Monday, September 21, 2015

Mt Hood Circumnavigation - take 2


Selfie at Ramona Falls

It was time to truly run all the way around Mt Hood. Two years ago we mostly did it, but due to difficulties at the Eliot washout and getting lost around Eden Park, we exited at Ramona Falls instead of making it back to our car at Timberline. Coming off a glorious circumnavigation of Mt Rainier in August (post coming soon), we felt ready.

Well, almost ready. We pushed back our planned September adventure run by a week to accommodate work, and it definitely helped to have an additional week to rest from Rainier.

First view of the mountain as the clouds lift

Unlike last time-- when we planned and meticulously packed for our very first mountain circumnavigation-- this time felt relaxed and casual as we tossed together our trusted gear and favorite eats. We spent the night at Ann's mom's house and drove up to Timberline in the early morning, leaving on time (!).

It was cold and dark at our 6:30am start, and the lodge wasn't open yet. There was no pen or pencil to fill out a wilderness permit, so with a quick use of the dingy, single toilet, we were off.

A sunrise rainbow and the peak of Mt Hood

The rising sun illuminated Mt Hood's peak in rose gold while we ran the first handful of miles. Mountain streams, autumn colors, gravelly ridges, and a sunrise rainbow set in pink cloud made for lovely morning sights. The climb to the highest point wasn't as steep, airless, or long as I remembered. And then, sooner than I thought, we came to the ridge above Eliot washout.

The area was rocky, monotone brown-grey, and foggy with clouds lifting out of the canyon. I felt my heart beat strongly, but not any quicker in fear, knowing that this was the place where I fell two years ago. While it could have been much worse, it's still the worst injury either Ann or I have sustained in five years of trail running. With much more mountain, trail, and ultrarunning experience behind me, my plan was to take it slow in this dangerous scree field and make sure we found the rope down on the south side of the slope.

Autumn colors

We followed the top of the ridge down and away from the mountain, stopping to peer into the washout as the clouds lifted up and out of the canyon and exposed the intricate mess of gravel and boulders leading to Eliot Creek at the bottom. No rope.

We kept going, until it seemed impossible that we hadn't passed it. By a large boulder, giving a decent rest spot and a slightly more level path to zigzag down, Ann went to scout for the rope a bit lower. I waited for a few minutes, until I realized that there was no way she was coming back. Even if she wanted to, the dusty steepness made it difficult to climb up and the terrain change farther down the ridge made it obvious that there were no trails there in the thick trees and rocky cliffs.

In case we forgot where we were

I started down in the direction she had disappeared, using the tricks I've learned for finding footholds and reading paths. Ann popped into view, and we shouted back and forth. She hadn't found the rope yet. Just a bit below us was a thin line worn parallel to the ridges and the creek below, so we dropped down to the apparent trail and followed it back toward the mountain. And suddenly, maybe 30 feet below us, obscured by the huge boulder to which it was anchored, was the (surprisingly short) rope.

After all that searching, the rest of the descent was quick and fairly easy. We hiked back up the creek towards the rope on the north side, crossed Eliot Creek, and made our way up using the trusty, long, obvious rope. I didn't feel as relieved or giddy as I had imagined to be successfully finished with the infamous Eliot hellbasin; I knew our next challenge was not getting lost in the area around Cairn Basin and Eden Park where we missed a turn last time.

Tilly Jane and Cooper Spur

Thankfully when we got there, the branch that had once hidden the trail was lopped off and being used to block the trail we had mistakenly taken two years ago. That felt like a huge triumph.

Much of the rest of the trail felt happily familiar. We've done a Bald Mountain route a number of times before, so that section felt like coming home. The stunning scenery of Muddy Fork was just as welcome and gorgeous as I remembered.

Walking the ridge above Eliot washout (to the left)
We did miss a turn after Ramona Falls, but realized our mistake after about half a mile. Soon after that, we entered into the stretch we missed last time: the relentless climb up Paradise Park. The whole thing was more or less a trudge, eating on the move instead of stopping for breaks.

The sun drew close to the horizon line of distant mountains and we realized we might not make it back to the car by dark. We calculated the distance left and our pace, revising often. Twilight stretched long as the last of the sun's rays hit the peak of the mountain, turning the snow to ruddy clay and inciting us to hurry.

Ann in the bottom of Eliot washout

We crested new ridges hoping to see the telltale signs of our start at Timberline Lodge-- ski lifts-- but saw none. Each steep, switchback climb yielded another view of a new valley. We broke out our headlamps, and talked about what good night-running experience this was. We smelled fire, faintly at first, then unmistakable, but it was still nearly an hour before we saw the black angles against the black sky and knew we had arrived.

Timberline! We made it in about 13 1/2 hours, about an hour and a half longer than we thought it would take. There were a few families just leaving the parking lot and we-- tired, filthy, sore runners-- just couldn't be bothered.  We changed crouching next to the car, hopped in, and sped towards home, letting our loved ones know that we had made it safe and sound, but late.

Burned forest and snowy peak

Our next challenge was finding a Dairy Queen that had a working Blizzard machine... which took three tries! Completing our full circumnavigation of Mt Hood was a nicely uneventful success, rounding out a long, gorgeous summer of running around mountains in the Pacific Northwest. Now the question is: what's up for next year?

See the full album of 50 photos here.

Ann and the Muddy Fork

2 comments:

  1. You both are crazy fast around that mountain. My first time was in a dreadful 18 hours - I've sped up since, thank God. Love the TR and the flickr pics. Nice job.

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    1. Thanks, it didn't feel that fast, especially the last hour+ in the dark.

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