Ain't no mountain high enough

Avid hiker Cher Rydberg enjoys the outdoors, and a good challenge
Cher Rydberg and Kindle hike along a gravel road near Butte Falls, with Mount McLoughlin rising in the background. Photos by Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

Every clear morning when Cher Rydberg wakes up, she can see the large and picturesque Mount McLoughlin rising outside her rural Butte Falls home, while off to the north, little-known Union Peak peeks through the trees.

It juts 7,709 feet high in the Cascade Mountains like a brash imp, taunting Rydberg to come and play if she's got the guts.

An 11-mile round trip with a 1,600-foot elevation climb from trailhead to summit. Thirty-six switchbacks, a trail rating of "Difficult" and no water save for what hikers can carry or glean from the snow.

Can you take it, Cher? Can you?

"I've climbed (McLoughlin) several times, but never Union Peak," Rydberg says. "If I can see it, I've got to climb it."

So Rydberg expects to chalk Union Peak off her life list of conquered summits in August, the next but perhaps not the last of her hiking goals. What's left is the uber-entry for local hikers — the Oregon stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that follows the Cascades from California to Washington.

Either goal almost takes a back seat to getting there.

The path leading her to the Union Peak climb is itself a series of little victories every time Rydberg and 12-year-old Kindle, her so-called "mountain Chihuahua," take to the logging roads of the Butte Falls area.

She and her tiny-legged companion have logged 100 or more miles every month since June, discovering new meadows and different vistas that she keeps noted in a hiking log.

The pair hike six days a week, taking Sundays off but giving themselves no excuses in between. They hike primarily little-used spur roads along federal Bureau of Land Management lands, focusing where possible on gated roads meant to restrict vehicles but not people.

A pedometer logs the miles, so there are no mistakes. Miles logged in one month stay with that month, with no carryover of extra miles. Maps marked with highlighter pens chronicle the locations.

And everything is logged, for personal verification.

"It's important to have goals," Rydberg says. "It creates confidence. If you aim at nothing, that is exactly what you hit."

Rydberg has been hitting the Butte Falls-area trails since moving here from Chicago more than 30 years ago. She did a stint as a timber cruiser for what is now the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, then raised a family.

She's always enjoyed hiking, as much for the physical benefits as the psychological ones.

Walking with Kindle following close behind helps her shed the mental clutter of life.

"It's a good way to get you out," Rydberg says. "Anything can keep you at home."

Hikes are never meant to be grueling and they are never without a smile for both Rydberg and her pooch.

"I don't rush it," she says. "I think walking should be very restful. It should soothe you.

"And Kindle glows when she's out hiking in the woods," Rydberg says.

Rydberg carries bear spray always, especially after two playful bear cubs chased Kindle down a road a few years ago. In the spring, when bears are hungry and cranky, she packs a pistol.

The hiking got a little more serious four years ago with the advent of her journal.

The looming visage of Union Creek started calling soon after, and the hikes started to get longer and more frequent.

The logistics required to hike Union Peak are surprising.

She can't go too early because snow blocks the trail. Summer brings mosquitoes that could fly off with Kindle. The lack of water means she'll either have to pack a load or rely on just enough snow around to supply some hydration.

She plans on ascending Union Peak the first week of August, just to put that imp in its place.

Hiking, though, will never get scratched off Rydberg's list.

"Just being out in the woods," she says. "I love to hike."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at

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