TOPOPHILIA: Intimacy With Place Interview Series with Guide Book Author Matt Reeder

NORTHER EMILY: So let’s dive in and talk about the crowding issue. You and I have both lived here for long time.

Matt: I moved out here to Oregon from Illinois when I was seven. One of the major reasons we moved out here was that my stepfather really loved the outdoors- as soon as I got to be about 9, 10, we started going hiking, about 1990.

I grew up in Salem. We used to go to the Jefferson area, Opal Creek, little North Santiam River and they were never all that crowded for the most part.

Jefferson Park was crowded, Opal creek was crowded, but they were crowded in the way that something like a gorge hike on a really rainy day in the winter would be crowded now. I mean, you would see 10 to 20 other parties over the course of a day. In the places that weren’t crowded, you never saw anybody, other than the occasional hunter or the lone hiker.

Nothing really changed that much in the nine years I was growing growing up in Salem. Opal Creek became more crowded because it became more famous, but otherwise everything was kind of just the same.

I moved away for college and I came back eight years later. I’d never hiked in the gorge until I moved back here and even then the gorge didn’t feel that crowded for the most part. There were more people than I had grown up seeing on the trails here, but it still wasn’t like it is now.

The pandemic really accelerated it, and the rise of the Internet as a place for people to find ideas, along with hiking as a leisure activity. When I was growing up, you tell somebody you’re going camping and they just assumed you were some outdoor nut.

Now I feel like everyone goes outside and it’s also a huge attraction for people when they move here. So, you get this confluence of events that have made hiking and exploring the outdoors just insanity in a lot of places. When you combine that with ease of access, like you get for the gorge near Portland, or all of Central Oregon, you get crowding that is just so overwhelming.

For anybody like me, and I’m guessing you too, you can’t deal with it. You’ll find someplace else to go. For the popular hike, you’ll go on a miserable weather day or you’ll go on a weekday.

That’s just the way it is.

Having led hikes for the Mazamas, crowding has become such a problem that we’re not even allowed to lead hikes in certain places anymore.

I remember, like, six years ago my wife and I and a couple of friends went to Seattle for the weekend to go see my baseball team play, which doesn’t happen very often.

I don’t think I’d realized how much worse it is in the Seattle area compared to here because the hike that we did was apparently so popular, we couldn’t go more than 30 seconds without seeing another person. Even Eagle Creek here, you can still go and have five minutes, 10 minutes between seeing people, but this was like every 30 seconds, I couldn’t believe it.

This was six years ago, I can only imagine it’s gotten worse during the pandemic.

NORTHER EMILY: I love that more people want to go outside but I hate that people feel so entitled to an experience that they’re willing to park illegally or hike a crowded trail beyond the point that it’s reasonable or fun. You need to have a plan B, and a plan C.

The only other issue that I really take with it is just that people feel like they are ready for an experience, when the only way they can handle it is as long as absolutely nothing goes wrong, there are no obstacles, no adverse weather. They’re confident in their ability to follow the trail, the little human highway through the woods, but possess no other skills AT ALL of any kind.

NORTHER EMILY: Let’s talk about the Salmonberry! I fucking love the Salmonberry. I have to be a guide because I love places like this so much.

I found Beaverslide road on accident, and you know how great it is when you don’t know that something’s there and then you find it? It really it’s another level of magic.

Matt: I’ve always been too afraid to drive that road.

NORTHER EMILY: Oh my god, it’s awful. It’s like 1400 ft of loss in 1.4 miles.

Matt: That’s no joke

You’re making me immediately want to go back there because I have avoided the area ever since they closed the rail line to hiking.

I’ve avoided it because I love that area so much. But also, I have a slightly different relationship than a normal hiker would.

I really, really love the canyon. I think that at some point they’re probably gonna have to reopen the train tracks because I don’t know if they ever get the rails to trails done. People ask me when that’s gonna happen, I’m like, “I don’t know, 2040? Think about how much work they actually have to do to reopen that!”

NORTHER EMILY: I go way into the history of this area when I guide people out there and it’s absolutely insane that they put a railroad up that canyon; the most landslide prone, deepest, darkest, primeval canyon in the entire coast range.

I’ve only hiked part of it once, but it was amazing, just amazing.

Matt: I did each end at least twice and every time, I was just like, “I wanna come back, I wanna come back, I wanna come back”…

I don’t know why it had never occurred to me to just walk the roads, but it just never had, and now every time I see one of your posts, I’m like, “damn it, I need to go do that.”

NORTHER EMILY: You gotta go walk the North Fork, it’s my favorite hike to take people on. It’s so fun to tell the story of the area and the history.

One time, I met these old guys up there. I had taken my friend and mentor Stevan Arychuk out to the Salmonberry. We were hiking along in the rain and this truck drove by… Well, they went down the north fork road, and then they turned around and came back up and stopped and talked to us. These two guys were in their seventies, at least. They said they were brothers and they told me that they had put the railroad tie through the tree up at camp nine in the sixties.

Locals are such a treasure trove and especially in the Tillamook they will talk your ear off for an hour and tell you about Bigfoot stories and all their cool secret spots.

MATT REEDER: Wow that’s that’s truly special.

NORTHER EMILY: Why do you think Portlanders were always so resistant to hiking in the Clackamas area?

MATT REEDER: You’re the first person to ever asked me that- who actually knows what they’re talking about!

It’s true, I mean, I love the Clackamas, but I think for a lot of people, they have this impression of Estacada, like you’re gonna get murdered.

You said something recently on instagram that I could have applauded 100 times, which was “put down the murder podcasts.”

You’re not gonna get murdered up on the Clack and believe me, I have seen some sketchy shit up there. Anybody that spent time up there has seen some really sketchy shit. I could go on and on about that, but like at the same time, even that shit is less dangerous than being in a city, is less dangerous than driving to the trailhead.

I’m sorry, the chances of you being held up at gunpoint or murdered aren’t that high, the worst thing that’s likely to happen is somebody will break into your car and try to steal something?

I think people just have this impression of the Clack like it’s lawless territory where bad things are gonna happen and that’s also part of the appeal for people who actually love it?

That’s why I feel like I miss it acutely. I just I miss it. It’s like something is missing- I would go up there in the winter and just tool around the canyon, go explore the Fish Creek drainage. I don’t know if you ever got to explore Fish Creek?

NORTHER EMILY: Oh, yeah I did. I was just looking through, I have your Mount Jefferson book, which is excellent…

MATT REEDER: Thank you.

NORTHER EMILY: ….it really filled an important gap in the hiking book arena.

I was just flipping through and I was like- “there’s so many hikes I never got to do!” If I had known that it was all gonna catch on fire, I would have hiked Rho Ridge when I had the chance, you know?

Matt: Well, you know, Rho Ridge wouldn’t be that bad now either to be honest with you. I drove right through there. It burned pretty badly but the forest there was already pretty sad and in second growth anyway, I think the fire might actually improve it a little bit.

NORTHER EMILY: Interesting.

Matt: Did you did you see [on social media], back in August, I was driving home and there was a giant accident on 22. I had to come up with a way around, otherwise we would have had to back-track three hours.

NORTHER EMILY: I don’t think I caught that one.

Matt: Yeah. So, I was driving back from Central Oregon at the end of August, I’d gone on a friend’s camping trip, I needed a break from guidebook research. There was a giant car accident. I think it was a semi truck hit a van or something. 22 had to be closed for several hours and they had to have everybody drive back to Central Oregon or down the highway 20 to get to the valley.

So I thought, “okay, I know there’s another way around this.” I had two of my good friends in the car and I drove up into the Elk Lake Creek area and I knew that there were a couple of roads in that area that connected. I was able to get around it and we got on highway 46, not far from Hawk Mountain, there is a road that connects through there.

NORTHER EMILY: Elk Lake Creek was so freaking beautiful.

Matt: Yeah, the way you described going to some place for the first time, it was just like, “how is this even possible?”, was how I felt about Elk Creek. That’s the place that I still feel that way about it. I refuse to put that in any new guidebooks for the same reason. I have to hold on to something, you know,

NORTHER EMILY: Where do you stand with the ethics of sharing locations?

MATT REEDER: Mhm. That’s been a difficult one for me. The delineation that I drew was, “is it on trail?” If it’s on an official trail, then you share it. If it’s on an unofficial trail, but it’s an obvious trail that already existed then, yeah, I’ll share it. Is it off trail? Then, no, I will not tell you where it is.

It took me a long time to come to that conclusion and it’s like okay now maybe there there are exceptions to that like, if off trail involves walking along the beach. Well, that’s not hard to navigate. Your footsteps will be washed out by the tide. Are you walking along the Ridgeline, and all you have to do is scramble up some rocks, 50 ft to the top for a view? Yeah, I’ll be glad to share that.

But something like an off trail waterfall, generally, I’m not gonna tell people where it is… I’m not gonna give you a letter by letter directions on how to get there.

I’ve done a lot of off trail stuff, I just don’t write about it. It’s not a good idea for anybody or for the land to tell people how to find an off trail destination in very simple terms, because it makes people get kind of cocky about how to deal with, how to figure out off trail things on their own.

NORTHER EMILY: I like I was saying earlier about like finding beaverslide and not knowing it was there. The joy that you experienced by finding something that you worked really hard to get to is so much greater than finding the most beautiful waterfall ever.

I’ve worked really hard just to take a look at some medium grade waterfalls in the coast range, you know? And they were beautiful. They were amazing, because I got to express my physical abilities and practice practical skills, it was like a multilayered experience.

MATT REEDER: Those have been some of my favorite experiences… I’ll name a name just to do it, because nobody will be able to go there again anytime soon. I managed to finally get to Opal Creek falls three years ago, the giant waterfall at the head of Open Creek Canyon and that was incredibly difficult. That’s the hardest bushwack I have ever done. I was so, so proud that my friends and I did it. I wish I’d had ropes, that’s how hard it was.

I don’t know if you know Tim and Melinda, the waterfall gurus…?

NORTHER EMILY: I don’t know them personally, no.

MATT REEDER: Yeah, they I’m sure they’ve been name dropped, but even they were like, “wow, you made it there.” Opal Creek Falls is one of the hardest things, but the joy that I felt that day was…., it was a childhood dream. I’d seen a picture of it when I was a child and I knew it was there because I used to go to Opal Creek all the time. That was more satisfying to me than most of the on trail hikes that I’ve ever done. But… at the same time I wouldn’t flat out tell somebody how to get there. I don’t mind, naming, saying what it is, but it really depends on the situation, too.

So, it’s a hard dichotomy because, if you do anything in a public medium, like you and I both do, you reach a certain point where it’s like, “what do I share versus not share?” You have to come up with your own personal set of ethics. I think on trail versus office something that I’m personally okay delineating. But…. there’s some things that I hold on to myself, like? certain places that are, you know, 100 yards off of a maintain trail. Or a campsite that I won’t put on a map. Things like that I’m happy to hold on to myself, just so it doesn’t get blown up,

NORTHER EMILY: I talk to people a lot about releasing the expectation of reaching a destination. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hiked up the ridge next to whale creek and I have never been to the furthest falls to the big one.

MATT REEDER: I never got up that creek either. Tim and Melinda invited me several times. It just never happened. I would have loved to have gone up Whale creek before the fire. I feel bad about that.

NORTHER EMILY: The lower part of that creek is probably the most beautiful place that I ever saw in the area. The lower two falls; they’re not that exciting, but they were awesome! You hike through this beautiful creek and then drop into an awesome canyon! I always went with the intention of reaching the tallest falls, and then I either ran out of time, I realized I wasn’t in it, realized that I was like not up for the push and I decided to drop in on one of the lower ones and and enjoy what I’ve done.

The last time I climbed Saint Helen’s, I was like somebody’s mom, up there, fucking scolding everyone because there were there were kids climbing up there with no gloves on?

The Saint Helens Institute could not hold your hand more when you buy a permit from them, they babysit your ass with all of these detailed emails and there are still people out there, not prepared for the snow.

It’s insane to me how the more people you put together in the mountains like that, the dumber everybody gets…… I’m not gonna put that in the interview.

[laughs]

MATT REEDER: I see that, too. I see it, too. I think anybody who spends a lot of time outside sees that, and it’s just disheartening and frustrating.

NORTHER EMILY: It’s frustrating when at the same time, those are the people who are like, “you shouldn’t be going off trail” and “you shouldn’t be hiking alone”. Like, you need to handle your own business before you mind mine. I grew up outside, I’m up from a commercial fishing family, I was outside every day of my childhood. The things that people scold me from doing now are things I’ve been doing since I was a little kid.

MATT REEDER: I can believe it. I feel bad for you, because, I think what you do is a great thing and people just… I learned the expression “haters gonna hate” and it really helps me to not internalize some of the stupid stuff that I see on the internet… just, “haters gonna hate”.

It’s admirable. I mean, I believe me, if I didn’t love french so much, I’d be very tempted to just quit and write full time. I have nothing but admiration for you and for other people that decided to make this their livelihood because it’s it’s not easy and requires an insane amount of work.

I already work 20-30 hours a week on writing on top of my job, so I can’t even imagine how much you’re working.

NORTHER EMILY: Thank you, I appreciate being seen in this because I think a lot of people think it’s really cushy, it’s definitely not.

NORTHER EMILY: So… somebody shot at me on Wildcat Mountain last fall.

MATT REEDER: That’s one place I won’t go back to.

NORTHER EMILY: I went to McIntyre ridge twice in one summer and both times I was like… “the trailhead’s not here, what’s going on, this is a shooting pit?!”

MATT REEDER: I won’t go back there for that reason. That area, that part of the Clack, I will not visit. It’s the places that are closer to the small towns that have rough roads- those are the ones that you need to avoid.

The other one that I won’t do is Butte Lake, which I never go to, even though theoretically that should be in the Jefferson book. I never got there because the year before I put out the Jefferson book, there was someone who had caught Butte Lake on fire and shot up the entire bathroom. I was like “Yeah, I think I can pass.”

MATT REEDER: Do people ever give you shit about solo hiking?

NORTHER EMILY: [Laughs] Oh my god, yeah, all the time, like it’s their job. I just laugh in their faces. I mean, sometimes, a little cute old person in the gorge will be like, “ma’am, you should not be out here by yourself.” But… yeah, people on the internet give me shit about it and I’m like you gotta be kidding me.

MATT REEDER: They don’t give me even half as much shit as they give you or my other female friends, it’s sexist. It’s just pure sexism.

NORTHER EMILY: Absolutely. People are just so uncomfortable with the woods and uncomfortable with themselves and their own abilities that they can’t stand seeing someone they subconsciously see as lesser doing something that intimidates them.

MATT REEDER: People don’t give me shit about hiking alone, it’s only people like you and my lady friends who hike solo, and they’re like, “I actually feel safer solo”.

NORTHER EMILY: As a woman, I am always statistically safer alone, but that’s certainly not the narrative being portrayed. Funny, isn’t it?


The Ruddy Hill Press is the brainchild of author Matt Reeder. Matt moved from Illinois to Oregon at age 7 with his family. He grew up hiking and camping all over the Pacific Northwest; he never felt more at home than on the trail. He moved back to Illinois at age 16 but returned 8 years later to settle in Portland. Since moving back to Oregon in 2005 he has logged more than 5,000 miles on the trail and has hiked the vast majority of the trails within a 2 hour drive of Portland. Off the Beaten Trail was his first hiking guidebook, published in the spring of 2013. Matt is also the author of PDX Hiking 365 and 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region. His new guidebook Extraordinary Oregon will be published in March 2023.

Published by Norther

Norther Emily, Wild Solitude Guiding. I teach foraging classes, lead guided private hikes, host retreats to remote places in Oregon, give excellent travel advice #NortherKnowsBest , and I’m here to teach people how to reconnect with nature. wildsolitudeguide.com

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