Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon
~14 miles, ~ 3000 feet

For those who know me, it’s no secret that the tortured, windswept, barren high alpine is my favorite type of landscape in the world. Some people need beaches. I need mountains. Treeless, lonely… no shelter from sun, rain or wind, no dissembling, no escape, no misconceptions.  
One of my favorite places in the world: the northern face of Mount Hood, near Cooper Spur. It is a sun-bright, scoured landscape dominated by ever-changing vistas of Hood, an area like a homecoming or pilgrimage for me. The north side of Hood possesses some quality, some aspect of release for me: I am simply able to let go and the brain-chatter settles. Maybe it’s just oxygen deprivation or sunstroke, who knows. Regardless, it is a place I love, a place I ground myself in. 

The North Face of Hood. One of my favorite places

Andy and I are in the process of getting our house up for sale. Yup, that’s stressful. Marut, the Queen of Impromptu and Not-Sweating-The-Small-Stuff, coerces me to toss house projects aside for a day or so, to participate in a much-needed overnighter. Backpacking therapy. On a previous recon/semi-lost exploration near Cooper Spur/Gnarl Ridge, I discovered a great spot for an overnighter, so naturally I decide to drag us there. It’s gonna be a hoof to get to, though. The Cloud Cap Road remains closed, which means Marut and I are gonna have to work for the payoff, nearly 3000 vertical feet of sweat in 4 miles just to reach the Timberline Trail.

Before this, I’ve only explored the Tilly Jane trail as a winter snowshoe. The Gnarl Ridge fire torched the area in 2008…during the winter this means the contrast of burned, silver snags and white snow. For summer it means silvered snags, views, and flowers galore. Also, an unrelenting sun. The pug crapped out on us about 2 miles in. 

Life returning in the burn

Crapped out dog. Marut is a good chair

I love the contrast of wildflowers & silvered snags

No matter. We stopped to take in the sun, vistas of Rainer, Adams & Helens, to water and rest the dog. Marut was feeling sluggish (most likely due to the fact that she’s the craziest work-a-holic I know); I’m generally crabby anytime the weather hits above 75°, so taking it slow and steady was a good choice.

It took us about 2 hours to hit the A-frame at Tilly Jane. I love old historical buildings. 

Arriving at the A-Frame (Tilly Jane snowshoe, 2010)

Beyond the A-frame, the Tilly Jane trail continues to gain elevation, flirting with the edge of Pollalie Canyon. Andy and I had previously tried to follow it on a snowshoeing adventure, but deep snow, new (to us) territory and a steep incline turned us around. Heat, steeps and concern about crapping out the dog again (who was doing just fine now that she had soaked in a creek), meant it took us about an hour to reach the Timberline Trail. From here, well, the world simply opens up. 

creek break

pug & lupine

taking in the views on the Timberline Trail

I kept trying to convince Marut that the area I had in mind was just around the next bend. Like many backpacking adventures, though, distances become relative. Truth is, last time I was up here I was playing a game of lost and found, delighting in discoveries, basking in my own element and enjoying a day where I was completely stuck in my own head. It would seem that when you’re trying to re-arrive at a place you found while *lost*, memories and distance don’t always coincide.

The amount of snow also surprised me. I knew that we were traversing some of the highest sections of the Timberline Trail, but the very hot weather we’ve been having combined with the treeless exposure led me to expect much, much less snow. As it was, traversing giant snowfields became par for the afternoon course. 

"I swear, Marut, it's just around the next bend"

oh, look, another snowfield

the scrubby little flowers were cute though

But when we arrived….aaaaah. The little knoll I remembered was lovely as ever, framed by the edge of Gnarl Ridge and the looming vista of Hood’s Newton-Clark glacier. A seasonal stream provided us with fresh water and tiny, scrubby flowers in miniature peppered the landscape with spots of color. We spent the afternoon setting up camp, hunting for shade (a premium commodity in the high alpine) and watching the world change color. 

Dog, Hood. Hood, Dog.

scrubby adorableness

Hood looms large

camp chores in the knoll

hello camera

Eastern Oregon and Washington are also on fire. 

Mount Jefferson & the Warm Springs fire beyond the edge of Gnarl Ridge

The most eventful part of the trip was the wind- with nothing thwarting its path, wind is king of the elements above 6500’.  It picked up early in the evening and proceeded to roar and rage through the canyons, down the mountain, and across the little knoll. I got up a few times to answer the call of nature, *attempt* some night photography, and make sure the tent was still staked & properly guyed out. 

trying to capture stars in wind is really difficult

Those aren't city lights in the distance- that's the moon. And wildfires.

At 4am, I woke to a particularly intense freight train of a gust barreling down the side of the hill, thought “wow, that’s a big one.” The tent then promptly collapsed on my head.

Any idea how difficult it is to untangle yourself from a trekking pole tent while the wind is still slamming against you? To sum it up mildly, the tent essentially becomes a giant sail. With one hand, I’m attempting to hold the tent semi-vertical (my hand grappling with the pole through the mesh because: A) I’m blind without glasses so I have to put my glasses on. This is easier done with two hands and a tent that is not bashing me with every wind gust. B) I also have to put on a headlamp because, oh yeah, it’s DARK outside. C) I have to actually unzip the tent to get out. Tent doors are very uncooperative when they are not taut. D) I have to put shoes on which is hard to do one handed. Also difficult to do while I’m now getting slapped in the face by an unzipped tent door and the unstaked vestibule. E) I then have to manage to unzip the fly, crawl out and not get tangled up in the whole mess.

Marut slept through the whole thing.

(I may have to start referencing posts as “Marut slept through this ___ or that ____”  because it is simply inconceivable to me how she does it. All I can figure is the woman has some major Zen-Buddhist-Goddess-One-with-Nature thing going on because when she puts in ear plugs, it is lights freaking out. [Insert jealousy here]).

‘Twas not a restful night of sleep. Ah, backpacking. 

the dog doing her crazy snow toboggan thing

Cooper Spur is the high ridge to the left

Heading home the next morning, little had changed- the wind was still en-force, the sun still merciless, the mountain and wide spread spaces still our constant companions. Nothing short of magnificent.  


Lisa said...

Wow you take amazing photos! Gorgeous!

Manda said...

Thank you! It's a continuing work in progress. :)