Weekend Backpacker: Portland
Mount Hood stands like a fireplug some 60 miles from downtown Portland. The dormant volcano is possibly Oregon's liveliest, erupting as recently as the early 1900s and now releasing sulfuric gases on a daily basis. The snow-shrouded slopes of compressed rock and ash hold a destructive force that scientists can only guess at.
But to many, the 11,235-foot peak is more than that. It is a compass point, a place by which you are oriented. You look for it when you sit in traffic high above the Willamette, or in the window of the tenth floor of an office building. Somehow, it reminds you of home.
Timberline Trail around Mount Hood
Timberline Trail runs around the base of Mount Hood more or less at you guessed it the tree line. Over the 40.7-mile loop, the trail rises and falls across gully and glacier, providing over 9,000 feet of elevation change. Best done in four days (outlined here), it has been done in less.
Note: The trail is usually snow-free from mid-July through September. Glacial runoff can be difficult, though. Between Cairn Basin and Cooper's Spur alone (Day 3) there are as many as 13 stream crossings. While most are mild, several have the potential to be dangerous. Eliot and Coe, two of the largest, have temporary bridges erected between July and September. Contact the offices of the Mount Hood National Forest to make sure the bridges are up and to check the status of other stream runs on the mountain.
Day 1: Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls
Day 1 is a 10.2-mile hike that takes us roughly a quarter turn around Mount Hood. With a steady succession of ridges and ravines, it's a good introduction to Timberline.
From Behind Timberline Lodge, head west on Timberline/Pacific Crest Trail (#2000). Over the next several miles you'll cross a number of creeks and canyons, including (in order) the Sand, Little Zigzag, and Zigzag.
At 3.7 miles the Paradise Loop Trail (#757) breaks from the Timberline Trail, climbing above tree line to Paradise Park. Weather permitting, Paradise Loop is a nice alpine diversion from the PCT. It is also a hair shorter in mileage, dropping you back onto Timberline Trail just past Rushingwater Creek.
Staying on Timberline, at 5.6 miles you'll cross Rushingwater Creek, then begin the long steady drop toward the Sandy River. Cross the Sandy River at 9.4 miles, climb up the far bank, and look for camping anywhere between here and Ramona Falls (a half mile up trail from the Sandy). Observe camping restrictions.
Day 2: Ramona Falls to Cairn Basin
In the morning, follow the contours around Yocum Ridge to the headwaters of the Muddy Fork. Crossing these, climb up, along, and over the thin lip of Bald Mountain. At 5.5 miles (from Ramona Falls), break with the PCT and head east on Timberline Trail, climbing back toward the high shoulders of the mountain. At 8.1 miles, cross several feeder streams to McGee Creek. Fill up on water for the night here. Then climb up over Cathedral Ridge and drop down into Cairn Basin. Adequate camping space (and stone shelter) is available.
Day 3: Cairn Basin to Cooper's Spur: 9.1 Miles
Day 3 takes you through high alpine meadows and forest, all beneath Hood's stern north face. Traffic through here can be light, offering some great opportunities for solitude.
From Cairn Basin the trail drops down through Eden Park, then climbs up over Vista Ridge and down again to Wy'east Basin. Watch to your right for views of Barret Spur, a gaunt, beautiful slope. At 2.5 miles (from Cairn Basin) you'll pass a spur trail to Dollar Lake, then drop into much-loved (and well-camped) Elk Cove. Over the next several miles the trail crosses a number of creeks, including Coe, Compass, and at 7.8 miles, Eliot Branch. Contact the ranger district to see if streams are crossable and bridges are up.
At 8.1 miles you'll arrive at Cloud Cap Saddle. A campground, a road, and, best of all, a pit toilet can be found here. But if the weather is good, resist the temptation to stop for the night. Load up on water and begin to climb the steep, scraggly sides of Cooper's Spur. Just over a mile past Cloud Cap is a turnoff to a tiny stone shelter, offering a brilliant alpine campsite.
Day 4: Cooper's Spur to Timberline Lodge: 12.3 Miles
The hike south around the mountain is a craggy, battered walk over ash-blown stone. Inside the rain shadow, this stretch often has the best weather on the mountain, and the views of relatively flat eastern Oregon are breathtaking. After two miles of this moon-walk the trail cuts south and east around Gnarl Ridge. Then more ups and downs through Newton Creek (at 4.5 miles and capable of high water) and Heather Canyon as you cross into Mount Hood Meadows ski area, where you pass a number of much-loved lifts (including my favorite, Daisy).
Then make the quick, steady two-mile drop down to the White River Basin (9.7 miles, another strong creek). Crossing the White, climb back up to where the Timberline Trail rejoins with the PCT (10.8 miles) on Boy Scout Ridge. Then hike up the last long stretch back to Timberline Lodge (12.3 miles, where your smoked salmon awaits).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication