Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hoodwinked


By the time the summer of 2004 arrived, I had proclaimed myself a seasoned hiker.

Hiking had been a growing hobby since I moved in August of 2000. That first summer, I was so out of shape, I could barely climb the steps to our apartment without starting to sweat. But slowly and miraculously, I got fit in the summers ahead and tackled some of Colorado's famed 14ers, mountains that stretch above the 14,000-foot level.

Four years into hiking, I felt ready to tackle some out-of-state terrain.

Erik P. and I hatched a great plan. We would hike Timberline Trail, a 40-mile loop around Oregon's Mount Hood. During our time on the Banks, I don't think E.P. and I ever once mentioned an interest in hiking to each other. But since we departed Jersey, we had both developed an appreciation for it.

Plans were set a few months beforehand, and I had much anticipation for this great new adventure in the Pacific Northwest.

Flying into PDX, Mount Hood was easily visible out of the left side of the airplane. It was my first glimpse at the great giant. Its elevation is only 11,249, smaller than the 14ers I've done, but it is much more majestic. Unlike a lot of the Rocky Mountains, Hood dwarfs any other peaks in the area and stands alone on the horizon.

Stealing a glimpse of Hood on that early July afternoon only heightened the anticipation. I couldn't wait for that next day.

It was great to see E.P. when I arrived and meet his wife-to-be. We visited REI to get a few last-minute provisions that cool summer night, and in the morning we set off for Government Camp, Oregon, where the trailhead was located.

We planned to do the loop over a three-day stretch, and had plenty of supplies for the duration. Flashlight, check. Boots, check. Plenty of water, check. Tent, backpack, you get the picture. I also had my ski hat with me, gloves, long underwear, etc. It was probably in the 60s to 70s in Portland when we left, but it made good sense to expect cold nights at high elevations. Our pre-hike food-and-shelter plans seemed up to snuff.

An hour-plus east of Portland, we arrived at the Timberline Lodge next to the trailhead in the late morning. In the middle of a full-bore blizzard.

It was snowing sideways. People were skiing past us in the parking lot, which was engulfed by a couple feet of snow. It was frigid. Ice immediately formed in my stubble. It was July. I don't know if I've ever been colder in my life.

I looked over at Erik. He had I-just-saw-a-ghost, deer-in-the-headlights fright plastered all over his face. I was thrilled with his reaction. In no way was I mentally or physically prepared to spend three days traipsing around in a snowstorm.

We huddled inside the lodge, where skiers were warming themselves near the fire, immediately decided that we were in way over our heads and made a new plan from scratch.

We drove about 15 miles down the road -- the snow vanished at a slightly lower elevation and temperatures instantly returned to mild summer conditions -- and we enjoyed three days worth of day hikes in the Hood River area.

It worked out great. I'd say our hikes were probably no more than eight miles long each day. We got in some great camping, hung out in the excellent town of Hood River, drank microbrews at the Full Sail Brewing Company and generally enjoyed the lush, green Pacific Northwest and Columbia River Gorge.

The entire time, Mount Hood loomed on the horizon from any direction, as if it was watching our every move.

It was an incredible trip with a good friend.

I've been thinking about it quite a bit these last few days because of those poor guys stuck on Mount Hood, fighting for their lives.

Obviously, there are some major differences between them and us. They started their venture as a group of experts attempting a summit in the middle of winter. Serious business. We were fair-weather fans committed to nothing more than a fun summer hike around the base.

But I think both cases show that you never know exactly what to expect, even when you think you do. As the current crisis shows, it can still be dangerous, despite the best of preparations. Here's to hoping they get home safely.

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6 Comments:

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Erik said...

You have no idea how much I've been tracking this story. It's all consuming out here. i've thought long and hard about our decision to turn around that day. Even though we were backpacking and it was not that technical, we would have made it to 7500-8000 feet in elevation during our planned hike. The rescuers for these guys could not get above 6000 feet most of last week because of the weather. Only die hards tackle this mountain in the winter. Near the summit, there are countless examples of experienced climbers falling 2500 hundred feet to their death. The weather is so unpredictable on Mt. hood and in Oregon in general. People assume this mountain is easy and while it is majestic and beautiful, it's deadly even for the experienced. It now looks as though they are all dead. Tragic.

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger the joker said...

Why does it seem like when a national tragedy occurs, you seem to always have a first-hand perspective?

If someone goes through a John Wayne Bobbit ordeal again, I'm hoping I don't see a posting from you that same day.

We don't need that in our lives.

 
At 1:46 PM, Blogger EAB said...

Todd,

I think Pete's instant perspective comes from his macabre thought process. The man worked at a funeral home and still counts it as one of the best jobs ever.

 
At 7:22 PM, Blogger the joker said...

Valid point.

I'm sure he'll eventually find a woman with the same demented thought process and share his life with her.

If such a woman even exists...

No, but yeah.

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger EAB said...

We can only hope, Todd. We can only hope...

 
At 12:31 AM, Blogger Joependleton said...

As a disgruntled, record-spinning, former CN copy editor would say about the guys lost on Mount Hood ...

"Something like that would never happen sitting on the couch watching TV."

 

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