The Melt Off

Top Spur to the Timberline Trail
Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon
~5 miles, ~1000 feet elevation gain

One of my most cherished, but brief, periods in the high alpine occurs just as the snow is melting off. The sleepy world suddenly wakes up, and it's game on for anything and everything before the snows encroach again. It's a time characterized by temperamental trails littered with blowdown, strewn with mud, seasonal streams run rampant, and new growth bursts forth underfoot. The woods are colonized first by avalanche lilies before, higher up, lupine, indian paintbrush, and beargrass bloom.  

At this time last year, I was butting my head up against numerous hike fails due to late season storms that had buried the high country; as such, our usual summer stomping grounds remained inaccessible until, in someplaces, mid-August. So when I suddenly just arrived at the Top Spur trailhead yesterday without having to drive over any patches of snow, I had a giddy little moment.

At 6100 feet, situated above Mount Hood's Timberline Trail, lies McNeil Point and its stone CCC shelter. The views are outstanding: the Sandy Glacier fall line, the headwaters of the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River, waterfalls, and, to the south, Yocum Ridge beckons.
Heading up from Top Spur to connect with the Timberline Trail is actually one of my least favorite approaches to the high country in the Mount Hood Wilderness. It. Is. Boring. Sparse, dry, forest walking. On days like this, it can also be surprising muggy and windless. The walking gets more interesting as you break out on to the ridge, dispersed with small beargrass meadows before entering the trees again. 

route-finding in the boring woods

 At about 2.5 miles from the TH, the world suddenly opens up. 

The original idea was to head up to the shelter, using the raw climber's trail etched into the hillside to climb the remaining half mile (and 800 feet) to play with our snowshoes on the deep, lingering snowfields higher up. Almost immediately out of the gate, however, Andy wasn't feeling well- overly tired and with odd, intermittent nausea. We made it to the viewpoint, reevaluated, then decided to call it a day. I could see the McNeil shelter high up, my snowshoes still strapped to my pack and whining to be used. I sat in the sun for a long while, my heart denying the decision to return home, my gaze longingly pinned on the vistas above us. 

I feel- no, I take that back, have been- pinned to a computer and books and clinicals and illness this quarter with no respite. I need to hit the reset button. Although I haven't gotten my fill of the backcountry yet, inside, I am doing a serious, serious happy dance.

I just got the green light for the mountains again.