The Book. The Mountain. Everything in between.

On Mount Hood: the Book

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. 

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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. 

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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.

 

 

 


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.


Timberline’s sweet Cyber Monday deal

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 1 and May 29, 2017, though not during winter break between Dec. 19 and Jan 2.

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 tonight.

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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. 

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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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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.


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.

Ramona Falls

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.  


On Mount Hood in McMinnville — with Beer!

That’s right, with beer.

Last time I did an On Mount Hood book event in the cool little town of McMinnville, it was a quiet night in the bookstore there, Third Street Books.

This week as part of the McMinnville Public Library’s “Escape the Ordinary” summer reading series, I’ll be taking the book and some photos and stories to the Grain Station, a brew pub at 755 N.E. Alpine St. in McMinnville. I’ve not been to the joint yet, but it looks like a fine place for a pint of beer, maybe a pizza, and some Mount Hood on the side. It’ll be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16. See you there.

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The Mount Hood pint glass is coming

By now, most people with an affinity for Mount Hood, beer and cool craftsmanship have heard about North Drinkware and its wildly popular and successful Oregon Pint.

The small Portland startup launched a modest Kickstarter campaign on Feb. 1, seeking $15,000 to kick off production of its handcrafted Oregon Pint glass, which features a topographically correct imprint of Mount Hood in its base.

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Courtesy North Drinkware

Five hours into its campaign, the goal had been met. A month later, when the campaign closed, backers had pledged more than a half-million dollars — $532,581 to be exact — and launched North Drinkware on a path to producing more than 13,000 glasses.

I’m a huge fan of Mount Hood, beer and cool craftsmanship, but I hesitated at the $35 price tag. Until, that is, I went and checked out one of the glasses for myself at MadeHerePDX, a Portland shop that features nothing but P-Town-made goods.

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With just a few days left in the campaign, I gave in, willingly, and picked up two Oregon Pints, one for me and one for my dad, who lives in Ohio but who’s spent some time on Hood, too. (He’s in On Mount Hood, as a matter of fact.)

The latest word from North is that the first round of pint glasses will likely start shipping at the end of this month, with another round scheduled for September. On their Facebook page, North notes in a short video that they’re currently in production and making headway.

A cool project — and a great story — for sure. And, even better for folks who maybe don’t have that affinity for Mount Hood but still appreciate fine craft beers, artistic skill and high places all over the country: North has plans to create glasses for other states and mountains in the not-too-distant future.

Cheers to that.

Courtesy North Drinkware

Courtesy North Drinkware


On Mount Hood: The best of 2014

On we go into 2015, but not before a quick look back at some of my favorite Mount Hood times of the past year. Here’s to all of them — and to all those that lay ahead in the new year.

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Mount Hood Gifts 2014

A quick and last-minute list of some Mount Hood gifts for that alpine aficionado in your life:

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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.  

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.)

And as a bonus: both organizations are all about getting out and exploring the places they protect, so each offers regular outings as well.

Oregon_Wild_LogoOn tap on Mount Hood from Oregon Wild at the moment: snowshoeing to Twin Lakes and White River, all in January. And from Bark, its monthly hike in the Mount Hood National Forest in January.

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 $75. (Looks like they might be sold out online, but they usually have some in the store.) The shop also has a nice array of vintage-looking posters and artwork, books, souvenirs and more. Check it out.


On Mount Hood Heads to Bend

From Seaside and Seattle to Hood River and Sisters, I’ve taken On Mount Hood all over Oregon and into Washington for slideshows, readings and more. One place I’ve not yet been with the book: Bend.

That will change this week with a couple slideshows on Wednesday and Thursday:

See you there . . .

OMH Paperback cover

 


On Mount Hood Heads to Seattle

OMH Paperback coverOK, I know Seattle’s got the king daddy Cascade in Mount Rainier and all, but Mount Hood’s not too shabby itself.

For anyone in the Seattle area looking to learn a little about Oregon’s signature peak, swing by King County’s Burien Library at 7 p.m. this Wednesday, August 20, 2014, for some photos, adventures and tall mountain tales.

 

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Mount Hood to a Little Kid

Somebody once said something to me about the classic mountain shape of Mount Hood that I thought summed it up perfectly; so perfectly, in fact, that I put it in the book:

If you ask a little kid to draw a mountain, he will draw Mount Hood. Every time. 

Madeline reinforced that idea to me when she showed me what she had drawn at school this week. Granted, she’s got both Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson here, but the gist is the same.

Madeline HoodEven better to me, someone who’s written and writes a lot about Mount Hood, is the back of the sheet and Madeline’s own little take of a day on the mountain.

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Mount Hood Climber’s Guide

Back in 2010 when I was researching On Mount Hood, one of the scores of people I connected with was a high tech professional, climber and Mount Hood fan named Bill Mullee. I’d been referred to him because he was working on a climber’s guide to Mount Hood at the same time I was working on my book. Unlike On Mount Hood, Bill’s book was to be a climber’s guide to the mountain, complete with pictures, routes, and write-ups from some veteran climbers, including Fred Beckey, the renowned alpinist who, along with Leo Scheiblehner, was the first to climb Hood’s notorious Yocum Ridge.

Bill and I talked back then and a few more times over the ensuing years about the mountain, our books and what was to come. Each time we spoke, he was that much closer to having his book come to fruition. And now, it’s truly coming to be.

Bill landed a publisher with the Colorado-based Sharp End Publishing, and in June it will release Mt. Hood: A Climber’s Guide.

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Here’s the write-up about the book from the publisher’s site:

The unsurpassed beauty of Mt Hood awaits. Drawing on the vast experiences of over three dozen veteran Hood mountaineers, Mt Hood: A Climber’s Guide provides in-depth, firsthand descriptions of the mountain’s many routes. Contributors, such as the venerable Fred Beckey, write about weather, objective dangers, and how to stay safe and succeed. Routes are clearly illustrated on exceptional aerial photos, while stunning scenic and action images will inspire visitors and regulars alike.

The guide is likely to fill a long-standing need for some great, up-to-date information about all the different routes up Mount Hood. Nicholas Dodge’s classic A Climbing Guide to Oregon, which has a 12-page chapter dedicated to Hood, was published in 1975 — and, it seems, only in 1975. (Actually, Seattle climber Wayne Wallace, who’s in On Mount Hood and who also contributed to Mullee’s book, tells me that Dodge’s book was also published in hardback in 1968.) And Jeff Thomas’ great Oregon High: A Climbing Guide to Nine Cascade Volcanoes, first appeared in 1991 but has been hard to come by in recent times.

Mt. Hood: A Climber’s Guide is now available for preorder, which includes a free two-year subscription to the ebook version, for $23.05. For anyone looking to explore Hood’s upper reaches, it’s destined to be a classic.

Stay tuned for more about the book and any events related to its release.

 

 


Mount Hood fixtures

In the picture of my office below, can you pick out the Mount Hood fixtures? There are two, not including the print on the wall. fixture 2 OK, the first may be kind of a stretch. It’s my black lab there on the floor, Oliver, who’s a fixture in my office all day long as I’m working away. He loves getting up on the mountain as much as anyone, so that’s his connection. The other is the actual light fixture that hangs from the ceiling. It once lit one of the fireplace rooms at Timberline Lodge. Amy and I won it at a fund-raising auction for the Friends of Timberline last fall, and after finally updating my office earlier this spring, I installed it overhead. fixture1 Even though it’s a super unique fixture, largely because of its history, it’s not one that is original to Timberline Lodge. According to Linny Adamson, longtime curator at the lodge, these lights were in many of the rooms in the 1970s if not before. She sent me a picture that shows one of the rooms with this fixture in 1976. Lodge Fixture 1976 rm 108 As Amy and I left the Friends event last fall with the light in our hands, Jeff Kohnstamm, president of RLK and Company, which operates the lodge, joked that it might have been the very light that lit his bedroom growing up. Son of Richard Kohnstamm, the man largely credited with saving Timberline from ruin in the 1950s, Jeff grew up at Timberline in the 1960s and spent many a night there as a kid. Adamson said that in about 1986, she and others working at the lodge found some of the original light fixtures in the attic. The Forest Service gave them permission to remove the newer ones and re-install the originals, which they did just in time for Timberline’s 50th anniversary celebration. And because of that, one of the replacement fixtures now lights my office with a little bit of Timberline glow.


Will Mount Hood — aka Wy’east — get the nod?

Wednesday’s the big day, the day Trimet will announce what the newest bridge to span the Willamette River will be called. bridge1

Photos courtesy of Trimet

Portland’s transit agency went through a pretty extensive public process to solicit possibilities, finally narrowing it down to four at the beginning of this year. The finalists: Abigail Scott Duniway; Tillicum Crossing; Cascadia Crossing; and Wy’East. The latter of those is believed to be one of the Native American names for Mount Hood. (I spoke on OPB’s “Think Out Loud” with some other folks earlier this year about the history behind the name.) bridge2 Whether or not Hood will get the honor — and whether people will even call the bridge by its technical name or not — Wy’East is still a pretty intriguing name, one with some dramatic Northwest mythology behind it. So, what does Wy’East mean and where did it come from? Here’s how I wrote about it in On Mount Hood, based off research I did, including a reading of C.O. Bunnelll’s 1933 book, Legends of the Klickitats:

According to the lore of the Klickitat, who lived along the north shores of the Columbia River, native peoples used to be able to cross the river over the sacred Bridge of the Gods. (Various landslides throughout time — one as recent as a few hundred years ago — have actually dammed the river and allowed fleeting passage by foot, so this part of the story may not be entirely legend.) Upset by tribes that began to feud, the Great Spirit first doused all sources of fire, save for the one kept burning by an old and ugly woman named Loowit. She would share her flame with those who came in need of a spark. Pleased by Loowit’s kindness, the Great Spirit granted her wish of everlasting youth and beauty. The new dish, however, soon became quite the target, and two of the Great Spirit’s sons, Pahto, who ruled the north, and Wy’east in the south, unleashed a terrible war to gain her affection. They hurled fiery boulders at each other and torched the land all around. 

Furious at his offspring, the Great Spirit destroyed the bridge over the river and turned all three of the feuding lovers into volcanic peaks: Loowit became the mountain we know today as Mount St. Helens, Pahto is Mount Adams, and Wy’east is Oregon’s Mount Hood. 


On Mount Hood at the Mazamas — on Mount Hood

Last week, Sonia Buist invited me to give a little real-world look at the Timberline Trail at a Mazamas presentation for her book, “Around & About Mount Hood: Exploring the Timberline Trail, Access Trails, and Day Hikes.” I’d say about 70 people or so, including quite a few folks interested in taking on the 41-mile trail themselves, turned out for the event at the Mazamas Mountaineering Center in southeast Portland.

This weekend, I’ll be back with the Mazamas, but not in Portland. This time, it’ll actually be up on Mount Hood at Mazama Lodge, the club’s rustic abode up in the trees above Government Camp and on the way up to Timberline.

The presentation starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12, and will hopefully be preceded and followed by some stellar spring skiing like we enjoyed earlier this week.

Mskiing mile 4.8.14