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Sacred Ground

Eagle Creek trail in the Columbia River Gorge, just outside of Portland, Oregon, seems like sacred ground to me, not because it has any particular religious significance but because it has become a part of me.

This is a beautiful trail, and I’m sure that it was the beauty that attracted me to the area the first few times I hiked there. Now, however, it is far more than the beauty that attracts me. Visiting Eagle Creek is like returning home every Thanksgiving. My year isnât complete without hiking Eagle Creek at least once, and preferably early in the year.

I have hiked this trail more than any other trail in the last thirty five years, often two or three times a year, and yet I never tire of it. It is one of the first trails to open in the spring because it is relatively low and flat, and in the summer the high walls and swift-flowing creek provide natural air conditioning, making it the best place around here to hike when itâs hot. I have many fond memories of hikes here, including the only overnight trip our high school hiking club took before it was disbanded because of insurance worries.

Perhaps it is so special, though, because it is also the first trail I ever took a solo backpacking trip with my two children. It turned out to be a memorable trip, for many reasons. Itâs infamous, though, because itâs the trip where my daughter invented the oft-repeated line, ãDad, youâre trying to kill us!ä

The first day was the part of the trip I was most worried about, and I nagged the two constantly to keep a hand on the cable railing used to reassure those who donât feel comfortable looking at 700 foot straight drop off, and it reassured me even if it didnât reassure them. Needless to say, the day went perfectly, and the two kids saw dad as a needless worrywart.

On the second day of the hike we ran into a serious tree blow down and spent hours climbing over and under fallen trees, something I hadnât anticipated on the usually well-maintained Pacific Crest Trail. The complaints began.

The next morning we were awakened by the eerie call of a loon (which wouldnât have been nearly as eerie if I had known what it was). I made the mistake of suggesting the lake was probably haunted. Not a good idea. The day got steadily worse after that. Although the guidebook I had relied on for directions clearly indicated a round trip loop, it was obviously seldom used as it kept disappearing and reappearing after a short distance. It was as difficult to follow as some I had followed in the jungles of Vietnam. The complaints became louder.

Once we broke into a clearing high on the cliffs and could see that it was downhill the rest of the way, our mood shifted. My daughter started singing and skipping along. Suddenly her feet slipped on the wet beargrass and shot 10 feet down the hill. Another 10 feet and she would have dropped out of sight, permanently. My knees went rubbery, and I yelled at her not to move until I could get my pack off. No chance, she was scrambling uphill as fast as she could and reached the trail before I could get even get my pack off. The kids were soon ready to go, but my knees were so weak that I had to sit there another twenty minutes before I could go on.

The trail the rest of the way was as steep as any I have ever experienced, and I cursed the idiot who had written the hiking book suggesting this as a round trip. A lot more complaints.

Needless to say, we survived the hike, though Iâm not sure what the children told their mother when I took them home. We’ve never really discussed that hike since, though the phrase "Dad, you’re trying to kill us" has returned as reminder of the trip.

Surprisingly, though, after my daughter was married and came for a visit with her new husband, this was the first trail that she wanted to day-hike.

And, later, when she invited me on a hike with her and her husband, the trail she chose was probably the most challenging of my life÷I thought she was trying to kill me.