Trip Report: Oregon. Walking from Timberline Lodge to Cascade Locks.

On Columbia Gorge hikes, I've been curious about the wilderness just south of Columbia Gorge and north of Mount Hood. "What was in the middle?", I asked myself. I knew there was only one way to find out and already being at Timberline Lodge, I decided to head north and see what was out there.

The day of my planned departure was awkward, I'd run into Portland for some supplies but forgotten to get oatmeal or bread. I did have couscous though. Rather than delay things, I decided that there was nothing wrong with a few couscous breakfasts. 

On day one, I started walking at 2 pm and immediately relaxed into the trail. It was a late start but I figured I'd walk until sundown and find a spot to sleep. From Timberline Lodge, I stayed on the Pacific Crest trail and had no problem crossing Zig-Zag Canyon or the Sandy river. Feeling tired though, I wanted to stop, so I did. I set up my tent next to Ramona Falls, made a fire and dinner, then slept hard. I'd only traveled 9 miles, but I was very tired I needed some rest. 

On day two, expecting rain, I decided to start in rain-gear rather than stop and change later. It did begin to rain - soft and warm on my face - and the forest smelled earthy, as the sound of water dripping from leaves lulled me along a path of soft puddles, needles, mud and leaves.

I strolled along the flat trail through groves of rhododendron and meadows completely covered in lilac-coloured moss, which at first glance could have been mistaken for snow. The Ramona Falls trail eventually reached a junction with the PCT and when it did, I stopped, rested and made a second couscous breakfast. 

From here, the trail climbed up through a forest of old growth cedar and fir, with the occasional redwood - a truly wild forest and just trees and silence for company.

Near Bald Mountain this trail came to an intersection the McNeil Point trail. I met some animated people who had been 'stung by bees' and who warned me of my potential fate if I continued along the trail. 

Not wanting to be stung (or to look crazy), I waited till I had walked a bit more, then fashioned a makeshift shemagh with my sweater wrapped around my head and face. It worked perfectly and I did not get stung above the waist. However, I neglected to remember that I had unzipped my raingear. Two lucky predators got in and stung me - right on the arse. It's never a strong look to scratch there in public, so in a way, I was glad of the solcace of the trail to be able to - as the saying goes, 'scratch the itch' whenever the urge presented itself. 

Little did I know that my wasp/bee/yellowjacket problems were not over for the day. 

I reached Lolo Pass and studied the map on the forest trailhead signpost. 13 miles to Indian Springs.  "I can do that before dark", I told myself. I tightened my pack straps, ate some food and picked up the pace. 

The trail did not disappoint. A very gradual climb led to a straight, flat, soft trail along Wacuma Ridge. Before knowning it, and without consulting the map, I knew that I was well along the trail. I passed a little sign which indicated, 'Salvation Springs' and realized the length of the ridge.... It would be hours until the next water at Indian Springs. In retrospect, I wish I'd have filled my bottle instead of pushing on. 

The ridge is lovely, Lost Lake and the desert to the right, were beautiful. The folds of Columbia Gorge valleys and tributaries to the left, were all lit-up by the sun which was dipping below clouds as the afternoon got longer. 

From time to time on solo hikes, I think of cougars, bears, snakes etc. Sooner or later, we realise and maybe even contemplate that we are in the domain of wild animals. Mostly, in my experience, in the USA, wild animals are scared of us and not the other way around. Today though, I was about to find out differently. 

As I was walking, I saw a rudimentary campsite and in it was some rubbish; a blue plastic bag and some other wrappers. I pushed aside some branches and went to retrive it and carry it out. Once through the thorns and rocks, I heard a noise that my ears didn't register; buzzing. 

I turned around and in front of my face were perhaps a dozen insects - wasps, I believe, but do not know. They were yellow and black and loud.  

Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. Immediately, I recognised I'd stumbled on a hive of some sort. I backed up and yet I was suddenly aware of many dozens or hundreds of insects seemingly surrounding my face. 

There wasn't any consideration of fight... only flight! I ran right through the cloud, leaped - with arms accross my face, through devils claw and un-even rocks. Once 'safe' on the trail, I turned right and ran. I ran for two, or three, or maybe four hundred yards - and slowed to a light jog. Not interested in another skirmish  - I kept up a light run (with heavy pack), for about a half mile, until I was sweating hard and felt like I was out-of-insect range. Phew.

The next hour or so were quiet, and the scenery was spectacular. As dusk fell, I arrived at Indian Springs Camp and after some poking around in the dark, managed to find the actual spring. 

After another great night's sleep, I took down my tent and packed up. Excited to see what lay ahead, I was five miles into my day before breakfast. 

I stopped by a small waterfall which I later recognised as the upper part of the stream which feeds Tunnel Falls. After some coffee and couscous, I headed down the trail, eventually reaching Eagle Creek and it's one-after-another waterfalls.  

I passed a few campsites and met some people for the first time since the day before.  

With a gradual descent, spectacular views and cool air from Eagle Creek, this part of the trail was a joy to walk along. Eagle Creek is a remarkable place, from the river which carved the slot-canyons, to the people who built the trail, and countless visitors who have enjoyed this place. 

Mount Hood from Timberline meadows. As October approaches - The weather is changing.

Mount Hood from Timberline meadows. As October approaches - The weather is changing.

looking south to mount jefferson from timberline meadows

looking south to mount jefferson from timberline meadows

Pacific Crest Trail near zigzag canyon

Pacific Crest Trail near zigzag canyon

pacific crest trail along Wacuma ridge

pacific crest trail along Wacuma ridge

sunset over the mountains on oregon side of columbia gorge

sunset over the mountains on oregon side of columbia gorge

the beginnings of eagle creek on indian springs trail @ 4300 feet

the beginnings of eagle creek on indian springs trail @ 4300 feet

tunnel falls

tunnel falls

eagle creek trail

eagle creek trail

eagle creek trail

eagle creek trail

bridge of the gods at the town of cascade locks

bridge of the gods at the town of cascade locks

What's a moulin?

An oft asked question in glacier-travel training is, "What's a moulin". A french word, pronounced "moo - lan", its a name for a vertical tube in a glacier, carved by water and acting as a drainage tunnel. 

From an artistic perspective they are mesmerising, from a climber's perspective, they can be terrifying, deadly - and if you fall in one un-roped - it's a one-way ride with no exit at the bottom. Often hidden by snow, they are another reason why roped travel and practice are essential considerations in mountain travel.

Now scientists are studying moulins as a way to understand glacial movement, ice change, rising sea levels and climate change.  

Click here to read a fascinating article on moulins.

https://eos.org/research-spotlights

Trip Report: Mount Hood Circumnavigation. Day Three

Finding myself above tree line with the morning sun warming my neck and the back of my head, was a lovely way to start the day's walk. Taking a slight detour on the Cooper Spur trail, it had taken only 15 minutes to leave the forest behind and I was treated to a spectacular 360 degree view with the east side of Mount Hood ahead, Mount St Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams to my right and the sandy-smokey coloured horizon of Eastern Washington behind. 

After visiting a stone shelter on the Cooper Spur, I headed up and south toward the highest elevation point of the Timberline Trail at just over 7000 feet ASL. 

This section of the route was the most baren. After walking for a couple of hours on an easy-to-follow trail through pumice and other volcanic rock, I crossed some snow patches and stopped to rest a top spectacular ridge above the Clark river. The view was equally as impressive as the Sandy, Zig-Zag and Eliot Valleys. Formed from a combination of glacial, water and wind erosion, the ridge where I stood looked over 2,000 feet down to the tiny-looking white river below. As I looked south east and down along the ridge, it seemed that it would be hours of walking to get to any suitable crossing site. After a break, I shouldered my pack and set off down the ridge. It wasn't long before I dipped into a mixed forest with pines, firs and surprisingly, some oak trees. With the air getting warmer in the middle of the day, and as I descended, the shade provided a welcome break from the sun. 

Clark river was easy to cross and I could see how in summer this would have been a challenge with higher water.

The river was a bit silty, but I got some water and made some soup, then took a rest and let my feet dry out in the sun. I realised that it was only eight miles to Timberline Lodge and it suddenly dawned on me that the past few days seemed to have flown by very quickly. Too quickly perhaps. I made a mental note to take four days next time, and go the opposite direction for variety. 

The views of the mountain from Hood Meadows were some of the best of the trip, with the peak standing orange and black and white - against the backdrop of blue - and tall above the grey granite. The otherwise-bare slopes were dotted with mosaics of red, gold, yellow and green, as pockets of pines, sun-baked blueberry bushes and grasses flourished among the stone and the rich sandy soil.

After missing a faint trail, I headed up a gully with waterfalls for half a mile before realizing I was headed off-route. After a quick map consultation, I retraced my steps and began a couple of miles traverse towards the White River. 

White River is the widest river crossing on the route, but with only the White glacier above, and all of the south-facing summer snow gone it was not difficult to cross the silty and gray morain. Dotted on each bank of the river, there were small groups of waist and chest-high trees; hardy mountain hemlocks standing side by side with their eastern cousins - ponderosa pines. It was fitting that these were together because my lasting impression and curiosity of Mount Hood - with its exact location, sitting on (and dominating) the subtle line between the western and eastern crests of the Oregon cascades - is that it is a mountain of many terrains and temperaments. Whether going up or down, or around as I had, the diversity of climate and vegetation zones had made this trip seem much grander than I would have expected. 

After scrambling up dirt, and finding a trail, I walked up towards a junction with the Pacific Crest trail and set off for the final mile and a half to Timberline Lodge. The trail ahead climbed several hundred feet and straight towards the Palmer Snowfield and glacier. My tired legs were ready for a break and I chuckled to myself because instead of a firm trail to walk on, there was sand -soft beach-like sand - so I sweated a bit and took a few breaks in the thin air.

Nearing the top of the trail, the sun had just set, as the lodge came into sight. I savoured the solitude and turned around to see Mount Jefferson, Broken Top and the Sisters range rising above the otherwise level horizon. In the last light of the day and listening to the steady soft sound of the river and the wind through trees. I took off my pack, sat on top of it and took it all in. It was a perfect way to end a spectacular few days. 

If you are interested in more information, check back for an upcoming post on logistics and another on river crossing considerations. Thank you for reading about my experience. It was a short but wonderful trip. I hope you feel inspired to do this fantastic Pacific Northwest adventure. 

South East side of Mount hood from hood meadows 

South East side of Mount hood from hood meadows 

Last evening on the trail. PCt near Timberline Lodge and White River

Last evening on the trail. PCt near Timberline Lodge and White River

Trip Report: Mount Hood Circumnavigation. Day Two

After a good sleep, I made some coffee along with oatmeal and peanut butter for breakfast. I'd been looking for berries yesterday but there were none. I saw a single black bear print near some bushes, but no bear. A local fruit farmer told me that once the berries are getting sparse, the bears head down to the numerous apple, peach and pear orchards on the east slope of the mountain. This print was headed east, and so was I. 

The next stretch of trail was some of the most exquisite scenery of the whole trip. A small winding trail led me towards Eden Park -  a large meadow of grass, moss, heather and shrubbery - all watered by clear cool streams trickling down from the glaciers above and carving their way through rich peaty soil. The autumn colors were rich as well, burned reds, yellows and orange- all contrasted with silver-white bark of dead trees still standing after the Dollar Lake fire which burned thousands of acres on this south slope over a decade ago. I could spend a week camping here and no want to leave.

A side trip took me a mile and 600 feet up to McNeil Point. With views of Sandy Glacier, the mountain and east to Portland, it was well worth the time and sweat.  

This small area is accessible by the four corners parking area only 4 miles west, or Tilly Jane Road 6 miles east. I made a mental note to come back in winter, on skis or snowshoes. 

Eastward again for a few miles, Eventually the path headed right and in a southerly direction, headed towards Eliot Creek. Eliot creek, flowing from the glacier from which it is named, has been a treacherous spot since major landslides closed the trail eleven years ago. I was ready to climb up towards the Eliot Glacier and find a good route over the upper part of the creek, however, to my surprise and delight, I found a new trail. How new? It was announced to the press and opened that very day! The trail down to - and up from - Eliot Creek, is a work of trail engineering and art. The crossing at the bottom was easy and didn't even require wet feet.

Exploring Eden Park, McNeil Point (and stopping to drink at each main creek crossing) had used up most of the day. My phone/clock had run out of battery power, but I could see that the sun was about to dissapear over the mountain (which was now to my west), so I decided to stop for the day and I set up camp at a spot called Cloud Cap.

With unlimited water and no shortage of fallen wood, I made a good fire, got some hot water and soap on my dirty body - and washed my clothes. Two days of dust and sweat was starting to feel grimy, so it was nice to get clean and to dry clothes and shoes with the heat from the fire. 

Another wonderful day and I slept a deep deep sleep that night.

Evan's Park

Evan's Park

 

 

Trip Report: Mount Hood Circumnavigation. Day one

With a clear weather forecast and some free time in the last week of September, I took three days and beginning from Timberline Lodge, walked the approximately 40 miles of the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood.

Deciding to leave From Timberline Lodge, gave me an opportunity to have a nice dinner and then about a mile and sleep at a small campsite at the edge of the ski slopes. Packing light, I used my MSR Elixir tent, Mont Bell 30 degree 800 fill down bag and 4 days of food. I used an MSR stove, carried 2 16 oz fuel canisters, a small stainless steel pot, a cup, bowl and a 1 litre water bottle. I used an Exped 40L alpine guiding climbing pack and carried Arctyrex rain-gear, OR soft-shell and hiking trousers, lightweight hoody, 2 Synthetic T-Shirts, 2 pairs of running socks, Salomon XT running shoes, running hat, brooks running shorts, sunglasses, headlamp, 2 notebooks, a map, Suunto MC1 compass, a knife, a small aid kit with wire, small pliers, screwdriver, dental-floss (for sewing) needle, some duct-tape, ibuprofen, tweezers, eye drops, lip-cream, 2 lighters, fire-starting kit, 50 metres of parachute-cord and a Samsung S7 smartphone. The pack and phone are waterproof, so I used only one stuff-sack for sleeping bag. The pack weighed 32 lbs. Items I did not take but wish I had taken: A hiking pole and additional water bottle.

Not any small section of this trail was unspectacular. On day one, going clockwise, I walked through dense forests, filled with douglas fir, mountain hemlock, hawberry, huckleberry and blueberry bushes. The trail climbed to alpine desert ridges, crossed stunning alpine meadows with flowers, grasses and heathers. It descended beside and into deep canyons and crossed numerous small creeks as well as three challenging rivers: Zig Zag, Sandy and Muddy Creek. The last was difficult.

A quick side note on rivers. They are the more hazardous element of this circumnavigation hike. My decision to make a solo trip was not one I took lightly. Solo river crossing lacks the stability of crossing with a partner or team, as well as necessitates self-rescue in the event of being overwhelmed or injured. I wished I'd had a hiking pole and eventually made one, by whittling down a small tree branch. The decision to travel in autumn did significantly mitigated risk because the rivers were low. A lack of recent rain also helped. That said, warm temperatures increased water flow - the rivers are all glacier-fed. Most rivers were clear, so I could see lose rocks and boulders. More challenging than the river crossing at Muddy Flats (mile 12) was negotiating the steep slopes, much of which was laden with fridge-sized boulders barely held in place by loose sand. My greatest fear was that I'd get pinned or crushed climbing out of the river. I took me over an hour to find a suitable place to get up a small ridge without overly exposing myself to rock fall. That was the only very challenging crossing, all of the rest were straightforward. 

Two hours after that, I found a lovely campsite at mile 16 and just below McNeil Point. I made a fire, put up my tent, strolled through the woods near camp, got some water and surveyed the route I'd followed all day. As the last rays of sun shot through the forest, they painted the west side of the mountain in pink and orange alpen-glow and made a perfect end to a wonderful day. 

morning clouds on day before leaving. From Timberline lodge

morning clouds on day before leaving. From Timberline lodge

Morning light on Mount Hood. From cloud cap. Day 3.  

Morning light on Mount Hood. From cloud cap. Day 3.

 

Paradise Loop, a worthy side trip which only added a mile

Paradise Loop, a worthy side trip which only added a mile