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.
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.
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.
Last year, it was all we could do to find a little snow for sledding. This year, thankfully, that’s not the case.
According to state hydrologists, we’ve already exceeded last year’s snowpack, and it’s only January.
That’s good news for skiers, snowboarders and sledders, who’ve been flocking to Mount Hood to partake. We did as much last weekend on an annual sledding foray to White River.
While there was plenty of traffic, there was also plenty of snow, and that’s really all that mattered.
Here’s a list of some of the best sledding spots on Mount Hood for 2016.
- White River Sno-Park — About 4 miles north of US 26 on Oregon 35 just south of Mt. Hood Meadows, the White River Sno-Park is great for easy, fun and free sledding on Mount Hood with little ones. The closest hill is just a five-minute walk up the snowy road from the parking lot; bigger and better hills are just a little farther along. Because it’s also a popular skiing and snowshoeing spot, White River can be a touch crowded, but it’s expansive enough that there’s room enough for everyone. And with an incredible view of the mountain as backdrop, there’s little to complain about. (It doesn’t cost anything to sled here other than a Sno-Park permit. If you buy a permit from a DMV, they’re $3; most vendors that sell them jack them up to $5.)
- Little John Sno-Park — At 3,700 feet just 30 miles south of Hood River on Oregon 35, this free Sno-Park (free sledding on Mount Hood except for the Sno-Park permit) is fairly low in elevation, so if it’s a low snow year the pickings can be slim. But when there is snow, the sledding looks like good fun. There’s also an old log warming hut. The Forest Service only allows plastic sleds and tubes.
- Summit Ski Area — Mount Hood’s oldest ski area is also home to a tubing area. You can’t bring your own sled, but for $20, you get a tube from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. For weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., it’s $15. frM-F; kids 48″ and under are $10. Summit is just east of Government Camp. Summit also operates Snow Bunny, a little Sno-Park next door, where you can tube (not sled) for $15 all day.
- Cooper Spur Mountain Resort — A sleepy but quaint little resort on the beautiful north side of Mount Hood, Cooper Spur is home to a tubing park with a rope tow. Ten bucks for the morning or afternoon, which includes some great views of the north side of Mount Hood on the drive up from Hood River.
- Mt. Hood Skibowl — The closest ski area to Portland is also home to a snow tubing area. Cost is $25 for adults for three hours, $19 for juniors; an all-day tube ticket is $50. The area includes a tube conveyor for heading back up the hill. In addition to regular tubing, Skibowl also offers Cosmic Tubing on weekend nights with laser lights, black lights, music and more.
- Other Sno Parks and Areas — The Forest Service also lists Sledding and Tubing as activities at these other Mount Hood Sno Parks: Government Camp Summit Sno Park and Multorpor Sno Park. I’ve also seen reports of sledding opportunities at Trillium Lake, near the Hemlock Trail in Government Camp and elsewhere.
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.
I may have fibbed just a little, telling them the hike to my favorite waterfall on Mount Hood was two easy miles.
But I figured the scenery along the way — the mountain views, the river, a stream or two — and the promise of just how majestic Ramona Falls truly is, would be enough to mask the real effort enough that my kids wouldn’t notice. The hike is actually closer to 3.5 miles one-way. In my defense, however, it’s been long enough since I’ve done it that I didn’t really remember. What I did recall was that the effort was more than worth it.
So we set out up the trail on a Sunday morning, before 11 a.m. because we’d camped at the McNeil Campground the night before. I worried a little about the Sandy River crossing, as not only had the Forest Service not yet installed the bridge for the season, but someone actually got swept away there last summer during a flash flood of sorts. Not one to risk too much, I knew we would turn around if it was at all unsafe.
But when we got to the crossing, a natural bridge, complete with a handrail, greeted us, and so we crossed.
Some mixed messaging on the signage led us to take the somewhat longer leg of the loop, though in retrospect I don’t think it’s all that much longer. It’s about 7 miles roundtrip one way, 6.8 the other. When you’re low on water and trying to convince a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old that the most amazing waterfall is not that much farther, though, it seems like much more.
Even so, when we at last rolled up on the falls, they got it.
The first time I ever hiked to Ramona Falls, my first Mount Hood backpacking trip back in 1998, I remember how incredible the water from the falls tasted. Like the newest snow. Back then, we had a filter with us; this time around, we didn’t. It was a gamble, but we had played up the water to Madeline too much not to indulge; we filled our water bottles straight from the falls. It tasted just as I remembered.
The hike down was longer than the kids would have liked, but I enticed them with ice cream and a return to Trillium Lake to catch newts.
That sealed the deal for them, so the belly aching on the way back down was minimal. And yes, we went back to Trillium to catch even more newts than we’d caught the day before, so to them, it was worth it.
I, personally, was just glad that they got to take in Ramona Falls. It truly is an incredible sight to see. Two years ago, when I passed it on the Timberline Trail with a few writer friends, one of them, John Morrison, had described it as luminescent. Exactly.
And when, a few days later, Madeline took a drink from her water bottle on the way to her horse riding lesson and said she could still taste Ramona Falls, I knew our hike had made its mark.
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.