Timberline Trail Attempt: Day 1

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Heads-up: this series of posts has minimal mention of birds, but loads of adventure!

For months, I planned this trip: the Timberline Trail (Trail 600) circumnavigates Mount Hood, Oregon, over approximately 38 miles (varies depending on many seasonal circumstances). The heavy winter snows meant the trail melted out late in the season this year and getting up-to-date trail reports in advance was near impossible. The late melt also meant the many creeks and rivers you have to cross – there are no bridges – were going to be running fast and high. My target was four days at the end of July and the weather reports looked perfect for the trek.

Bailey the Outdoor Adventure Dog and I trained physically, and I considered, weighed, and re-evaluated each piece of gear we would take. Gear was down to 35.2 pounds for my pack, and 6 pounds for Bailey’s – that’s everything to include water if filled to the max. (I’m working on my terminology: this is “skin-out” as it did include boots and trekking poles, and similar worn/carried items not actually in the pack.)

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Ahead of the trip, I also spent time on personal reflection; this hike was meant as a “shakedown”, to test gear, skills, and stamina for longer and harder challenges I have planned. Physically I felt ready, but I was unsure how I would handle the mental and emotional components until I was actually face-to-face with them. Rugged and loose rock terrain, significant elevation changes, lots of sun exposure above the treeline, and crossing glacial runoffs raised fear for myself and my faithful canine. Sharing these parts of my treks is something I want to be more intentional about, as I think they are one of the things that make the adventures so very rewarding in the end and that truly make me a stronger person.

We departed early Tuesday morning for Timberline Lodge, our start and end location. The sky was mostly clear when we arrived, with wildflowers scattered everywhere and views of Mount Jefferson to the South. Several small birds frequented the area; I especially noted the Red Breasted Nuthatches, Dark Eyed Juncos, and so many Anna’s Hummingbirds. Patches of snow still hung on, their slow daily melt providing a natural drip irrigation system for the alpine meadows and feeding into springs, streams, creeks, and rivers creating the ridges and canyons of the mountain. The Timberline Trail follows the same route as the PCT for the first several miles, and we passed many other hikers and backpackers. We would actually rarely pass more than a couple of hours on this trip without seeing another person. Other dogs were less common, but they were out on the trail, too.

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One of the things I never saw mention of as I was researching this hike was the trail surface. I expected what I consider traditional, rugged Pacific Northwest terrain – at times dirt and debris as we went through forests, at times volcanic rock since it’s around a volcano, and lots of rock and root trip hazards. Common sense, right? I hadn’t spent any time up around Timberline, however, and saw no mention of how the glacial silt, which makes up most of the trail surface, is like a gravel and sand mix; at times it’s rocky, and at other times its very fine and dusty. On the north and east sides where we crossed through the remains of the Dollar Lake fire from 2012, there was more ash in the mix. Now that I know, I’m considering how to add this type of terrain to my and Bailey’s training more regularly. It was like hiking up the tallest sand dunes for some stretches. With a giant pack. My internal monologue had me describing these stretches as slogs.

We followed the trail into and back up out of the Little Zigzag Canyon and over the Zigzag Overlook, to our first substantial crossing: the Zigzag River. (Zigzag is a popular name in the region.) A makeshift bridge of a board plus a couple slippery logs meant my boots were barely splashed. Bailey dipped her paws to cool down before we moved on. Our first river crossing was a breeze!

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Past the river, we headed into shaded forest trails – with a lot of uncleared blowdown. Very old, very large trees created obstacles that we had to climb over, under, or around to continue on. In places, the trees had fallen over other trees as many as three trunks high. Bailey needed a couple “up-and-over” assists to get past larger trees without clearance for her to go under. I opted to crawl under a couple that were too tall for me to scramble over; talk about serious squats when you’re loaded up with a pack. Our selected route was leading us off the Timberline Trail to detour through Paradise Park, and the trail up into the alpine meadows remained challenging until we reached them.

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Entering the meadows, we found several small streams being created by the patches of snow still over stretches of the meadows. The trail itself was 99% clear, and where it did cross snow there was no need for traction devices. Bailey enjoyed getting into the water to keep her paws cool, as well as playing in the snow when we found it.

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There were crazy amounts of wildflowers, more varieties than I think I’ve encountered in one place before. I understand now more than before why they are such an attraction. Every meadow we came to as we went along the trail, we saw tons of colorful blooms. I could go back just to spend all day taking pictures in a single meadow. And then there were the incredible views of Mount Hood herself.

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As we left the meadows the trail lead to the edge of a canyon where the sound of crashing water dominated the air; abruptly coming to a viewpoint, and a massive drop off, we could see a series of waterfalls along the Sandy River far below. Sheer cliff faces loomed across the canyon, and the mountain over all. It was an amazing landscape of geology and the power of the elements over time.

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After leaving the viewpoint, our route once again moved into the forest and the trail went steeply downhill towards Rushing Water Creek. The shade was definitely appreciated as we went through the trees, although I couldn’t help but think the further we dropped in elevation, the more I knew we had to regain the next day. Our intended camp was just before where the creek would join the Sandy River, sheltered under the trees and with plenty of fresh water.

Stopping here meant we would start Day 2 with crossing the river at one of the lowest points of the day; being fed by glacial runoff and snow melt, the creeks and rivers around the mountain were higher later in the day. I’d strategically planned all of our campsites with this in mind. Before setting up camp, we went to look at the Sandy River; I was appropriately intimidated, but determined.

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As always, you can visit my Flickr site for more images from my trips and comments are definitely welcome. Check back for reports from Days 2, 3, and 4…

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One thought on “Timberline Trail Attempt: Day 1

  1. Pingback: Timberline Trail Attempt: Day 2 | PDXBirdNird

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