Mountain of the month September 2019: Mt Hood, Oregon, USA

If August’s mountain of the month was a little tenuous hopefully you will forgive me when you check out Septembers mountain of the month. In September we went BIG – a trip to the Pacific Northwest in America where the highlight of the trip was a circumnavigation of Mt Hood, a dormant volcano in Oregon.

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Having flown into Seattle and spent a few days recovering from jet-lag, watching soccer and eating beautiful things we first had a few practice camps in Olympic national park. The first did not go well as on arriving at a desolate beach on the Ozette triangle in the rain we realised that we had remembered most of the camping kit but nothing that we could eat our dehydrated dinner meal with. Eventually I came up with the ingenuous plan that we would eat with the handles of our toothbrushes. Not ideal but I suppose we could have forgotten more important things! The second night was a much more successful experience, the sun was out and we had a beautiful camp next to the river on the Hoh rain forest trail.

 

After a few days in the city of Portland it was finally time to get on the trail, or was it? I think it’s fair to say both of us had our reservations about the 4 day, 40 mile, 8000ft height gain trail which involved back country camping and river crossings. When we arrived at the car park at Timberline Lodge we took one last look at the weather forecast. It had been looking sub-optimal for a few days but now 50mph winds and lightening were predicted. I was all for just getting on with it, we love hiking in Scotland after all , how bad could it be? However, in unusual decisiveness Tom made a call that we would change plans and start a couple of days later after the storm had passed. Being one who does not adapt easily to change I was reluctant but after some consideration and particularly when we were sat in a craft brewery in Hood River watching lightening strike above the Colombia River I realised what a good call we/Tom had made.

Our second visit to the carpark was much more successful. Although it was cloudy, drizzling and cold the forecast was looking much more encouraging. Sunshine was predicted for at least two days of the four day trek so even if we started off in the rain it was unlikely to persist.

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Dehydrated meals made sense for a short trip but the costs would add up

The path was easy to follow and the first day was mostly downhill which was a welcome start as despite a few training wild camps in the UK (Dartmoor and Scotland) we weren’t used to carrying packs. The first day ended with our first major river crossing, described as ‘somewhat difficult’. It was indeed a bit different, just a couple of logs across a fast flowing glacial channel. I took it slowly and carefully, glad to have my walking pole for stability and made it across. We set up camp and ate some delicious packet curry.

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First views of sunshine on Day 2

If the first day had seen a lot of downhill the gradient on day two was definitely reversed. However, the lack of rain and our first glimpses of sun and Mt Hood kept spirits high and we managed to tick off nearly 14 miles. That evenings camp had one of the best views of the trail although was by far the chilliest – the thermal properties of my 20 year old sleeping bag were not what they had been.

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Camping looking up at Mt Hood at Elk Cove, end of day 2

Day 3 took us right up to the highest point on the trail, through almost every weather imaginable. Again, route finding was straightforward even in fairly poor visibility. When the clouds parted and the sun came out the views were far reaching and spectacular.

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One of the many river crossings

The fourth and final day was a little shorter but involved probably the most challenging river crossing, not so much for the water but for the size of the canyon we needed to cross. Not helped by some hikers coming the over way whispering ‘shall we tell them about the crossing? No they’ll figure it out’ we arrived with slight trepidation. However, there were cairns to guide us into the canyon and the exit point was fairly obvious. I suspect that as the Timberline Trail is most often walked in a clockwise direction the marking was a little clearer heading towards Timberline Lodge.

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Heading back across ski runs to Timberline Lodge on day 4

I was pretty glad to see the car park and the luxuries of the lodge; cold drinks, a sit down loo and the all important gift shop!

Although we didn’t go up the mountain walking around it allowed much more time for appreciation of its bulk and the variety of landscapes it supports on it slopes, from the rainforest like moss clad forests of the SW segment to the dry desert like NE sector and the wild flower meadows of the southern aspect. I’d love to hear of any other walks of a similar duration that offer as much variety. All in all the Timberline trail was everything I hoped it would be; it was challenging but never in a scary way, it was beautiful and it was a circular walk – my favourite kind! It provided the perfect centrepiece to the trip.

If this has inspired you to think about adding a hiking trip to your next trip have a look here at my top tips for backpacking the USA.

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