Timberline Trail: Day Four
Timberline Trail: Day Four
By Marea Bartram
Posted Apr 03
I didn’t sleep again. We had eaten and retreated to the tent to stretch out. In the twilight, a doe grazed toward us on the hillside not far above our campsite. I called softly to her and she twitched her ears at me. Kirk and Misha drifted to sleep while watching the doe and I was alone. The night stretched endlessly before me as I lay in my sleeping bag marinating in my own filth. As the sky darkened, my panic rose, and I hurled myself from the tent every half hour or so. Sometimes when it begins to get light, I can relax and sleep a little, but in the morning, I just wanted to go home.
I packed multiple sock liners, but only one pair of socks for myself to save weight. But my one pair of socks were so stiff that they wouldn’t bend around the curves of my feet. I didn’t even try to slide my boots over my damaged toes. I just added more tape to the filthy bandages and put on my sandals over my rigid socks.
We set off early, dropping down under the Newton-Clark Moraine pictured above.
At some point on the second day, I began to write mileage on my hand, short increments like Elk Cove 19.9, Eliot Crossing 24.5. When we arrived at each place, I would wipe off my hand as best as possible and write over the top of it all. It felt good to achieve those small goals. (Yes, my hand is grossly dirty. Can't ever get clean on the trail!)
We were at the Newton River Crossing, mile 31.1, so I wrote Clark Creek 32.6, Umbrella Falls Trail 34.7 and White River Crossing 36.2. We climbed up and over the tail end of the moraine heading down to Clark Creek. The ridge looked like an arm of an ancient pyramid as the sun broke over the top, washing the mountain with yellow light. The air was finally clean of smoke.
Clark Creek had the potential to be a problem crossing, but perhaps because we arrived by 8:30 in the morning, we simply hopped from rock to protruding rock and then onto the opposite bank. But once across, we couldn’t see the trail until Kirk spotted a little piece of yellow tape fluttering from a short stand of white barked alders.
Despite my lack of sleep for two consecutive nights, I felt energetic and strong. If we kept up our pace, we would be at our car by noon where we had stashed a bag of Fritos and a can of bean dip. Our car would take us home, where lights bloomed at the flick of a switch, hot water flowed from the tap, where we didn’t care how much a bar of sweet soap weighed and where the bed was soft and in an unconfined space.
Climbing up from Clark Creek we stopped at a fast-flowing stream that had overtaken the trail, spreading across it like a pond, but swift and almost knee deep. Kirk jumped it, but it was too wide for me. During all the treacherous and terrifying river crossings my feet had stayed dry. Defeated by a mountain stream, I stripped off my socks and waded into glacial water so cold that it hurt as it pulled against my ankles. I meant to put my socks back on after my feet dried, but my torn toes felt so good sprawled out inside my sandals, so I never did.
For the last day or so, I had been obsessed by the thought of the deep snows that fall on the mountain every year fall and linger well into summer. As I hiked, I didn’t know that one cubic foot of snow weighs approximately 20lbs, but as we strolled through the summer meadows, I thought how foot upon foot of frigid snow and ice would crush all this life for months on end. And then how it would break free from the wasteland of ice to grow and thrive again.
For two and a half miles, the trail followed the contours of Mount Hood Meadows ski resort under its many lifts. In August, instead of sparkling white slopes, flowers flow down the hills under the lifts and dozens of tiny clear streams run over the trail. We were at the tail end of the season, but fireweed, Indian Paint Brush and Goldenrod bloomed. Kirk, who does not ski, thought the lifts were ugly and intrusive. I remembered my only experience skiing at Meadows when the wind had blown so hard that I had needed help to make it from the off-loading area to the snow trail.
So much of hiking in Oregon takes place in tall forests dense with undergrowth that it is called the Green Tunnel of the PCT. We were loving the varied terrain of the Timberline Trail, especially on the east side of the mountain and I was sorry to hike out of the bare rolling green hills back into the forest. But we were also close to White River which meant the end of our hike.
We made the steepest descent of the journey, sliding and jumping, to the widest river bed yet, so wide that it was hard to spot the opposite bank, let alone the trail. A couple years before, Misha and I had hiked down to the river from the lodge to stare wistfully at other hikers who were doing the Timberline Trail. It seemed like I should remember where to find it. I tried to scout it out, reason it out, and finally feel where it might be.
A family of hikers emerged from the trail, not even close to where I was thinking. They started to ask Kirk questions about what to expect, while Misha and I forged on. It occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity for a photo that wasn’t a selfie. I turned, guiding Misha back over the rough river bed. Kirk and the hikers stood on the edge of the river, wrapping it up. At any moment they would turn and leave and our chance at a photo would disappear.
I began to run, my feet slopping around in the sandals, the pack bouncing hard up and down on my back. The hikers stared at me in wonder and alarm, but I didn’t care.
I got my photo.
We dropped our packs for the briefest of breaks. We could see other hikers on the hillside above the river on the other side. We’d been staying well ahead other people today, but we had glimpsed them a few times. We didn’t want to leapfrog up the last two miles, so we loaded up for the last time. Misha was sitting at my feet staring up at me, his thought clear.
“Can’t you see that I am all done?”
In the two miles left, we had a thousand feet of gain through deep debris. The sun had grown hot since we’d crossed the river and I hiked from one piece of shade to another to try and give Misha’s feet a break. As we climbed the shade grew scarce and we just kept hiking as fast as we could.
As we climbed higher and higher, I could feel my thighs take over the lifting of my body and my pack. I remembered with pleasure the hundreds of squats that I had completed all summer. I was taken over by the rhythm of my body, plunging and climbing in the sand, and when we did stop, I wondered that I needed just a few seconds of recovery time. I could see in Kirk’s face, that he felt as I did, strong, invincible, euphoric. This was arguably one of the most physically demanding sections of the trail due to the steep ascent and deep sand, but despite this and my lack of sleep, I could go on for miles today.
Misha seemed to get a second wind too as did Kirk. We were almost to the car, the Fritos and bean dip!
We climbed high above the canyon until White River looked like an insubstantial ribbon tossed on the rocks far below. I kept false summiting in my mind as we marched through one sparse grove of trees after another, mis-remembering the trail. At last, the view to the south opened and we saw Timberline Lodge across a chasm and cars glittering in the parking lot below it.
As we joined other people in the parking lot, we were impressed and felt impressive, but only to ourselves. We smiled at each other as we took a last selfie and stripped off our gear. Misha wouldn’t wait for the car to cool down. He leaped in and curled up on the seat ignoring my offering of water. As our car switchbacked down the mountain at an easy 35 mph, the three of us destroyed the bag of Fritos before we hit the highway, headed home.
Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic.”
– Robin Sharma