Because of the snow still piled on the Timberline Trail and the looming high clouds above, and just maybe because of the far-off thunder in the distance, I had my eyes focused on my GPS, which was supposed to be guiding us toward Dollar Lake, a tiny tarn tucked into the northwest shadow of Mount Hood. It’s a lake I’ve always wanted to explore but that in 18 years of traipsing all over the mountain, I never have. It’s not that hard to find, but it’s not super straightforward either. No matter, I had my GPS and we would find it.
“There’s a cairn right back there,” said my friend, Wyatt, pointing out a tidy pile of rocks marking a side trail that I’d just completely blown past, Hmmm. Yeah, that’s probably the way.
We’d decided to hike to Dollar Lake on Sunday as a way to have a cooling destination to counter the heat that’d been baking the metro region for the prior few days. Thanks to a quick change in the weather, we didn’t really need the cooling off, but we headed for Dollar Lake anyway, setting out up Hood’s Vista Ridge trail, one of the classic access points to the mountain’s northwest reaches.
The trail slopes up a scenic ridge marred by the 2012 Dollar Lake fire — marred, or rejuvenated, depending on how you look at it. There were just a few avalanche lilies on display.
Higher up, we ran into plenty of snow and some ominous clouds, but they were high and the mountain was out, so we pressed on, determined to find the lake.
The GPS pointed us in the right direction, and Wyatt’s keen observation found the trail up to the lake. It was just a ways beyond a sign that brought back a very clear memory from our hike on the Timberline Trail last year. I’ve not written about that yet, but it’s coming.
We thought the lake might have still been frozen over or buried in snow. It was, but only partially. In fact, the lingering snow and ice actually made it even more of a sight than we’d expected.
The views of the mountain from up near this little lake are also pretty amazing.
Oliver, too, seemed to enjoy it. I knew he would. He always does.
We didn’t tarry, though. Not only were the mosquitos happy to see what might very well have been their first meal of the season, but the looming clouds and thunder ceased to loom and actually started to rumble. There wasn’t much else we could do other than high-tail it back down the ridge to the car, where the lightning cracked, the hail pelted and the icy lagers refreshed.
Last summer, the morning that we kicked off our 2013 hike around Mount Hood on the Timberline Trail, I had a quick book signing event at Timberline Lodge with a few other mountain writers. One of those was Sonia Buist, a physician whose book, “Around & About Mount Hood: Exploring the Timberline Trail, Access Trails, and Day Hikes,” is one of the most detailed guides for the trail.
She’s giving a presentation on her book at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, for the Mazamas and has graciously invited me to share a few pictures and stories from our epic trip around the mountain last summer. The free event will be at the Mazama Mountaineering Center at 527 SE 43rd Ave.
If you’ve ever wanted to hoof all 41 miles of the Timberline Trail in a single backpacking trip or explore this classic trail in digestible segments, this night should provide information — and inspiration — aplenty.
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.
Just over 40 miles — and lots of huge vistas, rushing rivers, deep creeks, raindrops, knock-you-aside wind gusts, friendly faces, and alpine adventure — later, and the Timberline Trail is behind us. There will be plenty of details and images to come, but for now, just a quick look from another epic trek on this classic Mount Hood trail.