The Timberline Trail to Paradise Park doesn’t exist in the winter


Friday, 04-Mar-2022

As the title subtly alludes to… the Timberline Trail going West from the Timberline Lodge, on Mt. Hood, doesn’t really exist in the winter.

I wasn’t aware of that fact, before suggesting this hike.

Now, however, since crossing two terrain parks and who knows how many ski runs… well, now I know. It sticks in your memory. Feels strange, looking both ways and then sprinting across a ski run… and I felt bad, even after multiple ski patrol folks told us that it was totally okay, since I felt like I was just messing up the snow for everyone.

I’m getting ahead of myself. On Friday, I went hiking with some friends!

We’d been debating where to go, but ended up sticking with the tried-and-true tactic for winter: Head toward Mt. Hood, get some elevation, and hike on the snow. Elk Meadows hadn’t been particularly passable the last time I’d been up, and Mirror Lake had already been done, so… where to? I haven’t been to Paradise Park before, and it’s got a few good intermediary destinations, so up we headed!

The drive was easy; stopping at a friend’s house to borrow some snowshoes (he’d planned on joining us, but was feeling under the weather), and grabbing a baguette sandwich for our lunching pleasure, didn’t delay us anything – we parked pretty easily, without stress or mess or even waking up too early.

We geared up, headed in, and… couldn’t find the trail.

I’d originally targeted the route I normally take – Go up a little bit, then connect to the climbers trail and connect over to the timberline trail. But with the snow… I mean, it’s a popular trail, right?? I expected at least some signs to be visible, if not a fully packed down trail!

But man… it just wasn’t there.

We tried circling the lodge, looking for a different trailhead.
We tried asking a ski patrol member about details.
We tried following GPS, looking for the evident paths through the trees.
We tried following my memory of landmarks, angling toward buildings and cell phone towers.

In the end, we finally got out of the bounds of the resort. If we were on trail though, I couldn’t really say… the GPS said we were close, but… man, who knows? All I knew was that it was beautiful, and the weather was stunning. The photos came out well, but even they don’t quite do it justice… the stark bleakness of the landscape, contrasted with the bright green of the trees and the blue skies, was excellent.

We went West as long as we could, until we hit an insurmountable barrier – Little ZigZag canyon. It’s usually a quick and easy traverse – down and back up. But with the snow, a cornice had formed on the far rim, a cornice that we weren’t remotely prepared to navigate.

(Ed Note: For those not versed in mountaineering speak, a “Cornice” is a lip of ice that forms over the any sharp(ish) ledge where wind regularly blows. They can be beautiful, but are also a very real hazard for snow travel, since they can break off unexpectedly… either dropping someone standing on top, or triggering a slide that can hit or bury people below. Check out the link here for more info:

With that barrier ahead of us, we changed course and headed upward, toward the Silcox hut at the bottom of the Palmer Glacier. We didn’t really have a goal in mind, just the enjoyment of being up on the mountain… so up seemed as good a direction as any.

I don’t really have much else to add here. You know the story about hiking – we walked, we chatted, we stopped to take photos, and we had a grand old time. Hung out with some ravens, chatted with the ski patrol folks as they shut down the lift and headed down.

We stopped in at the Timberline Lodge after our adventure wrapped up – The Ram’s Head is one of my favorite places to get an after-hiking meal, and we didn’t find it wanting. Huge glasses of cocoa, and a skillet full of meatballs, fortified us for the beautiful sunset drive home…

An excellent ending to an excellent day.

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