Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Timberline Trail

I wrote this run/hike/life report back in October 2014 but never got around to posting it... and am now reminded that we didn't make this an annual trip as planned. I guess there's always next year.

The Timberline Trail is a 42 mile trail that loops around Mt. Hood, one of our favourite places in the world. And having moved to Bend earlier this year, we not only can go run around it but we can also see the mountain most days!

Before getting into the details of our 16-hour adventure (yeah, I know, we like to dawdle sometimes), let's back up a little and talk about the year so far. Similar to last year I haven't exactly done anything stellar (or even mediocre) on the running front with the exception of Arrowhead 135 back in February which was a complete blast and which we are signed up for again. But, life has been good in every way possible - expect that it zips by way too quickly.


We had an amazing trip to Istanbul in April complete with an unplanned 28k trail race (thanks to the super friendly locals). I have wanted to visit Turkey for years and when the opportunity came up to combine a work trip with some vacation we couldn't say no. The Delta miles made it an easy decision for Chris to come too. One of the days I worked, Chris did an epic (road) run from Istanbul to the Black Sea and back - approx 46 miles round trip.


The trip to Turkey was also a nice distraction from the business of house-hunting - a miserable affair at the best of times and plain annoying when trying to find a reasonable rental with a bit of space (for the woofs) in Silicon Valley. We were living in a 1200 sq ft 2-bed with a garden shed (still not sure how we managed to stuff all our gear into it) - the house was kind of crappy but the yard was huge and private and so we'd enjoyed the 2 years of living there. But the house was sold and we had to be out mid-summer. I can't remember how many houses we looked at in the end but for the most part it was depressing and the only decent stuff was going to cost at least 25% more than our current rent and there were always drawbacks - tiny yard, no decent internet (it's true for the 'mountain' houses, despite only being a hop, skip and a jump from Google, Apple, eBay etc), horrible commute etc. At the same time Chris was starting a new gig as a Wildland Firefighter based out of central Oregon for the fire season - typically June to October. So we really needed to find a place close to my work so that I could get home easily for the dogs mid-day and ideally a secure yard that they could lounge around in all day. They are active dogs but they have a distinct lazy side too. A bit like their mama.


Or, we could just MOVE to Bend! The idea hit me after the second or third weekend trip to visit the boy. The 9 hour drive provided lots of think time.
Side note: I am addicted to HLN true crime stories on long drives - they are scary as hell but I am always comforted by the fact that 99% of the time, women are attacked by people they know. So ladies, hang around with nice people. We spent a few weeks in June thinking through the pros/cons - I love (and need) my job so I'd have to convince the boss that I could do my job well with a mix of working remotely and commuting (at the expense of the company) - neither of which are too unique in my world. In summary, there were lots of pros and no cons. I mean, we're talking about moving to Bend after all. Apart from liking our actual home (the physical location and feel) in Los Gatos, we were not huge fans of the area. Huge generalization and all but I always felt like it was full of privileged, self-absorbed, entitled, annoying, and rude people. There, I've said it. Oh, and, we like our seasons (a week of rain in November doesn't count as a season. I like all of them, Chris mostly likes winter. So, to cut an already long story a little bit less long, we went from house-hunting in hugely overpriced and over-crowded Silicon Valley to house-hunting in lovely Bend in the space of about 3 days. The only hard part was deciding between the 3 awesome houses we found within a week. In the end we decided on one that is 25% less rent than Los Gatos and 300% bigger. In the middle of all this, the boss kindly said yes and I am back to commuting to Cali on a fairly regular basis as I did for 15 months in 2011-2012. However, living in the same timezone and just over an hour flight makes a world of difference!

In the almost 3 months we've been in Bend we have had actual (2-way) conversations with more people than we did in 2 years in Los Gatos. Don't get me wrong - that's as much our fault as anyone's - we didn't go out of our way to make friends there. But there is no question that in Bend we have found a spot with 'our kind of people' and we are super excited to get settled in and really make it home. And ultimately to contribute to this community in a positive way. Bend is a place that has grown enormously in recent years and we want to make a real effort to give back and not just reap the benefits. We have already started this by sharing our dogs with neighbours - they are getting quite good at escaping from the yard. I do kind of miss the 6 foot wooden fence...


Now, back to the Timberline Trail. Well, let's start by saying that when you ask Jeff Browning how long it took him to run the trail a few weeks earlier, you should add 6 hours not 2 or 3, even if he was taking it easy. Bearing in mind that (a) we are not superstar ultrarunners and (b) we like to hike as much as run these days. We drove over to Government Camp on Friday night, found a campsite a mile down the road (needless to say in late October, in the pouring rain, it was empty) and enjoyed dinner and a beer at the brewery in town. Up at 5am, coffee, eggs and the last of the Trader Joe's smoked salmon (the best), and drove up to Timberline. It was a little before 7am when we started out in the rain with our headlamps. Our friend Shelley was meeting us later so we'd hoped to start by 6am but were still confident we'd be done by 8pm. HAHAHAHAHA. The first few hours were wet and grey but the mist in the thick forest was kind of cool. We went the wrong direction after crossing the Sandy River and added a bit over a mile. Some fun climbing after that, the beautiful Ramona Falls and then we around Bald Mountain we started to get some awesome views as the rain stopped and the sun came out. And finally, they was the mountain. Huge and rugged and beautiful and a little scary looking. We happened upon a few hikers in the next few miles - the only people we would see the entire way.


We had contemplated turning around a few times when we were at about 15-16 miles knowing that time was pushing on and we'd probably slow down later. But after crossing the 2 legs of the Muddy Fork river there was no way I was turning around and doing that again... little did I know that it was only the beginning of the crazy water crossings. I mean, I had read the overview and the repeated mention of 'somewhat difficult water crossing' but I didn't really think I'd be jumping a couple of feet or scrambling (on my ass) over slippery logs across rushing water again and again.


Onwards we went. Rounding the northwest side of the mountain provided some awesome views of the Glisan glacier, one of twelve glaciers on the mountain. The sky was getting bluer and we were pretty much dried out at this stage. Although each river crossing brought a new opportunity to change that. We filled up our water at Ladd Creek and continued along the fairly runnable trail. Though we mostly just ran the downhill sections. We were about halfway around by now (or so we thought) and were feeling good. The next section was gorgeous - meandering through the Dollar Lake fire area - the contrast of the bright green undergrowth with the silver and burnt black trees against the blue sky. We caught amazing views of Adams and Rainier to the north and the looming north west crags of Hood itself. By around 4:30pm we had arrived at mile 25-ish where the trail diverted straight uphill along the ridge on the western moraine of the Elliot Glacier. We did take a little wander down the original trail towards the creek itself but it was overgrown and looking again at the description of the "Elliot crossing options" including photos of rushing water far beyond what we had navigated thus far, we figured the glacier route was probably safer. The trail across the creek was officially closed in 2006 after several years of washouts and destroyed bridges, but several hikers have described their crossings at different points. We headed several hundred feet up the ridge and checking our altitude against the description we chose a fairly random descent of the western moraine. It was steep and the ground was constantly going from under us. We spread out so as not to dump rocks on each other. And we were grateful, once again, for deciding not to bring the dogs along on this particular adventure. The route across the glacier was equally precarious and we had difficulty picking out the 'climbers trail' ascending the eastern moraine. With the result that we just headed straight up. Not fun. 10 minutes later at the top I inspected my shoes as they seemed to be full of gravel despite wearing gaiters. I discovered that both of my lovely Scott Kinabalu's had giant holes on the outside upper and smaller holes along the inside. I knew I was a little rough on them just then but with less than 150 miles on their soles I wasn't expecting them to fall apart. We spotted a giant cairn about 30 feet down the ridge where the climber's trail likely emerged. We didn't bother to investigate. The scramble had been traumatic enough without peering over the edge again.


Onwards, in the fading light, to the Cooper Spur shelter less than half a mile away. This brought back fond memories of our last time up here in October 2012 while on a trip to finalize the location for the wedding and pick up 7-week old Juneau across the Colombia in Yakima. We had run up to the end of the Cooper Spur trail from Cloud Cap and ill-prepared for the fading light on that occasion we had to make our way down in the darkness. Not without some bloodshed. This time, we both had our headlamps and after a change of socks at the shelter we headed out on the very snowy path towards Hood Meadows. It was fully dark within half an hour and we lost the trail a few times as the snow was several inches deep and the footprints we had been following made their own way across some of the gullies. From the high point on Gnarl Ridge we rounded the exposed north east corner of the trail, losing elevation and snow cover, eventually descending almost 2000 feet to Newton Creek. Of course, we knew we'd be gaining most of that back in the coming hours. We knew our (revised) estimated return time was blown out of the water and sent a few apology text messages to Shelley who was patiently waiting at Timberline (luckily she had gotten out for a nice trail run herself heading south on the PCT - rather than coming to meet us - that would have been a long run!).

Several water crossings later - a little more hazardous under the light of headlamps - with several hundred feet of climbing in between, we eventually made our way across the upper reaches of Meadows ski resort. There is something kind of eerie about running under unmoving ski lifts in the dead of night. We kept thinking we had to be almost there but that trail wound on forever. Finally we descended again into the forest for the last time as we made our way to the last river of the night - White River - we had a little difficulty finding the best route across the multiple streams but got it done and started the last climb towards Timberline. A few miles later we saw the lights - which gave me cause for a Hooray! until I realized there was still a good mile or more of uphill and winding north almost going beyond the lodge before turning sharply and descending the final dirt path into the parking lot at around 11pm. "12-13hrs" Hah! - there's always next time - now that we are experts and all. 

We caught up with Shelley down in Government Camp were we bunked for the night. The half marathon back in Bend the following morning was not going to happen at this point! But we enjoyed the rest of a long weekend with our visitor and promise to be more hospitable hosts next time.

P.S. We're still enjoying living in Bend - so much so that we bought our first house together during the summer. It's been great settling into the neighbourhood. And we like having a 6ft fence again...