(A year ago this coming weekend, we headed up to Mount Hood’s Silcox Hut to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but I never really wrote about it or shared pictures save for a short story I did for The Oregonian. Here’s an alternate version of that story and some pictures from one of the mountain’s truly unique places.)
A glorious day on Mount Hood: sunshine, blue sky, bright white snow and forever mountain views — in January.
We skied all afternoon in this bliss at Timberline, high above the inversion clouds that chilled and socked in Portland for days. But while nearly everyone else on the mountain headed back down into the gray at the end of the day, we got to stay. And not just at Timberline Lodge, which would have been grand itself, but at someplace a little more removed, a little higher up, a touch more intimate.
Someplace called Silcox Hut.
Originally built in 1939 as a warming hut and the upper terminus of the Magic Mile ski lift, Silcox Hut today is a rustic and welcoming alpine lodge on the south side of Mount Hood. Perched at 6,900, it sits at the base of Hood’s best late-season runs on the Palmer Snowfield.
The hut sleeps up to 24 in six small bunkrooms redolent of train berths from a bygone era. Its great room boasts hand-carved tables and chairs, wrought iron accents and a roaring stone fireplace. Characteristic hosts — when we were there it was the hut original, Steve Buchan — blend humor and lore with fantastic meals you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else on the mountain.
But Silcox has not always been like this.
Before a dedicated group of climbers, architects, craftsmen and other mountain fans formed the Friends of Silcox Hut in 1985, the old stone and timber building had fallen into such neglect and disrepair that the Forest Service reportedly considered burning it down. But the Friends rallied, landed at least one $50,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust and overhauled the hut in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
In 1993 — 20 years ago this year — Silcox reopened to the public. Timberline operator RLK and Company now runs Silcox Hut, but the Friends still volunteer to tackle maintenance issues and special projects, and artisans like blacksmith Darryl Nelson help preserve the lodge’s classic flair.
Originally open to passing climbers and skiers for a little mid-adventure respite, the hut today is only open to private parties, who often must book their stay well in advance. We looked forward to our night at Silcox for almost a year before it became a reality, plunking down a bit of cash throughout 2012 to guarantee our place with the crew celebrating a friend’s birthday in January 2013.
After a day on the slopes, we piled into the snowcat, all 16 of us full of smiles lumbering up from Timberline to Silcox. Buchan welcomed us, then we grabbed photos of Hood and the hut and the mountains all around in the golden light of sunset. A pasta buffet dinner was warm and fulfilling, whiskey and wine around the fire just right after a day on the mountain, and another morning of the same sunny glory the next day more than anyone could ask for of a January Monday in Oregon.
The single flaw? We only stayed at Silcox one night.
Details for Staying at Silcox Hut
Booking: Weekends and holidays fill up fast. Call the number below to check availability. The hut is also available for weddings and other events.
Rates: Sunday-Thursday, 12-person minimum, bring your own bedding, $145 per person; $165 with bedding. Friday-Saturday and holidays, 16-person minimum, bring your own bedding, $165 per person; $185 with bedding. Includes snowcat ride to and from the hut, as well as dinner and breakfast.
Bonus: Guests at Silcox also have access to the pool, sauna, spa and showers at Timberline Lodge.
Friends: To find out more about the Friends of Silcox Hut, find the group’s page on Facebook or call 503-219-8134.
I hate to hop on the gifty bandwagon and all this time of year, but I got a super cool early Christmas gift a couple months ago that I’ve been eyeballing for years now. And to me, it’s one worth sharing.
Amy got it for me when we stayed up at Timberline Lodge back in October as part of the Friends of Timberline annual dinner, which was just grand.
I’ve seen and admired them in the gift shop at Timberline for years, and then when I was working on the Mount Hood book, I actually met the guy who makes them — and he ended up in the book, too. So that, along with the fact that I love nothing more than an a blazing fire this time of year, made this particular gift pretty unique.
It’s the Ram’s Head Fire Poker, a hand-forged wrought iron beauty fashioned after some of the larger fireplace tools at Timberline. (Glad I got one, as it looks like they’re sold out right now.) I’m not 100 percent sure, but there’s a pretty good chance this one was made by Darryl Nelson, the renowned Northwest blacksmith who has done much of the restoration and replication work at Timberline, including these fireplace tools.
It was Darryl who I met up at Silcox Hut one day while researching the book. He shared some great stories with me, including one about people occasionally stealing these pokers out of the guest rooms. (A few folks have even reportedly tried to hustle them out of the lodge by tossing them out their window into the snow; they often can’t find them after they’ve checked out, and only in the summer, when all the snow melts, do lodge staff come across them.)
The ram’s head is, of course, one of the animal symbols prominent throughout the lodge, along with beavers, eagles, marmots, coyotes, deer, and so many others.
So anyway, I’m set for this year already. I’ve used my gift quite a few times already this season, and no doubt will put it to good use throughout the rest of the cold weather this year, next year and many more to come.
I think it’s the kind of gift that’s going to be around and appreciated by myself and others this time of year for a long, long time.
It’s Halloween week, my time of year 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.
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.
For years now, I have been wanting and meaning to get involved in some kind of community service effort to give back a little bit with some of my free time. Sure, I’ve donated books here and there, I put a little time in at my daughter’s school, but it’s been pretty unfocused so far.
Part of that has to do with a limited amount of hours to spare from what seems like a pretty spoken-for supply. But part of it also has to do with the fact that I just haven’t quite found something that syncs well with what I care about and what I can do. It’s probably just that I haven’t thought about it hard enough, but who knows.
This summer, however, something stared me straight in the face and pointed me in the right direction. It came in mid August during a book event at Timberline Lodge with a few other authors. It was a beautiful summer day. The mountain was out in full, the lodge was bustling with tourists and summer camp skiers and Pacific Crest Trail hikers from all over the world. I sat outside on Timberline’s back patio talking about the mountain with people and feeling like a lucky person to have such a direct connection to the lodge and the mountain.
So I’m sitting there, on the back patio of Timberline Lodge, staring at incredible Mount Hood, not to mention talking to Sarah Munro, author of Timberline Lodge: The History, Art, and Craft of an American Icon, and thinking, too, about how I can get involved with something that really matters to me, and it finally dawns on me — Duh, how about the Friends of Timberline?
Founded in 1975 to conserve and restore the art and furnishings of the lodge, the Friends of Timberline have been involved in a range of projects that, essentially, care for the lodge, its artwork and furniture, and its history. Among their more recent efforts, they completed the first phase of a project to light up some of the artwork in the lodge, and they restored the outdoor amphitheater and front steps. Over the years, the Friends have also been involved with public outreach, story and photo archives, and pathways and landscaping outside the lodge, among many other projects.
It’s such an obvious choice for me, for all the reasons already mentioned, but also because the Friends had invited me to speak at their annual meeting and fund-raiser at the lodge this past Saturday. Amy and I went up there on Saturday — another beautiful mountain day — and had a great time talking with so many fans of Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge. We also explored parts of the lodge we’d never seen before, and came to appreciate the lodge and the mountain even more than we already did.
To top it off, we were lucky enough to spend the night at Timberline, wake the next morning for a swim in the pool, and then enjoy a fantastic breakfast in the Cascade Dining Room. It was hard to leave when we had to, but the entire experience gave us even more cause to support Friends of Timberline and to continue enjoying and taking care of not only the lodge, but the amazing mountain it sits on, too.
It only took a couple of exterior shots of Timberline Lodge to forever link Mount Hood to Stephen King’s classic novel, The Shining, or, more appropriately, Stanley Kubric’s interpretation of the book. Most of the movie was shot in a sound stage in England, but there are a few opening scenes that are unmistakably Mount Hood.
I’ve been a Stephen King fan since middle school and a long admirer of The Shining. Even more so since writing On Mount Hood.
So it was with great excitement that I heard about King writing a sequel to The Shining, which just came out a week or so ago. It’s called Doctor Sleep and centers around the now grown up Danny Torrance, the clairvoyant little boy from the original story.
I bought a copy at Powell’s over the weekend and am anxious to get into it. I read the original every couple years, and every year around this time I watch the movie, so it’ll be nice to add a new chapter to the Shining story. . .
Before we camped in the McNeil Campground along the banks of the Sandy River with some friends from Atlanta last weekend, before I hiked the Timberline Trail with four other adventurers a week earlier, and before Oliver and I returned to McNeil Point up the Mazama Trail back in July, I felt like I knew a decent amount about Fred McNeil.
A journalist for The Oregon Journal for nearly 45 years, from 1912 to 1957, McNeil was a huge fan of Mount Hood. According to the preface of McNeil’s Mount Hood: Wy’East the Mountain Revisited, a 1990 re-issue of McNeil’s classic Mount Hood book, the Cascade Mountains captivated him from the day he arrived in Portland from Illinois in 1912. He “pursued and reported events on the peaks with a passion” and “became personally involved in their protection as well as their development, especially for skiing.” If something happened on Mount Hood — someone got lost, a plane crashed, a fire broke out — McNeil would instantly turn his news focus to the mountain, no matter what else was going on.
He also enjoyed the mountain, hiking all over it and climbing to its summit long before the road was blazed to what would become the site of Timberline Lodge. He was a member of The Mazamas, the Cascade Ski Club, the Wy’East Climbers and other mountain organizations.
According to the preface of McNeil’s Mount Hood, written by journalist Tom McAllister, McNeil made sure that a story about the long closure of Lolo Pass Road landed on the front page of The Oregon Journal. The closure had been designed to keep people out of the original bounds of the Bull Run Watershed. Even after those boundaries changed, however, the closure remained, blocking access to some of the mountain’s most incredible west-side geography. After several stories and photos and a supporting editorial, the gates to Lolo Pass were opened.
Which is a great legacy, because otherwise it would be much harder to get to places like McNeil Point and the quiet McNeil Campground, both, of course, named for Fred McNeil.
Most of this I kind of remembered from my own research. But I’d forgotten something else about McNeil.
As we rolled out of the campground last week, headed toward Timberline Lodge and then Lost Lake, I stopped to read a plaque near the campground’s entrance. It sums up nicely McNeil’s life and his love of the mountains. It also notes that McNeil “rests four miles eastward and upward at McNeil Point.”
His friends hiked up to the point and spread his ashes there in July of 1959.