Day: Wednesday, 7th September 2016
Miles: 2094.4 – 2108.9
Timberline 2094.4 – Bald Mountain 2108.9 (14.5)
Feeling spoiled after a night of excess good food, a warm inviting lodge, and a healthy dose of family (in the form of my sister), I awoke early to some pangs of guilt today! The Timberline Lodge accommodations were extremely comfortable, with heavy throws and comfy mattresses on heavy wooden dorm beds, I slept so well that I did not even notice the other people in our extended dorm room. Of course early-morning guilt-trips in the opulent surroundings of Timberline Lodge is really only resolved by wandering the corridors and museum, of this incredible lodge, taking a dip in the outdoor hot tub, followed by a visit to the infamous breakfast buffet. Obviously I was still ready to enjoy some luxury given yesterdays sideways rain and wind storm.
The enormous Timberline Lodge breakfast buffet incidentally is the subject of much PCT legend, with copious quantities of food and variety. It was all it was cracked up to be, and the morning view was largely populated with well-washed thru-hikers enjoying the spectacle. I think I first read about this buffet long before I even hit the trail in Campo, and finally being here felt surreal. It was around noon when myself and my sister finally finished our prep for the hike through to Cascade Locks. No need for any hero-days now that my 50-miler was complete, and given our intention to use the Eagle Creek alternate, the next few days would be all about the scenery and some quality time. I had suggested this section to my sister as it represented one of the easiest places for her to fly-in, get to the trail, and return to the airport without need for complicated logistics.
What a difference a day makes, as we departed Timberline Lodge, occasional glimpses of Mt.Hood’s towering peak above us were granted, along with some warming sunny spells and a light breeze on our back. It was a beautiful day for a hike, and I was relieved we would not be hiking in yesterdays rain-squall once again. Rejoining the trail just above the lodge, and a heavy cloud began to settle just overhead, leading to the first few miles of trail being limited to views of the immediate ski-slopes along with a few unexpected snowbanks just off the trail. The barren landscape of this volcanic area was barren and colorless in the cloud, stark but beautiful.
Eventually, as our circumnavigation of the western edges of Mt.Hood progressed, we were afforded some blue skies, and some beautiful colors began to reveal themselves around us.
And then, entirely unexpectedly, the clouds disappeared, revealing the magnificent cone of Mt.Hood just above us! The trail was interesting, as it followed a number of deep valleys, heavily scarred with erosion, and affording barely enough soil for some bushes and occasional trees to grow.
As the swirling clouds began to set-in once again, a glimpse of fall was provided, with some amazing orange and browns dominating the vegetation. It seemed as though we were experiencing every season as we walked between the ridges.
Stopping for lunch, I had some very welcome variety, since my sister had brought our resupply for the 3 days hike from New York. She did well, and nobody went hungry!
Dropping down into the wide and rugged Sandy River valley, we had the first of a number of river crossings. This one was a little more advanced than I had experienced in some time, so I brought the packs over along with sharing hiking poles since mine were a bit longer than my sisters. The log planks in places were covered with water and it was slightly ominous crossing given the fast flowing water. Thankfully nothing got wet on this one, but I was a little surprised at how long it took to find a crossing point, as the river was quite swollen given the late hour of the day. Something I need to remember if there is more glacial-fed rivers in Washington to deal with.
Reaching the Ramona Falls cut-off, we decided to venture on the alternate route to see the falls along with the pretty fern laden river valley that the trail followed back to the PCT. We were not disappointed, as we viewed the spindly veils of Ramona Falls whilst filtering some ice cold water. The trail followed the creek back to the PCT through magical green and vivid mossy gardens, like something straight out of a movie.
After rejoining the PCT, we had another large river crossing over Muddy Fork to navigate, this time with the assistance of some trail maintenance ingenuity, a large blow-down, some rope and hopefully some bravery.
After the river crossing, the trail began a steady climb up the flanks of Bald Mountain in a series of large switchbacks. I had hoped that once again, a name like Bald Mountain might imply some views, but just as with Mt.Baldy (miles back), there was to be nothing but trees heavily clothing the high ridge with limited views. That being said, we were afforded some beautiful colors as the sun set, and with arrival in camp at 7:30PM by the Top Spur Trail Junction, it had been a very enjoyable days hiking. With both tents set and dinner cooking by 8PM, it would be an early night!