TIMBERLINE TRAIL BACKPACK


I took one more look across nearly three feet of rushing water at Muddy Fork to a wet rock, next to a larger one that I would grab with my hand, to stop my momentum.  

Then I led with my right foot.  

Something went badly wrong.  The next thing I knew I was thigh deep in the stream, leaning over the larger rock, backpack having moved up and over my head.  I had missed.  I slipped out of the pack, put it on the bigger rock, retrieved my walking stick, which fortunately floated, and noted that my left hand hurt. 

A guy came down the bank and asked if I were OK. I said I was.  “That’s why you undo your chest strap and belt before crossing,” I said. Had mine been attached, I probably would have fallen backward, getting everything wet, having twenty more pounds to carry, and likely ruining everything I had.

“Those your sunglasses floating over there?”  I looked downstream. They were.  I sure would need them, so I sloshed over and reached down to get them.  I felt one hearing aid.  I did not feel the other.  That’s bad. My phone was dry, amazingly, but I briefly saw my pink and full water bottle downstream before the current carried it away.  My GPS was gone, and a source of water purification, the Steri-Pen, ruined.  

I had gone from a good start to a long day—3 miles in a bit over an hour—to being in trouble.  I took stock of things.  I actually had three GPSs along on the trip, and the lost one was a backup to my new one, since the switch was iffy and one day soon it would not turn on.  I had a spare but empty water bottle in the pack, opting to go with one bottle on the trail to save weight.  My hat, which I had liked, was gone, but I had a bandana that might help. I had three other ways to purify water.

The good start was gone.  My hand was a problem, now a little swollen over the muscle between the thumb and index finger, but it wasn’t terribly tender.  I thought whether I should come out at Top Spur Trailhead, about 5 miles ahead, or go back to Timberline Lodge and abort the hike, about 15 miles behind me. I didn’t want to retrace my steps, so I thought I would wait until I got near Top Spur to decide.

I was hiking the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood, one of the iconic hikes in the PacNW.  One can start at several places and do the loop, and I got the idea a year ago, after doing three day hikes in the area,  It’s 38.3 miles officially, with 9000 feet of vertical gain/loss.  

It’s obviously not easy. Indeed, it ranks up with Alaska as the hardest hiking I have ever done. One can hike further in a day on the Timberline; 10 or more mile days are almost unheard of in Alaska, where 6 is a good day and 4 typical.  The rivers are much more difficult to cross in Alaska, but the sheer vertical on the Timberline is far more.  Alaska has solitude; Timberline has trail runners.  

I drove to Timberline Lodge two days prior, parked and got on the trail early, heading clockwise.  There is a lot of up and down initially, then a long, steep descent into Zig Zag Canyon.  The first river crossing was straightforward, but the climb out was steep, about a thousand feet into Paradise Park. I was hiking steadily, but that would be the last time I hiked that distance uphill without taking a break. Eventually, I left the meadows full of wildflowers to drop a couple of thousand feet to the Sandy River, realizing that my legs bothered me more on the descent than ascent. I purified water at Rushing Water stream and then stayed at nearby Ramona Falls that night, camping  in the nearby cool hemlock-fir forest with other groups nearby.

Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge parking lot
Descending into Zig Zag Canyon
From Paradise Park
Ramona Falls

After I got out of Muddy Fork, I had to purify water. My Steri-Pen turned on then turned off, and my filtration system wasn’t working.  That left boiling or a chlorine tablet, which took 4 hours for 4 ppm. I didn’t want to boil, and I didn’t want to wait four hours, so I took a chance, chlorinated, and hiked for an hour without drinking, having a relatively flat stretch of trail and reaching the junction of the McNeil Point trail in about an hour.  My hand didn’t feel too badly, and I decided to go on.  Coming out would have required finding a driver for the forty-odd road miles back to Timberline, which I didn’t want to do.  The trail, which I had been on a year ago, climbed steeply and was relentless, getting me eventually back to the altitude I was at when I began the hike.  I had lunch at Ladd’s Creek, perhaps one of the most beautiful spots I saw, with several species of wildflowers present: paintbrush, lupines, valerians, and others. I then hiked through Cairn Basin, with many open areas in a park-like area, to viewpoints of Mt Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier to Elk Cove, where I camped about a quarter mile from a stream, getting my filtration system to work again, and soaking my hand in the cold water. I got the tent up, got some food in me, did as little as I could and fell asleep early.

I got up once that night and saw the night sky from a dark spot—6000 feet on the north side of Mt. Hood. I got lost among the stars, because I am so used to city lights that seeing 3rd, 4th, or 5th magnitude stars as bright has become foreign.  I woke up one more time to light on the tent, so I knew the Moon was up.  

Soon, it was 5:30 and I needed to get moving, since I had to pack with mostly one hand.  My left hand was discolored, the blood underneath the skin movable. Somehow, I had to get out of there and hike out the following day.  I one-handed getting dressed; keeping my support hose on the night before made the socks and hiking shoes easier to handle. The gaiters would keep my feet dry for shallow streams, assuming I could put them on; nothing would keep me dry for the big ones.  

I was off before 7:30 headed towards Cloud Cap, crossing six downed logs on the trail, huckleberries I could swipe as I walked by, and came to Coe Creek.  This had a steep drop, and I started to go upstream looking for a log bridge.  I stepped, and WHACK! hit my head on a rock. This was not going well.  I kept putting my hand over it and didn’t see any blood, so I began the long climb out of there, which had me doing my short walks with frequent stops to breathe.  At least I forgot about the hand.  And my head. Eventually, I started to go downhill, noting Eliot Creek far below, which I would reach by a steep descent through many switchbacks to the bank of the creek, which was light gravel with little traction.  I looked upstream and down for a safe spot to cross.  The current was fast, even in morning, and I finally found aa place where I could get to mid-stream fairly easily.  I unbuckled my chest strap and hip belt and stepped in. 

This time, I talked the crossing over to myself.  OK, get to the rock.  Good, Mike.  Now check the bottom with your pole, to make sure there are no surprises.  No?  Good.  Now sidestep across.  Yes, the water is cold, but good.  Current is really strong, so bend forward facing it and go side to side.  Yep, that’s it.  Good.  The pole is fine, so one more step and yes, you are across.

It was then I had to climb half a mile and 500 feet.  But Cloud Cap had water, and I would need a drink when I got there.  I puffed up the switchbacks one at a time, taking frequent breaths.  I was no longer hiking 1000 feet vertical without a break.  Fifty to hundred trail feet was about it.

The water hadn’t been turned on in Cloud Cap.

To be continued….

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