first solo mult-day backpack: Timberline Trail
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Aug 8, 2015 at 8:29 pm #1331468
I just returned from a 5 day backpacking trip around Mt. Hood, Oregon, on the Timberline Trail. Usually I go with my boyfriend, or another friend, but for one reason or another, no one was available to go with me, so I went solo. It was more challenging in some ways than I expected it to be, and was not just another walk in the woods.
I planned 4 days, averaging about 10 miles per day. The Timberline Trail is 40 miles around the mountain, running mostly at or above Timberline as its name would suggest. There are multiple starting points, but the Timberline Lodge and ski area are the most common jumping off points. The first part of the trail runs along the Pacfic Crest Trail.
The biggest challenge about this trail is the creek/river crossings. All of them are glacier-fed, and none of them have bridges. Many of the waters have carved out deep moraines, and the best crossing isn't always where the trail crosses–going up or down the creek is often necessary, then working one's way back to the trail. Often there are cairns, but footprints go everywhere, and it can be tricky to find where the trail goes.
The first day was pretty uneventful. It was mostly downhill, working my way down to the Sandy River. Lots of views of Mt. Hood itself, and the surrounding countryside. Camp was a nice site in the woods, just above the crossing of the Sandy River.
I had, as usual, over prepared my food. No matter how many articles I read, on how to pack only the food you need, maximizing calories per ounce, etc, at some point paranoia and "what if"-ism kicks in, and I inevitably pack too much. I usually end up with more bars than I need, rather than whole meals. However, I hadn't felt like I worked too hard to get to my first camp, and I had tortilla roll-ups left over from my pre-trail lunch. Not wanting to waste them, I packed them along, and that ended up being first night's dinner. After tidying up camp, I realized from the light that sunset had arrived, and knowing I was only a little ways away from the moraine, I hiked down to catch the sunset. Beauty.
The Sandy River is the lowest point on the whole trail, at 3,500 ft. That meant that the next day was UP. Crossing the Sandy River was interesting, but there were logs placed that made it not too difficult. Before crossing, though, I set my pack down to scout up and down for the best spot. Picking my pack up and putting it back on, I heard and felt a "pop"! Taking it back off, I found that a carbon fiber strut had punched through the pocket that it rests in. Several nasty words resulted, and out came the repair kit. I managed to bodge together a tape repair, and insert the strut back where it is supposed to go. I could have turned back at this point, but it seemed to be holding together well enough. Going on, there are two options, either the official Timberline Trail which meanders up from Ramona Falls up Yocum Ridge, crosses the Muddy Fork, then wanders up Bald Mountain, or one can take a side trail and the PCT on a more direct route on a lower crossing of the Muddy Fork, then a steeper but shorter route to meet the Timberline Trail at Bald Mountain, cutting out a couple of miles, but gaining 1400 ft elevation over 2.2 miles. Talking with several hikers on the trail, and being concerned about making miles to my proposed camping spot 13 miles away, I ended up taking the shorter but harder route. Probably a mistake–I am not that speedy a hiker to begin with, and elevation gain just slows me down more. The trail was through the woods, with no views, and water options fewer. I felt like my feet were glued down, not making any time, resulting in frustration and concern about where I was going to end up for the night. In retrospect, a good deal of my problem was not eating as much as I should have–I didn't stop for lunch, didn't feel hungry at all, and was also probably a little dehydrated as well. Fortunately, I had peanut M&M's in my belt pockets, as well as dehydrated bananas, pecans, and Epic bars. Here, I'm hauling all this weight, and then I don't even eat it? After snacking some and loading up on water, I felt a whole lot better about where I was. Views off to the distance, with Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. St. Helens was also better than staring at the woods as I had been all day. Even better was talking to a hiker coming the opposite way, who told me that my proposed campsite at Elk Cove was easily reachable in the time left, and the grade of the elevation gain nowhere near what I had been doing. I did come to Elk Cove, and selected an open sandy site next to the creek, with a view of Mt. Hood itself.
Not my best choice. The wind picked up as I was setting up camp, making it hard to get the tent pitched. Did you notice I was using a Zpacks Duplex? Setting it up in the wind was rather like trying to nail down a plastic grocery sack in a windstorm. I ended up having to pile rocks on my stakes to keep it in place. Then, trying to keep my alcohol stove lit and cooking–I ended up huddled next to a tree on a log, using my sitting pad as a wind-break to block the wind long enough to boil water for dinner. The temperature was rapidly cooling with the wind, and I quickly jumped into bed, wearing all my extra layers–including my wind pants and shirt. The ventilation in the Duplex is great, but the wind really cuts through it. The direction of the wind seemed to keep changing, so I was unable to face one side of the tent consistently into the wind. Everything was coated in fine sand, blown into the tent by the wind.
The next morning, the wind was still blowing hard. Trying to get the tent packed up and wrestled back into its stuff sack was lots of fun, but finally managed. Crossing the creek, I spotted at least 2 more empty sites that were more amongst the trees, and might have had better wind protection. Oh, well, live and learn, if I hike this trail again I'll know better. This was only my second time hiking solo. I've come to realize that I depend on my boyfriend's judgement of camp sites more than I knew.
Today was the day of the dreaded Elliot Creek crossing. In 2006, the usual crossing was washed away, and formally the Forest Service does not recommend crossing, and states the trail is closed. However, hikers have been crossing down into the moraine using ropes and finding their way across, or hiking up the moraine and crossing above on the glacier. Good write-ups exist on-line, especially one from 2014 on OregonHikers.org, with photos of both the rope route and the glacier crossing. I elected to use the ropes, as my skills on glaciers are non-existent. Hiking down into the moraine was like trying to safely descend a giant sand dune. The walls are very steep, and very unstable. After descending into the valley itself, then one has to pick and choose a spot to cross over. This water is right off the glacier, incredibly cold and rushing very fast. I was able to pick my way partially across on rocks, in an area where the streams were a little split, but there was no obvious option where one could just rock hop all the way across. So, after much hemming and hawing, I finally just picked a spot and plunged in. The water was up to my knees, and was so cold it was painful. I still don't know if I picked a good spot or not, but I made it across and made it work. I have never had to ford a creek or river before, so this was my first time putting theory into practice.
From there, the rest of the day was a little anticlimactic, hiking along above treeline in and out of drainages. This was a "dry" year, with less snow than usual. I think that in other years, there would have been more snow to traverse. As it was, I only had one small snow field to traverse. This was probably the quietest day of hiking, with the fewest people met. Somewhere along the way, my bodged repair on my pack gave way, and the strut started poking through, not quite jabbing at my hip. Still, it wasn't too bad a carry, so I just let it be. Camp that night was at Newton Creek, a nice spot secluded after the creek crossing.
Quiet, no wind, relatively level, a nice comfortable spot to sit and cook. Digging through my bear can, I realized somehow I had miscounted breakfasts, and had one more than I needed. Ok, well, more weight to haul, whatever. No one was nearby at all, and I took full advantage of the privacy to clean up that evening, and went to bed early.
Next day was out, only 8 miles or so to traverse. The first major river crossing of the day was Clark Creek. The moraine was wide on the far side, and not well marked. I ended up missing the trail completely, and having to bushwhack my way back to the trail. Carrying an InReach, the screen map was invaluable in getting back to the trail. This resulted in something of a delay, but I was not much worried, as the day was still short. Much of the rest of the way was through the Mount Hood Meadows Ski area. Tromp, tromp, tromp, meadows, chairlifts, occasional views of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters off in the distance. I had spent much of my time the day before checking and checking my map and my InReach map, to the point I thought it was slowing my progress, or at least making it seem longer that it had to be. So, I didn't check it often enough today, resulting in a wrong turn down a 1 mile side trail, ending at a road and the ski area outbuildings. &$%^&! Ok, turn around, head back uphill. An hour lost, but hey, will still get to the car well before dark. The last obstacle was the crossing of the White River. Several folks I ran into coming the opposite way said that theWhite River crossing was rather difficult and it was hard to pick up the trail. Coming down the hill, a sign stated that the river was A Violent Glacial Stream, and that the trail picked up in the tree-covered draw on the opposite side. Coming down into the moraine there was a great perspective up the hillside, and I could see the trail easily on the opposite side. The river itself was shallow and braided, and didn't look too difficult to cross, but getting down to it would be a challenge–the shore on this side consisted of a 8 to 15 foot high cliff of sandy eroded soil. There were cairns pointing out a path–until there weren't. Working up the moraine, the cliff moderated into a steep unstable sandy hillside where it looked like there were several unattractive options where people had scree-slid down to the level of the river. As I was standing on the bank, debating which would be the best, I heard a dull "whump" off in the distance. 10 minutes later, I watched what had been several very shallow streams coalesce into a very fast moving river, still rather shallow, but very fast, rather wide, and filled with rolling rocks bouncing along. The water subsided pretty quickly, and looked easier to cross, but then….another whump, and the process was repeated. Well, that didn't look too good. It was 5:30 pm, and although only another 3 miles separated me from my car, I just didn't feel safe trying to cross. Glacial streams are supposed to be quieter in the morning. So, I alerted my boyfriend through the InReach that I was staying out one more night, and made camp on the edge of the moraine, tying my Duplex off to rocks.
But, hey, I have one more dinner, and two breakfasts! For once, bringing too much food was A Good Thing! Camp was actually pretty comfortable, making a sandy bed. And, instead of pushing hard until time to make camp, I had some lounging time. Unfortunately, I didn't take a good picture of the moraine itself from the perspective of camp, so I can't show how the river looked from that perspective. However, my anxiety about the crossing just would not let me rest easy. I went about my camp chores, then set everything up so that I could make a fast get-away at first light, when hopefully the river would be at its quietest. All night, drifting in and out of sleep, I listened to the river…is it quieter? How about now? Now?
My alarm set for 5:45 am, I was up and about quickly, stuffing things into my pack, deciding to skip breakfast and eat on the opposite shore. Go, go, go, go! Looking up, I saw a party of 4 guys coming across from the opposite bank. I watched their progress carefully, noting where they crossed, and how they came up the bank. Hooray! that didn't look too hard. I talked with them briefly about the trail from that side, then finished packing, threw my pack on my back, and scree-slid carefully down to the river, right at a point where a clearer stream entered the river. The other hikers had advised that I fill up on water there, as it was the clearest water they'd seen since setting out. I quickly filled my drinking bladder, then started picking my way across the shallow streams. Just then, the water started to accelerate and rise in the muddy zone, and I bolted as fast as I could for the opposite shore, while still feeling for footing with my hiking poles. Safe! It didn't rise as fast or as hard as I had seen the previous night, but there were still rocks bouncing along and I was still grateful to get across. I did stop to take a photo from the opposite shore, but in my haste I didn't appreciate that it didn't show the river itself well.
The last 3 miles were trudging uphill, in soft sandy footing. But, my slow progress resulted in arriving in time for the Timberline Lodge's all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Much appreciated!
I mostly hike in the Olympics and the Cascades, most often in the National Parks. This wasn't the first time I had hiked in a Wilderness area, but this was definitely the most "wild" experience I've ever had. Maybe everything was magnified by this being the first time I was alone for several days, relying completely on myself. I was in contact with my boyfriend through e-mail/text through the InReach, but that was remote–he couldn't help or see. However, the ability to be in contact with him was invaluable–I might not have felt as easy about my last night's decision to stay out if I hadn't been able to let him know what was going on so he wouldn't worry. Several times when my spirits were low due to perceived problems, he was great at cheerleading from the rear.
I came through the Timberline Trail, but I can't help but feel that it was more by luck than by skill. I do feel that reading as much as I can here on BackpackingLight, on hiking blogs, books by thru-hikers, all gave me the know-how to successfully navigate the challenges. And, for once, my chronic carrying too much food was actively helpful; although I wouldn't have been in any danger if all I'd had was a bar left over, it did make for a psychological boost. Also, I used everything in my pack except my bear-spray and my rain gear. First-aid kit for blisters, repair kit for pack repair, syringe to back flush my water filter. This trip will definitely be a bench-mark trip against which I judge preparedness for future trips. If I don't think it will be as strenuous, maybe that will give me the courage to cut out some items and lighten my load.Aug 8, 2015 at 9:16 pm #2219881D MBPL Member
@farwalkerLocale: What, ME worry?
Very nice write up! You did well! :-)Aug 9, 2015 at 4:59 am #2219907Bob MoulderBPL Member
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
Bravo, Diane — great trip, great write-up!
Sounds as if you calibrated it just right for your abilities and expectations. It is a real confidence-builder and often quite gratifying to face a few challenges and then to overcome them. Next time will be easier… it just gets funner and funner! :^)Aug 9, 2015 at 7:27 am #2219923Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
Nice trip report and pictures. You've whetted my appetite. I agree, that hike is pretty wild.
"I didn't stop for lunch, didn't feel hungry at all, and was also probably a little dehydrated as well."
I've done that beforeAug 9, 2015 at 7:48 am #2219929Hiking MaltoBPL Member
I was planning to do this trip in Sep but opted for the Adirondacks instead. This will have to wait. I loved the west side of Mt Hood when I hiked through on the PCT. Everything seemed so big. I have a picture of the Sandy River, likely taken from the same spot. there was a lot more water going over the falls in 2011.
if you have trouble eating you can try drinking in calories. You could start with something like gatoraid and move up to any number of Maltodextrin products. I made this conversion years ago at the suggestion of a couple wise folks on the site and it completely changed my hiking especially in high elevation areas.Aug 9, 2015 at 8:41 am #2219939Adam WhiteBPL Member
@awhite4777Locale: On the switchbacks
Turning the corner where you are comfortable solo in the backcountry is a memorable event. It's empowering! As others have said, future trips will be a little less stressful, and a little more fun.
That said, that stress makes it memorable–I bet you'll remember this trip for a long, long time. I remember turning that corner myself, and I enjoy reading about others doing the same.
Thanks for sharing–great write-up!Aug 9, 2015 at 8:56 am #2219943Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
"if you have trouble eating you can try drinking in calories"
to me, I just sometimes have to remember to eat and drink some
I remember once doing maybe 8 miles without eating or drinking, and I suddenly couldn't hardly move my legs – they were heavy. It was raining and I didn't feel like stopping and eating/drinking. Then, I ate and drank, and 30 minutes later was back to normal.Aug 9, 2015 at 9:06 am #2219948Jeffs ElevenBPL Member
I was camped at Paradise Park 8/4 and 8/5. Looks like you went clockwise, so, away from us.
Nice TR! I like that trailAug 9, 2015 at 9:30 am #2219950
Wow, Malto, much more snow on the peak, too, as well as more water over the falls. I'm glad I did it this year, I think the crossings would have been much more hairy. Would have been more places to collect water, though, I had a few places where I was worried about stretching my water out.
I met a volunteer, who said that the Forest Service has plans to build a bridge over Elliot Creek, further down the moraine. It may even be under construction by next year. That will reduce the sweat factor by quite a lot.
After crossing Elliot Creek and getting out of the moraine, I pulled over to dump the sand out of my shoes and eat something. As I was squeezing nut butter onto a tortilla, I looked up to see a hiker coming along behind me. I said to him "You must have had a fast crossing", because I knew there wasn't anyone behind me on the crossing. He said "Where are we?" Turns out, he was hiking the opposite direction, and had gotten turned around in the messy approach to the crossing. He was out on his second backpack ever, with only an image of a map on his cell phone, hoping to do the entire trail in 2 1/2 days, and not sure he had enough food. He had hiked the Eagle Creek trail from Gorge to Mt Hood, with a PCT hiker friend, as his only backpacking experience ever. Talking with him about the crossing, showing him my map, he quickly realized that maybe he had bitten off more than he could comfortably swallow, and turned back around. He didn't know anything about the need to ford the creek, the diversion of the trail, any of the difficulties. I told him about BPL, and hope he gets some info and experience under his belt, and tries it again. Maybe by the time he does, the bridge will be there.Aug 9, 2015 at 11:54 am #2219971Richard MayBPL Member
@richardmLocale: Nature Deficit Disorder
Thanks for sharing. I always read these reports from out west with a touch of envy :)
I totally get how you can forget to eat or keep pushing it back because … well, because you're making good pace. I started using malto with a short break for snacks during the day. I can push as long as I want and when I find a nice spot I've got the snacks to munch on.Aug 9, 2015 at 4:09 pm #2220004AnonymousInactive
I really enjoyed your report. You solved some interesting problems while keeping your cool, not so easy when you're solo. Good job, Diane.Aug 9, 2015 at 5:24 pm #2220019toddBPL Member
@funnymoLocale: SE USA
Thanks for the great read, Diane!
You showed great resolve and determination.Aug 9, 2015 at 5:26 pm #2220020KatttBPL Member
What a nice write up Diane! Sounds like you had an adventure :) Too much food is fine IMO…..That alpenglow picture is amazing. Looking forward to more..
Edited. :) I removed auto correct because it not like other languages but then I miss it.Aug 9, 2015 at 6:54 pm #2220033
Thanks for the kind words, everyone. This was the first trip that I took that I felt deserved a write-up here on BPL. Other trips I've taken were pretty A->B. The Wonderland Trail was daunting at the time, but only because of my newbie status and the length of being out on the trail.
As for keeping my cool,Tom, my boyfriend Bill got all the cuss words and drama via InReach! Distance brings perspective.Aug 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm #2220054Katherine .BPL Member
Excellent! Fun to have heard about your plans when we were at PNW GGG and now read your report!
Sounds like you were really smart about handling the crossings!
Did you mean White River instead of Muddy?
Love hearing about other women's solo adventures. This one is especially useful because I know I'll do it before too long, so great to follow in your footsteps!Aug 10, 2015 at 11:04 am #2220139Gordon GrayBPL Member
@gordongLocale: Front Range, CO
Good thing that 'POP!' was your backpack and not your knee or some other important body part.Aug 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm #2220170
Yes, Katherine, you are right; it was indeed the White River. I have edited to correct the name.
The river was muddy, but not the Muddy River!Aug 10, 2015 at 3:16 pm #2220208AnonymousInactive
"As for keeping my cool,Tom, my boyfriend Bill got all the cuss words and drama via InReach! Distance brings perspective."
LOL. Yeah, that was probably the best of all worlds for your first time out. Emotional backup is a great stress reliever. But you still had to figure it out for yourself onsite and then execute, and I thought you did a pretty darn good job.Aug 17, 2015 at 6:16 am #2221451george carrBPL Member
@hammer-oneLocale: Loco Libre Gear
Your first solo is always epic. I'm glad you decided to go when no one else could. I really enjoyed the write up. Probably 80% of my hikes over the years have been solo, and I still have to smile when people ask, "but aren't you afraid of _________ ?"Aug 29, 2015 at 2:59 pm #2223815Kelly GBPL Member
Well I envy your trip. I was contemplating the Timberline Trail solo too, and about the same time you were doing it, but couldn't get up the guts to do it. (Went to the Wallowas instead, and repeated a backpack I'd done before with others). Elliott kept me from deciding to do the T.T. Congrats on doing it! Kelly
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