If you go
Getting there: Take China Hat Road east and turn south on Swamp Wells Road (Forest Road 18). From here, head south four miles to Forest Road 9714. Park here to hike in, or drive west approximately one mile to reach base of Luna Butte.
Difficulty: Moderate. There is no trail up Luna Butte, and hikers should be equipped with maps, GPS, cell, food, water, emergency shelter and all other essentials.
If you see a burly, bearded man hoofing it down China Hat with hiking poles, it might be Kolby J. Kirk.
Here’s how I met Kirk: Almost a month ago, after a trail run on Coyote Loop Trail, I was taking the scenic route home on China Hat Road. As I neared the spot where Swamp Wells Trail crosses China Hat, I saw a man and a woman hitchhiking.
I’m guessing most people drive by hitchhikers, as I usually do, with nary a trace of guilt. However, it was late February, and though the temperature had been fairly mild, I was four or five miles deep in the Deschutes National Forest maybe 30-45 minutes before sunset. I thought maybe they needed a ride.
The hitchhikers, one a young woman and the other a burly, hairy fella of inscrutable age, both held hiking poles, had their thumbs raised, and sported toothy grins that seemed to say, “Would serial killers smile like this?”
In addition to their friendly demeanor, I had along with me my assertive, distrustful dog Kaloo, and he’d clearly rolled in something awful back on the trail.
Fortunately, my instincts hadn’t failed me. The two were Kirk and his girlfriend, Jasmine Wilson, both of Bend.
Kirk later told me he was born in Eugene and had lived in Los Angeles for 15 years before leaving three years ago in search of a change of pace in Bend, where he works as a technical support specialist at Vantage Clinical Solutions.
“The big thing to say about L.A. is that whatever you want to do, chances are you can do it there. If you want to ski or surf or hike, there’s so much to do. … Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people there (also) doing it,” he said.
The day we met, he and Wilson had parked at the Horse Butte Trailhead and taken Swamp Wells Trail to Bessie Butte, but Wilson’s hip was bothering her enough that they’d decided to thumb a ride rather than hike the three miles back to the car.
En route, he told me about his very cool project to paint and eventually publish a guidebook detailing the whys and wherefores of summiting some of the many buttes in Central Oregon.
I told him about how I write these outings. Before we parted ways, we’d exchanged business cards and talked about hiking together.
By mid-March, the three of us, joined by my Bulletin colleague Andy Zeigert, had made plans to hike Luna Butte, located just a few miles south of Bessie Butte.
Why Luna? Serendipity, somewhat. I’d told Kirk how I’d always been curious about Luna ever since seeing the partially burned butte from atop Lava Butte.
He’d been planning to suggest it anyway, noting that it’s Luna Butte that appears in the watercolor painting on his business card, and it was the first butte he explored and mapped for his book project, “Hike Your Butte Off!” for which he’ll use watercolor, pen and ink. He hopes to complete it by the end of the year.
We met that morning at Starbucks in south Bend and caravanned out China Hat. We hung a right at Forest Road 1810, then drove south another four miles south before parking on the shoulder at Forest Road 9714.
Truth be told, we could have driven the mile to the base of the butte, but part of the fun is the hike. We walked on the road, sometimes having to negotiate ice and mud, before turning right and plugging into yet another forest road even closer to the butte’s base. From this point, we started up the ridge of Luna, which Kirk colorfully describes as being akin to the shape of a dragon, with the opposite ridge trailing off gradually, somewhat like a dragontail.
For Kirk, the fact that there’s not a trail on most of the buttes his project encompasses is not a hindrance — exploration is part of the appeal.
And if and when he does publish his guidebook, he’ll be making it easier for less bold hikers who like to have a game plan or stick to the tried and true.
Even on short day hikes, Kirk brings the essentials with him — extra food, water, shelter and other gear — to stay safe during his off-trail ventures. He was glad for the provision a short while back when his car got stuck on a lava flow when he was trying to reach Kelsey Butte for some sunset photos.
When he hiked up attempting to get a signal for his cell, his phone died. “I turn on my phone. It goes from 16 percent to 1 percent to off in a second,” he said. “Despite all that, I thought, ‘I’m pretty well prepared.’ I had enough food and water, extra clothing, two flashlights.’”
He ended up hiking about eight miles before a car stopped and gave him a ride into town at about 8:30 p.m.
Fortunately, this Luna Butte trek was a morning hike, and with Bessie, Lava and other buttes surrounding us, we were pretty well-oriented, not to mention the fact that at least two people in our party had GPS devices.
Kirk warned us that he’s not about hiking to go quickly from point A to point B.
“I love hiking, not necessarily for the amount of miles that we cover, but just (for) looking around. I’ll get down on the ground and take photos of stuff,” he said. “Everyone enjoys it differently. The more I hike, the more I learn about things, the more I stop and study them.”
In that manner, he hopes to summit 50 different buttes in 2014. “It’s a way of getting outside and make (it) a challenge.”
For his book effort, he hopes to self-publish several shorter editions covering eight to 10 buttes each, “and then eventually have enough to publish in a main book,” he said.
As we went straight up the ridge, we stepped over downed limbs and tree trunks on the butte, largely covered in bunch grasses, manzanita and pines. Here and there, we followed the occasional animal trail and paused to explore large rocky outcroppings or interesting logs, not to mention some incredible views of the Cascade Range to the west and the many buttes to the south and east.
After a lot of talking, stopping and gawking — with Kirk stopping to sketch, write and take photos — we eventually found ourselves on the forest road, heading back to our vehicles.
It’s not usual to go on hikes in which we cover just four miles in three-plus hours, but this one was as enjoyable as any others I’ve taken — both for the views and the company.
And if ever you see a burly, bearded man hiking down China Hat Road, remember, it might be Kirk.
— Reporter: 541-383-0349, email@example.com
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misnamed Kolby Kirk’s employer. The Bulletin regrets the error.