The Seven Wonders of Oregon Part IV: Mount Hood

Thunderstorms are expected for the evening.  I keep my fingers crossed that the forecast will prove true as we snake up Mount Hood, going round and round circling the mountain surrounded by tall evergreens and steep drop-offs.  I don’t commonly pray for storms, but I don’t commonly overnight in the hotel from The Shining either, and we were currently making the same drive Jack Torrance made many winters ago.

The  floor mats underneath our feet in the car are carpeted with cherry pits, which roll like marbles along the rubber pattern in the tracks each time we make a deep turn. Between us in the console rests a bag full of rainiers, lying among our cassette tapes within easy reach.  Last night we had brewery hopped in Portland, and this morning we orchard hopped along the “fruit loop” of the Hood River Valley, stopping off at peach and cherry stands to purchase more fruit than I could forsee eating during our four-day road trip throughout Northwest Oregon.  It wasn’t all fruit business though, we managed to make a pit stop at an alpaca farm, because as the saying goes, all fruit and no alpacas makes Gracie a dull girl.

Alpaca Farm Image

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A creepy Depeche Mode song accompanied by blaring synths emanates from our windows, and with cherry stained fingertips, we arrive at The Timberline Lodge, aka, the Overlook Hotel.  Only the exterior of the hotel served as the setting for Kubrick’s big screen adaptation, and it seems obvious why. Behind the lodge looms Mount Hood in all its snow capped glory (even in June), while in front, mountains cascade into one another, creating an ombre landscape of blue.

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The Timberline is a destination for all sorts of folks: There’s the film buffs who make the pilgrimage to see where Jack went crazy, the thirty-somethings who want to walk in Cheryl’s bootsteps from Wild, the ski fanatics who seek out trips in summer (at 11,249 feet in elevation it’s not only  the tallest mountain in Oregon, it’s also the only ski area in the country open year-round), and of course, the Pacific Crest Trail hikers — be it the through hikers knocking out the 2,600+ mile trail in a season, or the day trippers, happy to knock out five miles before driving home.

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Due to the popularity of this place, I opted for a double room when making the reservation (it was either a double or a $400.00/night suite, and I ain’t no queen). We make a quick change into our hiking attire and leave our bags at the foot of our respective twin beds.  The room is the size of a matchbox, but it’s the most “lodgey” lodge I’ve ever been in. There are vintage botanical watercolors above each of our beds (I may or may not have selected my bed just to be under the iris), wooden walls, wooden beds, wooden bed stands…90% of the room is wood, and Carl and I comprised about 5% of the remainder.

Just feet outside of the lodge you can catch the PCT.  The Pacific Crest Trail is basically the Appalachian of the West Coast.  Stretching from the Mexican to Canadian border it’s one of those “bucket list” items many have, but few accomplish.  Unless you like pain and are ok taking six months off to stretch your body to its limits, this is likely not a “before I die I will…” kinda voyage you will check off.  I have no desire to hike the whole trail, but I have loved my time on its path.

In Washington we’ve dabbled on the trail, and passing through blueberry fields that burned red in July and lakes fed by snowmelt.  Now we trek through forests of evergreens with lupines blooming at their bases, along mudslide paths that have carried boulders with their descent, and through rifts in the mountain valley, some green and lush, and others gravelly and bare.

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All throughout the trail you can catch glimpses of the mountain king in the distance.  Since it’s June, Hood isn’t pristine and snow-white like you see in pictures; even the snow caps have the color of day-old city snow, but whether you’re taking in Instagram-worthy mountain vistas or catching the peak peek out between branches, it still feels like greeting an old friend anytime Hood comes into view.  Granted, Hood and I won’t be best friends — I’ll think of it more like that old colleague that always told great anecdotes or that college friend who always seemed to require a breakfast bagel just when I did, but I can already tell I’ll think of this place frequently and fondly.

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The thing about hiking on a non-loop trail is that you need to know your limits.  Since the PCT is over 2,000 miles long, we cannot take cues from the trail for when to turn around, we need to trust our own gut.  Four miles deep we decide we’ve hit our halfway-point and turn around to round out eight miles. At this point I feel great! I love my surroundings, I feel like I could happily camp out here underneath the gray sky.

With one mile left to go though, I’m starving, I’m caked in dirt, and I’m unbelievably thirsty even though I’ve been chugging down water for miles. It’s glimpses of beauty, like a couple suspended above us on a ski lift, or a trail sign broken in the most romantic of ways, that push me forward.

That, and knowing that in the bar they serve liters of beer and cheese fondue.

Cheese is one of my greatest motivators.  You want me to get somewhere? Put brie six feet in front of me.  You want me to do something? Tell me that once I’ve completed my task that I’ll receive a ball of burrata. All Carl had to do was say “There’s a bowl of melted cheese ahead” and I’d get a blast of energy so big they could write Space Jam II from my newfound zing.

In our tiny room we have enough space for one of us to lay in bed while the other navigates to the bathroom.  Two people cannot coexist near the sink. Carl tries his hardest to hang out on the white bedding without coating it in dirt, then I have to back up against the room’s doorway in order for him to enter the shower.  I couldn’t live in an apartment like this, but I absolutely adore spending an evening figuring out how to fit into a room like Tetris pieces.

We clean, we dress, but we don’t care to become fancy enough to dinner at the Cascade Dining room.  We do, however, make a rather significant dent at the Ram’s Head Bar. The food is no joke. We coat bread and apples in cheese fondue, eat salads jam-packed with gorgonzola and pear, pour a liter (or two) of pilsner down our gullets, and top it all off with a decadent cheesecake.  I feel no shame. After a day on the trail I’ve earned my cake belly.

From our table the mountain is in full view, and as the sun starts to tuck behind Mount Hood we grab the check and park into oversized arm chairs outside, waiting for the sky to change.  Hood seems to halo as the sun dips and an unearthly glow illuminates the snow in shades of gold then rose. Once some of the cheese head wears off (that’s when you’ve eaten so much cheese you’re no longer capable of thinking clearly) we manage to pull ourselves up for a walk. The sky is cut into a jagged line by the setting sun and the overcast clouds.  Mountains in the distance are absorbed into a purple haze, which match the lupine fields.

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When Twilight hits the mountain Ram’s Head bar is ablaze against the night.  Bottles of whiskey and amaretto are shaded in scarlet and the bartender is aglow amongst it all.  He looks like an alchemist as he mixes sazeracs and peels orange skins for negroni glasses. Overall it feels very Overlook. Kubrick would be pleased.

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It was a relief to tuck into our respective beds that night, knowing that our beer and cake bloat wouldn’t come close to one another.

Come morning, we awaken famished.  Dinner was massive, but after a day of hiking the calories don’t hang on for long.  It’s now we head to the Cascade Dining room for their breakfast buffet. Carl has since stated that the breakfast here was the best buffet he’s ever had and he didn’t even get a Belgian waffle from the waffle bar. I’m convinced it’s the house-made granola and gourmet muesli topped with heaps of yogurt that won him over.  Me, I’m a simple gal. Give me a pile of waffles and pancakes dripping in syrup and a short stack of sausages to soak up the excess maple, and I’m a happy camper.  Lucky for me, they had all of the above.

An hour after taking my last syrup sopped bite we were on the way to Eugene.  With a belly extended for the second time in 12 hours, we whirl our way down Mount Hood.  Yesterday I was keeping my right eye closed as we worked our way up, due to my fear of drop-offs and a fiery death.  Today I keep my left eye closed.  Simon & Garfunkel now tumble out of the stereo.

Towards Hood I wanted to listen to foreboding music that was on par with playing with twins forever and ever.  Now, we were headed to the land where Bernie Sanders is President and it seemed fitting to arrive on an upbeat note.  “Only Living Boy in New York” would play shortly, but for now, “The Boxer” reigned. And after the “Lie Lie Lie’s” were sung out I’d rewind and start from the beginning (it was a cassette after all)

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