Thursday, July 21, 2005

Timberline, Part 2

Monday, July 18
Woke up as the sun was rising, although we couldn’t see it as we were camping on the west side of the mountain.  We packed up and left our less than pristine campsite (someone left some trash in the fire pit) at 7:00 and headed down the trail.  In about 200 meters we came upon the Sandy river, which had a nice slippery log for us to cross on.  We teetered and tottered for a bit, and probably looked pretty silly to the PCT hikers that were on the other side of the creek, but made it OK.  We met Godman and Greenjeans (hiking with his dad through that section), and then headed to Ramona Falls.

Ramona Falls is worth the hike.  I think you can hike in from forest roads coming from the town of Zigzag and not have to pack in, but it’s worth it either way.  That branch of the Sandy cascades down a rocky face in dozens of strands, and the falls are enshrouded by large Douglas-fir trees, so you can’t see the falls until you are right there.

From there we decided to take the proper Timberline trail up to the Muddy fork of the Sandy, which is a longer, but more gradual climb to the ridge leading to McNeil point.  We had our first freezing mountain stream ford, which we had to de-shoe and put our sandals on for.  It was refreshing, to say the least.  After what seemed like a long time, and not much distance covered we found a shortcut that took a mile off the route and put us on, what from here on out we christened “Crybaby Ridge.”  If you are wondering, it’s because we were crying by the time we got to the top.  It was never ending.

The remainder of the afternoon was up and down, through meadows covered with colorful flowers and forested ridges hiding glacier fed streams.  Pretty nice.  Apparently we got lucky on the flowers, as a photographer stationed in Cairn Basin informed us, it was normally the wrong time of year to get all those flowers, but the late rains brought them out early.  We also got plenty of great views of Mt St. Helens, Mt Rainier and Mt. Adams to the north. 

After Lunch we ran into another stream that we had to ford.  The Coe Branch was running hard, and had a rope across it to help hikers.  I went first and nearly lost it when we discovered that one end of the rope was not fastened to the rocks as well as it should have.  I made it across and dropped my pack and poles and got back into that frigid water to help Oops get across, as she is much smaller than I.  The water was up to her shorts, and pulling her fast.  I got her hand and pulled her over to the calmer water, but when I did I lost my footing, right foot came up and my thong sandal came off.  As it was floating downstream on the torrent, my only thought was, “I hope we don’t have any more of these stream crossings today.” 

As it happened, there wasn’t anything that bad again.  My feet did get wet a couple of times, but not soaked.
The trail was more forgiving for a while.  At the 17th mile of our day, we ran into a re-direct.  The trail had washed out and the Forest Service had put in a detour.  The detour was one of those mountain climber rabbit trails straight up the mountainside.  Ugh.  Then down a very sandy and unstable temporary trail to the most raging torrent we saw all day, the Elliot Branch.  But the FS redeemed themselves by including a temporary wooden bridge for us, supported by two boulders.

The other side was the same, but at least it was down.  And at the bottom was the Cloud Cap camp ground, where we had dinner.

Let me just say that after a couple of days in the wilderness, where you are without facilities, or even cold water (as we were using tablets that take 30 minutes while your bottle warms up), campgrounds are luxury. 

You mean I get to sit down?  On a bench?  And get cold, potable water?  And potty without digging a hole?  Nice!
Something else I learned on the trail is how much I hated energy bars and GORP and the like.  Every time I put one in my mouth it was like I had a mouthful of cotton.  Everything was so dry, and my favorite things to eat turned out to be those gross freeze-dried meals that you buy at REI.  They may sound disgusting while you are sitting at home having grilled burgers or whatever, but out on the trail they were yummy, and I could add extra water and make them soupy, which only improved them in my eyes.

After dinner, Oops wanted to make one more push for Lamberson Spur, the highest point on the hike, so we didn’t have to do so many miles in the morning.  Well, I was pretty tired, but we got packed up and left anyway.  It’s amazing, but even when you have worked as hard as we did that day, when it’s necessary your legs just know what to do. 

The next mile was torture, straight up and sandy.  Not very good for a hiking trail.  By the time we got to the Cooper Spur trail (again, for climbers) I started noticing that the terrain was really not conducive to laying a tent down.  Very rocky and no flat spots.

By God’s infinite grace, there happened to be a stone shelter with a dirt floor in relatively good condition just above the trail junction.  We set up the tent in the shelter and watched the light fade in the east, then hit the sack (literally).

Sometime during the next half an hour I kept hearing a small scratching noise inside the shelter.  I thought it was the wind, but a few minutes later it occurred to me that it was the food.  Mice.

In a mad frenzy, I gathered the food up, threw it in the stuff sack and hung it outside from one of the rafters on the shelter (there were no trees).  They did get one of the bags of GORP, but since I was feeling pretty sour on that snack, I let them have the bag.

We had a good night sleep, and were awakened to light at about 5 AM.  We got up and watched the sun rise.  It was incredible!  We could see from Mt. Rainier in the north, to the Deschutes River valley and beyond in the east.  We watched as the lights of Hood River and the Dalles faded into the night and the sun began to light up dusty eastern Oregon.  Definitely the highlight of the trip.

If you have been wondering where we were hiking, here’s a page on the Timberline trail, through the Mt Hood Wilderness.  I used it, and it’s the best map I’ve ever seen for hiking in this area.

We did take photos of our trip.  I’ll try to post them when I get a chance, but we don’t have a digital camera yet, and I have to develop the two rolls we took.  In the mean time, this guy took some great shots with his girlfriend (wife?) when they made the circuit.  He’s a good photographer, and it gives you just a taste of the beauty we saw.

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