As the leaves continue to fall and blanket the streets and trails, as the temperatures drop and the mornings become crisp and cold, I think about the wonderful summer we've had here in Portland, Oregon. I fondly recall the many adventures that took place, all the miles of running and hiking and the hours of enjoying the temperate mountains under the long-awaited sun. Now we're back on the other side of it all, just settling into the long, wet and grey months ahead. As much as I am excited for embracing the rain and playing in the snow, I also sometimes find myself day dreaming of the good times and blissful weather we had, not so far in the past. Here's one memory from the summer that's been drifting into my mind like a sweet, dewy Portland summer breeze:
I decided to go hiking and spend a night alone out in the woods. Being in the mountains in any way -- hiking, running, climbing, strolling, observing, sleeping out -- increases one's fluency with them. Mountain travel is a true art and familiarizing with all its facets and getting to know the land and the movements intimately is essential. I wanted to take it easy and go old school, take lots of pictures, have no real agenda, just play it by ear and sleep wherever.
I had a hard time deciding where to go -- with so many amazing options -- and ended up staying close, parking at the Zigzag Mountain Trailhead just off the East Lolo Pass Rd. off Highway 26, 45 miles from Portland. I packed up and set off; a nice early start at just after 10AM. My small pack weighed maybe 25 lbs. and in it I had one long sleeve shirt, a ~2 lb. 32 deg. sleeping bag, a headlamp, hat, map, food and water. I carried a cell phone, ID, cash in addition, for emergencies. For eating, I had some gels and bars but also some "real" food: a couple prepackaged burritos, a Dave's Sin Dawg, and a stick of Olympic Provisions Salami. It was nice to travel light but still have plenty to spend the night out.
The trail followed mellow switchbacks for three thousand feet, starting to ascend the massive ridge system that runs all the way into Mt. Hood itself. I'd eagerly scoped the feature on maps and was thrilled to be finally exploring the area. Once up the main climb, the trail is surprisingly moderate, rolling along the ridge line, in and out of the trees. When it did pop out of the trees, the views were incredible, initially to the south to Devil's Peak and Mt. Jefferson and the countless others in between and around them, and then to the majestic, looming summits of St. Helens, Rainier and Adams to the north. Wildflowers abounded. No clouds, hot -- 90 degrees -- but perfect. I had some epic schemes flitting through my head and visions of grandeur about going all night and doing a 60 mile loop around the whole mountain but those quickly dissolved as I was stopping constantly and taking my time to look at things and take pictures. And I was hiking; things go much slower when you're not running. I decided to follow the Zigzag ridge all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail/Timberline Trail and then see what I felt like doing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Zigzag Mountain Trail, gleefully following it above Cast and Burnt Lakes, along the exposed and wildflower-strewn high points on the ridge. After reaching the PCT/Timberline Trail I was, as suspected, hankering for a beer and not looking for the epic miles I'd briefly pondered. I decided I would go to Timberline Lodge and enjoy a beverage, some company, maybe catch a little coverage of the Olympics and then sleep somewhere around there. In the morning I'd cut down the mountain on a shorter route to Highway 26 then hitchhike the short distance to the town of Zigzag and my car nearby.
The last three miles of my day, on the PCT/Timberline Trail from the Zigzag Mountain Trail to the Lodge, were dramatic and beautiful, contouring in and out and the great and massive drainage below Mississippi Head and the headwaters of the Zigzag River. I was buzzing off the brilliant sights and perfect early evening temperatures.
At the Ramshead Bar, I drank two IPAs, ate a bread bowl of clam chowder, talked to some PCT through-hikers, watched Olympic beach volleyball and gymnastics, and then headed back out of doors again into the lovely night. The talkative older character of an employee said there was a lightning show going on out to the southeast and so I went to watch it. I hiked up the rocky, scree slopes above the lodge and found a little perch near some trees, technically right on the ski slope but out of sight of any of the lights of the lodge. I pulled out my sleeping bag, laid it out in the dirt and rocks, and crawled in and watched the storm flashing out there in the cool night. Later, I awoke to rain, as the storm apparently had moved north. I had to move under the shelter of the nearby trees in the middle of the night.
I awoke to a nice, crisp morning and the ski lifts running nearby, taking folks up the mountain to carve up the snow parks and dwindling late-summer runs. There was a surprising number of people headed up at 7 in the morning, all dressed like it was winter. I just sat and enjoyed the view, looking south at Mt. Jefferson in the early light. I backtracked to the lodge to have some coffee and look at my map in the great room and decide which route to take down. I walked in the back door and the coffee was all laid out right there on a huge table in front of the window with big white porcelain mugs lined up invitingly, ready to go. I sat and consulted the map and decided to retrace my steps on the PCT/Timberline Trail through some of the most dramatic parts of the day before, then take the Paradise Park Trail down the mountain.
It was a stunning morning. When I reached my cut off to start descending, I couldn't help myself and chose to add on the Paradise Park Loop (an additional 4 miles) before heading for home. I'd never done it before and wanted to check it out. What if I died the next day? I had to take advantage while I had the chance.
I actually thought I had died and gone to heaven. It is hard for me to comprehend that the trailhead to this literal paradise is less than 1 hour from Portland. The privilege of having that access is immeasurable.
After I completed the loop I headed down, running sections here and there and battling the ever present spider webs. I finally saw hikers coming up and was thankful that they had just cleared my way of the webs, as I had theirs. I reached the road and walked the pavement of Rd. 2639 for a mile or so to Highway 26. I stuck my thumb out, hot in the full sun at 12:30 on the side of the road. Some cars passed and I started to have the normal doubts: what if I never get back? Luckily, just a minute later someone stopped to offer me a ride. Edwardo -- cool guy from Portland, soccer coach, been to the summit of Hood -- told me about his weekend in Bend and we chatted along and in no time he dropped me at the Lolo Pass Road. We said goodbye and I walked the last mile to my car.
Then I was back, thankful for no broken windows. I switched into flip flops, started driving and an hour later I was home, ready for work in the afternoon.
When I snap out of the trance of fond remembrance I remind myself to not only dwell on the good memories of the past but prepare to make more of them in the future. I sit and look at maps and dream up new routes for Animal Athletics trips, think about getting people out in the snowy mountains and embracing the wild, harsh elements. We've got another summer coming and that's great and all, but it's a real long ways off. It's great to think of the good times we've had--the balmy, sleep-out-anywhere, nights in the wilderness--but we've got to accept the seasons and live in the present.
It's time now to look to the winter months and get psyched. The sun can wait; for now we'll take the inclement weather and let it make us tough and truly Oregonian. "Rain and Snow, give us all you've got," we'll say, "we shall adventure none the less." Embrace the now and let the scheming begin…
Willie McBride is a native of Chicago, IL but has been living in and exploring the American West since 2000. He attended the Colorado College, majoring in English with a focus on Creative Writing, solidifying his love of writing and his need for mountains. An avid hiker, climber, and trail/ultramarathon runner he now resides in NW Portland, close by the trails of Forest Park. He started a personal/group training and coaching business called Animal Athletics (AnimalAthleticsPDX.com) with fellow ultra runner Yassine Diboun in spring of 2012 and the two provide top-notch services to aspiring outdoor athletes of all abilities.