It has been raining in Portland all weekend. Our first rainfall in three months.
Last week when I checked the weather forecast, I noticed that our perfectly sunny days were set to end on Thursday. Fortunately, Thursday was also my day off, so I made it our official beautiful summer last hurrah hike, because who knows when such a lovely day might come again?
I packed up our bags Thursday morning, and by noon Tanner and I were on the road with some written directions and a guide book to Mt Hood. I like doing alpine hikes late in the summer because here in Oregon the snow doesn't melt in the high country until late July, or sometimes even August. Then it begins snowing again in late October, so the window of opportunity is brief and I feel wildly compelled to take full advantage of it.
We drove to the north side of Mt Hood, which we last visited on our trip to Lost Lake and McNeil Point. This time we decided to hike Vista Ridge, but discovered that the long, winding logging roads to the trailhead made it a much lengthier drive than expected. It took a full two hours to reach our destination, not including our inadvertent side-trip down the wrong forest road. (Sometimes they are poorly marked...) Fortunately, the drive was simply beautiful. With the fall colors in full bloom on the hillsides, everything was exploding in reds, oranges and yellows against the deep purple of Mt Hood. I didn't take any photos because I was too busy gawking to tell Tanner to stop the car.
When we arrived, it was already 2:30 and the sun was hovering more in the west than the east. Worried we wouldn't have time for the entire eight mile hike, we hurried along the path and were soon entrenched in a section of the Mt Hood wilderness that had been stripped by a forest fire last year.
The charred, curling bark on the trees was a fascinating sight to see, and the stark emptiness of the area was chilling. It was almost eerie how silent the forest was. I could hear my own heart beat and see the curve of the mountain through the spaces where the leaves should have been. The ashy earth stuck to our boots and created whispering motes through the breeze. Everything smelled like old campfires and dusty attics. The trees curled painfully over the trail, pointing their spidery branches like fingers to the summit.
Once the fascination of the sight wore off, the eerie silence sunk in, and we scurried along, trying to find the lush trees again. But the trail tricked us, making the summit seem so close, while it wandered back and forth through the blackened forest, never quite reaching the top. I felt like Sisyphus, forever pushing his boulder up the hill, always just out of reach of the goal.
After two miles, we finally came upon life and picked up the Timberline Trail, which wends its way fully around Mt Hood in a forty-mile loop. We meandered along it for a while, watching the sun sink below the trees and enjoying the beautiful views of Mt Hood, Mt Adams, Mt St Helens and Mt Rainier lit by the golden glow of sunset. We got about four miles in before turning back so that we could make it back to the car before nightfall.
Though we hadn't seen a single soul all day (a fact that made the Halloween forest even creepier) we stumbled upon an elderly couple near the trailhead on our way out. They had gotten lost on the wrong trail and were now a few miles away from where they had parked their car, unsure how to get back. Tanner and I offered to help, and after carefully navigating some pitted forest roads via truck, we found the couple's car and dropped them off safely. They offered to give us money for gas, but we smiled and told them to pay it forward. I just love the camaraderie you find between people on the trails. Everyone so willing to help each other without cause. (I also hope I'm still putting in ten-mile day hikes when I'm their age!)
All in all, it was a lovely last hike of the season, and I expect winter to bring many more adventures!