100 Peaks #19: Stegosaurus Butte and Christmas Gifts

I’m writing about 100 mountains I think are neat. The full list is here.

Westy and I go on a lot of weeknight hikes, as we have both more evening free time and more restlessness than most people. Sometimes, we get ambitious, and climb the Tooth or get lost on a longer trail until 2 AM. But I’ve had a nagging pain in the top of my foot for weeks now, and I haven’t been able to hike much without fear of it starting to affect my gait until my ankle starts hurting. This has been one of those frustrating injuries, where the in-network doctor I was given shrugged and said “I don’t know, it’s not a stress fracture” before prescribing me expensive physical therapy and telling me to continue to stay off of it.

Anyone who loves an active hobby as much as I do knows how disproportionately depressing this kind of diagnosis can be. Luckily for me, it happened in fall, the darkest and dreariest time to be outside in the northwest, so it could be worse. And on this day, I was feeling somewhat better! So we opted for a hike that was short, but still steep, so that I could feel like I did something. Even better, neither of us had ever done it before!

Our mini adventure started on the road past the Mailbox Peak trail, where we looked fondly at the spot where my van sat during our event. We started on the Middle Fork Trail and looked for a turnoff in the dark. The very first thing we did was cross a bridge covered in a thin layer of dusty snow. With the light from the headlamps, it looked like glitter, and I skipped back and forth across it singing “Christmas bridge, Christmas bridge!” On either side of the bridge was water sounds, but mostly darkness.

Immediately on the other side, we found ferns covered in hoar frost and icicles dripping from the rock. When I turned my head, blackness turned to shining plants of all sorts in the small beam of my mediocre headlamp. The frost was emerging from the ground in those ribbony hairs that happen early in the winter. We walked on crunchy, curly ice and I broke off an icicle and started eating it.

After imagining a bunch of false turnoffs, we found the real one. Upon closer inspection, the icicle had a few everygreen needles imbedded in it. It tasted cold, sprucey, and refreshing, so cold that it was starting to burn my tongue. The trail was steep and muddy, but it was surprisingly easy to follow for a “climber’s trail.” We saw the impressive Mt. Garfield on the way, and after seemingly just a few minutes we were at the top of Stegosaurus Butte, under a somewhat cloudy sky, standing among glittering logs and ferns.

This Butte is gently sloped, like the back of a stegosaurus, I guess. The true summit is nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the ridge. The peak is also called Choir Boy, since the Preacher and the Pulpit are nearby. But Stegosaurus is a better name, even if disappointing to the WTA hiker who mentioned sadly in their trip report that they didn’t see any stegosauruses.

Even at the top, there was no proper snow. We sat on the uneventful summit and started the little stove to make dinosaur oatmeal. I poured Westy his oatmeal and made my own, way too runny (like I like it).

“Are these eggs? The dinosaurs come out of the eggs??”

We waited for the dinosaur sprinkles to emerge from the eggs and counted who had more stegosauruses. I won.

After the oatmeal, I skipped down and tried to take videos of the beautiful snow. The real Christmas present to myself, however, was going to a real doctor about my foot the next week. He tapped different parts of my foot until he found one that made my toes tingle. Treating my foot for a bruised nerve, I was able to start hiking longer than few miles again!

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