Bugs, Burns, Friends & Flowers

(backpack with side trips to McNeil Point, Cairn Basin, Wy'east Basin & Eden Park)
Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon
~15.6 miles, elevation gain (dunno, at least 2100+ and then some)

Finally, the first backpack of the year. 

Jumping for joy at McNeil

Marut, Elisa and I have been trying to coordinate a backpack since the fall of 2011 when we started nursing school together (clearly we have had a few scheduling issues). Calendars free of work and other obligations finally lined up so the other day saw the three of us hoofing it up to McNeil Point on Mount Hood for a short and oh-so-sweet overnight trip. 

Opening shot by Marut: Marut, me, Elisa. (I always make that same damn face in photos & regret it later on).

Elisa & I contemplating Hood from the side of Bald Mountain (photo by Marut)

Interestingly enough, in all the time that I have lived here, I've rarely backpacked on Hood- in fact, McNeil is only my third overnight on my backyard mountain. I think this has to do with the mental hurdle that Hood is my day hiking playground...therefore, if I actually have the time to backpack, I *should* go some place further away. I also tend to prefer 2-3 nights out as opposed to a single night.

Well, night shift is changing a lot of things for me. I finally recognized that I kept waiting for some elusive, perfect moment... felt like I actually had energy, I had enough days off that I could do a longer backpack, etc, etc. The truth is, I never feel like I have energy, my temper swings from jovial to temperamental on a moment's notice, and if I don't just start getting out and doing, summer is going to be gone before I know it. So, time to start doing. Even if it's not my perfect dream trip [blah, blah, blah, whine, whine, whine], getting out is enough.

And it was. Now, backpacks are rarely perfect, and this one started off bumpy- hot, dusty, and more crowded than I have ever seen the trail (midweek or otherwise). The swarms of biting black flies were unexpected and set off a litany of hilarious tirades from Marut the first several miles up the trail (Elisa & I happily contributed to these tirades). Elisa became dehydrated early in the hike, which set of waves of nausea, cramps and just general malaise. But the companionship, the high alpine, the mountain, and the just being out were exactly what I needed, what we all needed.  

Getting my angry eyes on at the flies

Hood from the Timberline Trail

The hike to McNeil has one of my least favorite approaches- a long, dry ridgewalk that any way I try to be charitable about is just simply boring. Once the major portion of the climb is done though, WOW, because the world suddenly opens up in song and serenade. Upon reaching timberline, the bugs also dissipated to manageable levels, and tirades dropped off as we wandered higher through meadows and flowers, the ever-changing vista of Hood following us. 

flowers flowers flowers flowers...

Marut and I were both concerned about Elisa though- she was still ill and feeling worse, though she never once complained about it (<= bonus points to her: if I am feeling ill, you will hear about it). At the turn off for the McNeil use trail, I left the two of them to catnap and take a break among the lupine while I headed up trail to scope out a site.

Ding! Found one. 

Hood from campsite

McNeil Point, 6100'

After getting camp set up, Elisa was content to relax in flip flops and chill out, so Marut and I headed up the last 0.6 mile walk to the McNeil shelter. There, antics ensued in the late afternoon sunset, a single eagle the only witness to two (supposedly) grown women acting like five year olds (I didn't pack the tripod in for nothing): 

antics begin...

Marut solo jump shot

apparently I'm kicking Marut off the mountain...

our timing was frequently off...

touching the top of Hood

Getting back to camp, I made the hilarious discovery that Marut and Elisa had both evidently brought the kitchen pantry with them. Literally. It. Was. Amazing. Between the two of them, there was enough food for an army of backpackers: apples, bananas, plums, entire bags of snap peas, carrots, banana chips, gummy worms, sunflower seeds, and a bonus spread of jerky, sausage and salami, peanut butter, and even a whole jar of mustard. This arsenal doesn't include the entire Tupperware of curry that Marut brought or the energy bars and Mountain House lasagna Elisa brought. I was simultaneously horrified at the thought of that much weight and delighted to contribute to the eating activity festival because, in my effort to shave weight, I had slightly shorted myself in the food department. Granted, I wouldn't have starved, but it was much more fun to eat my weight in banana chips and gummy worms that night while watching nature's Prime Time constantly update the programming over the ridges of the Cascade crest.  

Heading back to camp via fields of flowers & boulders

Me, laughing as I discover/contemplate the Backpackers' Feast (photo by Marut)
Prime Time begins

sunset over the Cascade Crest

The next morning, I woke before everyone else and watched the sunrise burn the cloud layer off over the mountains. Later, still feeling under the weather, Elisa opted to stay in camp while Marut and I headed north up the Timberline Trail to see how Cairn Basin, Wy'east Basin and Eden Park had fared in the Dollar Lake Fire of 2011

good morning Hood

For myself, Eden Park, Wy'east Basin and Cairn are some of the most cherished and lovely places on Hood. The northwest side of the mountain feels a little more remote, a little more wild, a little more isolated than other areas on Hood. While I had heard that certain areas had, remarkably, been spared, I needed and wanted to see it for myself. The contrast between the burn, the wildflower meadows and still intact forests was surreal. 

lovely Cairn Basin- the burn here was spotty, leaving areas both untouched and torched

Cairn Basin & Mt. St. Helens

Wy'east Basin

following Marut through the burn

Dollar Lake Fire & Eden Park, Mt. Adams in the distance
Meeting back with Elisa at camp, we lunched (more banana chips! more salami!), then lathered on the sunscreen and fortitude for a cruise back down through bug central. We hauled those last four miles out, cruising past more hoards of day hikers, all equally hot, dusty and annoyed with the flies. 

Good friends, good company, beautiful trail- even with the bugs we were grinning our faces off on the cruise down, which meant we ate quite a few of said bugs. In the end, no matter. It was good to be out, beautiful and wonderful to experience my day hiking backyard playground from an overnight perspective. A freaking good day.  

me hanging out in McNeil's old CCC stone shelter (photo by Marut)

No comments: