I have a small collection of rocks from Mt. Hood at home that remind me of the mountain whenever I pick them up or spy them: a small piece of lava from the banks of the Sandy River high up on the mountain’s flanks, a striated clump from an epic trip around the mountain in 2013, a stony block from a favorite Sandy River spot shaped somewhat like a mountain that marks the final resting place of my favorite four-legged friend.
During our Labor Day outing on the mountain this year, Madeline found me another one to add to the collection. It’s an absolutely uncanny replication of Mt. Hood itself, which she found at one of our all-time favorite Sandy River spots.
This one, I know, will stay with me for a long, long time. The appearance, the profile of the rock compared to the mountain itself, is simply too dead on.
Summer’s going to fade fast. We know it is.
So around here, we do our best to make the most of all that we can, even if it sometimes makes us a little rough around the edges. Case in point: A three-day weekend on Mount Hood at the close of the first week of school.
We headed to a favorite area near the Sandy River and Zigzag, which was super crowded but not entirely crammed. It served as our home base for the weekend, which found us doing everything from picking early huckleberries, shooting BB guns and exploring a now-off-limits Sandy River beach to taking in “The Princess Bride” at Mt. Hood Meadows, hiking Tamanawas Falls and enjoying a tribute to the Grateful Dead at Timberline Lodge during their annual Mountain Music Fest.
The weather was amazing, the mountain bare but scenic and all of us having an escape that we’ll be thinking about once all this sunshine fades and we’re bundled up inside on a sofa in late January.
A few photos to illustrate the weekend:
For the most part, we’re fair-weather skiers. Springtime. Blue sky. Sunshine.
Softer snow, sure, but we’re largely OK with that.
But every year, we do get a couple winter runs in, usually thanks to Timberline’s Cyber Monday deal, which is a buy-one-get-two free pass deal they run every year the Monday after Thanksgiving. You have to use them midweek and not during the winter break, but otherwise they’re fair game.
We cashed in a few of those freebies on a cold Presidents’ Day this year — a day that shifted from bluebird skies to eerie whiteout conditions depending on where you were on the mountain and when.
It was a great way to start our 2019 ski season on Hood.
Membership has its sledding perks.
In this case, that’s having a son who is a member of Cub Scout Pack 413. As a result, we were able to head out on a Mount Hood sledding adventure two weeks ago with his fellow scouts to the Aubrey Watzek Lodge near White River.
The lodge was, unfortunately, locked up. But the sledding hill was wide open and made for a great Sunday afternoon.
But don’t worry. If you don’t have a Cub Scout connection, there’s still some great sledding to be had on Mount Hood. Here are some some of the best sledding spots on Mount Hood for 2019.
White River Sno-Park — About 4 miles north of US 26 on Oregon 35 just south of Mt. Hood Meadows, the White River Sno-Park is great for easy, fun and free sledding on Mount Hood with little ones. The closest hill is just a five-minute walk up the snowy road from the parking lot; bigger and better hills are just a little farther along. Because it’s also a popular skiing and snowshoeing spot, White River can be a touch crowded, but it’s expansive enough that there’s room enough for everyone. And with an incredible view of the mountain as backdrop, there’s little to complain about. (It doesn’t cost anything to sled here other than a Sno-Park permit. If you buy a permit from a DMV, they’re $4; most vendors that sell them jack them up a buck or two.)
Little John Sno-Park — At 3,700 feet just 30 miles south of Hood River on Oregon 35, this free Sno-Park (free sledding on Mount Hood except for the Sno-Park permit) is fairly low in elevation, so if it’s a low snow year the pickings can be slim. (As of Dec. 28, 2018, there is not enough snow at the park for sledding.) But when there is snow, the sledding looks like good fun. There’s also an old log warming hut. The Forest Service only allows plastic sleds and tubes.
Summit Ski Area — Mount Hood’s oldest ski area (now owned by the folks who operate Timberline) is also home to a tubing area. You can’t bring your own sled, but for $26, you get a tube from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Summit is just east of Government Camp.
Snow Bunny — It used to be that you had to use tubes provided by Summit at this sledding hill east of Government Camp, but this year, it’s different. The Forest Service notes on its site that there are no fees here from November 2018 to May 2019 and personal sledding devices are permitted.
Cooper Spur Mountain Resort — A sleepy but quaint little resort on the beautiful north side of Mount Hood, Cooper Spur is home to a tubing park with a rope tow. (As of Dec. 28, the tubing park was still listed as “coming soon.”) Ten bucks for the morning or afternoon, which includes some great views of the north side of Mount Hood on the drive up from Hood River.
Mt. Hood Skibowl — The closest ski area to Portland is also home to a snow tubing area. Cost is $27 for adults for three hours and $22 for juniors. The area includes a tube conveyor for heading back up the hill. In addition to regular tubing, Skibowl also offers Cosmic Tubing on weekend nights with laser lights, black lights, music and more.
Other Sno Parks and Areas — The Forest Service also lists Sledding and Tubing as activities at these other Mount Hood Sno Parks: Government Camp Summit Sno Park and Multorpor Sno Park. I’ve also seen reports of sledding opportunities at Trillium Lake, near the Hemlock Trail in Government Camp and elsewhere.
Yesterday marked a year since Oliver left us after almost 13-and-a-half years. We raised our glasses to him at dinner and talked about him throughout the day.
I’d also written a little recollection about him over the summer after a hike up the Mazama Trail on Mount Hood with my friend Mark Pomeroy in July. That hike sparked a lot of memories of Oliver, as he and I had done it together five years earlier.
This is what I wrote.
I still see him every day.
Not literally, of course. He’s been gone now for just over seven months, so there’s no real chance of that.
But I still see Oliver in so many passages throughout my daily life, even though he’s not physically there anymore.
When I wake up in the morning, I see him following me downstairs, heading outside, coming back in for his breakfast. Now, though, where once there was a loping black lab, there is a sly black kitty, Morrie, whose food is in the same can in the pantry that Oliver’s was.
I run down the road and along the Willamette River, which I’ve done for more than 10 years now, and I know he’s not there next to me anymore. But there were so many times he was. Ten years’ worth, and so I see his black shape there always, running alongside me, tongue lolling, nails scraping the pavement; when I’m running through the natural trail section that heads under Highway 43, I see him bounding through the greenery, running up over the boulders, slopping up water from the creek.
At home, I swear I hear his feet and toenails clicking across the kitchen floor. Occasionally I’ll see him moving across the backyard or waiting behind the slats of the side gate when I pull in after a long day of work.
But nowhere do I see Oliver more than when I’m on the trail, out in the world. Spencer remembered so clearly as we hiked Blacklock Point in June how the last time we’d done it, it was him, Oliver and me, and Oliver had gotten perilously close to the edge of the cliffs.
On that most recent trip, even though he wasn’t with us anymore, I saw Oliver running zigzags across the beach, his ears flopping in the wind atop the cliffs, the grass flattened where he would have laid after a long day of exploration.
The reason I still see him, aside from the fact that I loved him so much and he was such a good friend to me, is that he was just always there with me. At home. On the trail. In the campsite. On his bed at my side. Always.
I saw him so much today on the Mazama Trail up Cathedral Ridge to McNeil Point with Pomerory. It’s been five years, almost exactly, since Oliver and I hiked up that trail for the first time ever. I remember that hike so vividly, how we’d never gone to McNeil that way, how Oliver’s tongue lolled way out during our lunch break, how natural he was off-leash when he was on the trail.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that hike with him today. So much sadness. But there he was again, darting after a chipmunk, lapping up a drink from a crystal-clear stream, seemingly smiling for the camera from our lunch break spot.
Oliver was always with me. I know he always will be.
But my heart breaks every time I think I see him and then remember that he’s not really there anymore.
We started off the camping season back in May, popping up a new tent in one of our go-to spots near the Sandy River, Riley Horse Camp. It was a beautiful weekend that included a little skiing and some horseback riding, courtesy of some friendly folks we met in the campground.
Fast-forward through a summer full of the great outdoors — a backpack on the Southern Oregon Coast, summiting South Sister, a far and wide road trip through the Midwest, four days on Lost Lake, Hood to Coast with my Run of the Press crew from the Portland Business Journal, camping in the Ochocos and at Peach Beach in the Gorge, and plenty more — and we found ourselves back at Riley Horse Camp this past weekend for a great bookend to the summer camping season.
It was cold, sure, but it was sunny and gorgeous and a perfect way to wring the most out of Mount Hood this summer.