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Above the Clouds

I love to ski Mt Hood via the Timberline Ski Area around Memorial Day. My visit this year on May 25th was extra special with the opportunity to ski above the clouds in comfortable temps with relatively no wind. In previous years I have been treated to better snow conditions thanks to colder temps and some fresh powder, but skiing above the clouds is a special treat.

Above Timberline

Looking South from top of Palmer Lift

This year’s Mt. Hood ski outing was definitely something I needed but it was also about sharing the experience with Nick the Director of MacHub who really needed a day off. We headed out to the Magic Mile lift before 9:00 am with some concern about conditions. We were totally socked into a cloud with a light mist. We got off the lift thinking we needed to find the Palmer lift to take us higher, but we turned the wrong way and had to ski back down to the Magic Mile lift with essentially zero visibility.

OutOfCloud

Emerging out of the Cloud

Next try we found the Palmer Lift and quickly emerged out of the cloud into sunshine above treeline. After assuming that we were destined to ski in fog and mist the excitement from seeing the clear sky was exhilarating.

I have skied all my adult life but since receiving 2 artificial hips I have become a little more concerned about the consequences of crashing at high speed. Skiing Timberline above tree line is about speed so my first run requires some soul searching to overcome that concern. Above the CloudsAwe yes, but the second run I forget those concerns and fly down the mountain feeling like I am the age of all the other skiers who are around me. Ski conditions were pretty good, plenty of snow and hard enough so you glided over it with ease. But the sun and warming temps did reduce the snow to a heavier mix that put significant strain on your thighs. You know what I mean, “It Hurts So Good”, but then your legs just give out; but not until I had skied to my heart’s content for yet another year.

A Night in Paradise Park

It had been 3 weeks since I last escaped to the wilderness so I just had to take advantage of the two day good weather forecast.

Timberline Ready for Winter

Timberline Ready for Winter

I initially tried to select another outing in the Tillamook State Forest since my last trip to Elk Mountain had been so rewarding, but something drew me to higher elevation. What about Mt. Hood, even if it may have gotten some fresh snow. Perfect, I had wanted to check out Paradise Park ever since my PCT segment that took me past the trail loop back in July. From Timberline Lodge it is about 5 miles to where I would want to camp. The Timberline webcams showed melting snow. The forecast called for a clear but cold night so let’s do it.

Cold Start

Cold Start

I packed my warmer bag and my perma-rest air mattress along with adequate warm cloths which turned out to provide sufficient comfort as the temperature may have hit a cold of 30 degrees. After a lunch buffet and IPA at Timberline I was off.

The typical day hike distance to the Zig Zag Canyon overlook and below offered a before and after shot showing just how much the weather changed from the trek in and next day return.

The trail takes you down to the bottom of the canyon and then you get to climb back up, but it went very well with a fresh body.

Autumn Color

Autumn Color

I was a little slower on the return trip as I was feeling some tired muscles. Hiking in late October does not provide the lush foliage but it was just as interesting seeing the mountain prepare for its winter blanket. I arrived at Paradise Park around 4:30 pm.

Setting Up Camp

Setting Up Camp

I scouted the terrain quickly selecting a campsite with a view and accepting the consequences of a cold wind. The October evening was playing out way to fast. I had to enjoy the view but I also needed to setup camp.

Deer Family Visitors

Deer Family Visitors

Then a family of deer, 4 doe and a young buck strolled by. They stood near looking at me as if to say, “what are you doing here”.

Back to the view, which was highlighted by the clouds opening to a valley exploding with sun rays. I had no idea what lay behind me as Mt. Hood was engulfed in a cloud. However, the hopes for a glorious sunset were high, but the temperature was dropping rapidly. The sunset did turn out to be unique but it was not photogenic due to the light sky above. The cold drove me into the tent where it seemed like I might be in for an uncomfortable evening.

It turned out to be just fine after I closed my air vents and put on a second pair of socks. It seemed like it was coldest at about 10 pm and then the wind shifted from the east. I wanted to enjoy the almost super moon rising over Mt. Hood but it was just too cold.

Mt Hood in Moonlight

Mt Hood in Moonlight

When I got up around 3 am it was awesome, a bit warmer and the moonlight exposing a clear Mt. Hood was gorgeous.

Good Morning

Good Morning

Morning brought a reluctance to leave the warmth of the sleeping bag even though the sunrise potential with a clear Mt. Hood was high. I quickly took it in and then slept in until 8ish. The sun was quickly providing welcome warmth allowing for a pleasant coffee and hot chocolate wakeup.

Joys of JetBoil

Joys of JetBoil

I hung around most of the morning enjoying the view from Paradise.

The hike back offered numerous views of Mt. Hood and Jefferson which I cherished via my many stops for rest.

Mt Hood's Glory

Mt Hood’s Glory

The impulse backpacking escape turned out to be perfect.

Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Jefferson

Return to Timberline Lodge

Return to Timberline Lodge

I am so grateful to be able to take advantage of God’s gift to us.

Timberline to Cascade Locks

My second Oregon PCT segment was excellent, the weather was what you would expect and the scenery was as good as it gets.

Abby

Abby

Unfortunately when it ended and I returned to the cellular world at the Eagle Creek Trailhead I found out that my beloved old backpacking canine companion, Abby, had died the night before. It was good that I had another 2.5 miles before I got to Cascade Locks, I needed the time to shed tears and reflect on our years together. I am so glad that we got to travel back to Oregon together. Australian Shepherds are incredible dogs and Abby was one of the best.

Leaving TimberlineBack to the Hood to Gorge review. My wife and I spent the night before I departed at Timberline Lodge. Weather was perfect as were the IPAs we consumed in the adirondack chairs observing Mt. Hood. We could see Mt. Jefferson to the South initially but the view faded away into a smoky haze from the fires in southern Oregon.

Early Views of Hood

Early Views of Hood

I departed on July 9th in beautiful weather with no deadlines, just a destination. The PCT from Timberline takes you into the Paradise Park area which is all about majestic views of Mt. Hood. You feel very small underneath the mountain. An afternoon thunder storm brought needed moisture but also motivated me to seek a campsite. A heavy fog moved in which essentially equated to rain all night long. Paradise ParkThe following day offered more amazing Paradise Park views. This is fairly rugged trail that skirts the many snow melt streams from Hood. The main goal was to have a relaxing lunch at Ramona Falls, however, crossing the headwaters of the Sandy river to get there always presents a challenge.

Sandy Crossing

Sandy Crossing

So when I came out of the forest to greet the Sandy it was obvious that I was not crossing that high volume stream at this PCT designated trail point. When looking for a crossing you head upstream and look for perfectly positioned rocks or hopefully a log assisted crossing.

Mt. Hood from Sandy

Mt. Hood from Sandy

I found the log/stick crossing that had been thrown together, and although it was a bit scary it turned out to be more then adequate. The reward for the challenging stream crossing is a glorious view of Mt. Hood.

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls

Then on to the ultimate reward of Ramona Falls and I was not disappointed. The sunlight through the trees creates unique highlights of this cascading waterfall.

I needed to put in a few more miles so taking the PCT Ramona Falls alternate trail to the Muddy Fork Junction was a perfect climax to my second day. Endurance CrossingHowever, crossing fast flowing stream on a couple of logs was interesting. But more interesting to watch were a couple of endurance runners cross the stream on foot.

The next day, Saturday, was a bit dreary weather wise, but that was OK since it kept down the day hiker population. It was a tough day for distance and vertical, 10 miles of 3000 ft up and about 1500 down. When I passed Lolo Pass I was thinking about putting a long sleeve shirt on which made me wonder about the 4 teenagers who were heading up to Bald Mtn. in shorts and tank tops.

Throne to Hood

Mt. Hood and Lost Lake from Buck Peak

Sunday ushered in a lifting fog which made for an eerie beautiful trail. The body felt good as I was knocking off more vertical before the inevitable drop. I had passed Devil’s Pulpit and Preachers Peak so I was in the mood for a wilderness church setting. About 10:00 am I noticed a side trail which lead to Buck Peak. The trail was OK but narrow and overgrown enough to mean that condensation from the vegetation was going to be soaking. But I sensed its call and a half mile up I was rewarded with His majestic throne’s view of Mt. Hood and Lost Lake. The church service was excellent.

Ripe Huckelberries

Ripe Huckelberries

The trail began the inevitable elevation decline to the gorge and with it came an abundance of ripe berries. I had a wonderful afternoon taking my time enjoying the spectacular view of the Eagle Creek canyon and eating plenty of ripe Huckleberries. After arriving at the Indian Springs abandoned campground I opted to continue on another 3 miles to Wahtum Lake. Definitely the right call as the lake campsite was beautiful and the trail there and then on to rejoin the Eagle Creek alternate PCT trail was a more gradual vertical decline complete with beautiful lush waterfall strewn scenery. Oh yes, and plenty of Thimbleberries, a tasty relative of the raspberry.

Tunnel Falls

Tunnel Falls

I knew I was in for a treat from the Eagle Creek canyon trail but little did I know how amazing it would be. My daughter and I hiked up this trail about 10 years ago but stopped short of the really great landmarks.  Tunnel CloseSo the ultimate goal is Tunnel Falls, which totally lives up to the hype. Actually the entire Eagle Creek Trail is awesome with many serious waterfalls, good swimming holes, precarious cliff carved trail and great campsites. But Tunnel Falls, Wow.

I knew that my trip would end the next day so I kept looking for the ultimate campsite, but I was getting tired.

Last Night Campsite

Last Night Campsite

Thankfully I kept seeking a better site and ended up with a primo campsite just below 4-Mile Bridge next to this 30+ foot waterfall, Skoonichuk Falls. But it made for a perfect last night on the trail where I was spared the heartbreak of knowing what was happening at the time with my dog, Abby.

Bridge of The Gods

Bridge of The Gods

The final day took me past High Bridge and Punchbowl Falls, plus greeting about a hundred, mostly day hikers, many with the goal to make it the 6 miles to Tunnel Falls. After receiving the news about Abby I hiked the Columbia River Highway State Trail up to Cascade Locks which provides a very nice view of Bridge of The Gods over to Washington. My wife and daughter were at the PCT Trailhead park by the bridge waiting for me. It was a gorgeous day for a burger and beer as we mourned the loss of our family dog.

Memorial Day in Oregon

Magic Mile run at Timberline on Mt. Hood, May 28, 2011

Tomorrow begins the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, CCCU, Technology Conference, that we will be hosting. Should be about 80 tech folks from the 100 or so institutions that make up the CCCU. What a conference of this size lacks in number of quality sessions it does make up for with valuable networking. The weather here in Oregon will be typical with rain, sun and not so warm temperatures. However, I think most of the visitors will love the lush green country and appreciate the temps in the 60’s and safety from tornadoes and floods.

Oregon is a different kind of place. I went skiing Saturday, May 28th, at Mt. Hood. I’ve never skied in May before, but my first run I was floating through 5” of fresh powder on top of 180” snow base. But the prize of the day was skiing the Magic Mile (see photo). Going up that high on Mt. Hood in the winter is generally not possible nor is it desirable. Sunday I played golf, also great, and today I am nursing a sore back, but it was worth it.

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