Back to the Timberline Trail – Always Epic
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.
Like a rock — on Mt. Hood
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.
Labor Day Weekend 2019 on Mount Hood
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:
Finding Summer on Mount Hood’s Lost Lake
I probably shouldn’t share this, but I think a few of my Mount Hood stories already have: the weekend after Labor Day can be one of the most glorious of the summer.
The past couple Labor Days, for us anyway, have been ripe with the first signs of the season to come: chilly, gray, damp; the kind of weather that makes it feel OK to stay inside for a change. But that transition can be a hard one to make, but at least the first weekend of it is usually just a fleeting reminder to get the rest of your summer in while you can.
And how we got it in this past weekend at Lost Lake. I won’t share exactly why this annual trip to the mountain’s Northwest side this time of year sits so high atop the list, but I think it’s plain to see.
It can be tough to get the popular lakeside campsites in the campground at Lost Lake, but luckily many of the other sites, tidy and surrounded by soaring Doug firs and lodgepole pines, leave little to groan about. Even so, it’s not really about being in the campground at Lost Lake. It’s all about being on the water.
And that goes for everyone.
Our escape to Lost Lake this summer found us there for three nights. The first two days on the lake were summertime at its best, with sun and swimming and heat and barely a care in the world. I thought repeatedly about doing the three-mile hike around the lake or the 4.6-mile one up Lost Lake Butte, which I’ve never done, but the lake just kept pulling me back and making me stay. Why leave the sunny shoreline when days like this are as numbered as they are?
As if on cue, Sunday morning dawned breezy and with an unexpected chill in the air. The trees swayed with high mountain wind and white clouds swirled with the blue sky. The sun shone, but it never warmed above 65 degrees — a difference of at least 15 degrees from the days prior. Out on the wrinkled lake, tiny whitecaps sprayed off the waves, and where, days earlier, scores of rowboats, canoes, kayaks, rafts and standup paddle boards plied the waters, now only a handful bobbed around. Still, we lingered all day, chasing the sunshine and crawfish, soaking in just one more view of the mountain and hanging on to what might have been the very last drop of summertime on Lost Lake.
The End of Summer on Mount Hood
Well, not officially, anyway, but it was the last official weekend before the start of school, so that’s a kind of ending at least.
We sent the last school-free part of summer off in style with a weekend on the mountain at our regular Sandy River hot spot. Surprisingly, not only was one of the prime campsites actually available on Labor Day Weekend, but it actually wasn’t a pigsty when we rolled up. The stars were aligned for us, I suppose.
The rain did little to dampen the spirits, nor could it interfere in the slightest with all the huckleberries that needed picking.
The sun returned in time for an afternoon hike along the Sandy River toward Ramona Falls.
We didn’t make it to the falls — hadn’t planned to — but turned around where the trail crosses the Sandy River. It was here, a few weeks ago, that a flash flood washed out a bridge, swept away one hiker and stranded 23 others.
We tried not to dwell on that too long but instead enjoy the walk and the woods and the water. We did.
The last few hours of the weekend we spent up at Timberline Lodge, where the Mountain Music Festival was in full swing. Eli West & Cahalen Morrison offered some sweet old-time harmonies, while the Black Lillies, who we’d just glimpsed at Pickathon last month, brought some tasty country flavor to the high alpine meadows surrounding the lodge.
Not a bad way at all to (kind of) end the summer, though it’s not truly over yet . . .
This little piggy went to Mount Hood
Summer’s back. Sweet! Sunshine, riversides, campfires, trails and, of course, trashed campsites on Mount Hood.
We headed out for this year’s first night in the tent a few weeks ago, that beautiful first weekend of June that felt like the last weekend of July. Since the Forest Service closed our favorite Sandy River campsites a couple years ago after John Q. Public couldn’t seem to stop using them as trash pits, we’ve branched out a bit and found some other keepers.
We spent the first 20 minutes or so cleaning up the pit that the prior campers had left behind: broken glass, cheap beer cans, shell casings, a rusty grill grate, blah, blah. It’s always the same. This site, a nice one with plenty of room, privacy and a killer Sandy River beach, was actually one of the cleaner ones around. It makes no sense to me the way people treat these incredible places. It’s so trashy, so redneck, so downright piggy.
And sometimes it’s just laughably unbelievable.
The Forest Service will end up closing these sites pretty soon, too, I’m sure. But no matter. After we’d cleaned ours up, we were able to settle in for a great weekend on the mountain, along the river. We soaked in some sun, hiked for the first time to Little Zigzag Falls and broke in the kids’ new pie iron.
When it was at last time to head home, we packed up and, as most civilized people would do, cleaned the site almost spotless. Almost. We did, after all, leave one thing behind: