Around Mt. Hood, the highest mountain in Oregon at 11,235 feet, there is a trail. The trail is about 43 miles long and was built by The Civilian Conservation Corp. (CCC) between 1934 and 1938. To hike this trail was something I had always wanted to do. In August of 2000, I talked to my oldest granddaughter, Kia, at 10 years of age, about doing this with me. Probably not really understanding what this entailed and perhaps having some ill-founded confidence in her grandfather, she said that sounded like fun.
Dusting off some long unused packs, we bought 5 days worth of freeze dried food, loaded sleeping bags, tents, and everything else we might need, and headed off to the mountain. Her pack weighed 18 pounds and mine weighed 48 pounds, about even given our weights.
Given the drive up to the mountain, and not wanting to make the first day too tiring, we planned to walk only about 5 miles and camp in a promising area called Paradise Park. It turned out that the area was well named. Right at timberline, our first camp had a nice view to the west and the setting sun, while the surrounding slopes were ablaze with wildflowers.
Every day consisted of some uphill hiking and some downhill hiking. Going uphill strains leg muscles and lungs. Going downhill jars the hip and knee joints, at least older ones. Personally, I prefer walking level. There was precious little level hiking on this trip! The trail was going generally downward and we hiked up 480 feet and down 680 feet for a net loss of 200 feet. Another problem with going down is that you know sooner or later you are going to have to climb upward to regain all that altitude.
The next day we reached the low point on the trail at Ramona Falls at about 3600 feet. Timberline Lodge, where we started, is at 6000 feet. We had hiked 8.9 miles that second day, 2200 feet down and only 600 feet up,or a net loss of 1600 feet. We camped near Muddy Fork, deep in the forest.
On the third day we gained back nearly all the altitude we had lost, hiking 8.9 miles and gaining 1400 feet, losing none. It was a long, uphill day and it was soon evident that Kia could handle this a bit better than I could. She would walk ahead of me, soon out of sight. After a short period, I would come across her, patiently waiting. I gave some serious thought to shifting some of the weight I was carrying to her pack, but was able to resisted the temptation.
Studying the map, it looked like a good place to camp would be at a meadow called Eden Park. Toward the end of this long day we came across a nice grassy meadow with a small pond. It looked like Eden to us and we camped for the night.
The plan then was to camp at Cloud Cap Saddle, site of the Cloud Cap Inn, built in 1889. I had been to Cloud Cap many times on various past climbs. I knew that we would have to cross Eliot Creek, drainage from Eliot Glacier, the largest glacier on the mountain, and no small stream in the summer months. I knew that there was normally a bridge over this stream, the only bridge over many streams the trail crossed. I had heard from the Ranger at the beginning of the hike that the bridge was out and the crossing was difficult. Meeting other round the mountain hikers coming the other direction, confirmed that the bridge was out and, crossing was a bit of a problem. I shielded Kia from this bit of information, not wanting to give her any apprehension. I had plenty of my own.
Just as we were about to drop down into the deep gully of the Eliot Creek, hikers coming up informed us that the Forest Service had just flown in by helicopter, installing a new bridge over the creek! This was great news and we skipped across the new bridge! The days hike was 8.8 miles, 1000 feet of which was up, and 600 feet down.
Pouring over the map in the evening, I showed Kia that we would probably camp one more night, splitting the remaining 13.2 miles into two days. I could see that Kia was either a bit homesick or sick of all this walking. In either case, she said we could walk all the way back to our car. I told her I didn't know if she could hike that far in one day, and quietly wondered about my own ability.
We did hike all the way out! 13.2 miles, hiking up 2120 feet and down 2120 feet, reaching the high point of the trail at 7320 feet. It was late in the day when we reached our van parked in the Timberline lot.
I am very pleased to have finally done something I had long thought about doing, and couldn't ask for a better partner. Kia seemed rather unimpressed and blase about the whole thing. I hope someday she will realize that she did something rather significant for someone of her age, and think back fondly, as I do,of that memorable experience.
After having done the around the mountain with Kia, I wanted to do something with Blake, another granddaughter, age 7. I knew of a fellow Mazama member that had a permit to climb Mt. St. Helen's in September and had room for two more climbers. I thought this would be just the thing for Blake.
I had climbed Mt. St. Helen's several times in the past. The past being before it blew up in 1980. My memory was of a fairly easy climb, starting at the 5000 foot timberline, with gentle snow slopes to the summit at just under 10,000 feet. I knew that the mountain was now about a thousand feet lower and I sort of thought this would be a piece of cake. What I didn't realize was that the new climbing route started at 3,500 feet and so was a longer climb than it was before! Neither was it a gentle snow slope but, rather, a significant rock scramble. Rocks that were a big step for me, were a major obstacles for little Blake. (Technical data: Mt St Helens was 9,677 feet high before the eruption. It is now 8,365 feet. The climb on the Monitor Ridge route entails 4,600 feet of elevation gain, nearly as much as Mt. hood at 5,000 feet. )
The climbing party consisted of four adults and four children in ages ranging from 11 years to Blake's 7 years. It was good to have a group of children, as I believe they offered each other encouragement. None was given to some of the more mature members.
It was a long day, six hours to reach the summit and four hours to get back down. Blake did great, usually ahead of me! It was wonderful weather and the view from the top, looking down into the crater, was spectacular.
The Mazamas is a mountain climbing club that I have belonged to since about 1968. To become a member, you must climb a mountain that has a glacier and be endorsed by two members. Blake has now done this and she is now a member of the Mazamas. She is not the youngest to have ever joined, but I believe she is now the youngest member. Pretty neat I think!
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.
John Steinbeck, American writer, 1902-1968
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