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.
The goal was to complete Timberline Trail loop for the 3rd year in a row, but Snow and Weather dictated a different outcome. Scheduling this year required that I attempt the Timberline Trail on June 17th. Yes, a bit early but I knew there would be rewards of clear skies and few people. However, I did not think the snow depth on the Northeast side would create such a problem. Combine that with a snow storm that emerged from the gorge when we would have been crossing the high point and we had to adjust to a Top Spur extraction. Overall it was an Epic Adventure because I have never seen the views so clear and brilliant, rhododendrons blooming and nobody on the trail.
This is my annual trek to evaluate how old my body feels and I am very pleased with the results. My main concern for completing the loop was the severity of the river crossing, but they were totally acceptable.
I can’t believe I didn’t worry more about the snowpack on the northside. It wasn’t that you could hike over the snow, it was how it created severe inclines over what was the trail and then it engulfed the trail. We made it to the Wy’East area clockwise from Timberline Lodge before we determined that we had to abort. Of course we had already met 3 backpackers who had turned around. I do think we could have made it if it wasn’t for the weather. All week the forecast just kept getting worse with the prediction of snow. And the forecast turned out to be more than accurate which made for a tough night at Eden Park and the hike out to Top Spur.
Knowing that the best weather was at the beginning I decided to do my traditional clockwise route from the lodge and boy am I glad we did. Paradise Park was amazingly beauty and it looked like we may have been one of the first to spend the night up there.
We almost got a great sunset but the sun hitting Hood at the different intensities is just as good. Unfortunately we did have fairly high winds at our Split Rock campsite and then we got a couple of hours of rain starting at sun up.
The weather cleared to give us a perfect hike down to the Sandy with the most amazingly clear views of the Sandy River headwaters up to Mt Hood.
The river crossing was challenging but we did not have to get very wet.
Of course Ramona Falls was glorious and the hike up to Top Spur junction was hard since we took the lower Muddy Fork route where one from our party exiting to the Ramona Falls TH. As I mentioned the flowers we exceptional.
The second night we camped at Bald Mountain with a perfect night for sleep. Climbing up toward McNeil we were treated to a beautiful view of Hood, but fog and clouds were forming.
This is when the snow pack got higher than I expected. Not a real problem until about Eden Park where it became more treacherous and difficult to find the trail.
The rest of the way over to Wy’East only got more difficult, but it was still beautiful because the storm was forming to the north and Hood was backed by blue skies. Wy’East was the decision point because you have cell reception there and we had to coordinate for someone to extract us. We decided on Top Spur for the following day hoping that maybe we could get to McNeil Point.
But no, the weather started to deteriorate and we were happy to camp at Eden Park. The snow started to fall at 2 am and it was a cold wet mess for the rest of the trip out. This trek did provide some inspiration for my post about how complicated my dog Brook is: My Dog is Complicated
Previous Timberline Trail Reports
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.