by Molly Steere

I don’t remember the very first time I hiked Saddle Rock. What I do know is that I hiked it very soon after we moved to the Wenatchee area twelve years ago and it quickly became symbolic of my new home. The rocky outcropping (that does indeed resemble a saddle) is an icon that is visible from almost anywhere in town. Every time I hike it I am reminded of the breathtaking, unconventional beauty that defines our backyard.

There are two different trail options approaching from either side of the saddle and I use both equally. You can find directions to both trailheads on our Saddle Rock post. Both trails are short, fairly steep in areas, and deliver expansive views of the Wenatchee Valley, the foothills, Rocky Reach Dam, town, and the silvery ribbon of the Columbia running through all of it.

I’ve hiked Saddle Rock in all seasons. I love getting out there just as the foothills turn a velvety green in the spring and the air smells of wet dirt and wildflowers. During the scorching dry heat of the summer, I’ve kicked up the fine dust of the baked earth, my face lined with salt from dried sweat. I’ve stood at the top looking out over the valley as leaves change to fiery shades and breathe in the crispness in the air that hints at the cold to come. I’ve even stomped through (and slipped on) snow and ice on unforgivably cold, clear winter days when the view was crisp and bright.

And then there are the seasons of life.

When someone uses the word “season” to describe a stage in one’s life, I unfairly – and vigorously – roll my eyes. Maybe it’s because the term is so prevalent. “This season of growth and adjustment is fleeting” or “during this difficult season, remember to stay positive.” Maybe I bristle at its use because it’s so often used to describe a negative phase to be endured. I rarely hear about someone’s “season of mind-boggling awesomeness.” However, I have to admit that the word works in so many situations.

Saddle Rock has been a constant in my life as the seasons (both metaphorically and figuratively) have changed.

I love looking at pictures my husband took of me on one of our hikes up to the saddle and I’m showing off my barely-pregnant belly while posing at the base of the rock foundations. Saddle Rock was my first hike after I had my son, Roper. He rode in a front carrier and quickly informed me that he did not like the wind – screaming at it with matched ferocity when we got up top. The first time Roper hiked up to the top himself he was so proud of himself, and then promptly gave me a heart attack while clambering up the rocks after his dad (in case you’ve never been up there, there’s a lot of exposure in some areas).

Saddle Rock has many times been a warped version of a date night for my husband and me, racing to the top and back in the dark before we pick up our son. Those are probably some of my favorite date nights, feeling like we fit as much as possible into a small chunk of time – connecting with each other, getting in a good workout, filling our lungs with fresh air, and having the trail (mostly) to ourselves.

The hike has also been a staple for solo hikes, offering me a short window to get away from work and parenting. I find some of the biggest shifts in my perspective happen with elevation gain. Especially when I’m rewarded with a panoramic view.

My most recent hike up Saddle Rock was my first time on the trail since a total knee replacement. I’ve logged a lot of firsts since the replacement: first time walking unassisted, first time driving, first time setting off a metal detector, first time biking, and more. Finally, it was my first time hiking Saddle Rock. Saddle rock has always been a good gauge for me after a major surgery to see how out of shape I’ve become (spoiler alert: the answer is usually “shamefully”).

My knee replacement and subsequent secondary procedure kept me off the trails for longer than previous surgeries, so this return to the trails was even sweeter. I tested out Ebenezer (yes, I named my new knee) on flat trails, but quickly decided it was ready for Saddle Rock. I should note that I’m a tad impulsive and that my physical therapy team did not necessarily agree to this jump in activity/elevation at the time. Oh, but it was glorious! At least the uphill portion of it.

Using my walking poles, I cruised up the trail without a problem – even on the steeper, uneven sections. The view was amazing and, as always, I got a nerdy geological thrill thinking about the wind, rain, ice, and floods that formed Saddle Rock and the surrounding valley ages ago. For the record, this is a great sunrise or sunset hike. The sunlight on the Columbia and the glow of the hills are spectacular.

I procrastinated at the top, scrambling around the craggy, pointed towers, taking in the view from each angle, and taking pictures. But I eventually had to face the fact that I needed to get down. Dread started to build in the pit of my stomach as I peered down at my car in the lot. The trail suddenly seemed much longer than I remembered.

I didn’t yet trust Ebenezer and was terrified the whole way down. There are steep sections that are slippery. I might as well have been on roller skates. If you’re at all unsteady on your feet, for the love of all things good, bring poles! Once down to the car, my brain immediately erased the downhill portion of the hike and I drove home on a hiking high – Ebenezer and I were ready to start a new season together!

On the old jeep roads and single track trails that comprise the Saddle Rock trail system, you’ll encounter trail runners setting a blistering pace, families leisurely strolling, mountain bikers, and everything in between. It’s a trail that fulfills many purposes and weathers each season beautifully.

This post was originally published on 10/8/18.

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