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:
Gorge Owned presents Sense of Place Lecture Series featuring author Jon Bell
Gorge Owned and sponsors Hood River Valley Residents Committee and Mt. Hood Meadows welcomes author Jon Bell to the Columbia Center for the Arts on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Bell is the author of “On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak.” He will present slides about Mount Hood, the volcano in our backyard that has shaped the local landscape, provides valuable drinking water, and lures adventurers from far and near. Bell will tell the story of Mount Hood through its trails, wines, fruits, forests, glaciers, accidents, triumphs and much more. Hikers crossing the Sandy River on Mount Hood’s Timberline Trail, August 2013.
Bell, an outdoor enthusiast whose work has appeared in Backpacker, The Oregonian, The Rowing News and Oregon Coast lives in Lake Oswego with his wife, two kids and a black Lab. He is co-author of the climbing guidebook, Ozone, and is a former president of the Ptarmigans Mountaineering Club. Waucoma Bookstore will be selling copies of his book at the lecture.
Sense of Place is an annual lecture series sponsored by Gorge Owned that seeks to foster a deeper understanding of and connection to our landscape and to one other. All lectures are held at the Columbia Center for the Arts, 215 Cascade Ave. in Hood River. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the lecture begins at 7 p.m. Come early to enjoy a glass of wine or beer and meet others in the community.
What: GO! Sense of Place Lecture Series featuring author Jon Bell
When: Wed., March 5, Columbia Center for the Arts, 215 Cascade Ave., Hood River
Cost: $5 (free for GO! members)
Gorge Owned is a 501.c.3 member-supported organization based in Hood River. With more than 160 individual and business members, GO! delivers year-round programing that informs and inspires people to invest in a vibrant community, healthy environment and strong local economy. Programs include the Gorge Green Home Tour, Gorge Green Drinks, the Sense of Place lecture series, GO! Local Month and Gorge Earth Day. Sense of Place is an annual lecture series sponsored by Gorge Owned that seeks to foster a deeper understanding of and connection to our landscape and to one other. Learn more and find a full listing of Sense of Place lectures at GorgeOwned.org
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 . . .
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.
It’s kind of interesting, to think of all the miles we’ve tread on and around Mount Hood — all the way around it, up to its summit, out to its waterfalls and up to its grandiose viewpoints — and realize that still, 16 years later, there’s plenty that we’ve not tread.
Case in point: the Mazama Trail, a roughly three-mile path that unfolds up one of the mountain’s most prominent spines, Cathedral Ridge, along its northwestern face. Apparently it was long a popular trail until the Forest Service found itself unable to maintain it in the mid 1980s. Luckily the Mazamas stepped in, got it back up to speed, and officially dedicated it in 1994 to celebrate the club’s 100th anniversary.
Oliver and I set out this past weekend to revisit an absolute trademark Mount Hood locale, McNeil Point, a prominent and scenic overlook that perches high up on the mountain’s northwestern side and affords overwhelming views of Hood, the Sandy Glacier, cascading waterfalls, St. Helens, Adams and Rainier on good days, and so much more. We’d been there before — a few times, actually — but it had been years. It had been too long.
Rather than take the more standard route up to McNeil, however, we decided to tread new ground on the Mazama Trail. It takes a little longer to drive to, but it’s much quieter — we were just one of two cars at the trailhead — and it also shares a different take on the route up to McNeil, especially since the Dollar Lake fire of 2011. Now, rather than pass through forests of fir, you slog up Cathedral Ridge and stroll through not only the remnants of the fire, but the beginnings of what’s next to come.
The fire had its way with the ridge, but that’s nature. And really, as much as I love big, tall trees, forest fires can make for some pretty fascinating hikes.
The big payoff for slogging up four-plus miles and a couple thousand feet of elevation, however, has nothing to do with the remnants of a forest fire. It’s all about the mountain when you get to McNeil Point, which is named for Oregon journalist Fred McNeil, a huge fan of the mountain, author of the 1937 classic, Wy’east The Mountain, and one of the inspirations behind my own Mount Hood book.
The view from here, the fresh air, the feeling, is not easy to describe. Unless you’ve been there yourself, I’d say imagination works best.
Sunday on McNeil Point was an immaculate day. Warm and breezy, sunny and blue, the day was just what you hope for — and expect, really — of a July day on Mount Hood. McNeil Point is a popular place, to be sure, but that’s a relative term. I crossed paths with maybe 15 people up that high, and all were there to simply enjoy the day. Oliver, too, despite the stiffness that would set in the next day, relished not only every inch he covered, but the hourlong respite we enjoyed up high.
Hard as it was to leave, we had to, so we set off back down from the point, down across some incredible and colorful alpine meadows, across a few snowfields, past a seasonal pond or two, and back down toward the ridge. Oliver cooled off in the snow and drank from the streams. I took it all in as much as I could, and kept turning around to get one more last glance of the mountain before we descended into the trees, back toward the rest of the world.
They’re everywhere, really. Flying into Portland, driving up I-5, from the chicane at Portland International Raceway or the tram at OHSU, out in Hood River, from the top of Mount Adams or halfway up Hood itself. The list of incredible views of Mount Hood is seemingly endless.
There’s one that I came across recently, though, that I’d long seen in photographs but never taken in myself over my 15-plus years as an Oregonian. I don’t know how many people know about it, even though it’s actually a formal, designated viewpoint. There are no signs for it as you pass through the town of Sandy on your way to or from the mountain, but the name of the road it’s on — Bluff Drive — hints at something.
It’s called the Jonsrud Viewpoint — named for a local family who helped establish it — and to get there, you head north on Bluff Road off of Highway 26 in Sandy for just a few minutes. It’s on the right, but don’t worry. You can’t miss it.