2015 proved to be a dry year in Oregon. I hiked the Timberline Trail to Paradise Park in mid-May with some spotty snow and by the beginning of June, the trail was completely dry. I would have hiked the entire trail around Mt. Hood earlier, except I needed to plan for a day where I wasn’t in school, and I wanted to make sure I could properly build up my mileage safely and progressively. My goal was to hike around the 40-mile Timberline Trail in 2 days, with a lightweight pack and completely solo. I love hiking with people, but being alone in nature in the high alpine is my all-time favorite. It’s my time to really open my stride, to reflect on life, to think, and not think, to observe my surroundings, and to be adventurous in the moment with absolutely no distractions.
With Friday’s off of work and school it was my long-distance hiking day. I’d spend the morning with my daughter catching up on sleep, eating a solid breakfast and lunch, going to a park and taking a nap. Around 3 or 4 o’clock I’d be on the road shooting down the Gorge to Dog Mtn, Wyeth, or Angel’s Rest, to log some miles in preparation for the big trek. I alternated between hiking lightweight and fast without my pack and carrying around 20-25 lbs to condition my hips and legs. Last July 2014, I had injured my knee and any sustained downhill trail would result in excruciating pain, so I wanted to make sure I really took my time this year. I cross-trained with weights, yoga, regular massage therapy, as well as stayed 100% away from running. This worked extremely well for me as I had no knee pain while hiking with a pack. (In 2018, I finally figured out the culprit to my IT Band issue- it was a weak right psoas muscle, which lead to a weak glute medius muscle! Take a look at this article to learn more, Hip Flexor Pain.)
I started hiking the Timberline Trail from Timberline Lodge at 8:40am Thursday September 24th and headed East counterclockwise. I chose Timberline Lodge as a starting point because it was the easiest to access. The trail can also be accessed via Ramona Falls and Top Spur Trail from Lolo Pass Rd on the West side as well Cloud Cap from the East off of Highway 35. Within the first 5 minutes there were three deer hopping across the trail, “What a great way to start the journey”, I smiled. The trail descends quickly working its way down to White River before traveling back up and traversing Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, which was beautiful during the early Fall. I had never seen it without snow!
The Timberline Trail continues through the forest, crossing creeks, canyons, and rocky slopes before climbing steep up to the high point at Barrett Spur. This stretch was more challenging than expected with the loose rock, direct sun exposure, a steep grade, and lack of water (my Camelback ran dry about 45 minutes before reaching the Cooper Spur Shelter where 3 nice ladies shared a bottle of water with me). From here, I hiked about 1 mile downhill to the Elliot River crossing, taking a break at the top to let my family know I had made it so they could sleep at peace that evening. (Visit the Forest Service website to get up-to-date information on Elliot Crossing).
I really enjoyed the Northeastern side of the mountain. The trail was soft dirt again, there were numerous creek crossings with gorgeous waterfalls, with views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier due North in Washington. The terrain was new for me until Elk Cove, where I contemplated camping overnight. There was a perfect view of the mountain, a creek close by in the meadow, and deer already grazing before sundown. I decided to press on since I was in my stride and had about 30 minutes of sunlight left. At this point on the trail, I had hiked about 19 miles and felt like I could just keep on walking through the night. Cairn Basin was my goal and I arrived at 6:45 pm as the sun set and a red/orange moon rose next to Mt. Hood’s Northwester slope. I new that the hardest portion of the trail was done: the larger river crossings, the ascent to Barrett Spur, Elliot crossing, and the slightly longer miles (day 1 was 21 miles).
I picked a new spot to spend the night, laid out my tent, started boiling water for dinner, filtered some drinking water so I wouldn’t need to in the morning, and stretched out under the light of the moon. There was a strong, warm mountain breeze from the East and dinner would be ready in 20 minutes. Plenty of time and moonlight to stretch out, set up the tent, and take in the scenery. After a delicious MRE of spicy Thai Curry, I crawled into my single-man 2 lb tent and spent at least 20 minutes massaging my feet, legs, and hips, since there was another 19 miles to go the next day. Check out my book on Self-Massage for the Outdoors to receive the full benefits of recovery while out on the trail.
5:00 am wake-up time! Breakfast, warm-up, stretch, pack, and hiking by 6:45 am Friday the 25th. It was still clear outside, with dark clouds in the distant West. The forecast said a chance of showers in the afternoon, so I wanted to keep up a good pace and make it back to the lodge before the heavy rain came. The trail was very familiar to me from Cairn Basin to Bald Mountain, showing new territory from Bald down to Ramona Falls. There was amazing scenery with long downhill slopes, views of the steep ridges and glacier waterfalls, green forest down-below, and the long climb up to Paradise Park to come.
I made it to Ramona Falls in surprisingly fast time and filled up my CamelBack, ate a snack, and stretched my feet. It was around 10:30 am before I started off toward Rushing River and the ascent to Paradise Park. On the way up I spoke with two groups heading north on the PCT from Ashland (it must have been a rainy trip), and gave them an updated weather forecast. I experienced around 30 minutes of light rain, but otherwise kept dry all of the way to Timberline Lodge arriving at 3:00 pm. It didn’t feel like a 19 mile day, but there was significantly more downhill, easier and more familiar trail, and my pack was lighter with less food to carry. I grabbed a snack and beer at the lodge before eating a burger and fries in Govy before heading home. Overall, the trip was well-worth it. There was plenty of silence, solitude, time to enjoy walking meditation, several encounters with fellow hikers, the peace of nature. I highly recommend backpacking the Timberline Trail. Most hikers I chatted with were completing it in 3 days, which would have been more leisure and comfortable as a group. However, if you’re traveling solo or with another evenly paced fast hiker, 2 days was just right!