Getting a mountain fix 1: Four-in-One Cone

One thing that I really, really miss in Portugal is the presence of real mountains. Year-round streams and tall trees, too, but at least I can find those within a reasonable drive from the Algarve. Real mountains, the kind with no visible human footprint nearby, are much harder to get to.

So when we went to Oregon this summer, one thing I simply had to do was hike in the Cascade Mountains. Fortunately, my best friend and veteran hiking buddy was happy to oblige, so on my last weekend before returning home, we packed up and headed to the Cascades. Our first stop was Four-in-One Cone.

The trail starts out in dry forest, winding through pines and beargrass for several miles before reaching a wall of basalt lava.

(Click on any photo to embiggen.)

lava ridge

All central Oregon hikers know that this stuff is hell on hiking shoes — and ankles, too. Basalt is sharp and abrasive, and even worn trails like this are full of small pieces that turn and roll under your foot when you step on them. But the payback is awesome. Hiking on lava, seeing it all around you…there’s nothing like it.

lava's end

The trail crosses to a forested island, surrounded on all sides by the lava flow. It turns southeast and meanders along the base of the flow, giving the hiker a fabulous view of the wall of basalt looming on one side…and North Sister dominating the view in front.

After crossing another wall of lava, the trail enters a cinder barrens, the result of the many eruptions that built Four-in-One Cone.

cinder moonscape

Even lava flows have more life than this. Cinder barrens are the most sterile landscapes I know of, and have an austere beauty all their own.

They’re also really great at turning ankles.

The trail climbs to the top of Four-in-One Cone and then runs along the ridge line, giving views into all four cones. But if you’re expecting perfect geometry and rounded cones, you’ll be disappointed. All four of these eruptions blew out the northwest side of the original cinder cone, resulting in an unbroken wall on east side (see above photo) and a series of gouges and ridges on the west.

Best of all, of course, is the magnificent view: Mt. Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Jefferson on one side…

Four-in-One Cone

…and North and Middle Sister on the other.

North Sister

I think my favorite landscape shot might be this one, though. The bleached bones of dead pines shine brilliantly all through this landscape, in sharp contrast to the dark lava and the bright green of the living trees.

Bleached bones

Central Oregon is a place of extremes. Edges are sharp, colors are vivid, and the whole landscape tells a tale of titanic births and deaths. It’s a part of my home that is deeply embedded in my heart, and there are no words for how it felt to stand here and breath this dry, piney air.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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9 Responses to Getting a mountain fix 1: Four-in-One Cone

  1. Power Wench says:

    I don’t know what botanical endemics may be living on that sterile-looking cinder field you hiked, but I’ll bet if you went back in May or early June you would be surprised. At Idaho’s Craters of the Moon, the spring wildflower show in a wet year is stunning. The plants are small, widely spaced and inconspicuous for most of the year, but when they put up their flowers the barren cinders are spangled with multicolor. Check out some Google images of the event.

  2. My (now legal in the USA) husband and I went back to Alaska in September to pack up last things left nine years ago, see folk, and get real Alaska-married! But the thing that struck me, too, is how crazy-missing I was about the mountains I lived with so many years of my life. Got to stay in a friend’s house in a valley with a mountain creek running through it. Beautiful. Restorative.

    Really hated to leave the change in colors taking place, the fantastic, rich smells of memory and so many good times. But we did. Back in London, looking out over the meadow lands from our back garden and giving a small sigh… Nature groomed, in miniature.

    I don’t miss America. I miss Alaska. I know the longing; it’s good to go back once-in-a-while.

    • Congratulations on your now-legal marriage! That must have felt wonderful, to hold that ceremony in a place you love.

      Nature is not quite so groomed in Portugal as it is in England, but I do know what you mean — especially about the miniature part. At least you can take a run up to Scotland for a mountain fix, yes?

      And I also fully understand not missing America, but missing your part of it. There’s a reason this blog is not called American Expat.

  3. Sandra Berry says:

    Nice photos. Fortunately, those who can’t make it up steep, rocky trails anymore can still see these beautiful peaks and vistas from some several roads heading east. I haven’t been there for years so thanks for sharing your journey.

    • My pleasure. And it’s true, there are some great vistas from the highways. I always prefer the ones that include no signs or sounds of humans, and hope I can continue to see them for a long time to come.

  4. Stan Rehm says:

    Very nice. Tx for posting those pix. Reminds me of my hikes in that area many (decades) ago…

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