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Gray Butte will take your breath away!

Gray Butte will take your breath away
The Bulletin
By Jim Witty
March 21, 2001

Part of the joy of hiking is sharing the outdoors experience with other like-minded people.

Hiking partners and the stimulating conversation they can bring to the trail help melt away the miles and ease the burn on those grueling uphill sections. And sometimes they’ll share their lunch.

Matching strides with three able-minded hiking companions during a recent grunt to the top of Gray Butte helped cut the 5,108-foot cinder cone down to a manageable size. One’s a retired architect. Another’s a successful entrepreneur. The third is Central Oregon’s original techno-ranger, Bill Gates in lederhosen.

The conversation ranges from growth in Central Oregon (what’s a body to do?) to trailside nutrition (carbs not fat) to climbing Everest (you don’t do it for the view).

Before you know it, you’ve bagged another Central Oregon peak.

Gray Butte is no Everest. There’s a road of sorts to the top and an array of communications towers once you get there. The view, however, is every bit as breathtaking as the climb. Your trudge is rewarded by a panoramic 360-degree view of all the region’s significant geographic features.

There’s Grizzly Mountain, Haystack Reservoir, the Crooked River National Grassland and the Cascades chain standing in vivid relief to the west.

The high altitude perspective provides fodder for future adventures. Black Butte’s a great hike once the snow’s off the trail. A circumnavigation of the Three Sisters would be good fun ... So many hikes, so little time.

Below us, beneath the west flank of Gray Butte, is a historic grove of fruit trees in barren winter phase.

The McCoin Orchard was planted in 1886 by Julius and Sarah McCoin and was privately owned until the 1930s when the government bought the land. (It’s now owned by the United States Forest Service.) The McCoin Orchard and another up the road still bear fruit.

Just south of the apple and plum trees is a gravel parking area and the Gray Butte Trailhead. This trail follows a ridge to the spot we’re standing.

After lunch and a few pictures, it’s back down the way we came. While the uphill is a slog — especially the last mile or so, which is quite steep — the downhill comes with its own distinct challenge.

Scree (loose chunks of rock) litters the road, making every step a little adventure. Hiking poles prove stabilizing on this stretch of trail.

At the saddle, the walk gets easier and hikers are afforded another nice view, this one to the back side of the Smith Rock area. But there’s another, less-pleasing, sight here as well. Bullet-riddled cans and cardboard beer cases mar the trail.

The descent done, we hop into one of the vehicles and follow Forest Road 5710 (Skull Hollow) around to the back side of Gray Butte.

There we encounter McCoin’s old homestead from a different angle and eye the Gray Butte Trailhead with a future Friday in mind.

Then it’s back into town for a hot bath and a cold beverage, the empty placed in a proper receptacle.

They give a nickel for empty pop cans, you know.

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