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.
Though it may be a touch early still, it is getting to be that time again on Mount Hood: skiing, snowboarding and, of course, sledding. The big hill’s got some nice sledding options, free and otherwise. Down below this picture of my own little sledder are a few of the best places to sled on Mount Hood:
- 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.
- 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, adults get a tube from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. M-F; kids 48″ and under are $10. Weekend and holiday prices for the kids are the same, but for adults it’s $25. 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 $20 all day; kids under 48″ are $10.
- 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, $20 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.
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.
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.