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.
Spence making his way up Cooper Spur with a smile.
Topping out at about 8,500 feet on Cooper Spur.
Down we go.
I probably shouldn’t share this, but I think a few of my Mount Hood stories already have: the weekend after Labor Day can be one of the most glorious of the summer.
The past couple Labor Days, for us anyway, have been ripe with the first signs of the season to come: chilly, gray, damp; the kind of weather that makes it feel OK to stay inside for a change. But that transition can be a hard one to make, but at least the first weekend of it is usually just a fleeting reminder to get the rest of your summer in while you can.
And how we got it in this past weekend at Lost Lake. I won’t share exactly why this annual trip to the mountain’s Northwest side this time of year sits so high atop the list, but I think it’s plain to see.
It can be tough to get the popular lakeside campsites in the campground at Lost Lake, but luckily many of the other sites, tidy and surrounded by soaring Doug firs and lodgepole pines, leave little to groan about. Even so, it’s not really about being in the campground at Lost Lake. It’s all about being on the water.
And that goes for everyone.
Our escape to Lost Lake this summer found us there for three nights. The first two days on the lake were summertime at its best, with sun and swimming and heat and barely a care in the world. I thought repeatedly about doing the three-mile hike around the lake or the 4.6-mile one up Lost Lake Butte, which I’ve never done, but the lake just kept pulling me back and making me stay. Why leave the sunny shoreline when days like this are as numbered as they are?
As if on cue, Sunday morning dawned breezy and with an unexpected chill in the air. The trees swayed with high mountain wind and white clouds swirled with the blue sky. The sun shone, but it never warmed above 65 degrees — a difference of at least 15 degrees from the days prior. Out on the wrinkled lake, tiny whitecaps sprayed off the waves, and where, days earlier, scores of rowboats, canoes, kayaks, rafts and standup paddle boards plied the waters, now only a handful bobbed around. Still, we lingered all day, chasing the sunshine and crawfish, soaking in just one more view of the mountain and hanging on to what might have been the very last drop of summertime on Lost Lake.
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.
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.
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.
Sunset and dinner.
Breakfast and Jim Harrison.
A stroll over to Gnarl Ridge.
Lunch and Gnarl Ridge and Newton Creek.
A panorama from a solo hike up to Tie-In Rock on Cooper Spur.
Mark laughing big on Mount Hood in 2015.
Mark (and the rest of us) laughing big on Mount Hood in 2013 at the end of the Timberline Trail.
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.
Pretty sure I already wrote an end-of-summer-on-Mount-Hood post, but that was before we went to Lost Lake a few weeks later. It’s been a few weeks since that trip even, but let me tell you, from crawdads and newts to sunlit hikes, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and fishing, summer was alive and well on Lost Lake well into September.
Well, not officially, anyway, but it was the last official weekend before the start of school, so that’s a kind of ending at least.
We sent the last school-free part of summer off in style with a weekend on the mountain at our regular Sandy River hot spot. Surprisingly, not only was one of the prime campsites actually available on Labor Day Weekend, but it actually wasn’t a pigsty when we rolled up. The stars were aligned for us, I suppose.
The rain did little to dampen the spirits, nor could it interfere in the slightest with all the huckleberries that needed picking.
The sun returned in time for an afternoon hike along the Sandy River toward Ramona Falls.
We didn’t make it to the falls — hadn’t planned to — but turned around where the trail crosses the Sandy River. It was here, a few weeks ago, that a flash flood washed out a bridge, swept away one hiker and stranded 23 others.
We tried not to dwell on that too long but instead enjoy the walk and the woods and the water. We did.
The last few hours of the weekend we spent up at Timberline Lodge, where the Mountain Music Festival was in full swing. Eli West & Cahalen Morrison offered some sweet old-time harmonies, while the Black Lillies, who we’d just glimpsed at Pickathon last month, brought some tasty country flavor to the high alpine meadows surrounding the lodge.
Not a bad way at all to (kind of) end the summer, though it’s not truly over yet . . .
The Sandy River starts high up on Mount Hood as runoff from the Reid Glacier, gathering side streams and the Salmon and Zigzag rivers on its way to the Columbia. It’s a wild river that’s played a big role in how we’ve enjoyed the mountain over the years, whether we’ve been crossing it on the Timberline Trail, camping alongside or cooling off in its silty waters high up, or exploring its confluence with the mighty Columbia at the west end of the Gorge.
The Sandy is a river that a lot of people care about, including the Western Rivers Conservancy, which over the past few years has done much to protect the river. In 1999, the nonprofit partnered with Portland General Electric to help restore the Sandy and the Little Sandy, which led, in part, to the removal of the Marmot Dam and returned both rivers to complete free-flowing status. The conservancy has also purchased properties along the Sandy to help ensure its protection.
A few weeks ago, the WRC contacted me to see if they could use one of my Sandy River photos for a commemorative poster they were issuing. The poster commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has provided funding to WRC over its decade-long effort to create a wildlife and recreational corridor along 13 miles of the Sandy and the Little Sandy.
The picture they used of mine was from our trip on the Timberline Trail last summer, right when we were crossing the Sandy, Mount Hood in the background, with a Pacific Crest Trail hiker who was four months into his trek.
When I heard about what the WRC has done for the Sandy over the years, of course I sent the picture over right away. That, indeed, is work that’s worth it.
Summer’s back. Sweet! Sunshine, riversides, campfires, trails and, of course, trashed campsites on Mount Hood.
We headed out for this year’s first night in the tent a few weeks ago, that beautiful first weekend of June that felt like the last weekend of July. Since the Forest Service closed our favorite Sandy River campsites a couple years ago after John Q. Public couldn’t seem to stop using them as trash pits, we’ve branched out a bit and found some other keepers.
We spent the first 20 minutes or so cleaning up the pit that the prior campers had left behind: broken glass, cheap beer cans, shell casings, a rusty grill grate, blah, blah. It’s always the same. This site, a nice one with plenty of room, privacy and a killer Sandy River beach, was actually one of the cleaner ones around. It makes no sense to me the way people treat these incredible places. It’s so trashy, so redneck, so downright piggy.
The Forest Service will end up closing these sites pretty soon, too, I’m sure. But no matter. After we’d cleaned ours up, we were able to settle in for a great weekend on the mountain, along the river. We soaked in some sun, hiked for the first time to Little Zigzag Falls and broke in the kids’ new pie iron.
When it was at last time to head home, we packed up and, as most civilized people would do, cleaned the site almost spotless. Almost. We did, after all, leave one thing behind:
Time flies by, especially at the end of the summer, with out-of-town guests, back-to-school prep, and cramming in as much fun as possible while the days are still warm and bright.
It’s great, of course, but it also makes it a little tough to get some things done, like writing about our epic trip on the Timberline Trail nearly a month ago. I will get to it — and all my pictures — soon, but in the meantime, here’s another sneak preview from that trip. This is one of those views of the mountain you only get if you work for it . . .
It was bound to happen.
We called it last year when, after a night in a favorite campsite along Mount Hood’s Sandy River, we had to clean up piles of trash and clothes and broken glass and all the other debris that a rowdy group of partygoers had left in their wake in the site next to ours. This, despite the fact that the Forest Service had been monitoring the area and had posted signs warning campers that these popular sites would be closed if people didn’t start taking better care of them.
The only surprising thing, really, is that the sites stayed open as long as they did. We returned earlier this summer for a night, and though it was nice, there was enough garbage about to make the entire area unpleasant, if not downright repulsive. Luckily, we have a secret spot that takes a little more energy to get to, and so the appeal that originally drew us to the Sandy River is still attainable.
Even so, it was kind of a bummer to pull up for our annual family camp with a bunch of friends last month, expecting to find our favorite site and instead finding this:
The Forest Service had, apparently, finally had enough, and sometime between mid August and mid September, they’d gone in and rendered the sites and the access roads to them completely unusable and impassable.
We were all a bit deflated at first, but we’d all known it was probably coming to this. And really, it was getting out of hand and the Forest Service had to do something to keep this place from becoming a summertime landfill. It’s too bad, but that’s what happens when people don’t care. And luckily for us, we’re pretty crafty about finding other great campsites — and taking care of them.
For starters, let me tell you this: It is completely possible to go backpacking on Mount Hood — or anywhere for that matter — with kids who are 2 and 6 years old.
Let me also tell you this: it is not easy.
And thirdly, I will say this: backpacking on Mount Hood with kids is not easy, but it is worth it. Entirely.
We started our recent excursion with a night up at the Cloud Cap Saddle Campground, where we explored the remnants of the Gnarl Ridge fire, which came close to roasting not only the campground but also the historic Cloud Cap Inn, the Snowshoe Club Cabin, and a few other irreplaceable gems back in 2008. Thankfully, crews back then were able to halt the fire just outside the historic structures while also allowing nature to run its natural course.
The next afternoon, we loaded up and started up the trail toward Cooper Spur, quite possibly the best day hike on all of Mount Hood. With Spencer on my back, heading above 30 pounds even before I added any gear and leaning this way and that, I do believe I can say I’ve carried the heaviest and most cumbersome pack I ever will. But the going was slow and steady, and eventually he fell asleep, which added a nice touch of stabilization.
Madeline’s gripes started about 15 minutes up the trail, but a little break and the promise of a stone fort just up ahead kept her spirits in check.
We made the camp site in decent time and set up for an evening of bouldering, sunset and mountain gazing, and simply soaking in the greatness that is life more than halfway up Mount Hood. It sounds relaxing and idyllic, and in a way it was, but let me also say that it was so nice to have an attentive aunt along for the ride.
The next morning, we set out for a little walk up the spur, knowing full well that not all of us would make it. The kids are troupers, to be sure, but all the way up Cooper Spur is not exactly a walk in the woods. It’s tough, it’s scrambling, and it’s a touch dangerous if you’re not completely careful. Even so, when I turned around with them at about 7,600 feet to head back down, I couldn’t help but think: Wow, how cool is that?
I wish I could say that every minute up on Hood was a smile and a grand view, but these pictures, they lie. Or at least they leave out the parts of the trip that weren’t incredible. The burden of the packs, the tantrums, the tumbles off the rocks, the spilled milk . . . But though we may remember those bits of this and any trip, there are other images, like those captured here, that we remember most, that make us smile in retrospect, entirely glad that we made the effort and the trip in the first place.
The boy’s a big fan of trains, as so many little boys are. And while we haven’t yet made the trip on the Mount Hood Railroad — maybe next Christmas for the Polar Express — we did get our fill of big engines out near the mountain this past weekend while camping at Memaloose State Park.
Threaded in between I-84 and the railroad tracks along the south side of the Columbia River a few miles east of Hood River, Memaloose is actually a fairly scenic spot, assuming you get one of the campsites with a commanding river view. But even if you do get a money spot, there’s really no escaping the noise — the constant din of highway traffic to the south, the regular, repeated rumble and roar of trains just one blackberry thicket away. What’s more, there’s another set of train tracks just across the river in Washington, which adds even more railroad action throughout any stay at Memaloose. Some people might find it a little too noisy.
Others, not so much.
There is a place on the southern Oregon Coast where a cool Pacific breeze blows almost constantly off the steel-blue waters of the ocean, fanning out over fine brown-gray sand, bending and swaying long green blades of dune grass, brushing and bowling through stubby shore pines and tall inland Sitka spruce, reflecting off tawny sandstone cliffs that rise and tower over the wild shore. It is a place where purple and orange starfish and green anemones linger in salty tide pools, where seals spy and brown pelicans soar; a place where gray whales spout off in the distance and blue herons sail overhead.
Gazing from some lookouts, a near glimpse of the earth’s graceful curve; from others, waterfalls and crashing, foaming surf. There are occasional, subtle, tolerable signs of man: forest trails, colorful, far-off kite surfers, a small fishing boat, the clockwork pulse of the Cape Blanco Lighthouse under black skies spilling with stars.
Otherwise, this place, a sliver of shoreline south of Bandon near the tiny town of Langlois, is about as wild and as beautiful and as natural a place as is to be found along the entire Oregon Coast.
And yet, if commissioners from Curry County have their way, this place — it’s not hyperbole to summon the sacred here — would be cleaved and cleared, paved and pounded, planted with rough and greens, pocked with bunkers, soaked in poisons, manicured, homogenized and standardized, all in the name of a little white ball and a big green dollar bill.
Yes, the commissioners from Curry County, fearing for the solvency, maybe even the very existence, of the entire county, want to develop some of the most pristine and breathtaking land on the entire West Coast into . . . golf courses.
This so far informally proposed travesty came to my attention, coincidentally, on the very night that I returned home after an annual three-day backpack to this stretch of Oregon Coast with my family in late August. We’d just spent days in the sunshine, strolling the familiar sands — we’ve been coming back here for close to a decade — taking in the fresh ocean air, flying kites, slowing down, simplifying, refreshing. Late that night back at home, a headline in the Oregonian caught my eye. Its story dropped my jaw.
The short version: Curry County commissioners want to swap 68 acres of county land for 627 acres of Floras Lake State Natural Area, which has been part of the Oregon parks system since 1943. Through the swap, the county would create a new, 1260-acre county park. The land would be leased to a developer, who would then ransack it with two golf courses. One rendering shows a manicured green and two bunkers squarely on top of a dramatic sandstone plateau overlooking the Pacific. It is a landmark we know well.
The proposal also imagines an interpretive center — for what is a natural and scenic area without a center to interpret it? — and “improved” trails. Based on the county’s concept plan, that appears to mean paved.
All of this, the county supposes, would “create accessibility to public lands” and showcase “ecologically sound land management” and “preservation of native species.” It would also, in bold red letters, lead to “job creation” and “direct revenue for the general fund.”
To me, the entire idea is absolutely galling. Nonsense.
Thankfully, I am not alone. Public opposition seems to far outweigh support. Conservation groups such as the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, and the Portland-based Crag Law Center, all have lined up in opposition. And not only do people question the financial projections and oppose the destruction of this one-of-a-kind treasure, but there is a fishy odor in the air — and it’s not coming from the Pacific.
For months, the commission kept its proposal — and its work with potential developers — behind closed doors. In late June, the Oregon State Parks Department discovered 16 pits within the Floras Lake State Natural Area that had been illegally excavated with heavy equipment. The pits were discovered over an 8-mile section of trail between the southern edge of Floras Lake and Blacklock Point, which just so happens to be the area under consideration for development. No one seems to know who did it; as of today, Oregon State Police are still investigating.
This misguided proposal seems like a long shot for another reason, as well. According to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, projects that transfer state park property out of the park system are rare and must meet a high standard — providing “overwhelming benefits to the state park system.” This proposal does not meet that standard at all.
Still, the very fact that this idea is out there and that it’s being given official attention is, at the very least, troubling. It’s also an idea that you hear over and over again. Repackaged, maybe, but the gist is always the same: Develop — i.e. destroy — our most wild, pristine and beautiful places in the name of economic progress and increased access. It’s been tried on Mount Hood. It’s been suggested for Mount Adams. It’s come again now to the Oregon Coast.
Well, not this time. Not this wild, beautiful and scenic place. This one is too close to me. It’s too important. It is too much to lose.
Every time I come here, I am awed. We’ve been bringing our kids here practically every year since they were born. We will keep bringing them here, and one day — imagine — they may bring their kids here, too.
And it won’t be to play golf.
The Curry County Commission is holding an informational meeting at 5 p.m. today, Sept. 14, in Docia Sweet Hall of the Curry County Fairgrounds in Gold Beach. Members of the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission will be in attendance to hear details of the county park proposal.
Opposition comments can be submitted at any time to Chris Havel at the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (email@example.com) and to Curry County Commissioners George Rhodes (firstname.lastname@example.org), Bill Waddle (email@example.com) and David Itzen (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Mount Hood National Forest was host to one hell of a party a few weeks ago.
We’d pitched our tent in a favorite area out near the rushing Sandy River, a place we’ve spent many a night over the past few years. The specific spot that we usually favor was already taken when we rolled up, but no worries. There were a few other options nearby, and the one we landed in boasted a nice view of the mountain through the trees and more shade than the old faithful spot.
This place has been great to us ever since we stumbled on it a few years ago. Because it’s not a campground, but instead a handful of dispersed sites, it’s relatively free of the crowds that flock to the more developed areas. And though you don’t have to hike in to get to it, it’s got a measure of serenity and beauty that almost hints at wilderness. Plus, the river’s just a short jaunt away.
Once we had our camp on in the late afternoon hours, the cars started rolling by. First one. Then another. And another. A Jeep with four young guys in it. A pickup truck rumbling with bass. A little sedan that had no business on such a rough road weighted down with folks.
The party, in the site a couple down from us, kicked off as the first cars pulled up. A car door would slam, some loud greetings would exchange, and then the beverages would crack open. I know how it works. I’ve been to my fair share of those, especially back in the pre-21 days. This was one of those.
It raged throughout the night, as the sun set, the mountain faded, the stars shone. Loud laughter, obnoxious machismo, breaking glass. Because we were a few sites away — and because we remembered what we had been like at that age — it wasn’t so bad. Just different than our normal escapes up there. Louder, mainly. And surprisingly, we just about outlasted the rowdies. By the time we retired from our own quiet campfire, it was pretty close to silent throughout the woods.
The next morning, the same cars we’d watched roll in the night before rolled back out in the early morning sun. My five-year-old daughter and I took a walk down the dusty road to survey the damage. And that’s when I changed from a slightly annoyed but somewhat understanding neighbor into an incredibly disappointed and perturbed curmudgeon. There was trash along the road, broken glass in the bushes. A pair of pants with who knows what on them sat crumpled up under a tree. Toilet paper streamed from the manzanita, camping chairs lay broken and bent on the ground, and the last car to leave loaded up the fire pit with trash, set it ablaze and drove away.
It was not pretty.
It needed to be cleaned up. I didn’t want to do it, but I knew we’d probably be back up for another weekend sometime this summer. I also knew that the Forest Service had been tolerating these unregulated sites, but that they were beginning to rethink that approach. Posted on all the sites in the area, for the first time since we’d camped there three or four years ago, were some unfortunate signs.
After mulling it over at breakfast and not being able to leave it alone, my daughter and I grabbed some plastic bags, headed back over to the trashed site, and cleaned it up. Five garbage bags, two wrecked camping chairs and a couple bucks worth of returnables later, it looked hospitable again. Probably still needed a good rain before I’d pitch my tent there again, but it was on its way.
I’d like to think that when I was that age, I would have been a little more conscientious about the things I did and didn’t do, but to be honest, I’m not sure I would have. Back then, a lot of it was about having new fun and, sometimes, not holding onto any evidence. I understand that. But years later, my perspective has swung over to the other, more adult and responsible side; the side that cannot fathom how anyone could leave a campsite just a few hundred yards away from the Sandy River and with a lovely view of Mount Hood in such littered disarray.
Who knows how many more scenes like that the Forest Service will have to walk up on before they do actually close those beautiful sites to everyone. I consider myself lucky to have found a place like this, to be able to enjoy an escape like this.
It’s easy to take these places for granted. It’s best not to.