It’s been absolute ages since I’ve hung out around a fire, swapping stories and getting to know new people. The last time was… I’d have to say BCEP, earlier this year? In the beginning of April?
Whoof. Too long.
I arrived at the parking lot late, having accidentally set my GPS to the wrong side of a river tributary, but thankfully I wasn’t the last to arrive, nor did I miss the sunset. I walked up to the Columbia with a dozen donuts and a handful of fire-color packets, twin gifts for my neighbor whose birthday it was.
It was awesome when Bethan and Courtney invited me along – I know I’m a bit of the oddball in their friends group, so it meant a lot to me that I got the opportunity to join in on their birthday adventure.
It was really fun – and also a great change to further test out the night-photography on the new camera, I’ll freely admit!
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever backpacked on the Northern aspect of Mt. Hood.
I don’t know if I’ve even hiked on the Northern aspect!
With a weekend free, some excellent weather (here, at least), and energy in my body… it felt like a good opportunity to look around on Alltrails, pick a route, and get myself up onto Hood! Starting, of course, with a quick brunch… because I’m me, and I like me some brunch.
I picked the Barrett Spur trail, with some input from my friend Bri (who, years back, literally hiked every trail in the “hikes around Portland” book). It wasn’t too long, but has quite a bit of elevation gain – and ends as a nicely exposed spur with excellent views of the mountain.
Keep that “exposed” note in mind… it’ll come in later on in the story.
I drove up, winding the Mustang up, down, and around the deep forest service roads around Hood. The Southern aspect of Hood is easily accessible, as is the Eastern… but the West and North are subtly less paved. Which is to say, they’re not paved.
I drove, carefully, ’till the trailhead. Found quite a few cars, didn’t worry since somehow cars and people don’t seem to correlate out here, and hiked in. As I hiked, my expectations were proven true – I saw maybe half a dozen people the entire trip, and only two backpacking teams, compared to the 12+ cars parked at the trailhead.
Magic cars, I guess?
Anyways it’s a moot point, because look at the pictures of Hood!
I trudged up the trails, made it to camp, and settled in for the evening. I flew the drone to check out some ice caves that I could see in the distance, appreciated the sunset, and was jealous of another team who came by who found a gloriously sheltered campsite up on the ridge, with a beautiful stone wall around it.
I was jealous, but not particularly concerned, since they hadn’t brought a tent (with the full intention of using the mini-shelter), whereas I had my trusty Nemo tent… It’s held up against the rain and snow, I was confident it’d be fine with the wind off the mountain overnight.
I ate dinner, the stars wheeled above, and I even took the chance to test out my new camera in its night-mode. Photos came out pretty well, I think.
That night, I had some intense dreams.
I’d made camp a bit below the exposed spur, in a spot that I’d hoped would get a bit less wind. It may have, but the wind that I got was still quite above the structural plans of my ultralight tent. I slept fitfully, with semi-constant dreams about bears attacking the tent, wind knocking it over, and getting carried away on the gusts coming down from the mountain.
The tent survived the night, as did I, though not without peril – it nearly collapsed a few times overnight, and actually did get blown down in the morning while I was packing up.
Making breakfast was a challenge, in the wind, but thankfully I had the gear (and nearby rocks) to keep the stove lit for just long enough to get some water boiled, breakfast heated, and coffee brewed.
(Ed Note: Ben actually takes a break while writing this to go get some coffee)
Once I was fed, caffeinated, and watered, I headed up the Spur for a bit more of a view. I tested the limits of the camera’s zoom, I flew the drone around the nearby crevasse field and into the ice caves again, and appreciated the clear skies and chill breezes.
It was absolutely lovely.
With my tent already packed, I headed back down the trail once I was done sightseeing. I chatted a little with the team who has camped nearby, but overarchingly I kept to myself – resting and reading when the need hit, pushing onward when it didn’t, and appreciating the fall colors throughout.
Elevation dropped, miles went by, and soon enough I was back at the trailhead. The forest roads fell away, pavement reappeared under the wheels, and I returned to suburbia.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – 28, 29, 30, and 31-Sept-2023
My plan for this fall was to do a whole series of backpacking trips – starting with McNeil Point, and culminating in a four-day adventure out in the Wallowas.
I was going to drive out to Joseph, Oregon, on Wednesday after work and stay at a motel near the trailhead. Then, I’d grab as many pancakes as I could eat, then backpack in to Ice Lake! I’d use Ice Lake as a basecamp, summitting The Matterhorn (not the one in Switzerland, that would be too far) and Sacajawea Peak… then trek out and stay overnight again at the same motel before driving back home on Sunday.
It was going to be amazing and I was super psyched…
But then the rain happened.
See, if it was just rain then I’d have been okay. Heck, I’d have been fine if it was snow! But it wasn’t either – it was freezing rain, with the temperatures hovering right in the low to mid 30s. That’s what I call “hypothermia weather”. Or, more simply put, “dying in the backcountry weather”.
Not part of my plans, to say the least, and I ended up cancelling the trip once the weather was clearly not going to change.
Disappointing, to be sure, but that’s part of the adventure of the outdoors, right? “The mountain doesn’t care about you” is the refrain I keep in mind… it’s not that I’m challenging the mountains, or that I’m conquering them. I’m just experiencing them, and making decisions that will let me keep experiencing them for as long as possible.
So I stayed home.
I made delicious meals, went for long walks, and flew the drone around the Willamette river.