Adventure Log: Camping at Mt. Hood, part 3

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As I write this, five days after my return to Washington, Mt. Hood National Forest is on fire. I’ve spent too much time this afternoon looking at photos, and I’m sad and sick. I feel bad for dissing Oregon, because it is—like all of our vast country’s natural areas—a national treasure. Roads I was on are closed this week, including the interstate that passes Multnomah Falls. Trails and campgrounds in the area of the one I enjoyed are closed, threatened, or—at best—inundated with smoke that blots out the beauty. Part of the Pacific Crest Trail adjacent to the portion I hiked is closed.

At least one of the Oregon fires is believed to have been started by reckless fireworks. More than 30,000 acres are currently burning from that one fire that joined up with another one. The Washington fire near Mt. Rainier in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest—where I hiked last month— was, I heard, thought to be ignited by lightening.

I looked at the fire incident website, and counted well over a dozen active wildfires in Washington and Oregon. My forester father would say fire is nature at work; it makes for healthier forests. But these fires are threatening property, national landmarks, beloved recreation areas. Perhaps we don’t get to choose, humans are the interlopers here. But it is heartbreaking, particularly when caused by careless (read stupid) humans.

I am feeling very fortunate that, except for the beginning of my adventure, the skies and the air were clear. The wind shifted right after I left and everything changed again.


Not My Mountain, the Third Day

The smoke has cleared and the sun rises yellow instead of red. I’m ready and waiting for it. The man with the recorder is back with friends; and the chipmunk, that seems to sleep until just the moment the sun peaks over the ridge, then scampers out and worships with me before scurrying about looking for breakfast.

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The mountain, if not soaring, is at least pointing into blue sky. I am eager to see it up close.

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I quickly make a lunch and head out. An hour later, I am at its base. It’s a year-round snow sports venue! I had no idea. (The US ski team trains here in the summer.) Men (I saw no women) are clomping about in ski boots and hefting their snow boards. It’s weird.

There are ski lifts that go two-thirds of the way up the mountain. Could I say I climbed a snow-capped peak if I rode the lift? No trees, no meadows, no flowers. Just rock and dirt, and some snow.

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I go into the Welcome Center to see if there are hiking trails somewhere. Wrong place. I’m not renting skis, repairing a snow board, buying any permits. Nothing here for hikers. I move on to the Historic Timberline Lodge.

It’s interesting. Most mountain lodges with which I am familiar boast a massive room with a Paul Bunyon sized fireplace. This one is a hobbit warren.

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I finally locate a trail map. The “trails” run horizontally through the dirt just behind the lodge. I can see them in their entirety from the parking lot. Maybe there is hiking on another side of the mountain, but thanks to the previously mentioned (in an earlier post) unhelpful ranger and no good websites, I don’t know where they are. (When I head for home a couple of days later, I take the back part of the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop and see one trail head sign and more than a dozen sno-park signs.)

I’m back in the car 30 minutes after my arrival, thinking I will try Mt. Hood Meadows that I passed on the way here. It sounds promising. It also sounds like it could be a horse race track. I Google it. (Oregon apparently has better AT&T coverage than Washington does, a perk I’m not entirely pleased by.) I’m close: Mt. Hood Meadows is one of Oregon’s largest ski resorts. And it closed in May for the summer in spite of having one of the best snow packs in history. Why? “Ski fatigue.” Though Timberline remains open for the diehards, it seems most Northwesterners want to hike and play in the water in the summer. Duh.

On my way back to the campground, I turn down the road to Little Crater Lake, which I had opted out of continuing to on the PCT yesterday. Turns out it’s a Tiny Pond, not much bigger than the potholes in the road to get there. But is is deep startlingly blue hole, as clear as a just-polished bar glass. The submerged ghost trees are eerie. I’ll let you read its story.

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Once again, I’m ready to be back at my lake with the ducks and a book, and the lunch I took with me. Mt. Hood: been there, done that.

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Adventure Log: Ruby Beach

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As I drive west today, away from the source of the smoke that is blanketing the Pacific Northwest, if not away from smoke itself, I recall my promise to myself early in August to get to my beloved Ruby Beach before I hang up my adventure shoes for the season. I needed to redeem the disappointment of Oregon’s Cannon Beach. (I’ll get back to “not my mountains” tomorrow, the other Oregon disappointment.)

Plan A for today had been Paradise, but it is not paradise there today. I don’t have a Plan B at 5:30am. All dressed up and nowhere to go. There’s no point in going anywhere in the Cascades or the Gifford Pinchot; while Texas floods, we’re on fire in this corner. That leaves the Olympics. Such a wealth of options in these parts.

I check “My Backpack”—saved-for-later hikes—on the Washington Trails Association website (big shout out to that organization). Marmot Pass is a possible, but I decide it needs 1) flowers, and 2) no smoke. Next summer for that one.

The beach! The beach. Have I mentioned I’m not really a beach person? It occurs to me that I could stay home and make applesauce. But I’m committed to my weekly adventures; soon the rains will start—I hope. A friend is staying in a cabin at Lake Quinault, I could stop and see her on the way back. Okay. I repack my knapsack for the new plan and take off for the coffee kiosk. I’m almost to the coast when I remember my earlier promise for beach redemption.

I know it isn’t going to be a blue sky day, in spite of a forecast of 90 degrees (which is ridiculous at a far north beach). The sun glows red through the haze that completely obliterates the sky and the mountain tops, but keeps the temperature pleasant.

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I whiz past Kalaloch, my parents’ favorite beach, and stop at Fourth Beach to see if I can get to the pools in the rocks and their sea life before the incoming tide covers them. I rarely get here at low tide, the problem with day trips. Though I find only one sea star (perhaps they are already submerged), there are many green, yellow, and pink anemone. I love the rocks and patterns at this beach. Each beach along the upper coast of the Peninsula holds a different gift.

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I drive the last few miles to Ruby Beach, my favorite on this wild coast line. I take only ONE photo from the iconic overlook at the edge of the parking lot (and another from half way down the trail). There is no shortage in this house and on my computer of photos of this view taken by multiple photographers and featuring multiple family members and guests over the decades.

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I note the bumper crop of drift logs this year. A bridge across the fresh water creek in which both I and my sisters and my children have floated on logs (looking forward to my grandchildren continuing the fun), is the most elaborate I have ever seen in my decades of visiting this beach. I don’t use it, it looks a little sketchy. There are so many logs in the creek, it’s the easiest ever crossing.

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And the most amazing fort I have ever seen! An architect and pals must have been here earlier in the summer. I want to move in.

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I walk the beach in both directions—sometimes on the logs, remembering our childhood game of seeing how far we could go without stepping off a log—photographing the sea stacks, watching waves break against the rocks, and making cairns (inukshuks) on a log, I wonder why, in all the searches at this beach for perfect round stones in my childhood, we never engaged in this art form! Or do I just not remember?

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I love this beach. Given all there is to do here, I don’t wonder at how I never cared to go to Atlantic beaches (or the one I visited in Oregon). And still, my beach attention span is short here too. After an hour, I’m ready to head inland.

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As I drive back to Lake Quinault, I marvel as I do every time I’m here at this unique place where the forest meets the sea, and 45 minutes inland is the rain forest. A few gravel miles from the end of the lake are the trail heads into the mountains. Is there any other place like this on the planet? And how is it that I get to live here? I am beyond lucky.

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Adventure Log: Camping at Mt. Hood, part 2

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Not My Mountain, the Second Day

Since the mountain is hidden behind a smoky veil, I decide to hike a few of the 13 miles around the lake, saving my trip to Timberland Lodge—on the actual mountain—for the next day, when the smoke is supposed to clear. I want to hike the part that is the Pacific Crest Trail. (I also want to sit in my tent and work on a writing project.)

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I drive a mile and a half up the road, rather than take the trail that goes through my campground and two others. In the parking lot near one end of the lake, I don knee straps, bunion guards, ankle support (newly added for my rolling right ankle, it worked great!), grab my trekking poles (which I don’t use) and set off to fall in love with these unfamiliar mountains.

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As I step onto the PCT, its history shoots through my feet to my heart. I feel the spirits of the thousands of other adventurers who have hiked some portion or all of the trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. I am one with Cheryl Strayed (who lives in Portland), sans ill-fitting boots and 75 pound pack, who wrote about her adventure on the PCT in “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”

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The trail is mostly flat after a few switch backs from the lake up a talus slope to the PCT section. It’s pleasant, if not monotonous; no breathtaking vistas. There’s a section of winter blow-down that, I’m sorry Oregonians, but it kind of made me laugh. Pickup sticks compared to the mighty giants that thunder to the ground in my mountains.

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The trail splits at one of the other corners of the lake, one fork continuing on the PCT, the other going on around the lake. It’s my turn around point.

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It’s an easy hike, but when I finish, as always, I thank my body for its strength and my circumstances that provide the opportunity to follow my bliss. It won’t always be like this; it could all change in a flash or in a slow decline until one day I realize it’s done. Getting old might be hell, but for now I am loving every minute.

But these are still not my mountains.

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Adventure Log: Camping at Mt. Hood, part 1

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I first became aware that I was a mountain snob when my family of origin traveled to Tennessee to camp in my mother’s beloved Smoky Mountains.

“When will we be there?” my disdainful sisters and I teased as we drove through the Park. “These are just hills!” we mocked.

We were growing up in the shadow of mountains in the Cascade range capped with snow year round, the tops of which were unattainable by mere mortals such as ourselves. Even the Olympics, with no year-round snow-covered major peaks, holds a rugged reputation and old growth forest. In the Smokies, on the other hand, you can hike to the top of Mt. LeConte (and we did), and drive to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee (and we did). (Later, one of my partners—I forget which one now—would call me provincial. “The Pacific Northwest has bigger mountains, bigger trees, bigger slugs,” I bragged. Neither partner was from the western half of the country, I might add.)

Never did I dream that one day I would move to the East coast, where for 36 years the Appalachians were the only mountains in my life; and for most of those years, I would have to drive great distances to get even there. I learned to love those mountains as my mother did, though it was a gentle affection, not head-over-heels rapture.

I cut my teeth and learned to walk at Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens; but since I moved back to the PNW five years ago, I have camped at Mt. Baker and Mt. Adams, and in the Olympics. I have hiked at all those places and more, and loved every trail.

I decided it was time to stretch my legs beyond the Washington border. In late spring, I made a reservation at Hoodview Campground on Timothy Lake, near Mt. Hood—yep, all the way to Oregon—the last of the well-known mountains within a day’s drive of home.

I had visions of Takhlakh Lake, the remote Mt. Adams lake I fell flat out in love with on one of my first camping trips after my pilgrimage home, and returned to for a day trip in autumn. Mt. Adams reflected in the water, the morning mist, the moonrise behind the mountain, fishing osprey and soaring eagles. I was so enamored with the lake, for five days I left it only for the two hikes I could get to without getting in the car. Next time I’ll go a little farther afield, I promised myself. But I’ve been foiled in attempts to return by (1) the only rainy week of the summer, (2) fires in the area, and (3 and 4) last summer and this, a washed out road—unless I go all the way south to the Columbia and then back north from the other end of the road, reverse and repeat to get home.

So, last week, as August marched dry-eyed into September, I packed my camping gear and headed south in a drought. “It’s just a giant tittie,” an online writer-hiker-photographer friend said of Mt. Hood. I tried to keep an open mind, determined to shed my label of provincial.


Not My Mountain, the First Day

Once I get to the lake—which is two or three times the size of Takhlakh and, despite the long drive to get here and the fact that it’s the first day of school in Oregon, is hopping with activity—there is so much smoke in the air from wildfires to the east, I have no idea where to look for the mountain. Smoke fills my nose and burns my eyes, and blots out the blue sky and the sun. There is a ban on campfires, and it’s too hot for one anyway.

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More mountain than I could see the first evening, but that was a boring photo.

I set up camp, then take a nap before I fix dinner, which I had planned to cook in the coals. When I take my plate to my chair on the lakeshore, I find the wind must have shifted and the mountain is visible. I’m startled. I’m startled by how unimposing and unimpressive it is. My friend’s description of its shape is spot on—Lady Gaga type—but the “giant” is a stretch. I knew it wasn’t a big mountain—I’ve seen it from a distance, of course—but somehow I thought close up it would be, well, bigger. And it isn’t where I expected it to be: front and center in the V of the foothills. This lake isn’t situated right, I catch myself thinking; or the mountain isn’t; like someone messed up the design.

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Photo from a later day, after the smoke had cleared.


I’m up early the first morning to watch the sun come up, after lying on my airbed in the dark listening to a distant owl hooting and a band of coyotes yapping. There’s no color in the sky, and I can barely make out the mountain—and only at all because I know where to look—but I wait patiently with the ducks that swim back and forth in front of me.

Suddenly, there is the deep crimson ball, sliding up from behind the trees. It’s a color only achieved when there is smoke in the atmosphere. And it is breathtaking. Its wavy reflection stretches across the lake, not for the mountain, but straight for my chair, as if begging me to dance, or maybe pointing a smiting finger at me for wishing I were at a different lake by a different mountain, turned golden by the rising sun, where fish leap and ospreys plummet from the sky, hoping to catch one.

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A man standing at the end of the nearby dock lifts his bass recorder and accompanies the dawning day; but, as if afraid to disturb those who are still asleep in their tents deep in the trees and missing what will surely be the best moments of the day, sounds only a phrase or two. The deep, haunting notes are a perfect accompaniment.

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I am complete.

Carpeing the Diem: The Eclipse

There’s a new post on Daughter on Duty.

The reader boards on the 30-mile stretch of I-5 I travel each Thursday to attend my yoga class, warned last week of high volume traffic and delays over the weekend. Saturday, as I drove on the frontage road parallel to the interstate on my way to visit Mama, the I-5 traffic was heavy and slow. Why? Travelers heading to the tiny town of Madras, Oregon—and other small Oregon towns—to view the total eclipse of the sun.

Click here to keep reading.

Adventure Log: Burroughs Mountain

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With autumn coming and the end of warm sunny days to explore, it’s hard to leave my favorite hiking zones; but variety is good. Yesterday I set the alarm for 5:00 (though of course I was awake…because I set an alarm), and got an early start to the other side of the mountain. I beat the road construction crews, and the gate into the Park was not yet staffed, so I got in free, which was a little disappointing because I like to flash my get-in-free pass. The parking lot that was jammed five hours later, was nearly empty when I arrived at 8:30 on a weekday.

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Sunrise is very different from my side of Rainier. No old or second growth forests, therefore no shade. The temperature was forecast in the “upper sixties…’feels like’ mid-80s.” Much closer to the sun up there, plus being on the east side.

The trails at Sunrise are 95 percent sandy, five percent rocky; not full of roots, no carpet of evergreen needles. It’s dry and dusty. There are no streams to cross as they tumble down the mountainside through the forest; no waterfalls. The alpine smell is subtle, because there aren’t many trees. It isn’t damp. There are no high, lush meadows.

There isn’t the sense of anticipation I’ve experienced and loved on my other hikes this summer—the stunning scenery is all laid out in front of you. Which is not to undersell the jaw-dropping awe of the immensity and span of the Universe from up there.

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I chose the Burroughs Mountain trail, which goes even closer to the sun, and to Herself. On the good advice of a friend who was there last week, I headed out on the trail less traveled. There are a few firs there, and still some wildflowers in the shade, with the huckleberry already beginning to turn scarlet. Spring, summer, and fall are brief and jammed together in the mountains.

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Shadow Lake

The trail begins on the Wonderland Trail, meandering for half a mile above a shadow-filled meadow, past Shadow Lake and Sunrise Camp. Leaving the Wonderland—and the trees—it continues along Sunrise Rim with spectacular views into the White River valley and across to the Tatoosh Range (I think), rounding a curve to the Queen of the Pacific Northwest.

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White River

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A sign informs that the alpine tundra zone is similar to the tundra in the Arctic regions.

At the apex of Burroughs 2 (I did not do the third one), I found two women trying to take a selfie while holding a sign. I offered assistance. I stepped back to snap the shot as they held up their sign: “We 💜 you, Gretchen.” What are the odds? I asked them where Gretchen was. She used to live here, they told me, but now she lives in Flagstaff, AZ. 😳. They both live on Whidbey Island, they offered. As they were leaving, on a hunch, I mentioned the names of two of my friends on Whidbey. Yes, they knew them! Sometimes the world just astounds me.

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I built a small cairn in homage to Herself—not getting the fourth piece to balance, but pretty pleased the tricky third one did—and headed back to Burroughs 1, planning to take Sourdough Ridge Trail, the rim on the other side, back down. It overlooks Berkeley Park and, perhaps, on into Grand Park. I’ve been to Berkeley and will return one day to continue to the Grand. The parks here are in the valleys, the others I’ve been to this summer are at the apex.

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Berkeley Park. Mt. Baker and Mt. Adams are on the horizon, but not visible in the haze this day.

Far below me, I spotted a small tribe of mountain goats run out of a copse of trees and begin grazing. (Yes, they are called a tribe, or a trip; how great is that?) Then I saw another small group, and another. Farther on, right on the Berkeley Park trail, was  larger one! As I moved on, continuing to watch them, the smaller groups wandered or ran to join the bigger group. I counted at least 40.

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I stopped trying to take photos of goats too far away to take photos of and picked up my pace. The big group looked headed down into the park; but maybe the small one that seemed content to stay a half mile from the intersection of the trails would still be there. It was still early, and I wasn’t in any hurry anyway. I was headed toward Berkeley Park in search of goats.

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From Berkeley Park Trail. Burroughs Mt. 2 (where I was) is in the center. 3 (where I was not) is to the right with the snow fields. 1 is to the left. The trail follows the ridge line before descending.

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The goats made the trip memorable. That and the people I spoke to. I made an error in choosing the return trail. I wish I had chosen to hop back on the Wonderland after the goat viewing, rather than the primary trail access from the parking lot, which is like a highway. But then I would have missed the Buddhists on Sourdough Ridge.

I was wearing the shirt the owner of my yoga studio handed me some months ago. I was the right size at the right time and she was getting rid of stored random inventory. I didn’t ask her then or later what the Sanskrit meant.

“Ah, [something that sounded like] moxie!” one of the young men in the foursome said as I stepped aside to let them pass me. I looked puzzled. “Your shirt!” he said, “moxie!”

“What does it mean?” I asked, telling him how I came to have a shirt with something on it I didn’t know the meaning of.

It was a little difficult to understand his accent, and others wanted to get in on the explanation, though mostly they deferred to him. It’s related to “enlightenment” and the cycle of life. Something about the ages 1-7, 7-14, 14-21. After that all is suffering; through the decades from the 20s to the 70s. At that age, through good works and meditation, the Buddha died and achieved enlightenment; and went to heaven. “Moxie!”

“After you die, achieve enlightenment, and go to heaven, the suffering ends,” one of the other young men said. “You don’t want to return to this life, because then the suffering begins again. Stay in heaven!”

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If someone can tell me if the word is really pronounced “moxie,” please do. And did I got the story more or less right? I felt enlightened, and glad the trail chose me, instead of the other way around. My PNW is heaven; I’m not sure how any place could be better. But I don’t live on an island; I am aware there is suffering all around me. And I do have to go home to my own. But there was none this day.

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The path to Enlightenment.

Next week: camping at Mt. Hood. I hope there are a few more adventures after that before the weather turns inward. Though I am about ready for introversion, I still have an autumn trip to Paradise in my sights, and then back to my forest a couple more times before the snows.

As I left, a cloud was descending like a curtain. By the time I was out of the park, the mountain was gone.

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Update: I asked my yoga teacher about the Sanskrit word on my t-shirt, as mentioned. It’s spelled moksha, not moxie; and it means freedom, or liberation, release. Read more about it here. From this reading, it’s quite possible my enlighteners were Hindi, not Buddhist.