 7-mile paved road to the Saddle Mountain Natural Area, the sun was reflecting off the bone-white alders. Another hiker told us to take a short side-trail up a massive rock for a great view of the mountain, and, as he said, so we could “look down and say, ‘We were there!'” Even from this small peak, the views of the coastal mountains were tremendous.

Though the Saddle Mountain climb is famous for its ruggedness, the trail has been improved greatly. Trails have been braced and secured by wire, thus halting erosion. Sure, it’s still a steep climb up 1,623 feet but not terrible. Elk, deer, and black bear roam the area and in summer, the meadows atop the peak are a wildflower festival.

In fact, from where we sat on the 3,283-foot-high peak we could see not only Astoria, the Columbia River, the tides at Seaside, and five Cascade peaks from Rainier to Jefferson, we could also look down on the soaring bald eagles. These same eagles—eight of them—stayed high in the sky on our descent. I like to think on them while I’m rubbing my sore calves.

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