For a skier, the end of ski season always comes with a feeling of letdown. Knowing that you won’t be able to ski for another six to seven months leaves you with a feeling of loss and sadness. But… in the Pacific Northwest, that aching feeling of leaving behind another epic ski season soon passes with the arrival of late spring and summer and the plethora of summer time activities on Mount Hood.
This year was no exception. As I skied my last run of the season, from the top of the Palmer Lift all the way down to Timberline Lodge, about 2.5 miles and 2,500 feet vertical feet, I was at peace. The mix of emotions is extremely powerful on a run like this. A non-stop, legs burning, adrenaline rushing, heart pounding run, with a feeling of exhilaration and sadness all at the same time, is hard to replicate. As the song I was listening to in my helmet, “Closing Time” by Semisonic, says, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”, my thoughts started drifting to my summer time plans on my mountain home.
I’ve never really hiked much in Oregon aside from occasional day hikes, but have always wanted to venture into overnight backpacking, since my backyard is basically a national forest. My son Joshua and I were desperate to maintain the feeling of freedom and adventure throughout the summer and hoped that hiking would provide us what we were looking for. So about mid February, my 13 year old son and I began planning our backpacking trip . We decided on a three day overnight to Paradise Park. Little did we know that for a first time overnight, we bit off a little more than we expected, but in the end it was well worth it. Paradise Park is a gorgeous area full of wide open fields of wild flowers and unending views. A six mile, one-way hike to the northwest of Timberline Lodge, up and down Zig Zag Canyon doesn’t sound too hard, but when you’ve never hiked that far before and with a 50 pound pack on your back, six miles feels like 20 miles.
Researching the right light weight gear and food, learning what to do if we encounter a bear or cougar, and figuring out the best route to take was extremely exciting and a great buildup of anticipation for our summer adventure. In a later post, I will explain what gear we chose and why and what we will change for our next overnight hike.
The day of our departure finally came and we both experienced the same excitement and jitters we feel when we round the bend in the road to Timberline Lodge in the winter, which was exactly what we hoped for. As you make the final turn in the road just before the parking lot at Timberline, Mt. Hood, in all its glory, comes into full view. In the summer time, most of the snow is gone, as one would expect, but the lack of snow accentuates the bright white Palmer Glacier and the 60+ feet of snow that Timberline’s Groomers build up over it in the winter, which allows them to operate the ski area all summer long.
After parking the car and putting on our very full backpacks, we both thought that the packs didn’t feel all that heavy, but little did we know that after the initial adrenaline rush wore off, those 50 pound packs would feel like 100 pounds. So began our six plus mile hike in to our summer home on Mount Hood.
Having not hiked Mt. Hood much in the summer, we weren’t fully aware of the exact route or landmarks. We arrived at Zig Zag Canyon, crossed it with ease and both agreed that crossing it was not as bad as everyone said. But…we soon found out that our initial crossing was Little Zig Zag Canyon and that you can’t actually cross Zig Zag Canyon, you have to go all the way down and then back up.
By the time we got to the bottom of Zig Zag Canyon, we filled our water packs up with ice cold water from the Sandy River and began our leg burning, back aching trek up the opposite side of Zig Zag Canyon and then both agreed that the hike up was much harder than everyone said. Not knowing where the end of our journey actually was, we groaned at every bend because there seemed to always be another bend up ahead and that we would never arrive at our destination. While we could have stopped anywhere along the way and camped for the night, we were both determined to make it all the way. Finally, we rounded one last bend and BOOM, a huge field of purple, yellow and red wild flowers slapped us in the face. We had finally arrived.
The Paradise Park trail is a fairly heavily used route, so finding a suitable camp site was not hard. With the help of a friendly hiker, we found a perfectly leveled camp site, cleared but still in the trees, 100 feet from Lost Creek with ice cold fresh water and absolutely drop dead views of Mt. Hood. I was so exhausted, but the excitement of arriving at our destination with plenty of daylight left to set up camp and a 13 year old kid with plenty of energy reserves, made for a spectacular evening. To top it off, my son packed in a bottle of Corona as a surprise, which after letting it sit in the creek for a half hour or so, enabled me to enjoy a cold brew with delicious freeze dried Mountain House Chili Mac for dinner (also prepared by my son).
Since camp fires are prohibited at this time of year (for obvious reason), we set our small lanterns in a rock pile left over from the previous resident of our campsite and enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing evening of great conversation, watching the sunset over the summit of Mt. Hood and then enjoying a completely galactic, clear night with a stunning view of more stars in the sky than I ever thought possible. Being that far from the city lights, enables you see tons and tons of stars. We both finally retired to our tents and fell fast asleep listening to the relaxing sound of Lost Creek ceaselessly flowing just feet from our campsite. We had a totally fantastic first day at Paradise Park and we still had three more days to go.