Closing out the Season

Not all who wander are lost.

Ever since college, that phrase has annoyed me, probably because it was ubiquitous among the bumper stickers, posters and bathroom stall graffiti of the impossibly deep twenty-something year old years. Sitting here, in the unforgiving sun of the high alpine, I am struck by the irony of that particular phrase coming to mind and chuckle, thinking that there must be some truth to the adage since it is ingrained so deeply in Americana.

I have no idea where I am.

However, I'm not particularly worried about it. I have a general reference for where I am, and I am completely comfortable with both the conditions and the terrain; I fully understand and acknowledge my physical limits, what I am capable of, and I know the area well. It's just that I was searching for a particular spot I'd never been to and, upon seeing an interesting little knoll, decided to jump trail and begin some off-trail wanderings.

Which leads me back to the not knowing where I am. But it's one helluva lunch spot. 

one helluva lunch spot

This will probably be my last hike in the barren, windswept, high alpine before fall storms roll in, bringing the slumbering winter with them. The light play across the mountain is gorgeous, the moon poised over Mount Hood's peak. I am surrounded by the cracking sounds of glaciers, rock fall, and water carving its roaring path into the Newton Clark valley. I am completely alone.

The north face of Hood from the Timberline Trail

little moon, big mountain

Newton-Clark glacier spread out above me

gnarly, whitebark pine

Sometime later, my belly full of leftover pad thai, I take off uphill and to the right, avoiding the terminal edges of glaciers and hidden snow bridges, making my way up crappy northwest scree slopes towards Cooper Spur. Prior to being here this afternoon, I wasn't sure how feasible an off-trail jaunt from Gnarl to Cooper Spur was, but I've picked out a spine to follow and it looks reasonable. 

cross-country on crappy scree, the spine I chose to follow on the right

An hour+ later, I top out around 8600 feet, the world spread out before me, my shoes full of dust and scree stones, face plastered with a stupid grin, sucking air into my lungs in the thin, alpine air. The high, gravity-defying ridge of Cooper Spur on Hood's northwest face is one of my favorite places in the world- almost a pilgrimage or a homecoming. 


thin air always plasters stupid grins across my face

But in October, we lose daylight quickly, so after lingering for a  half-hour or so I began picking my way down the numerous use paths woven through the scree slopes below the spur. I met two women who hadn't hiked in this area before and, while enamored with the views, were less charmed by the quality of the footing. They asked if they were close to Tie-in-Rock (they weren't). When I pointed out their would-be goal some 2000 feet above us, they laughed, said no way in hell, and turned back for the trail head.

I gave them their space and completed my hike in solitude and silence, watching the late fall light play upon the mountain, memorizing the details of the exposed shape and bones of the landscape.   

Next time I'm up here, Hood won't be such a naked lady. Next time, winter will be upon us. 

mileage: not sure, but feels like 9-10
elevation gain: I imagine somewhere around 2800 feet

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