Category Archives: PCT
Yes, the Timberline Trail is the finest loop trail in America and my fifth year in a row trekking around it was another epic adventure. The bottom line though is that this trail is tough and my old body struggles to pull it off. Typically after the tough second day I really question why I do this. But the rewards are incredible especially when the weather is so beautiful.
Rather different to start a summer backpacking trek by making your way through a crowd of skiers, but that is Mt Hood. So starting out July 11th in beautiful weather with no chance of rain for the entire trek. Joining me is Shannon “Snuffy” Leader, blogger of Must Hike Must Eat. And to be joined that night by Bryce and Chris at Paradise Park. The hike up to Paradise Park is a good half day warm up which is a bit out of the way but totally worth it. The trail is so easy over to the Zigzag Canyon overlook, but then it is down and up.
Down to the ZigZag and then the climb up to Paradise Park. It was a warm day and the black flies were out so we did pay our dues to get an excellent campsite at Paradise Park.
Some of the best flowers were displayed on the climb.
Hiking with “Snuffy” was a real treat to compare backpacking prowess and stories but I had no interest in her culinary concoctions. But that is what Shannon does, she validates really interesting wilderness trail meals, whereas I just try to consume my evening Mountain House meal. This colorful meal that she made was supposedly excellent.
Bryce and Chris joined us later in the evening in Paradise enjoying a great cloudless sunset together.
The second day after staying at Paradise Park requires a plunge into the Sandy River Canyon with the always exciting crossing of the Sandy. This year the challenge was medium, but mistakes could not be made.
The reward for crossing the Sandy is your visit to Ramona Falls. We got there a bit earlier then typical years so the sun was only at the top. But Ramona Falls is the best.
Just after Ramona Falls you have the option to take the high or the low trail to Bald Mountain. The high route has been devastated by a tree blowdown and is essentially closed but unfortunately Bryce and Chris forgot about that when they left us to accomplish their trek in 3 nights instead of 4. They completed the high route but paid a heavy price for their effort. There should have been a sign at the turnoff to the high trail, however, I believe that sign did not get placed until after we passed by.
This stretch of the Timberline is the toughest for me because of the 3000′ climb with no good water options. Every year this stretch tests my resolve and I contemplate why I do the Timberline. This year was as difficult as ever but as with every year I eventually make it to the great view at the top and the streams coming off McNeil Point. Our campsite in that area turned out to be excellent.
The next day’s goal is typically to cross the Eliot Canyon which this year we knew would be the greatest test. But this stretch of trail offers some of the most beautiful views of Mt Hood and surroundings. The burnt areas from the Dollar Lake Fire 10 years ago now seem to offer a unique contrast to the lush green slopes. The Cairn Basin shelter did take a hit from a blowdown tree.
The Eliot stream crossing has been a breeze in recent years thanks to a large log that spanned the water but that log has washed away along with a lot of the canyon wall to create a new treacherous crossing. However, the greatest danger in the Eliot Canyon is just getting down to the stream. The steep approaches to the stream present numerous loose boulder situations, but we experienced that last year.
This year we also got to experience one of the most forceful river crossing I have ever accomplished. The video is of a hiker from Michigan.
This year the option to just stay at Tilly Jane Campground seemed like a good idea since nobody else was there probably due to the mess that has been made by more tree blowdowns.
On this Northeast side of Hood you get to experience above treeline hiking which has become a favorite of mine.
The goal for the last night is typically to reach Newton Creek which has clear streams and good campsites. This year the Newton Creek crossing was a bit more challenging than usual. I do love the view of Gnarl Ridge from the Newton.
The final day offers many beautiful waterfalls before you enter the Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort land.
Then down to the White River and the killer climb up to Timberline Lodge. The climb isn’t really that bad except that you are fairly exposed and pretty much spent from the previous 40 miles.
Thank goodness for visions of your post trek meal to carry you up the ridge of the White River Canyon. Once you see the lodge you know you can make it.
This year’s Timberline Trail again taught me a lot about my 67 year old body. Many times it “Hurt So Good”. I do believe I will return to the Timberline Trail next year, but maybe do it in 5 nights.
I had completed my warm up treks and was ready for a new Adventure. I had not done Stevens Pass north on the PCT, but I had done Suiattle River access to Rainy Pass, so that first portion of the PCT Section K was at the top of my list. It is a long stretch of 107 miles and lots of vertical, oh well, no problem other then carrying enough food. I planned for 10ish days knowing that I don’t have an appetite on the trail which would allow me to stretch my provisions if needed. Weather was going to be excellent except that it was warmer than usual. My travel logistics were easy starting with spending a night in Chelan Lake State Park, leaving my car at Lady of the Lake long term parking, catching the free metro link bus to Wenatchee and then taking a Trailways bus to Stevens Pass. I was on the PCT going north by 3:00 pm on July 27th. However, this trek seemed more daunting then usual. I had not been solo for a number of treks and the distance was 30% longer then I had even taken on. My mind was telling me how nice it would be to be sitting on my deck drinking a beer and my legs were already telling me they were tired. This is always the challenge, to force yourself to just do it and after a few days you know it was the right call, because getting out there is what it is all about. Unfortunately key comfort factors were not in my favor. Temperatures were flirting with 80 degrees and the bugs must have just hatched. The positive was that water was not an issue and the wild flowers were good. So I was “On the Trail Again”.
My goal for the first night was Lake Valhalla which push me a bit. I chose a campsite in a meadow where I discovered just how aggressive the mosquitoes and flies were going to be. But I was generally so tired at my campsites that I was content with escaping the bugs and getting to sleep. My goal for the second day would be Grizzly Peak thinking that the bugs would be better up high. This was only about 9 miles and not that much vertical, but it was hot.
My campsite plans for Grizzly Pass were fine except that the bugs were worse up high, so I did not hang out side much to enjoy the view.
The third day took me past Pear Lake which appears to be very popular due to alternative trail access options. I decided not to climb to Lake Sally Ann and opted for a night at Pass Creek which turned out to be much better with respect to the bugs. The goal for the next day was Indian Pass.
I was told about a great campsite by taking a trail from the Indian Pass sign. Yep, it was primo complete with a toilet, campsites in a thicket of trees next to a large meadow. However, the bugs were the worst yet. That night was kinda weird because a herd of deer bedded down around my tent. The next day would be about Red Pass.
Campsite plans were to deal with the ford of White Chuck Creek and camp on the north side. This ford complete with a buckled bridge and getting your feet wet was rather refreshing with a nice campsite reward.
The next climb would be Fire Creek Pass but I was wearing down so I opted to camp somewhere around Fire Creek. This section was a low milage day for enjoyment, bugs were not bad and the views were awesome. My body was wearing down since I had burned all of my easy fat and I needed to start eating more.
Fire Creek Pass was another beautiful event with plenty of snow, probably the most difficult of the trek.
On the way down I got the word that Milk Creek was an overgrown mess and that I could get water on either side. So my plan was to cross Milk Creek get water and find a campsite somewhere up the other side. The problem though was that for a mile before Milk Creek the overgrowth was so bad it was essentially bushwacking and the same was true on the north side. It was getting late in the afternoon, it was hot and the bugs were horrible as I tried to fight my way up from Milk Creek.
I was really getting tired so I was beginning to consider camping on the trail if I had to. It did not look good for finding flat ground for a campsite, but then I see a sign that says “Toilet”. Thank you God, I really needed to stop, there was no toilet but there were a couple of campsites. Now I needed to recover for the climb over Grassy Point the next day.
This was a tough day, the body was dead but I think the gorgeous scenery carried me over Grassy Point knowing that it was then down to the Suiattle River with one more huge climb to go. It was around this part of the trek where I decided that I needed to finally put in a Hot Tub at our house. Thoughts of how I would install this tub provided a needed distraction for many days. I opted to camp next to Vista Creek and take on the Suiattle River crossing and climb the next day. Turned out to be a great campsite where I had my first fire.
At the major bridge over the Suiattle River I took a long break to recharge my body and iPhone. I had about a 3500′ climb ahead of me so I just wanted to knock off as many miles as I could before camping.
I ended up at the Skyline camping area where there was a large Forest Service work crew just setting up.
Now the climb up and at least a little over Suiattle Pass. I was dragging but I made it to a nice campsite just over the pass complete with the most bugs of the trip.
It was Thursday August 6th and I had about 18 miles to go but it was mostly all downhill. I wanted to get close enough to High Bridge that I could catch the shuttle at noon on Friday. The hike down did have some more small climbs and the weather was changing to a light rain, plus I was running into more overgrown trail so I felt that camping at Swamp Creek 8 miles out from High Bridge would be fine. Plus I was soaked from the waist down due to the moisture off the overgrowth.
It was a nice last night on the trail even though it did rain off and on all night. But it was dry when I packed up for my final 8 “easy” miles to go. Not so easy as in some more up and downs with plenty of overgrown trail. The sight of High Bridge was so welcomed.
The normal Stehekin shuttle is not running this year, however, the Stehekin Valley Ranch is providing the service which gives you a hour layover at lunchtime to at the Ranch, just right for fueling up on a burger. I then stopped at the Stehekin Pastry Company where I had the best piece of Cherry Pie I think I have ever had.
I then set up camp in the National Park Lakeview Campground and proceeded to down a few brews from the store before it closed at 4:00 pm. The next morning I went back to the Bakery for breakfast and had a nice 2 mile walk back to get ready for my ferry ride back to Chelan.
Overall a great trip, but it was also the most difficult trek I have ever completed and now 4 days later I am just starting to feel recovered.
I still believe that the 41 mile Timberline Trail around Mt Hood is the finest backpacking loop in America. It just has it all with adventure galore which is why it was the theme of a Podcast I did. This was my 4th year to take on the Timberline, which I use as my age/health meter, and I am pleased with how my old body held up this year. Bryce again joined me for this year’s trek, we failed on our attempt last year in mid June due to snow and weather.
This year there was about as much snow but the trail was more navigable. Last year the beautiful portion was the first 2 days which served as a good memory for the wet weather that dominated the first 2 days this year.
Each year I think about going counter clockwise around Hood but each year my analysis of conditions steers me clockwise. Paradise Park is a great first night goal to warm up your hiking legs and prepare you for the grueling descent down to Ramona Falls and then back up the ridgeline to mid-mountain. This year’s trek started out with beautiful weather for the view from Paradise Park.
I had already decided that I wanted to checkout the most western campsite at Paradise Park located next to some tree cover. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision since a heavy wet fog moved in just as we had finished setting up camp. The trees gave us some relief from the wet fog but by morning it didn’t really matter, everything was damp and we were set for hiking in a mist.
On the trail you quickly adapt to being cold and wet which actually serves as a great motivator for knocking off miles. The emerging Rhododendrons on the lower trail help as well.
Your first concern is making it across the Sandy river, this year we got advice to go up stream where there were a couple of small logs providing a dry crossing. By now it was essentially raining so passing through an empty Ramona Falls was not as inspiring, but Ramona Falls is still one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Now begins the most challenging part of the trek, climbing about 2400′ over 8 miles taking the upper route but cutting over before Bald Mountain.
I had hoped to go all the way to McNeil Point but the rain and low cloud cover nixed that option. We opted to camp at Glisan Creek because we saw a couple of spots that were relatively dry under the trees. Bryce was totally inspired to start a fire relying on his Air Force survival trainer expertise, I was impressed. As for me, I really got chilled after setting up my tent and needed to get in my sleeping bag to warm up. It was still raining and seemed to be getting colder. An hour later I emerged to Bryce’s fire ready for dinner. We went to sleep that night hoping for the rain to stop.
We awoke to blue skies with great anticipation to be warmed by the sun. The goal for the day was to get past Cloud Cap, maybe even go up to Cooper Spur, however, this next section was going to be physically challenging for our tired bodies.
We hiked over a lot of snow but unlike last year there had been plenty of people before us to set the trail.
Some of the stream crossings presented you with a decision to trust using the snow bridge, but no real danger.
This day was crystal clear giving us some of the best photos I have of the north side of Mt Hood.
The challenge for the day was crossing Eliot Creek and it was not about the creek crossing but instead about getting down to the creek. The water was running high probably from the previous day’s rain and the sunny day so it was not obvious where we would cross. There is a huge tree that provides an excellent bridge down from the trail entrance, however, you do not see that crossing option at first.
This is the canyon where the trail had to be rerouted in 2017 due to a slide. The 20 feet or so of drop off to the creek is a mixture of loose dirt, rocks and boulders. Getting from the trail entrance to the log bridge crossing was flat out dangerous. You could not trust any rock to step on and when a large rock started to slide you had be be extremely careful not to get dragged along with it. I don’t remember this descent to the stream ever being so loose, maybe it is just an early season issue. But somebody could get killed here, so I think it is time for some sort of a reinforced trail down to the stream. Now the climb up to Cloud Cap and all was good. As we climbed east from Cloud Cap our weary bodies enticed us to camp near the head of Tilly Jane Creek in a really nice sandy area.
We were able to dry everything out and enjoy a wonderful evening underneath Mt Hood.
Morning broke with more beautiful weather motivating us for our climb above treeline over high point which is one of my favorite areas.
The weather was all over the place with sun and fog but it was a great temperature for the climb.
And then you descend down Gnarl Ridge to Newton Creek which presents a unique landscape of a really harsh existence for vegetation.
The Newton Creek campsites are excellent and within an easy distance to hike the following day, however, I thought that I remembered a spot near the upcoming waterfalls.
Unfortunately just after we left Newton Creek it started to rain and I was not finding those campsites so we ended up camping between Gemini and Voyager ski runs in Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area. The campsite worked out just fine and set us up for a relatively easy final day hike back to Timberline Lodge.
I do love hiking through Mt Hood Meadows Ski envisioning how I will ski down those runs next winter.
Crossing the White River was more difficult then I remember, but it was a beautiful day.
The 1000′ climb up to the parking lot always seems tough but the motivation of your reward, this year Halibut Fish & Chips, at the Barlow Trail Roadhouse, puts a hop in your step.
This years Timberline Trail Trek may have been the best yet. The still early season, unpredictable weather with pretty good awakening of flowers and no bugs made for a great Continuing Adventure.
I have passed by Ramona Falls many times since it is on the PCT and it is an easy day hike from the Ramona Falls Trailhead. But this trip was from the Top Spur Trailhead which offers a great loop option with Trail #600 the high route and the PCT #2000 low route. My motivation for this trip was primarily to checkout the Muddy Fork and Sandy river crossings in preparation for an upcoming Timberline Trail Trek. From this snippet of reconnaissance I do feel that the Timberline Trail should be fine. I also was OK with probably being able to enjoy Ramona Falls all by myself which did happen. Unfortunately I took a chance on the weather for this Thursday-Friday trek which called for scattered showers and possibility of snow on Friday. Well the showers started out scattered but ended up continuous, and yes on the hike out it did snow. Not fun but it is all part of the deal for a backpacker.
The hike over to Ramona Falls was rather nice even though Mt Hood was mostly hidden in a cloud.
The view from Bald Mountain was unique as usual and crossing the Muddy Fork was a bit of a challenge. I found a safe rock jump about 30 yards up from the normal trail crossing.
And of course Ramona Falls was bursting with flow and beauty.
I camped over by the abandoned ranger cabin which provides a nice view of the Sandy Canyon.
I did hike over to the Sandy and determined that it is crossable, however, it may entail wading across by a couple of logs that will help to stabilize you.
Overall this portion of the Sandy looked fairly normal and ready for Timberline Trail crossings. The trip was going great until the showers started to show up. So I basically was forced to stay in the tent after about 7:00 pm. And it rained most of the night and turned into a steady rain by morning. Bummer for Brook who does not like to sleep in the tent, so she got soaked and did not complain a bit even though she must have been freezing. But in her strange Aussie way she probably cherished the opportunity to protect her master. If I was her, I would have slept near one of the large trees that were offering cover, but she slept next to the tent.
Breaking camp in the rain is messy, but it is what it is. You pack everything up which is mostly wet making your pack a lot heavier than it should be. Then hiking out is just as messy, you are wet and cold but in a weird way I kind of like it. I reflect back on my Lost Coast Trek and realize how much worse it could be. The snow falling on the hike out was a bit ridiculous.
It has been a smokey backpacking year so when we got a break of clean air, @AussieBrook and I decided to go for a proven great trip, so back to do the Timberline Trail around Mt Hood. Here is comparison photo of Mt Hood 3 weeks prior to this trip.
I got to Timberline around 1:30 on Labor Day 9/3/18 and it took me about a half hour to find a place to park.
This must have been the final day of summer for so many people. But it was a beautiful day and my goal was only to make it to Paradise Park hoping to take in an awesome sunset that night. I got a prime campsite with only a few other campers in the area.
And the sunset was awesome.
The next day was going to be the tough one. From Paradise Park down to the Sandy which did not turn out to be a difficult crossing. Then over to Ramona Falls
and then up the Ridge finally camping near the Mazama Trail. You need to remember how long that ridge climb is before you get to water. I was beat and ended up going to sleep around 7:00 pm. Brook came by camp to eat her dinner around midnight but she was not around at sun break like she normally is. I didn’t think much about her being away since it probably had to do with her not wanting to wear her backpack, but she was still missing when I got all packed up and ready to go around 8:30. So I got a lot more serious about searching for her. Calling out her name and asking other backpackers if then had seen her, but no luck. OK, I’m starting to get worried. Brook would not run off so my fears led me to think about Brook having a wild animal encounter or getting into some other type of trouble. By 9:30 I was ready to starting hiking back the way we had come but just then a couple showed me a note that they had found on the trail stating that Brook had joined their group and they were headed to Cloud Cap. My heart relaxed and as I turned to head toward Cloud Cap, there she was sitting in the trail. After a joyful reunion we returned to the goal of hiking around Mt Hood. There was more to the story. Thanks to a voicemail and meeting the people who Brook hooked up with, I started to piece together what happened. She had met the folks the day before so felt comfortable trying to herd them up the trail. She must have been having so much fun herding these humans that she forgot about me. Well, from the timeline it appears that once she realized her mistake it took her over an hour to find me. Needless to say she did not venture far from the campsites on the remaining mornings.
My goal for the 3rd day was to get somewhere near Cloud Cap which we mostly did with a nice secluded campsite at the bottom of a rock slide.
I think once you make it past Cloud Cap on a clockwise loop hike you have passed most of the difficult water crossings. None were very difficult for me, but Brook did take a swim after slipping off a narrow log crossing. She hates to get wet and she got totally dunked, which did help with her need for a bath. The climb over the high point seems like it should be more difficult than it is, however, it really isn’t that far and the grade of the climb is minimal. As usual the hike along the Eastern side of the mountain presented us with strong winds which were actually much appreciated since it would have been a bit hot without the breeze. My goal for the last night was a campsite on the West side of Newton Creek.
We joined many other campers so I had to inform them about how Brook would feel obligated to protect them all. Turns out she made the rounds to visit all the campers but was all business about it. It was here where I met the people who Brook hooked up with so they were extremely happy to see that Brook had found her master. Others on the trail knew that an Australian Shepard had been lost so we got lots of inquiries as to whether Brook was the lost dog. The bar tender at Charlie’s in Government Camp even knew about Brook being lost.
The final hike out on my fifth day was very pleasant even with that brutal climb up to Timberline from the White River. Some of the best waterfalls occur prior to Mt Hood Meadows, plus I love hiking through ski terrain that I know will look a whole lot different come winter.
For the second year it was the anticipation of a Burger and Beer at Charlie’s that helped me make it up that final ridge. Timberline is definitely one of the finest multi-day loop trails in America.
If I had not experienced Goat Rocks in perfect conditions 4 years ago I would have been more then satisfied with my recent visit, however, the smoke, heat and bugs did detract a bit from the overall experience. We were originally going to enter Goat Rocks from the north doing a loop by Lost Lake with a return on Trail 61 at Tieton Pass.
However, the Miriam Fire was too much of a risk so we entered from the Berry Patch Trailhead via Goat Ridge and out by way of Snowgrass Flats. I would recommend the reverse direction entering on the Snowgrass Flats side since the climb is more gradual.
We got a late start so we were looking for a place to camp as we approached Jordan Basin but we needed to find water which first comes available as you leave the trees. The climb on a very hot Tuesday afternoon with many bugs was a bit of a challenge.
Camping on Goat Ridge turned out to be really nice with the view down the valley with a smoke laced sunset.
We knew what campsite we wanted near Goat Lake so the relatively short hike over on Wednesday would give us a good shot at getting the spot below Goat Lake next to the water fall. Actually the Jordan Basin offers a number of great campsites as well as good options above toward Hawkeye Point.
Coming over the pass to Trail 86 we realized that smoke was going to keep us from the fabulous views of Mt. Adams.
Goat Lake still had some ice which ensures that the water is as cold as it can get.
From our campsite the view down the Goat River Valley should be topped with a view of Mt. Adams.
It was still a fabulous view and the stream to water fall offered a cool little canyon to help fight the heat. Wednesday evening we were treated to a good view of about 20 mountain goats above us.
We ended up staying at this campsite for 2 nights as we use the days for day hikes to Hawkeye Point and over to the PCT. Actually we were planning on going to Old Smokey, however, the smoke was really bad on Thursday so we turned around at the PCT junction at the bypass trail. We were planning on camping Friday over toward Cispus Pass but again the smoke, heat and bugs convinced us to just cut the trip short and hike out on Friday. The morning sunrise was sprinkled with sunbeams through the smoke. The hike out was essentially all down hill with a ridiculous number of flies bouncing off our bodies. We did feel sorry for the many backpackers coming into the Goat Rocks area on Friday since the area was already full of people.
Hopefully they got a little rain from the front that was coming in, maybe it would even clean out the air for that exception view.
Everything came together for the perfect backpacking trip around Mt. Hood. The previous week was about heat and smoke from various forest fires burning in the state, but then the winds shifted to blow the smoke to the east, temperatures dropped and the stage was set for backpacking the Timberline Trail in perfect weather. Brook and I hit the trail mid morning and who do we see at the registration box,
Randy “Rebo” Berton. I got to spend some trail time with Randy who was headed to a PCT Meetup at Bridge of the Gods.
I didn’t give much thought to the track the Timberline Trail would lead me on, but what did catch me off guard was that by starting out from the Timberline Lodge you basically hike downhill for the first day as you head to Ramona Falls.
This downhill did test my knees a bit which is something that I have never had to worry about before.
Hiking below Paradise Park we had to navigate a number of fallen trees, but nothing too difficult.
We ended up camping at the clear stream just before the Sandy River crossing which I would cross the next day. The Sandy turned out to be the most challenging of the many water crossings. I wasn’t sure how Brook would navigate it so I went ahead and waded so not to influence her into walking the narrow tree bridge. Brook now makes her own decisions on how to cross streams and she decided to wade the first part of the Sandy. I was fairly impressed with her since the current was trying to sweep her under the tree and she really doesn’t like to get wet.
A short distance after the Sandy you are rewarded with Ramona Falls, one of the most unique and beautiful cascading waterfalls I have ever seen.
At Ramona Falls you have 3 trails to choose from which all take you to where the Timberline Trail leaves the PCT. We chose the actual Timberline Trail which does add .4 miles but it was worth it. I have done the Muddy Fork route and it would be shorter but with more elevation change. Overall though, we were looking at a day of climbing which felt good on the knees but really kicked our butts. This stretch is extremely beautiful with an abundance of lush vegetation and stunning views of Mt. Hood. I was hoping to get to the Vista Ridge Trail area, but Brook and I opted for our own private view of the mountains to the north just before the McNeil Point Trail.
Here is an assortment of photos from this section of the Timberline Trail.
Tragedy did strike just after setting up our tent when I was trying to take a little nap. Brook was in the tent when she saw a chipmunk that needed her attention. I unzipped the tent door and out she ran, but pushed off from my air mattress and punctured it with her claw. A major bummer as I realized that I was going to sleep on the hard earth for the next two nights.
However, the views of Mt Adams, Rainier and St. Helens with a sunset and sunrise were stunning.
Day three would include many miles through the aftermath of the 2011 Dollar Lake fire and then past Cloud Cap on to High Point. Another tough day with many challenging water crossings, but so worth it.
The extent of the fire was large but selective offering a unique contrast of dead trees supporting a ground cover of mostly wild flowers. The big concern for this section is the Eliot Creek crossing which I admit to not researching completely. The new trail takes you down to a more stable crossing area but I did not want to add the decent and climb so I hiked far enough on the old trail to see that the old trail was far too dangerous especially for Brook. So from the Eliot Stream low point below Cloud Cap the climb to High Point near 7300 ft was daunting.
The trail options from the Cloud Cap Trailhead are exceptional. Before hitting the total exposed trail I took a break to refresh my feet in a beautiful stream. I was not sure I would make it to High Point but knew there would be water just before so I climbed light. I really enjoyed the new above tree line terrain, although Brook prefers more shade, but she did have snow to cool off on. A big help was a strong cool breeze that helped push us up to High Point. There were plenty of small snow melt streams all the way up. My goal was a protected campsite just beyond High Point. This campsite at about 7300 ft with Mt. Hood behind was perfect. Some hardy scrub trees to offer protection which turned out to be really important that evening.
The views of Mt Jefferson to the south offered a unique observation of cloud formations fed by the various forest fires.
The winds picked up and noisily shook the tent which was detrimental for sleep and scared Brook from wanting to be in the tent. However, it was strange, that it got warmer throughout the night. Going out for a break at 2:00 am was “Way Cool” with the warm wind and the a moonless star filled sky.Luckily I woke up for a nice sunrise. Now I was ready for the last 10 miles which started out by dropping from the sky to Gnarl Ridge through Mt Hood Meadows and on to the White River Canyon.
Climbing 1100 ft to Timberline Lodge was going to be tough since my body was telling me that it was spent.
This is when I pulled out my earbuds and let my music playlist get me to the end. A beer and burger at Charlie’s in Government Camp was such a great reward. Overall, I highly recommend the Timberline Trail.
I was looking for a 3 or 4 day trip when a friend living in Bend, OR, offered to provide logistical support, so I took him up on providing me a shuttle from the Lava Lake Trailhead at McKenzie Pass to the Elk Lake Trailhead south of the Sisters Wilderness. This would be an excellent 30+ mile trip which had special significance since it would be the completion of the PCT Segment E that I aborted back in 2015 due to the heat.
I hit the trail late afternoon on Thursday and made it to the top of Koosah Mountain for an evening with a fabulous view and an army of mosquitoes. Waking up to those mosquitoes did cause me to question why I had decided to venture into the Sisters Wilderness at this time.
However, I also realized that the lakes region south of the Sisters is a perfect mosquito breeding ground, so it did get better as I progressed north. I also ran into more snow as I got closer to the Sisters. Snow was not a detriment but rather refreshing. It was also a bit early for great flower presentations, however, there was plenty of color.
I camped the second night at Hinton Creek which provided a beautiful view of the Middle Sister and meadows for Brook to monitor wildlife activity. She also had a lot of fun playing in the snow around our campsite.
The next day we would hike through Obsidian Limited Entry Area where I knew I might want to soak my feet in the headwaters of the Obsidian Falls stream.
I took my time progressing through the area enjoying the scenery. I had a feeling I would camp the next night at Sawyer Bar and it turned out to be better then I had remembered it.
A perfect campsite between forest and lava, plus the mosquitoes were not a problem.
The last day offered up the climb over Olie Dilldock Pass which is a unique experience hiking over lava fields.
Always best to do this pass during the cooler portion of the day. In the heat it can be referenced more to this quote from Ted Ricks “I looked back down over the lava cinder river below us with heat rising off of it…and thought of Dante leading Aeneas out of Hell…”. The views of lava rock sculpture and the distant mountains: Washington, Three Finger Jack, Jefferson and Hood make it one of the highlights of the trip. Once over the pass it is an easy hike to the Lava Lake Trailhead passing by the Matthieu lakes. There was a nice “Trail Angel” couple celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary at the campground prepared to serve the PCT through hikers. Unfortunately very few through hikers had made it this far north yet.
I finally made it to Image Lake and boy was it worth it. On my Spider Gap Loop trip in 2015 we tried to get to Image Lake but had to turn back. After climbing the last 1400 ft from Miner’s Ridge on this trip I would say we made the right decision to backoff back in 2015. But I needed to get to Image Lake partly for fulfillment and partly to push the body into backpacking shape since this was my last weekend in the North Cascades before retirement the following friday. The trip is 32 miles with 4800 vertical with most of the vertical, 3300 ft, from the river trail. I planned on 3 days but I was not sure how it would play out.
The hike into the Canyon Creek campground was a possible first night destination, however, all campsites were taken thanks to a fairly large PCTA work crew. So I hit the PCT going North and saw that there would be a few campsites before the Image Lake Trail.
Shortly after Canyon Creek Brook and I were attacked by “Max” a combination Shepherd and Wolf. All I heard was “No Max” and around the bend comes Max in full charge. Brook got between my legs and held her ground but Max was only about attack. A serious fight broke out at my feet and I believe Brook realized she was not going to win. I heard a dog cry and then Brook took off running for her life with Max in pursuit. I think Brook chomped on some part of Max’s body which freed her for the get-away. Well Max’s owner chased after Max and I followed calling for Brook. Running with a full pack at my age is not what I should have been doing, but my dog was in trouble. After about a quarter mile Max was contained and I headed up the trail looking for Brook. I found her to be safe and injury free. Wow, I did not really say anything to Max’s owner because he knew how bad this was. He said that it was good that Max was tired. I was thinking it was good Brook is so fast. Overall, this was probably a good learning experience for Brook, to know that anything can happen and it is best to stay close to the Human you want to protect. Brook’s trail etiquette is almost perfect, but people don’t always understand how Aussies want to check them out.
Back to the trail with the temperatures rising to about 80 which was taking a toll on my body. I would have loved to have been able to climb to Image Lake for the overnight view, but I was beat. Luckily there was a sweet campsite just before the trail to Image Lake. I decided to camp there and go to Image Lake the next day with my new lightweight day pack that I just bought at REI. This was the first time in a while that I have camped in a forest setting with lodgepole type trees with not a lot of distracting sound such as you would get from a rushing stream. The evening turned out to be wonderful listening to the wildlife and watching Brook try to stalk all of the local chipmunks. The sun setting between the trees was a whole different kind of beautiful sunset. I even took a selfie.
But I was tired and thanks to splurging by bringing my Therm-a-rest air mattress, I slept like a log. I did not use my fly which did offer some star gazing. Brook started out in the tent but she knew she needed to be outside to properly protect us. I did not try to influence her otherwise even though it was pitch black out.
Sunday morning and it is time to climb to Image Lake.
I knocked off about 2000 ft to Miner’s Ridge as the temperature was again pushing 80.
The last 1300 ft nearly did me in, but I saved enough energy to properly explore not only Image Lake but the Miner’s Ridge Lookout Tower at 6210 ft. I was the only human up there and it was an amazingly beautiful day. This is why we backpack. The view of Glacier Peak is the highlight, the pan at the top gives you the full perspective.
There was only snow at the top and Brook was loving it. Here Brook wants to go after a marmot on the other side of the lake.
The rest of the photos will speak for themselves.
Descending back to my campsite nearly did me in, thank goodness it was downhill. But on this second night I was really beat, no appetite either, but a serious thirst that I needed to quench. I put the fly on earlier and decided to leave it which allowed me to just sleep on top of my bag all night. Brook woke me at 5:00 am and I felt good so we hit the trail by 6:30 am. The hike back was uneventful but I continued to realize that my body was benefitting from this extreme exercise. I am writing this post because I am too tired to do anything else. I am going to sleep good tonight. I think I am ready for retirement.
I retire on June 30th, but the term “retire” doesn’t really fit. I’ve tried to label this end of my one year contract to serve as the Interim CIO at Western Washington University as my official retirement. But what is retirement? I think I’m OK with just transitioning into my next job which happens to be the more serious pursuit of or the return to nature. And backpacking is my enabler for doing that.
The common question of what will I be doing next is answered with “I’m going backpacking”, but few have any clue what that really means. And of course going backpacking could be equated to varying definitions. Many ask if that means I will backpack the PCT or the Appalachian Trails. So I try to explain that I just want to be more serious and deliberate about backpacking to wherever opportunities it takes me to. If the conversation progresses it typically ends with some dismay that I actually will be doing this alone with my dog. And I have to admit that I’m not sure how to explain why I want to do this. However, I just read a blog post by Cam Honan, author of “The Hiking Life” entitled “A Natural Progression“ which is the best description I have ever read about why I am drawn to the wilderness. He breaks it down to “From Stanger to Guest to Family Member”. This paragraph from his post sums up why retirement will allow me to return to my “Family”.
From an intangible perspective, feelings of separation have disappeared, replaced instead by a sense of union with your surroundings. You have come home, and in so doing realised that your spirit never really left. Our connection with the natural world is innate, so while it may seem like Mother Nature is teaching, I’ve long suspected she is simply reminding. Providing the key so that we ourselves can unlock a part of us that has always been there. And I can’t think of too many gifts that are greater than that.
I thank Cam for putting into to words what I feel. The opportunity to be a part of this wilderness family is as good as it gets. Tomorrow I will reclimb Goat Mountain to get my own gauge on the snowpack in the North Cascades. The Adventure Continues