Mount Hood part 1: Mountaineer Trail

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My wife Cheryl booked a hotel room in Portland for a conference in July 2014, and I decided to take the opportunity to drive down and stay with her and explore around Mount Hood.

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State Highway 26 works its way east through Gresham and other Portland suburbs and past places interestingly named Sandy, Boring, Brightwood, Welches and Rhododendron. The last stop before climbing up to Timberline Lodge is a village interestingly known as Government Camp. This is apparently a village dedicated to skiing and snowboarding, even in July. I had planned on picking up something for lunch here but it seems that grocery stores don’t make it this high up. I did manage to find a really hip cafe making excellent subs so after picking one up I was on my way up to the mountain.

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This was my first visit to Mount Hood. I’ve been to Baker many times and to Rainier and St Helens once each. Baker is the core of a large system of mountains, but Hood is a single standalone peak (Rainier is similar but more massive) which you can drive around in half a day or hike around in less than a week. Baker would take a couple of days to drive around (going halfway into Washington and southern B.C.). Similarly to Baker and Rainier, you can drive to high elevation at the appropriately (if unimaginatively) named Timberline Lodge.

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The lodge is a pleasant building in the U.S. National Park Service Rustic style. The ski building next to it isn’t quite as endearing. What surprised me was how many people were there to ski and snowboard. There’s lots of snow higher up the mountain, but to me as a non-skier the conditions looked pretty marginal. You have to be pretty hardcore to ski on the last day of July in 35 degrees, but it seems a lot of people are. Busloads of them.

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This trail probably doesn’t get much use by actual mountaineers except as an access route to the upper reaches of the mountain. It begins right behind the lodge at a junction with the Timberline Trail section of the Pacific Crest Trail, where a sign tells you that it’s 2108 miles to Mexico and 550 to Canada. My GPS told me it was about 400 km to Manning Park which means that the trail winds around quite a bit on its way north.
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The Mountaineer trail goes right up from the lodge and parallels the Miracle Mile chair lift as well as a service road. The actual trail isn’t marked well, or more like there are multiple trails, but the general idea is to go straight up with the upper terminal of the Miracle Mile as the target. Alongside the road is a long gully filled with snow which I’m sure must have been plowed down from further up the mountain, and most of the skiers and boarders were using it as the skiout.

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Nearby the top of the Miracle Mile is the semi-rustic Silcox Hut, supposedly the high point of the trail, but when I got up there I discovered that it was on the far side of the snow gully from where I was. So somewhere I’d lost or missed the official trail and come up instead on one of the unofficial trails. Just as well since crossing over the gully would have been difficult or impossible with all the ski traffic coming down it. So I just worked my way over and above the lift station to find myself a lunch spot with a view out of sight of most of the skiers and out of sound of the lift.

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From my high point I picked out the western leg of the trail which goes back down through a more natural environment and meets the Timberline Trail about half a kilometre west of the lodge.

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This was a day of exploration, so after the hike I drove back down and continued east on the highway to make a circuit of the mountain via Hood River and down the Columbia Gorge back to Portland. A couple of photo stops on the way down and a quick stop for an Orange Julius. The blistering heat stopped me from making any other stops on an otherwise scenic drive, apart from a visit to the Vista House at Crown Point.

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