Living in the moment: 7:00am, 7:15am
Adventure Log, cute animal photos, Hoodview Campground, Lake Timothy, Little Crater Lake, Mt. Hood, Mt. Hood historic Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon wildfires, sunrises, sunset
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.
The mountain, if not soaring, is at least pointing into blue sky. I am eager to see it up close.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am complete.