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Mount Hood

Another COVID-19 blow to Mt. Hood: Timberline lays off 471

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.

From the 2019 Timberline Mountain Music Festival

Mount Hood is closed

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.

Timberline

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.

Lost Lake
Mt. Hood Meadows
Mazama Trail
Lost Lake Butte

Spring skiing on Mt. Hood gets sick

Not sick as in sweet jumps or killer powder, but sick as in shut down due to the coronavirus.

Today, even as we were in the car on the way up to the mountain, both Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline announced they were suspending operations for a least a week.

Mt. Hood, pre-COVID-19.

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.


Mount Hood Gifts for 2019

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:

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Shred-Hood-shirt-previewA 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.  

bark_logoFeeling 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.)

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For more information about either of these groups, visit www.bark-out.org or www.oregonwild.org.

  •  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.


Code 1244: The 1986 Mount Hood Tragedy — An Interview with author Ric Conrad

It’s one of the worst and most heartbreaking climbing accidents ever to happen on Mount Hood.

May 1986. Nine people dead, two adults and seven students from Oregon Episcopal School, a private Portland prep school. All of them had been a part of a climb of Mount Hood through the school’s Basecamp Wilderness Education Program.

A storm descended on the mountain. Some members of the climbing party turned back. Others didn’t and were pinned by the weather, forced to cram into a snow cave for shelter. When rescuers finally found the buried cave three days later, only two students were left alive.

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One of four Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters involved in the OES search and rescue mission on May 15, 1986 — the day searchers finally found a buried snow cave and two survivors. Courtesy Ric Conrad/Wright Collection.

It’s a painful story that’s been told in a few different formats over the years, largely in newspaper and magazine stories. A synopsis of it is in On Mount Hood, but no one’s ever attempted to retell the entire story as a standalone book.

Until now.

Portland-area author Ric Conrad, who also wrote Mount Hood: Adventures of the Wy’east Climbers 1930-1942, spent the past four-plus years researching the OES tragedy with his wife, Sheri, poring over records and conducting close to 40 interviews to retrace the dramatic events that unfolded on the flanks of Mount Hood over four days in May 1986.

His new book about the disaster, Code 1244: The 1986 Mount Hood Tragedy, is an exhaustive and gripping dive into the OES disaster: what happened, who was involved, the mistakes that were made and how searchers managed to find a miracle of sorts just as their mission was on the verge of being called off for good. It’s also got new information and never-before-published photographs of the fateful climb and the rescue effort that ensued.

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Some of the photos inside Conrad’s new book. Courtesy Ric Conrad.

Conrad was kind enough to keep interested parties apprised of the progress of his work, from its initial days through its publication earlier this month. He was also up for what I’m going to call an exclusive interview about the book. (We did a similar one back in 2015 for the Wy’east Climbers book.)

Enjoy that here, and then pick up a copy of Code 1244 if you’re someone who wants to know just how the OES tragedy on Mount Hood unfolded.

What motivated you to write about what’s considered one of the saddest and most memorable tragedies on Mount Hood? If anyone has a touch of gray in their hair, we remember the tragedy, yet scores of questions continued to linger in the halls of our regional climbing clubs. The family members of the missing climbers also had their questions and concerns. There were mysteries here that I wanted solved, answers that could benefit others. The fact that the search and rescue (SAR) volunteers were aging also had to be taken into consideration. If I waited too long to begin this project, the leaders of this large operation might not be around to share their stories. The timing just seemed to be right. 

This story has been told and retold over the years, but never like this. What are some of the biggest revelations or new pieces of information that came from your research and that appeared in the book? For family and friends of the missing climbers, the two biggest questions were: Why did it take so long to locate the snow cave and why was there so much confusion on Wednesday morning? I believe I was able to provide answers to both of those important queries. 

I was able to outline the perfect storm of miscommunication that occurred on Wednesday morning, May 14, 1986. Equipment malfunctions, two different handwritten logs being kept at the same time, and Air Force military protocols — which prevented certain messages from being transmitted over an open radio channel — all contributed to the agonizing confusion among family members.  

The book clearly explains why it took so long to locate the snow cave. Throughout Tuesday morning, SAR workers were exploring the route the missing climbers had taken during their ascent. A consultant then hiked out of the blizzard and advised authorities that the missing party was holed up in a snow cave — on a completely different glacier. Even though multiple search teams tried in vain to reach the glacier through the storm, they were unable to even see the terrain clearly until the following morning. As the missing climbers didn’t have an altimeter with them, it was anyone’s guess as to what elevation the snow cave had been constructed. Members of the public had no idea how much terrain the searchers had to cover. Differences in snow probing techniques — coarse versus fine—additionally factored into minor delays, which all added up to additional hours spent on the mountain. 

Was it hard, 33 years after the tragedy, to find and interview the people who were involved in it? Surprisingly, no. I began by interviewing the three members of Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) who are still serving their organization. They were able to provide me with the contact information of other key rescue personnel, and it sort of snowballed from there. From the families of the missing climbers’ perspective, it began with Frank McGinness, whose son was on the climbing team. Frank put us in touch with a former student at OES, who put us in touch with another member of the climbing team. That man put us in touch with yet another climber and, again, our network of contacts expanded, until my wife and I had interviewed thirty-seven people. 

Who were some of the personalities that stuck out most as you were compiling interviews?  Barry Wright certainly stands out. He was co-chief for PMR at the time. After our first recorded interview, he handed me a duffle bag, filled with primary source material. “I’ve been waiting for you for thirty years,” he remarked. It was an incredible compliment, but also a charge — provide an accurate version of events. I took that responsibility seriously. 

Interviewing Barry Wright

Author Ric Conrad (right) with Barry Wright, a search and rescue volunteer with Portland Mountain Rescue who was involved in the search for the OES climbers in 1986. Courtesy Ric Conrad.

Were some folks reluctant to talk? Naturally. For some family members, the tragedy might as well have taken place yesterday, and we certainly understood that. We respected their privacy. Having said that, one father was overjoyed to assist, stating that “No one is talking about my boy anymore. I want him to be remembered.”

Did you try to talk to Brinton Clark, Giles Thompson or Ralph Summers (three of the survivors of the tragedy)? Yes, all three. Dr. Clark gave a brief interview in 1996, but to my knowledge, she has declined to be interviewed ever since. We learned from Thompson’s mother that he declined to be interviewed. We tracked down Summers and mailed him a packet of information and a request for an interview. We never heard back from him but respect his privacy — his right to keep his memories to himself. 

Similarly, did you reach out to OES? If so, what was their response to you writing this book? The current headmaster of OES took my wife and I out to lunch, where we had a very frank and open conversation about the topic. I wanted to assure her that I had no agenda here. This was a search and rescue book and, now that it’s published, I am confident I have allayed any fears or reservations the school might have had. I think Tom Stringfield, of Portland Mountain Rescue, says it best. “The death of children is a difficult subject, and the author strikes a good, delicate balance between sensitivity and objectivity.”

Do you feel like you included everything in this book that you could, or did you have to leave a lot out? Oh, this book could have easily ballooned to 800 pages or more. The interviews were so interesting, we could have kept on going, but where do you draw the line? We felt we did a great job of what I call targeted interviewing. We tried to interview at least one member of each of the SAR teams, to obtain a feeling of what it was like to be in their boots, on their specific mission.

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Ed Hall and Mark Kelsey on the summit of Mount Hood. The longtime climbing partners were later involved in the OES search and rescue mission.   Courtesy Ric Conrad/Kelsey Collection.

Can you talk a little about your approach to writing and your style? This book reads very much like a detailed police or incident report; curious if you thought about taking any other approaches and why you ended up going with this one?  I started writing this book as if it was current day, and the witnesses were recalling their experiences. I was jumping back and forth, so many times between these two timelines —2014 and 1986 — that the writing became jumbled and difficult to understand. My wife suggested I try narrative nonfiction, and it was clearly great advice. With narrative non-fiction, as you read the book, it “is” 1986. Everything is in the present tense. I think that style makes it easier for the reader to follow the rescue and recovery operation. 

How did you land on the title? (I know what the code is, but curious about how you ended up with that as the title)?  I kept coming back to the fact that there were two logs being kept in real time. Deputies from the sheriff’s department were maintaining one, while PMR handled the other. Without giving away too much of the story, I always found it amazing that at least one deputy recorded in his log the awful truth of what had been discovered. Somehow, that information was not relayed to PMR leaders who were only a few feet away. That Wednesday morning was the epitome of madness and confusion, and Code 1244 just seemed to encapsulate the entire tragic affair. 

I know you know the mountain really well. Have you climbed it yourself? Oh, sure, but after reaching the summit three or four times, you recognize it’s just an incredibly small slice of real estate.  The mountain has so much more to offer. You begin to branch out and explore all manner of pockets of terrain: Langille Crags, Illumination Rock, Paradise Park, Cooper Spur, Mississippi Head, the Timberline Trail, etc.  

What do you think is the legacy or lesson of the ’86 tragedy, if there is one? I think the lesson learned was that even teenagers are simply too young to speak up for themselves and turn around when they feel they should. In 1986, the kids followed their designated leader who — probably suffering from the onset of hypothermia — kept moving the team higher and ever higher. 

What else do you want people to take away from this book? Although people will learn a lot about the search and rescue efforts by reading my book, we can’t overlook the incredible efforts demonstrated by the children themselves. Susan McClave, for example, shared her body heat with a fellow teen suffering from hypothermia. She also held the compass and led the team down from the upper reaches of Triangle Moraine. She barked orders inside the snow cave, ensuring people continued to shift their body positions in order to maintain circulation in their limbs. That’s a seventeen-year-old girl we’re talking about. Incredible presence of mind and strength of will. These kids deserve to be remembered. 

Front Cover

Courtesy Ric Conrad

 


Timberline’s sweet Cyber Monday deal for 2019

Buy one, get one? Nope.

Try buy one, get two.

That’s the smokin’ deal that Timberline Lodge has offered on Cyber Monday for the past few years, and it’s hard to beat. For the price of just one single mid-week lift pass, you get the pass you paid for, plus two free mid-week passes that are good almost anytime Monday through Friday  between December 2 and May 25, 2020, though not during winter break between Dec. 20 and Jan 1.

Even with those restrictions, there’s little complaining here. We’ve taken advantage of the deal in the past, and plan to again this year.

The sale runs through midnight Monday, Dec. 2.

You can also get the same deal in person on Black Friday, when Timberline will be at evo Portland from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

What’s more, Timberline announced that, thanks to some recent new snow, it will open for business on Thursday, Nov. 28. None of the other resorts on Hood have announced plans to open this week, but Meadows is harvesting snow and may have a few preview days this weekend. 

Update 11/27/19: Meadows has made it official: It will open a few runs over the Thanksgiving weekend starting on Friday. In addition, Skibowl plans to open its tubing hill on Friday, Nov. 29, as does the Summit Ski Area in Government Camp. 

 

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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.

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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:

Our secret Sandy River spot remains.

Picking huckleberries near the Sandy River.

Watching “The Princess Bride” like we’re at the drive-in at Mt. Hood Meadows.

 

This is when we first hiked Tamanawas Falls all together in 2012.

And here they are today.

 

Madeline’s Tamanawas selfie.

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Timberline’s Mountain Music Fest.

 

 

 


The 2019 ski season starts on Mount Hood

For the most part, we’re fair-weather skiers. Springtime. Blue sky. Sunshine.

Softer snow, sure, but we’re largely OK with that. img_0223

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.

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It was a great way to start our 2019 ski season on Hood.


The Best Mount Hood Sledding for 2019

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.

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A snow cave break from sledding.

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.


The 2018 Ski Season on Mount Hood (so far . . .)

It’s been an up and down year for snow on Mount Hood thus far.

Back in February, some parts of the mountain had just 50 to 60 percent of their normal snow. We were skiing then, and you could tell. Even high up on the Magic Mile, rocks were exposed in a way that usually doesn’t come until late April or so.

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February

Since then, however, the snow has piled up. The snowpack is still below annual averages, but there’s plenty more of it now than there was earlier this year.

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March

And this past weekend, on Sunday, it was coming down like January. All day long it fell, creating amazing conditions for skiing all afternoon long.

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April

We’ll see what the rest of spring brings to Mount Hood.

 


Spring Skiing on Mount Hood 2017

I suppose this is the season we should have bought spring passes for Timberline Lodge & Ski Area, seeing as how it’s still flush with snow in June while all the other resorts have long since closed.

But there’s no complaining. We spent a snowy, snowy weekend at Timberline back in March for Spencer’s birthday, stayed for a week in Government Camp for spring break and skied at Mt. Hood Meadows five of seven days, and made the most of an epic spring ski season that went strong until Meadows closed for the year on May 6.

It was a great season. On Mount Hood, they all are.

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The snow piled up at Timberline Lodge in early March for Spencer’s birthday weekend.

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Tons of snow made for deep powder skiing at Timberline in early March.

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Spring break at Mt. Hood Meadows was largely socked in, but the sun broke through every now and then.

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Madeline cruising down Vista at Mt. Hood Meadows, a favorite run on the mountain.

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Another great ski season on Mount Hood.

 


Meeting some mountaineering royalty

There was a chance that Stacy Allison, the first American woman to climb Mt. Everest, wasn’t going to make it to the kickoff event for this year’s Climb for Clean Air program last night. She was on her way back from Denver, and the timing of it all made it a little uncertain.

But she made it — in time to catch some pics from a Hood slideshow even — and added another notch to the list of pretty incredible people that we’ve met over the years.


The Best Mount Hood Sledding for 2017

We haven’t been up to Mount Hood for any sledding yet this winter, but a few inches a couple weeks ago made for some decent runs right here in the neighborhood.

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All that’s gone now. But Hood is seeing some mammoth snowfall this year, and the sledding’s bound to be good. Here are some some of the best sledding spots on Mount Hood for 2017.

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. 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 is also home to a tubing area. You can’t bring your own sled, but for $20, you get a tube from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. For weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., it’s $15. frM-F; kids 48″ and under are $10. Summit is just east of Government Camp. Summit also operates Snow Bunny, a little Sno-Park next door, where you can tube (not sled) for $15 all day.

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. 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 $25 for adults for three hours, $19 for juniors; an all-day tube ticket is $50. 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.


Kids on Cooper Spur — again

Four years ago, we saddled up and took the kids, then six and two, up to one of our favorite spots on Mount Hood — Cooper Spur.

Back then, Madeline was a little less jaded about uphill hikes, and Spencer? Well, he had it pretty easy at the time, hitching a ride on my back and cruising in relative comfort.

This summer, we decided to head back to our spot on Cooper Spur. It might have been a little harder on Madeline, and Spencer may have had to motor up on his own two legs, but they did it just fine. Like I noted when we did it the first time around, it wasn’t always easy. But the weather, the views, the company, and the fact that Spencer hiked with me all the way to the end of the Cooper Spur day hike made anything that seemed at all hard all the more worth it.

We’ll be back to Cooper Spur, I’m sure.

A rare sunset shadow cast on the cloud layer above, which almost makes it seem like the mountain might be erupting. 

img_6282Spence making his way up Cooper Spur with a smile. 

img_6291Topping out at about 8,500 feet on Cooper Spur. 

img_6295Down we go. 


Scenes from a Ski Season on Mount Hood

Sure, it’s been over for us for just about a month now, but it was a good one this year, the ski season on Mount Hood.

For us, not hardcore skiers by any means, it didn’t even start until early March, when Amy and I took a day on the slopes to ourselves to mark our 20 years together while the kids learned away. We sampled Timberline’s new Phlox Cabin and just got our ski legs on for the season.

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While we’ve done Timberline’s spring pass in the past, we decided to branch out this year and check out just what Mt. Hood Meadows had to offer. Lame, I know, that in our nearly two decades here in Oregon, we’ve never skied at Meadows, even though we’ve hiked through it and sledded just down the road at White River.

From the first go at it, though, we were hooked.

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Wow. We’d heard some rumors about Meadows compared to Timberline: that it was overcrowded, full of attitude, expensive. None of that came to light for us.

Instead, what we found  all spring season long was a flood of new terrain and vistas that we’d never taken in before, friendly folks all around and just a fun, mountain atmosphere. Some scenes from this season as we look forward to next (but head into a sunny summer first) . . .

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Timberline’s new Phlox Point Cabin

It’s not like Timberline needed anything to make it even more enjoyable, even more charming, even more appealing than it already is.

But this year, the lodge upped its attraction for the winter crowd with the addition of the Phlox Point Cabin.

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A former Boy Scout cabin that Timberline renovated last year, Phlox Point Cabin is the perfect place for a midday lunch, a warming spell on a chilly ski day or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Amy and I made ourselves comfortable inside Phlox Point a few weeks ago when we marked the day we’d met 20 years ago in Clearwater Beach, Fla., with a ski day on a mountain thousands of miles away from those sandy shores.We’d skied for most of the morning, sans kiddos, and decided to break at the cabin for lunch. It was the right call, and the cabin and its offerings — tacos, IPAs, wine by the glass, a roasting fire inside and seating areas inside and out — are just about all you could ask for a mid-mountain hideaway.

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The best Mount Hood sledding for 2016

Last year, it was all we could do to find a little snow for sledding. This year, thankfully, that’s not the case.

According to state hydrologists, we’ve already exceeded last year’s snowpack, and it’s only January.

That’s good news for skiers, snowboarders and sledders, who’ve been flocking to Mount Hood to partake. We did as much last weekend on an annual sledding foray to White River.

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While there was plenty of traffic, there was also plenty of snow, and that’s really all that mattered.

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Here’s a list of some of the best sledding spots on Mount Hood for 2016.

  • 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 $3; most vendors that sell them jack them up to $5.)
  • 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. 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 is also home to a tubing area. You can’t bring your own sled, but for $20, you get a tube from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. For weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., it’s $15. frM-F; kids 48″ and under are $10. Summit is just east of Government Camp. Summit also operates Snow Bunny, a little Sno-Park next door, where you can tube (not sled) for $15 all day.
  • 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. 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 $25 for adults for three hours, $19 for juniors; an all-day tube ticket is $50. 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.

On Mount Hood at the Lake Oswego Library

This weekend, looking to drum up some early holiday cheer while also focusing on local creativity, the Lake Oswego Public Library is hosting Keeping It LOcal. 

Held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, the event will bring 20 local authors and illustrators together to share their work, both in conversation and in commerce. Among the authors scheduled to be there: Brian Doyle, who’s book, Mink River, is one of my favorite Oregon books of all time, and Scott Sparling, whose great  book, Wire to Wireis set in a northern Michigan locale that I know and love.

I’ll be there with On Mount Hood, too.

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Doggie Dogs at Timberline Lodge

In his 11-plus years with me, Oliver has been all over Mount Hood:

Along the Sandy River . . .

Oliver on the Muddy Fork

Up to Paradise Park . . .

Through the snow of White River . . .

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All the way around the mountain on the Timberline Trail, up to McNeil Point and right up to the icy chill of Dollar Lake.

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But the one place he’s never been allowed to come along so far is Timberline Lodge. Save for the quasi-resident St. Bernards, Heidi and Bruno, Timberline has largely been off-limits to the four-legged among us.

Not any more.

Though they’re not yet marketing it full-on, Timberline has modified its pet policy to allow some rooms to be pet-friendly. At present, you have to call to get more information, but it is now an option, according to Jon Tullis, the lodge’s director of public affairs.

If he could understand that, I’m sure Oliver would be thrilled.

 


OMH Halloween Edition: Timberline Lodge and The Shining

It’s Halloween, a great day for watching Stanley Kubrick’s classic adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. It is a great and eerie film that within the first few minutes spotlights a couple famous Oregon landmarks — Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge. 

It’s a fleeting glimpse, though, because other than the brief glance of the mountain, the lodge and a couple other minor exterior shots, there wasn’t much of the movie filmed on Mount Hood. Instead, most of it was shot at London’s Elstree Studios using massive sets, sound stages, and a full-size mockup of the lodge’s exterior.

No matter though. All it took was that short little cameo to forever brand Timberline Lodge as the Overlook Hotel from King’s book. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

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The Shining (and some other books…) in the gift shop at Timberline Lodge.

One other interesting fact about The Shining at Timberline Lodge: in the novel, room 217 of the Overlook Hotel is a haunted one, tainted by scandal and suicide. Rather than spook guests who might have ended up in room 217 at Timberline, the filmmakers were asked to change the room number in the movie to one that didn’t exist at Timberline. That’s why, in the movie, little Danny Torrance asks, “Mr. Hallorann, what is in Room 237?” — not 217.


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.

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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.

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And that goes for everyone.

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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?

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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.

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Stubborn Writers Return to Mount Hood

It’d been two years since we had stood there together, high on the northeast shoulder of Mount Hood near the stone shelter at Cooper Spur. The first time was day three of a circuit around the mountain on the Timberline Trail and we’d just made a pretty epic crossing of Eliot Creek. Then, though, we’d already been hoofing it for a few hours and still had another five or six miles to knock off before we could call it a day — and not all that much sunlight left before the day would be called for us.

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We — myself and my writerly friends Mark Pomeroy, John Morrison, Joanna Rose and Morrison’s son, Jackson, the Stubborn Writers — stumbled into a darkening camp that night back in 2013, spent and hungry and barely able to enjoy a cocktail and a fantastic pasta dinner before crashing. We’d hiked hard that day, all four days of the trek, actually, and it felt like we didn’t really get to soak in Cooper Spur or Gnarl Ridge the way we should have.

So this summer, we went back. Only this time, we took it relatively easy, hiking briefly up from Cloud Cap Saddle Campground, finding a site and setting up a base for two nights.

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And up there, with no real schedule, no set number of miles to log to make sure we were winding our way around the mountain in decent time, we were able to relax, to gaze at the sunset and watch lenticular clouds flow over Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, to ponder Jim Harrison, to spend time there, together, high up on Mount Hood again.

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Sunset and dinner.

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Breakfast and Jim Harrison. 

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A stroll over to Gnarl Ridge. 

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Lunch and Gnarl Ridge and Newton Creek. 

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A panorama from a solo hike up to Tie-In Rock on Cooper Spur. 

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Mark laughing big on Mount Hood in 2015. 

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Mark (and the rest of us) laughing big on Mount Hood in 2013 at the end of the Timberline Trail. 


Stubborn writers on the Timberline Trail and Mount Hood

It is a spell that comes once you’ve finished walking all the way around Mount Hood. I’ve experienced it twice now, and I’m pretty sure that’s the right word for it. A spell.

When you are done, or maybe just before, as you’re swinging one foot in front of the other for the last quarter mile or so before you get close enough to Timberline Lodge to start crossing paths with folks out for a leisurely stroll, you are in a mental and, really, a physical place that belongs only to you and those who are there with you. This is your mountain. This has been your four-day, 41-mile trek. The rest were not part of this experience. As much as you may want a cold beer and a hot meal, you don’t want to hear the cars, see the iPhone-locked gazes, think about the work and the responsibility and the real world that awaits.

You want, instead, to drop your pack in the parking lot and crumple to the asphalt. You want to listen, all of you together, to the ice that is somehow still slushing around in the cooler and taste the cold Tecate. You want to prolong the sensation that you’re still on the Timberline Trail, under that spell, and so, even though it is bound to break at some point, you do.

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By the time I set my foot on the Timberline Trail just behind Timberline Lodge again in August 2013, it had been eight years since Amy and I set out on the very same trip back in 2005. Not the exact same trip, though. One thing I realized after the second time around: you’ll never have the same experience on the Timberline Trail, no matter how many times you do it.

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No kids, no job. Camping near Cooper Spur during a five-day trip on the Timberline Trail in 2005.

This one came about thanks to Portland writer Mark Pomeroy, a lifelong Mount Hood fan who’d connected with me after reading On Mount Hood when it first came out in 2011. At work on a novel set largely on the mountain himself, Mark invited me early to accompany him on a circuit of the mountain along with a few other writers: poet John Morrison and novelist and writing teacher Joanna Rose, someone I’d gotten to know through Brave on the Page.

When Amy and I finished the Timberline Trail in 2005, it felt like something I’d crossed off my list, that I’d never need to do again. But in Mark’s invite, there was a pull to revisit that I couldn’t resist.

We set out on August 24, an incredible summer day on Mount Hood — but not as a team. I’d been invited to a book signing event at Timberline the same day, so my plan was to catch up with the crew at the first night’s campsite along the Sandy River. Morrison’s 21-year-old son, Jackson, who joined in as well, had accidentally grabbed the wrong boots that morning. I picked up the right ones for him before I left Portland, and after the book event, he and I set out.

We got a late start, not hitting the trail even until 3 p.m., so we hoofed it but still took in so much: incredible scenery, stories from friendly PCT and Timberline hikers, unreal moments of natural beauty. A few of the latter, before we met up with the crew on the other side of the Sandy River:

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                                                      Fading bear grass near Zigzag Canyon.

Mount Hood from just beyond Paradise Park.

                                        Mount Hood from just beyond Paradise Park.

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             Crossing the Sandy River with a PCT hiker who’d been on the trail since April.

The beginning of  day two dawned cloudy and heavy, not like a normal August morning in Oregon. But on the mountain, you never know. Breakfast and breakdown got us on the trail a little later than we’d idealized, but at that point, we had the whole day in front of us: Ramona Falls, the Muddy Fork, McNeil Point, Cairn Basin.

I’d not been back to Ramona Falls in years. It was every bit as majestic as I remembered. We stopped to fill our water bottles and soak it in. Morrison chose just the right word to describe the falls: luminescent.

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The first 7 or so miles that we initially set out to hike that second day were quiet and enjoyable. We clambered across the Muddy Fork on a huge double-tree bridge and broke for the first of many canned meats just after the first sprinkles had started then stopped.

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Our lone glimpse of the mountain for the day came just before we hit McNeil Point. By then, the rain had stopped altogether, and it felt good to take a load off and gaze up, even though it wasn’t the most comforting of mountain views.

Mount Hood from just below McNeil Point

Now, I have been in the rain before. Light drizzles, sudden downpours, one 24-hour deluge in the Gorge that sent Amy and me running for the car. I have been in whiteouts, too, wandering around Mount Adams for hours in search of camp,  knowing that I was on the summit of Mount McGloughlin only because I had a GPS in hand. But the elements that blasted us on the Timberline Trail over the next 12 hours were among the most trying I’ve been through outside.

The cold rain started just beyond McNeil Point. It came down easy at first but soon soaked and chilled. There was a distant clap of thunder that we tried to ignore. We passed a big group crossing Ladd Creek who looked like they’d had enough already. On the other side of the creek, we topped our waters and pressed on, yet to be stifled by this tightening storm. The whipping wind, the chill, the water, it always has a way of invigorating me. Such conditions engage the senses so acutely that you can’t help but feel completely alive. Throw in the eerie scenery created by the fog and the remnants of the Dollar Lake fire, and the entire experience became nearly surreal.

No worries, however, as we were close to the stone shelter at Cairn Basin where, if we were lucky, we’d be able to step out of the rain, fire up the stoves, and regroup. It should have showed up any minute there as we marched on and on.

It never did.

When we stopped at the next trail junction and finally lifted our heads up, we realized we’d plowed right past Cairn Basin without ever seeing the shelter. By then, we were a mile beyond it.

Gigantic thunder clap.

Cold, soaked, and nervous, there was nothing to do but power on to Elk Cove and hope for the best.

We knocked off the mile-and-a-half or so to Elk Cove in relative silence — I think Morrison and Joanna maybe were chatting about the meter of some line in some poem —  and in no time came to the sign I remembered directing us left to the campsites off in the woods on the edge of the meadow. Ideal thoughts of a couple empty sites sheltered by fir bows deflated as we strolled up to find two other campers already buttoned up in what should have been our spots. We chatted briefly, scoured the surrounding area for a plan B, then came back and, in so many words, crashed the party.

Thankfully our hosts, Angela and Heather, were incredibly inviting and accommodating, sharing not only stories but hot chocolate and hand warmers as we rushed to set up our tents in the pouring rain and swelling puddles. There would be no dinner that night, no cocktail hour, no star gazing. I know my main goal was to get out of the rain and get dry. It was not an easy thing to do. My pack was soaked, as was just about everything in it: sleeping bag, long underwear, fleece. I for some reason have always scoffed at the pack cover, but there in my soggy tent, with a damp and heavy sleeping bag and a fleece that felt like it’d just come out of a washing machine, I saw the light. My night — all of our nights — would have been a lot different if we’d had them.

We didn’t, though, and so we spent 12 wet, cold hours wishing for a little relief from the morning and catching soggy fits of sleep. I have spent many a night outside, and I can say with full certainty that this was one of the very worst I have ever endured. I am usually one to accept and endure, to find something positive to see me through. On this night, I just about surrendered and accepted the despair. Just about.

They may not know it, but Heather and Angela helped save the day for us. Their willingness to let us crash their space, their eagerness to share advice and hot drinks and friendly voices — I never even saw the friendly face that matched Angela’s sweet voice  until she unzipped her tent the next morning — added the best possible end to the afternoon that we could have hoped for. Sometimes, a little unexpected optimism and some stripped down, genuine human interaction is all it takes to persevere.

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Thankfully, day three dawned dry and, though not normal Oregon August, blue enough here and there to allow a regroup.

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Dried out as best as we could be, we hit the trail that morning an hour or so behind Heather and Angela, glad for the sun breaks and scenery. From Elk Cove east, the Timberline Trail winds endlessly  in toward the mountain, over streams, back out over a ridge, and back in again, over and over. It’s repetitive, but it’s a kind of sameness that’s not hard to appreciate.

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Though the weather was much more promising than it had been the day before, something else weighed on my mind, adding a touch of dread and uncertainty to the day: the Eliot Creek crossing. Back in 2005, the bridge over the creek had long been washed out, but getting across the creek was still manageable. But in 2006, a massive washout rearranged the terrain up there so much that the Forest Service rendered it off limits, thus eliminating any legal way of completing the entire Timberline Trail without setting up some lame car shuttle and bypassing the off-limits section.

But as the years passed, reports sprouted up that the crossing was again doable. Some said to go up high onto the Eliot Glacier itself to cross; others shared pictures of ropes down into and up out of the gully. Some hikers made it sound like it was no big deal; some turned back because they couldn’t make it across. Had we encountered something that turned us around, we had no plan B other than to stop and hoof it back to Timberline.

What we found when we finally made it to the edge of the crossing was not very encouraging.

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Beyond that sign, however, was a very prominent trail, and it led (at least it did in August of 2013) very steeply to the way across the Eliot. We trudged up and up till a small clearing to the left revealed one of the rumored ropes illuminating the way down. Picking our way down one at a time took a while — the rock and scree are so loose that to descend in a group would invite unnecessary danger — and finding the right place to actually  cross the creek added some time. In the end, however, crossing the Eliot was possibly more time-consuming than some of the other crossings, but it seemed no more perilous than anything else we did on the entire trail. That said, I crossed the actual creek three times to help shuttle packs, and I can safely say that no mountain stream has ever chilled my feet to the point of numbing pain the way the water of the Eliot did.

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Instead of sticking to the Timberline Trail up out of the Eliot, we trudged up the incredible ridge on the creek’s east side, an exposed, amazing spine that puts the glacier and the mountain in full perspective. Up high, you can cross-country it over to the stone shelter below Cooper Spur, merge back in with the Timberline Trail, and head on around the northeast side of the mountain on your way to Gnarl Ridge.

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Breaking out onto the ridge gave us a taste of some burly, frigid winds. When, not a few minutes earlier, we had been stepping along in still air, now the winds whipped and gusted like freight trains,  knocking us off balance and drowning us in the sounds of ocean surf.

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We ticked off 10 miles this day, ending up in a campsite just across Newton Creek at dusk. Heather and Angela were just off in the woods nearby. Despite the long and late day, Morrison immediately whipped up one of the best and most memorable backcountry meals I’ve ever had: pasta with wild mushrooms and a red sauce with red wine. Talk about comfort.

The final day’s hike was a warm and sunny one; mild initially in terrain, marked by some musical conversations, a joke about the Pope driving a cab, and a couple startled grouses scaring the bejeezus out of Mark — and giving the rest of us a nice, big laugh.

Lunch as we passed through Meadows. We’d carried the SPAM the entire way, so I insisted on opening it.

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From there, it was on to White River, the last major river crossing, which was little more than a step or two across, but amazing nonetheless.

I’ve always related how the hike up from White River to Timberline, even though it’s just a couple miles, is the longest of the Timberline Trail because you can see Timberline Lodge, the cars in the parking lot, the people milling about, almost the entire way. But the elevation and the sandy terrain and the fact that you’re knocking off the last 2 miles of a 41-mile trail somehow make all that distance last and last. By that point, there wasn’t a whole lot of chitchat. More of a determined march to get those last steps behind us, take the packs off, and savor the accomplishment. I remember passing the first tourists out for a little stroll east of Timberline and catching their curious glances as we clopped by, smelly and set on nothing more than being done hiking for the day.

And then, as we stepped and stepped our way up to Timberline Lodge, we were done with hiking for the day. A few people milled about, heads drooped to their phones, and someone in our group asked if that’s all we’d been missing. Maybe we should just turn around and do it again.

We didn’t though. We posed for a picture. We closed in as a group on our walk back to the cars, not wanting to invite anyone else in to break the spell and to just prolong that sense that we all were sensing. We’d been gone just four days, but being back felt different just then; odd, and as if we’d been overseas, somewhere foreign, and were just getting back.

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Morrison had iced Tecates in the car, but on our way back to them, we heard voices from across the parking lot. Angela and Heather. We’d just caught up with them.

Then it was to the car, the asphalt in the parking lot, then the bar in Timberline. Inside, it all seemed so loud, so unnecessary, so threatening to the spell. Because that’s what comes once you’ve finished walking all the way around Mount Hood.

Endnote: I publish this now, nearly two years later, as the stubborn writers and I head back up to Mount Hood this week for another escape, this one more measured, possibly less epic and, hopefully, much drier.