It’s the night before we are supposed to hit the Timberline Trail, and the forecast is not good.
What a week before had been nothing but sun and blue and calm has all of a sudden whipped into a red flag warning for the western Cascades: dry, fire-prone conditions, no rain in sight and winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour. All the requisite agencies are pleading for people to stay out of the mountains. Prospective hikers are bailing on their trips, sharing their postponements on Facebook.
The four of us – myself, Will Armistead, Chris Gomez and Ryan Odegaard – already had to bail on this trip last year when early snow threatened to derail us. We have the time off now. We’ve done the training we’re going to do. We’re supposed to start at Timberline Lodge and head west, away from the worst winds for the first day.
And so we decide to go.
Despite the bowing trees and bending grass on the way up to the mountain, the unnatural hum of the generators powering the lodge – the power companies had killed the electricity to reduce the risk of fire – and the absolute ghost town that greeted us at Timberline on a day that normally would have been bustling, it was the right decision.
We set out just after 9:30 a.m. It was windy, sure, and there was a bit of tension in the air. But the trail, which runs 42 miles around Mt. Hood and includes some 10,000 feet of elevation gain, starts out easy. The wind was at our backs. And not 45 minutes into it, after we’d first cross paths with a friendly foursome who we’d leapfrog with over the next four days, it was still and peaceful. Red flag warning? Never heard of it.
As can happen on the Timberline Trail though – this was my third time doing it – we ran into other challenges that would pose their own obstacles. Gomez got some kind of stomach bug that chose to ride along with him from the second morning on. Some blisters set in and a few knees ached. The bugs were not insufferable, but they were annoying. The climb up from Ramona Falls to Bald Mountain was crushing; the one up from Cloud Cap to the trail’s high point near Gnarl Ridge just brutal.
But along with the struggles comes the glory that accompanies taking in Mt. Hood from all 42 miles of the Timberline Trail: the drop down into Zigzag Canyon, the side slog up to Paradise Park – which reminded me of my old friend, Oliver, and a gorgeous trip we had up there – Ramona Falls, Elk Cove, the coast down Gnarl Ridge, the final relief of the pavement and the cold beers in the lot at Timberline Lodge at the end of day four.
The Timberline Trail. Never the same trail twice. Always an epic adventure.
A lot of people have left their mark on Oregon’s tallest peak over the years, helping to protect its wilderness areas, develop its recreation scene and conserve its history, culture and natural resources.
I was fortunate enough to cross pass with two of those people when writing “On Mount Hood,” and now seems an appropriate time to give them a nod.
The first, Jon Tullis, was Director of Public Affairs for Timberline Lodge when I called to learn more about the lodge more than a decade ago. He was so friendly, informative and helpful, sharing with me some of the great characters who add color to the mountain while also offering up some of his own mountain tales. An East Coast native, Tullis had migrated west after college in 1984, stumbled on Timberline Lodge and, essentially, never left.
He built himself an enviable 37-year career working for Timberline and its operator, R.L.K. and Company, helping guide the lodge and ski area as it evolved. Tullis was there during the 1986 Oregon Episcopal School climbing tragedy; he was instrumental in the ski area’s Still Creek Basin expansion in 2007 – an effort immortalized with the naming of the “Uncle Jon’s Band” ski run in honor of him – and he organized the amazing Mountain Music Festival, which brought live music to the mountain every year.
This year, Tullis announced that he’ll be retiring after 37 years in June. He wrote a recap of his Timberline time in the recent issue of “Timberlines,” the newsletter of the Friends of Timberline. Best wishes, Jon, and thanks for the mountain memories. (And for the time we shared a stage at Powell’s in 2013!)
The second big footprint left on Mt. Hood came from Jack Grauer, a World War II veteran who first climbed Mt. Hood in 1947. A longtime member of the Mazamas, Grauer summited the mountain 227 times before he hung up his ice axe in 1994. Along the way, he also compiled one of the essential resources about the mountain, “Mount Hood: A Complete History.”
Self-published in multiple editions starting in 1975, Grauer’s book is packed with information and anecdotes about the mountain: native and pioneer history, climbing adventures, little-known facts and so much more.
I met Grauer for lunch back in 2010. He was a sharp and charming 89-year-old at the time and was still printing new copies of his book and binding them himself at his home in Vancouver.
In late January, I received a comment on the post I’d written about that meeting with Grauer. It was from someone who had been a caretaker for him in his later years, and she let me know that Grauer had passed away on January 22, 2022. He was 101 years old.
Grauer and his book are important pieces of the Mt. Hood story, and I’m glad I had the chance to meet him and learn from his writing when I did.
Born as a project to create jobs and stimulate the economy during the Great Depression, Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood has found itself again in the throes of a worldwide crisis.
This time, however, the crisis has brought Timberline to a halt.
The Oregonian reported this week that Timberline has laid off 471 employees as a result of the statewide stay-at-home order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
RLK and Company, which operates the lodge and ski area, filed a notice with the state about the layoffs. The cuts encompass all areas of the operation, from servers and dishwashers to lift operators, groomers and even the hosts at Silcox Hut.
Images from the lodge’s webcams on Saturday depict a ghost town of a resort. (Someone asked on Twitter if the lodge might need a caretaker for the season, a lighthearted reference to “The Shining,” part of which was filmed at the lodge.)
Here are a couple pictures of the lodge from sunnier times — and here’s to those sunnier times returning to everyone at Timberline and elsewhere as soon as possible.
Thinking of getting up to Mount Hood for a hike? A night under the stars? A paddle across an alpine lake?
The coronavirus has two words for you: Think again.
Today, the Mt. Hood National Forest announced that it has temporarily closed all campgrounds, day-use sites, trailheads, Sno-Parks, fire lookouts, OHV areas and other developed recreation sites on the Mt. Hood National Forest.”
The reason, of course, is COVID-19 and the effort to contain it. In the Forest Service’s words, the closures aim to “support state and local measures directing people to stay home to save lives.”
The closures will be in effect until at least May 8, 2020.
Until we can get back out there, a few photos from some favorite Mount Hood sites.
Not sick as in sweet jumps or killer powder, but sick as in shut down due to the coronavirus.
The ski areas are just the latest in a growing string of business closures as the COVID-19 pandemic grows. (Soon after hearing about Meadows and Timberline, I saw that the famous Powell’s Books has decided to close all five of its Portland locations until March 31.)
Summit Ski Area on Mt. Hood is also closed, as is the ski area at Cooper Spur Mountain Resort on the mountain’s north side. That latter closure isn’t related to COVID-19; it’s a lack of adequate snow.
As of Sunday March 15, at 12:45 p.m., Mt. Hood Skibowl remained open and is the only ski area on the mountain to do so.
With the way things are going, that probably won’t be the case much longer.
It’s been a Christmas or two since I’ve updated this list of great Mount Hood gifts for mountain enthusiasts out there, but here’s the 2019 iteration, complete with some old favorites and some new additions:
- On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak — Shameless, I know, but sometimes that’s just the way the world works. You can find it at Powell’s, Annie Bloom’s, Broadway Books and most other local bookstores. Here’s a list of stores outside of Portland, and you can always find it online at Powell’s, Abe Books, Biblio and Amazon.
- Code 1244: The 1986 Mount Hood Tragedy — Speaking of great Mount Hood books, this one from Portland-area author Ric Conrad recounts the tragic climb of the mountain by a group of students from the Oregon Episcopal School. You can read more about the book and see some great photos in this post, and buy it on Amazon.
- A Mount Hood pint glass — One of the coolest Mount Hood gifts in recent years is the Oregon Pint, a hand-blown pint glass from North Drinkware that has Mount Hood molded into its base. At $48, they’re not cheap, but they sure are cool.
A former Portland Tribune colleague of mine, Ben Jacklet, co-founded Shred Hood in 2013 as a community news and information site to cover the skiing, snowboarding and backcountry on Mount Hood.
Subscriptions come in a couple different options, including one-time and ongoing. Each has its privileges, including a sweet T-shirt and bottle opener depending on your subscription.
Find out more at Shred Hood.
Feeling a little more philanthropic this holiday season? Consider making a donation to some of the environmental groups that have worked — and are always working — to protect the region’s wild places, including, of course, Mount Hood. (Bark’s mission is more Mount Hood-centric, while Oregon Wild covers the entire state; both have played major roles in protecting Mount Hood and the Mount Hood National Forest.)
- Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries Lidar Map of Mount Hood — DOGAMI released this double-sided, water-resistant map a couple years ago. It includes 75 trails around Mount Hood, wilderness areas, roads, campgrounds, information for climbers and hikers, and a geologic overview. Just $6 at Nature of the Northwest.
- Timberline Lodge Ram’s Head Fire Poker — Fashioned after the larger fireplace tools used at the storied Timberline Lodge, this hand-forged wrought iron poker is classic Timberline through and through. I met Darryl Nelson, the blacksmith behind much of the ironwork that’s been installed at Timberline over the past 30 years or so, and he told me guests regularly try to heist these out of the rooms. Not good. Instead, find them at the Timberline gift shop for $80. The shop also has a nice array of vintage-looking posters and artwork, books, souvenirs and more. Check it out.