Once a year, I make a solid attempt to try to get together and spend a few days and nights in the backcountry with some of my best buds. Not everyone can make it every year, but its a strong tradition that’s going on 6 years now. We usually aim for a national park, but more important than the designation of park is the seclusion from roads, buildings, and crowds of people. This year we decided on Mt. Hood, an hour and a half drive east of Portland, Oregon.
The Timberline Trail
To keep the logistics of these trips simple, we usually backpack around a loop, ending up back at the car. The Timberline Trail is a 40-mile loop around Mt. Hood. Portions of the trail overlap with the Pacific Crest Trail. We decided to do the loop in 4 days (3 nights). Doing the Timberline Trail in 4 days meant multiple 10+ miles days. Looking back, I’d have liked to slow down a bit and take an extra day. I felt pretty rushed at that pace, especially because I wanted to slow down and take photographs.
50mm Prime Lens Only
The length of the hike limited the amount of camera gear I was willing to haul around. I decided to keep it simple and just bring a 50mm f/1.8 lens (also referred to as a “nifty fifty”). I’ve had the lens for over a year, but it hadn’t gotten much use until this trip. It’s a great value lens, and at f/1.8, it’s my fastest lens, BUT I just don’t reach for it often because I have more expensive, sharper lenses (I know how lame I sound). That being said, my expensive zooms are f/2.8, so not as fast, and they weigh as much as a mobile home. This trip was the perfect excuse to use the 50mm prime. It saved weight and also provided a fun challenge of shooting the whole trip using one focal length and stepping out of my comfort zone. There were a few times I wished I’d had my 24-70mm or 70-200mm, but it wasn’t often. The fixed focal length made me slow down and think about my shots more.
Day 0 – Car Camping & Last-Minute Preparations
We landed in Portland around 11am. After getting the chores out of the way (securing a rental car, last minute groceries, a trip to REI for fuel, and a visit to Deschutes Brewery for some lunch), we headed out towards Mt. Hood. We set up camp the first night about a mile down the mountain from the Timberline Lodge at a car camp site called Alpine campground. We used the afternoon to make final gear preparations and decisions.
After getting everything squared away at the campground, we headed up the mountain to the Timberline Lodge for our last supper before heading out into the wilderness. Fun fact about The Timberline Lodge: The exterior shots in the 1980’s movie The Shining were filmed at the Timberline Lodge. The lodge was constructed between 1936 to 1938 and has an authentic feel with lots of large stones and heavy timber used throughout. The 6-sided chimney stack that runs from the ground floor all the way up four stories is an impressive 14 feet in diameter, with 5-ft wide openings on three sides.
A Few Snaps of that First Afternoon:
Day One on the Timberline Trail
In the morning, we got everything packed up and headed up the mountain to park at the Timberline Lodge. We managed to lose Greg in the first 0.05 miles of the hike. He went into the lodge to fill his water containers (everyone else had already topped off back at the campsite) while the rest of us went around to the back of the lodge to the trailhead to wait for him. After waiting patiently for what seemed like far too long, we noticed him partway up the trail, which he’d somehow gotten on without passing us.
We hiked through Zig-Zag Canyon (you can imagine how a canyon might come to be named in such a way). That night, we camped just past the Sandy River. We were fortunate to camp near water every night, so we had unlimited water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning without the weight of having to lug it around.
Day 1 Hike: ~10 miles (images below)
Day Two on the Timberline Trail
Second day highlights included hiking past Ramona Falls and climbing for about an hour and half straight. There’s lots of ups and downs on any mountain trail, but this particular 3-mile stretch was pretty relentless in its upwardness.
There was a beautiful stretch of trail that we dubbed “The Boneyard.” A fire, started by lightning on August, 26 2011, burned more than 6,300 acres along the north side of Mt. Hood before fall rains put it out. There is a stark contrast between the sun-bleached remains of trees long dead and what’s sprouting up at their feet.
We camped that night in Elk Cove, right next to the river, with a perfect view of the peak.
Day 2 Hike: ~12 miles (images below)
Day Three on the Timberline Trail
The third day had a big section of landscape that felt like we were walking on Mars. Miles and miles of sand and rock. At one point, the trail took us right across a small glacier. By the end of day three, we were all running low on water and energy. We passed a few hikers who told us our next water source was 4 miles further. We hoped that wasn’t the case (turned out it wasn’t).
Just after passing Newton Creek, we found a few campsites nestled in the trees that looked like it would provide us with great shelter. Little did we know that a pretty severe sandstorm would kick up just minutes after getting everything all set up. Every 2 minutes, wind would push sand all through the campsite in 20+ mile per hour gusts.
After noticing a not-so-thin layer of sand covering EVERYTHING inside of our tent, Cliff whipped us up a little wind shield. We all got into our tents early that night to get out of the wind and sand.
Day 3 Hike: ~11 miles (images below)
Final Day on the Timberline Trail
The last day was a shorter mileage day. I got up and took some photos of sunrise around Newton Creek before we packed up and hit the trail again. We hiked through some awesome sections of wooded trail and passed right by a cool waterfall.
As we got closer to civilization, we started noticing ski slope signage and ski lifts. It was pretty neat hiking along trails that are covered in snow all winter long. We hiked through some beautiful meadows. Everyone was pretty excited as we finally saw the Timberline Lodge way off in the distance.
Day 4 Hike: ~7 miles (images below)
Another great trip for the books. It was quite a bit of work to lug the camera around the whole time, but I’m really glad I did. I’ll have these photos of my friends hiking around Mt. Hood forever.
Paper Prints, Canvases and Metal Prints Available
If you’d like to show some support, I put a few of my absolute favorite photos from the trip up for sale in an online gallery. Paper prints, canvases, and cool archival metal prints (example below) are available in a variety of sizes. All print orders are fulfilled by a professional photo lab in California that does high quality work. View the Mt. Hood gallery here.