A Long and Winding Road
The adventure of hiking up Pillsbury Mountain begins with the road to the trailhead. Wren and I bumped along through Perkins Clearing and Sled Harbor and she was anxiously looking out the window expecting us to stop at any moment. She always gets excited when we are on dirt roads. When we arrived at the parking area I let Wren explore the trailhead area for a bit as I got my pack ready. I also hung one of Wren's towels from the window of the car in the hopes that it would dry while we were hiking, and we set off.
The trail initially dropped to cross the Miami River, where Wren paused for a wade and a drink, but it then began to make steady progress up hill. Pillsbury Mountain isn't a long hike, but it is does climb fairly steeply for much of the way. The day was also warm - adding to our efforts - and the woods were quiet, save the sound of Wren's trotting jingle and my own breathing. Soon enough I felt my pace slowing to a bit of a trudge uphill as I dripped from the heat. The mountain was giving me a swift kick in the seat of my pants.
A Brewing Storm
We covered the ground quickly enough - although now and then Wren would pause with ears perked and look at me in concern. I initially didn't pay a lot of attention to this, but then I heard what I thought was a plane in the distance, only to realize my mistake. It was thunder and she had been hearing it in the distance before I tuned into it. She was not interested in going forward, but rather wanted to head back to the car each time we stopped to listen. It was growing louder fairly quickly so I paused and considered our options. Looking up at the passing clouds, the storm seemed to be following a path that would graze the peak, but hit the lower portion of the trail we had already hiked. Since we had completed the steep section of the hike (the mountain finishes along a relatively level ridge line) I didn't want to go back down. It wasn't simply because I wanted to finish the hike – more importantly racing a storm back down the mountain is a good way to get injured. We weren't going to outrun it.
With the rain came the fresh smell of petrichor. I picked out a place beneath a group of trees on a raised portion of rock (which can theoretically help avoid ground current should there by lightning strikes) and we sat and waited it out. The storm grew louder but as I had hoped it didn't hit us square on – we caught the fringe of it and the downpour lasted just a few minutes. I sat there soothing Wren and trying to keep my bag somewhat dry as I considered the towel hanging from the car hoping for a drying sun.
Reaching the Summit
The storm soon passed us by as the thunder proclaimed its dominion in the distance. So we moved on to complete the hike and I wrung out my t-shirt which was suctioned to my chest. The conifers became thicker soon after we resumed our hike and I heard a Bicknell's Thrush call as we neared the summit with its old observer's cabin and fire tower. We paused to drink at the top as a small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-capped Chickadees, and Golden-crowned Kinglets called in the nearby trees and I climbed the fire tower steps for a look around. Wren wanted to join me so I only went as high as where the wire mesh is completely intact. Higher up there are some holes to avoid, and despite her sure-footedness I didn't want to have her leaning over the edge of the steps after everything was slick with rain. Our view from where we stood was great anyway, and it soon showed that while the storm was booming away from us, new threats loomed in the clouds coming our way. We didn't have long to spend on the summit. So I clicked a few photos and we started back down.
Perhaps stirred to life after the rain, the birds were more active on our way down than they had been on our way up in the heat and we found a number of species on our descent including Black-throated Blue Warblers and a lone Mourning Warbler in a brushy patch of woods. While the sky at the summit had looked a touch ominous, it did not rain on us as we hiked, and we were sure to be careful of slick rocks and puddled spots in the trail. I took my time going down as a result.
Once back at the car I noticed a small tree which had fallen during the storm across the mouth of the parking area blocking our exit. I dragged it into the woods. Then I set my hands to wringing out the towel (which was soaked) before changing my clothes for the ride back out on the dirt roads towards camp.