Woodburn Dragstrip
7730 Hwy. 219
Woodburn, Oregon
503-982-4461

What Is Your New Year’s Resolution ? – Janauary 2012

It was 1995, — 10 years following the eruption of Mount. St. Helens. A sunny day in September found me on my way climbing up Mount St. Helens. There were about 8 of us in the group. For some reason we got started late and did not get to the trail head until about 9 am. The trail proceeds from the parking lot on the south side of the mountain, wanders through the trees making switchbacks as it gains in elevation. There are places where we could see Mt. Hood and Mount Jefferson to the south through openings in the forest. As we climbed further and progressed above the tree line, Mt. Adams stood out prominently to the northeast. I was eagerly anticipating reaching the top where I would be able to look down into the crater as well as view Mt. Rainier in the northern distance.

I was well prepared for the trip, carrying a canteen of water, a sandwich and apple for my lunch, as well as an energy bar. I was wearing my new hiking boots due to the fact that we were told there would be some rugged terrain ahead. The first problem I encountered was when a blister developed from the new hiking boots. Fortunately, a well placed bandage over the blister provided some relief from the pain, but it was uncomfortable for the rest of the day, to say the least. A more serious problem arose from the fact that I did not have the stamina to keep up with some of the younger hikers in our group and I began to fall behind. Several others also lagged behind so I was not alone.

The most difficult part of the hike was around the 9,000 feet level where we had to pick our way up, over and around some very large boulders to reach the final ridge leading to the summit. It was very steep and we were required to use our hands to climb our way up the mountain. Once we reached the ridge leading to the summit, the view was amazing. There was a steep drop on the right side of the ridge which was covered with sharp jagged rocks which ranged from 2 to 8 feet in diameter. On the left was a sheer drop of probably 300 feet straight down. The ridge was covered with smaller gravel size pebbles which made the final climb a bit slippery as the pebbles would move under your feet.

By now, it was about 3 pm. Being as unconditioned as I was, my pulse was about 160 per minute and I stopped to rest. I could see some of our group nearing the top, but estimated I still had an hour until I could get there. And then there would be the long descent which would add another 4 hours. A lady named Marty who was hiking with me walked past me and also stopped to rest about 50 feet up the ridge. As I considered the situation, I decided not to continue. “Marty”, I said, “I am going to turn around and start back down.” “I will come with you”, she replied. I watched as Marty started walking back down the trail toward me. Her feet slipped with the pebbles rolling under her feet. The back pack she was wearing added weight to her and she took quicker steps to try to keep from falling. To catch her balance she actually began to run towards me, and I could see she was out-of-control. I thought of the steep hillside with the rough jagged boulders on my right and the sheer drop-off to my left. One would cause severe injury and the other would be fatal if Marty did not regain control. I had about 3 seconds to make a decision. I stepped out into her path, grabbed her waist as she ran past me, swung her around, and we both fell to the ground on our backsides. We just sat there for a moment. “Thank you, Elvon”, she said. “You saved my life.”

Ten years later, 2005, my son, his friend and I tried that hike again. This time it was October and the weather prevented us from making it to the top. I am wondering if maybe 2012 might not be the year that I finally achieve the summit. I usually don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but climbing Mount St. Helens is one of my goals. I better start getting in shape.

Story by Elvon Kauffman.

Elvon Kauffman has been drag racing since 1975. He has been a NHRA Northwest Division Bracket Champion twice – first in 1978 when he defeated fellow Woodburn racer, Joe DiFillipi at Seattle International Raceway and secondly, in 1980 when he again defeated a Woodburn racer, Ron Burch at Woodburn Dragstrip. He was the first and only World Champion in Heavy Bracket, winning with his 1970 Plymouth Road Runner 4-speed at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway in October, 1980.

Elvon’s variety of life experiences become the basis for the stories he shares in Straight Talk, a monthly column produced by Woodburn Dragstrip. Hopefully, you will enjoy reading them.

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