Living in Portland, I always looked at the sharp point of Mt Hood and wondered when would I make my way out there. A combination of beauty and mystique, I felt like it would take a large about of planning to get involved with such a hike. However, one summers afternoon a co-worker showed me some trail maps and insisted I hike out to Paradise Park on Mt Hood. After looking at a couple photos online and doing a bit more reading, this was the push I needed to make it happen.
Getting to this hike couldn’t be easier. Just drive your car up to the Timberline Lodge. And when you get there, park your car anywhere in the free parking section of the lot. Best part is is you won’t need a Forest Pass to park here. When I pulled up, the attendant was more than happy to show me where to park, he even took the time to point me to the trailhead.
The trailhead is just on the side of the Timberline Lodge. And it doesn’t take long for you to start getting a good view. I was obsessed with trying to capture the morning air and the clouds enveloping the mountains. That’s Mount Jefferson in the background.
On my previous mountain hike, I went on a whim. I ended up getting a little confused with the trail directions. So this time I downloaded the trail overview to my phone, just in case I missed something. Which it turns out I missed out on right away.
Heading up the service road behind the Lodge, I saw a sign for the Pacific Crest Trail. I figured the Timberline Trail must be further up. 15 minutes later I come to the end of the service road where there is an unmarked trial. Something wasn’t right. The overview on my phone said I should be heading down-hill. But here I was going uphill, and right towards the peak.
A man in a service truck had pulled up a little ways behind me, so I figured I would go down and ask him. However, as I approached, a Ski-patrol flew past me with a man on a stretcher. They loaded up the injured skier before I could even get there and took off down the mountain.
Thankfully, the lodge gets a little bit of cellular service and I was able to research the hike a little more. Turns out the Pacific Crest Trail is the same as the Timberline Trail, durr. So with it now being 8am, with 30 minutes of erroneous hiking, I was finally on my way.
The initial part of the trail isn’t much in terms of constant views. You’ll find yourself winding through the timberline and every now and then you get a good view of Mount Jefferson.
The purple lupine were absolutely beautiful.
After a little bit of hiking you come to the entrance of the Mt. Hood Wilderness. Here you have to take a moment to fill out a forest pass. You don’t have to pay anything, you just need to register yourself in the event that there is a forest fire so they know to keep looking for you if you don’t turn up.
You’re supposed to hang the tag from your bag so you can easily be recognized as following procedure. I however just threw it into the top pocket of my bag as I was worried of it catching on something when I go ferreting through bushes. Which I tend to always end up doing at some point.
More purple lupine and bits of snow remaining from the winter.
Looking up at Mount Hood, with the gondola empty and out of action.
As I hiked onward the sun continued to cast its golden rays on Mount Jefferson.
At one point on my hike I was passed by a trio of hikers, two women and one man. As the man passed me, he picked up his pace and shot out way ahead. It took me a second, but I think I caught on to why the man was in such a hurry. The women, well one of them, did nothing but talk with every single breath. And not quietly, but quite loudly. After discovering this, I hung back and enjoyed my surroundings until she was finally out of earshot. Which was quite some time.
Continuing onward, every now and then I would get a couple shots of the receding clouds.
After you spend a bit of time going through the timberline, you are finally greeted with your first real vista. It’s the Zigzag canyon, and a full view of Mount Hood. The landscape might be quite rocky, but its still breathtaking to be looking back up at Mount Hood from the canyon’s edge.
I figured I might try and look for some better shots, so I did a little bit of off-trail hiking. 20 minutes later, and empty handed, I headed back to the vista point. I looked around and the only real trail I noticed was the one heading up to the peak of Mount Hood. I figured this must be the way and that the trail down the canyon was just out of sight.
The trail up towards the peak was steep, actually really steep. But every time I turned around, the view down the mountain got better and better.
It wasn’t until I broke out of all the vegetation, and took a good look around, that I realized I had gone the wrong way. And by wrong way I mean really far out of the way.
At this point my options were I could either turn around, or keep heading up. Heading up meant even better photos. Heading down meant going back into the timberline. However, the steepness of the upward hike made it into a bit of a challenge. So I decided I would continued with the challenge and take advantage of the morning sun.
I could tell other people have taken this route. So I knew I wasn’t crazy. Besides things were looking too beautiful to turn around and go hiking through the forest.
Taking a break from the trail I headed out into the clearing to try to get some photos of the purple lupine with Mount Jefferson in the background.
I told myself I would only go so far and then turn around. Take advantage of the light and when it wasn’t going to get any better I could just backtrack down.
The view got better and the hike became steeper. The higher up I went, the more I had to pause and catch my breath. The tougher things got, the more I wanted to press on.
Because of the steepness of Mount Hood, your perception of distance towards the top is greatly skewed. I was using the impressive Mississippi Head rock structure on the other side of the Zigzag canyon as a gauge of my distance traveled.
I think my bail out scenario was the fact that I could see the ski gondola in the distance, and if I needed, I could just walk across the mountain and take that back down. However, I never went for the gondola and ended up having my lunch at the formation of Zigzag where the ice melts and the water flow starts.
At this point I am a little over 8100 ft. And it was roughly 11am.
Another shot of the stream that later forms the Zigzag river.
After a long rest and a little more surveying of my surroundings I made the tough decision to cross over the Zigzag and head down the opposite side of the canyon. Being late summer, there wasn’t much snow left and what snow was left was thin and hard packed.
Trekking over the glacier would be quick. Most of it was exposed to rocks. I also had a clear view of Paradise Park, my destination, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard.
And this is something I will not be doing again any time soon. In hind sight it was a dangerous decision doing it alone.
I did pause on my cross over to take another photo of Mount Hood because I knew it would be a long time before I ever get this close to it again.
Now that I was across the glacier, the hard part would be making my way down.
I had to choose my routes very carefully. One miss step and I could be putting myself into a situation I wouldn’t be able to get out of.
Scooting down the glacier.
I spent quite a bit of time zig zagging down the ridges. I had to make sure I wasn’t going to end up stuck. And I would have been stuck a couple times if I hadn’t taken the energy/time to check the other side of a ridge.
One of my side trips took me to the peak of the Mississippi Head. Here the wind was absolutely ripping through. Normally I am not fearful of ledges or heights, but something about being on the edge of the Mississippi Head made me want to get off of it as soon as I was done shooting a couple photos.
While I was slowly making my way down I noticed a rescue helicopter make its way through the canyons. I watched it for a little while. But forgot about it when it went out of sight for a while.
It wasn’t until I started photographing Mount Saint Helens that I saw the helicopter landing on the far side of the mountain.
Turns out a lady had broken her leg trying to cross one of the glaciers and needed to be air lifted out.
Beyond the helicopter I could easily see Helens.
By now I have had water, snow, mud, volcanic soot all trapped inside my shoes. The miniature pebbles were slowly grinding away at my Achilles and I had to constantly stop to clear my socks out, or risk rubbing them raw. Hiking down was really just ankle deep in volcanic soot and pebbles. And at times it felt like the top layer of soot was finer than powdered sugar.
I was now definitely over the whole mountain trek I had gotten myself into. The lush grasses of Paradise Park were definitely calling my name.
Thankfully I made one last side trek and was able to get a couple pictures of the Sandy River Falls coming out the edge of the glacier.
This is about as far or close as I wanted to get to the Sandy River Falls.
Finally, further down the mountain, things were starting to get green again. Here’s some of the more interesting rock formations seen on the outskirts of Paradise Park.
I crossed over one more hill and finally! I was finally inside of Paradise Park! The sheer amount of various flowers was overwhelming. Everything I had done to get here was now more than worth it.
I tried my hardest to capture the beauty of flowers vs volcano. And while I am happy with these photos, they still don’t come anywhere near as close as being there in person.
Every time I looked back up, I couldn’t believe I had I just come from waaaaay up there.
An older couple was camping out at Japanese Rock and they helped instruct me on my way back to the timberline trail. They told me I had two choices. Turn right and go see the falls or turn left and get more flowers. I decided the falls will always be there, but the flowers are only momentary. So flowers it was.
Making my way back through the trail wasn’t easy. Most of the crossing paths are not marked and on more than one occasion had to confirm with other hikers the direction on the timberline lodge. Seems I wasn’t alone as a few people asked me the same questions.
Small streams were a hotbed for flowers and plant life in general.
Practically standing in this stream, I didn’t mind what-so-ever.
A common view as you make your way through Paradise Park.
One more hike out into a bed of flowers in an attempt to capture the overwhelming beauty. Here, you can even see shades of purple in the far away hills.
And then finally over the last ridge where I would say goodbye to Paradise Park and head back into the timberline switchbacks.
Going back the way I should have came was taking a lot longer than I had expected. I finally mad it down to Zigzag river and easily crossed it. It was going back up the other side of the canyon that would take the last remaining bits of energy from me.
Before I started back up the canyon, I had the foresight to pack up the camera. I think I knew what was coming and I wouldn’t be in the mood to be taking any forest pictures.
But then I saw this little guy and just had to break out the camera one last time.
As I pressed on, steadily heading upwards, I cursed every switchback. As if they were making my trip longer. When in fact they were helping me keep my remaining energy. I graciously stopped and moved out of the way for any oncoming hiker. It really just gave me a second to catch my breath.
After much slow-paced hiking, I finally made my way up the vista where things originally went astray. Taking a moments rest, I got another look at where I had once hiked and shook my head in disbelief. Never again I said to myself. Well not until I make it back to the car and calculate my times and distance. Then I will at least know my breaking points for the next hike.
Further down the trail I finally made my way out of the wilderness area. But I had also finally run out of water. From here I knew I had about an hours trek back to the car. And I also knew I needed to get some water in me, badly. So with fears of dehydration in mind, the next stream I came across I would use to refill my empty water bottles.
I was well aware of beaver fever. But at this point, if getting beaver fever meant making it back to the car, and not dehydrating on the trial, then beaver fever it would be. The good thing about beaver fever is it takes time to set in. And by the time that would happen I would be in the safety of my home.
Unfortunately, the next stream I came across was quite dirty. So I had to take off my shirt and used it as a dirt filter on the mouth of the water bottle. In doing so I was able to fill up the water bottle, but there was still a bit of dirt in there. So I doubled over the shirt to make increased layers of filtration and was able to suckle out some semi clean water.
Thankfully that extra bit of water was enough to keep me moving forward until I finally had the lodge in sight!
I took one last rest and noticed there was a now a huge ploom of smoke coming from behind Jefferson. I was too tired to tell if it was a fire or an eruption, so I took out my camera and took one last shot.
Back at the parking lot, I crawled into the gift shop and asked for change for the vending machines. The girl behind the register was more than eager to help (probably bored out of her mind since its off ski season). Getting back to the car and then getting fluids were the only things I was thinking about for the last half of my day. So when I asked her what time it was, I was about floored when she said 6pm.
To my calculations that was 10.5 hours of hiking!
Back in the studio I used the mapping calculations of WentHiking.com to retrace my hike. Turns out I was able to cover 11 miles with 5110 feet of elevation! That’s definitely a record and one I am not going to repeat unless I am better prepared for it.
Here’s a screen grab from the route I tracked on WentHiking.com
All in all, it was an amazing hike where I learned a lot about altitudes, visual trickery of steep mountains and my own physical limitations. Next time I get close to a situation like this, I’ll be bringing a friend with me.