It was already late and I was tired. I found a little clearing in the forest and plopped down. It was another fiery sunset, but I could barely see it though the trees. As I drifted off to sleep, I was treated to a full moon rising over the eastern horizon.
I ran out of water that night. In the morning I headed down to a road crossing where there was supposed to be a stream flowing. It wasn’t there. I figured I could just make it “on fumes” the 7 miles or so to Timberline Lodge. I ran out of fumes pretty quickly. But, as usual, just when things were starting to suck, they got better. I came across a crystal clear mountain stream which wasn’t on the map. I sat down, ate a relaxing breakfast then continued up Mt. Hood. As I broke out of the tree-line, the trail turned to volcanic ash. Hiking up volcanic ash is tiring even if it’s only for a few minutes. Every footstep sinks 6 inches into the powder.
The PCT is routed in a semi-circle ring around Mt. Hood. I got my first close-up views of the mountain just before dipping down to Timberline Lodge.
As I approached the lodge, I heard an amplified voice calling out 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!, and people erupting into cheers. I got a little closer and saw hundreds of people milling about. There was a huge tent set up in the parking lot. What the hell was going on? I walked down into the maze of people and asked somebody. He looked at me like I was crazy… what was I doing here if I didn’t know what was going on? It was the start of the “Hood to Coast” relay race. One thousand teams were participating.
The race started at Timberline Lodge, and continued all the way down to the coast of Oregon, 125 miles away. A group of 10 teams started every 15 minutes for a day and a half. The teams consisted of friends, families, co-workers… actually any group of 12 men and women. They came from all over the country for this race, many had been doing it for years. Most of them really got into it – uniforms, a catchy team name, a team van, and a lot of yelling “WooooOOO!”. For the record, “The Bucknell Alumni Distance Team” won the race, and “The Running Fools” finished last. But the point wasn’t who won, simply competing was the biggest reward.
I picked up my package, and headed over to the lodge. Timberline Lodge was built back in the 30’s, and made entirely out of wood. Everything from the floors to the support beams to the furniture was wooden. There were little rooms and bars hidden down in the corners of the place. It was just darn neat. I wanted to treat myself to a room as a birthday present (tomorrow was my birthday), but this place was a zoo. Even on a normal day, Timberline Lodge books months in advance. There were literally thousands of people milling around – I didn’t have a chance. Still, I asked and received a “Sorry”. I ate a lunch at the grill, then headed back to the lodge to ask again. “Sorry”. But the man did let me use a shower (I must have been stinking up the place). When I got out of the shower, he informed me that he had a cancellation. Perfect! I had a “way-too-expensive” room! I enjoyed every manner of indulgence that the place had to offer – the Hot Tub, the Laundry, the 5-star restaurant… It was a nice night in a great place.
The next morning, I ate a fantastic breakfast at the restaurant and headed out. The trail continued around Mt. Hood, dipping in and out of the forest. Most of the snow around Mt. Hood had melted, but there were still a couple banks on the trail. I headed down into the deep, old woods and across the Sandy River. A little while later I arrived at Ramona Falls. I hadn’t even heard about Ramona Falls until I saw it. It was a beautiful cascade of water about 50 feet high. Each time the water fell a couple feet, it hit a boulder and split into more miniature streams. Green ferns and mosses draped around the rocks added a final touch. There were a lot of people milling about – a road wasn’t far away. I struck up a conversation with a father-daughter backpacking team. They were doing the “round the mountain” trail around Mt. Hood (of which the PCT is a part). She had developed some blisters on her feet after a couple day’s hike. I tried to give a little advice since blisters were one thing I had a lot of experience with.
I continued down the trail, climbing up a ridge, across a river gully, and then up to Bald Mountain. The next bit of the trail was overgrown and nasty – more sticky bushes that tore at my clothes. I had left “day-hiker land” once again. This was one of those bits of the trail which nobody but thru-hikers had a reason to hike. I kept going across a road and about 5 miles across a forested ridge on the other side. I finally camped at a place called “Salvation Springs”. I didn’t feel saved though, just tired.
A cold front moved-in that night, and I woke up to a wet misty forest. The bushes lining the trail were so thick and wet that I got completely soaked. It was almost worse than rain, this wetness got everywhere. Occasionally, the wind would blow droplets from the trees above me. It was an intriguing rain convection – short cutting the whole “cloud thing”.
I decided to take an alrternate route – the Eagle Creek Trail – down to the Columbia River. The PCT continued along a forested ridge. The Eagle Creek Trail went by a number of waterfalls and arrived at the same location. It promised to be a lot more interesting. And it was.
The first major waterfall was called Tunnel Falls. It was a 150 foot freefall of water down a steep black cliff. The trail was blasted out of the cliff. Behind the waterfall, the trail went through a 20 foot long tunnel of damp rock. It was the most unique 20 feet of trail I’d hiked on. After this, the rest of the waterfalls and features along Eagle Creek just didn’t compare. It was a really neat trail, but I just wanted to get to the Columbia River & Cascade Locks. I zoomed by the other waterfalls, barely taking time to glance at them. Most of them required a side trip down a steep path for a good view. I just kept going. Before long, I had made it to the trailhead parking lot (incidentally, Eagle Creek disappears underground near the parking lot – strange). After a short hike in the hills parallel to I-84, I was walking down the main street to Cascade Locks – at the lowest elevation I’d been since starting the trip, only ~125 feet above sea level.
I stopped for a meal at the first place I saw, then continued down the street. As I passed by another restaurant, a number of hikers waved at me. I had another meal, then got a room at the motel next door.
Cascade Locks was a lazy stop. I wanted to go see a concert at White Pass. It was only a 7 day hike, but the concert wasn’t for 11 days. So, I had time to kill. On top of that, the weather sucked, so I just stayed put. (Mt. Hood had 6 inches of snow along the PCT – with blizzard-like winds – I’d left just in time.) Hikers kept rolling into town, and a few rolled out. I saw hikers I hadn’t seen since Seiad Valley, and a bunch of new ones I’d only heard about. A couple other hikers were on the same schedule I was on. I rented a car, and the three of us drove to Portland to buy some gear and catch a movie. Mostly, it was just 3 days of sick gluttony – Chocolate milk, pizza, beer, ice cream, TV, hotel rooms… We enjoyed it thoroughly.