2015-07-27

McNeil Ridge

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Sub-24 Hour Trips as a Necessity

I didn’t have a full day off from the 28th of June until the 31st of July due to the running of the Tour de France and the daily publishing requirements that come with us covering a race. My one window was from the afternoon of the 21st until the late morning of the 22nd, and I took it. As with pretty much all of my short trips, I researched/planned/shopped/packed in the space of a few hours the night before. I haven’t done much on the north side of Hood, so I headed for the Top Spur Trailhead with the intention of spending a night in Wy’East Basin.

The trip really was, at that point several weeks into a brutal run of work, necessary. I could parrot the same old studies and NYT columns that point to how time off increases productivity and that oh well in Denmark nobody is ever sad and they have four hundred paid days off a year… but I’ll spare you. Not that they’re wrong, or anything. When you don’t have much of a social/recreational life for a month you kinda need to take what you can get to clear the head, get out of town and have some fun—the latter of which I don’t think quite gets enough credit. Yes nature is restorative because Gaia’s essential auras refresh your inner human essences and cool mountain air detoxes the stresses of the daily grind, sure, but it’s not like I would drive out to the woods and walk around all day if I didn’t think it was fun. That’s, you know, why I do it. It’s fun. Doing fun stuff makes it easier to do not fun stuff, especially when the not fun stuff helps you do fun stuff when you’re not doing not fun stuff. My point I guess is that I’m not entirely sure there is anything particularly magical about the outdoors in the restorative sense, universally speaking. Like, if your thing to escape when you finally get that day off is to bake blueberry muffins all day, then yeah do it. Do muffin bakers have misty-eyed conversations about the power of individually-sized breakfast cake/bread things? What about hashtags, do they have hashtags for when they only have a single day off to work on their baking? #s24o #rei1440project I dunno where I’m going with this.

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Ultra Rad Forest, Dude!

I was on trail by three, three-thirty? Not quite as early as I had hoped (twoish), but in the grand scheme of things pretty remarkable in how not that behind schedule I actually was. With sunset at nine and not too long of a hike ahead I was comfortable with the time, and after a liberal application of BodyGlide this little dude was hiking up the mountain. Saw a few folks at the junction of the Timberline and PCT trails about a half of a mile in, then a few day hiking folks on their way out. “It’s gonna be cold!”

I frequently wish I was several hundred miles closer to the Sierra Nevada as they are the best mountains in the world, obviously. Not that I don’t love Portland’s local volcano and the other awesome hiking spots nearby, but between the Sierra’s objective quality and the fact my formative backpacking trips occurred there, I’m not sure I’ll ever love a range more.

That said, one thing the Northwest does a lot better than those mountains in eastern California is the woods. The first couple hours moving up through the forest towards McNeil point is some of the finest walking I’ve ever done through trees. Perfectly soft trail surface, just the right density of trees to allow views without feeling barren, cool and a little damp. Absolutely gorgeous.

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ZZZzzz…

I had no intentions of staying near the shelter itself (which shelter and a site or two around it were already occupied), instead aiming for the higher elevations up the ridge. I made it to the tiny little campsite near the end of the trail up McNeil ridge, and laid out a cowboy camp, took some selfies, ate some food, said ‘hi’ to some chillers that walked up from their camp down near the shelter, then read until sunset. And, notably, said sunset was fucking unreal. It was delightfully cold and breezy with ridiculous colors going off in every direction. Mt. Hood is a truly beautiful mountain and blue hour might be the most flattering time to see it, with that night probably being the best I’ve ever seen it. I passed out by 9:30, so despite cowboy camping I saw limited stars which is simultaneously disappointing and 100% unsurprising, since I punted any ability to stay up late in the woods about five years ago. Slept like a damn rock though, which was awful nice.

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Early Bird Sits Behind His Computer for the Rest of the Day First

As I have now made my default hiking schedule, I was back on the trail by 7:00 AM or so. I’ve come to appreciate the early morning miles more than any other: cool temperatures, sleeping crowds, and a delightful stillness in the mountains make it my favorite time to hike. Getting started early also makes long days much easier, opening up plenty of options for trip planning. Generally speaking I’ve abandoned hot breakfast in lieu of a bar or some yogurt pretzels: packing up camp quickly and getting on the road works better for me, especially since I typically have a poor appetite early in the morning. Coffee is tricky, so I’ll either do a boil with coffee and oatmeal after hiking for a few hours, or I’ll quickly do one for just coffee in camp. Using clean water also saves a little time, as you don’t actually need boiling water to make Via.

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After moving down into the clouds and enjoying that great forest again for a few hours (and taking down every cobweb for six miles, something you grow accustomed to when hiking in the early morning), I found myself at the car around 9:15 AM where I had a lovely conversation with a couple heading out for the day.

A few hours later I was sat behind a big LCD screen, working. But I was quite a bit happier about it than I had been a day prior.

Having a bevy of high-quality trip options around ninety minutes away by car is a total joy. We’re really lucky to have Mt. Hood here in Portland, though hopefully it isn’t quite so barren next year. I’ve come to love the north side of the mountain; Timberline Lodge is a convenient option but it’s nice having milder crowds, and I prefer the aesthetics of the north/west side of the mountain. Can’t wait to be back.

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One response to “McNeil Ridge”

  1. Kevin H says:

    A freshly baked blueberry muffin can put a person in-touch with their true humanity. #KAAPF #DoIEvenBake #PaulaDeen #doublebatch #blueberries #antioxidants #butter #muffins #muffintops #breakfast #yum

    I’m totally with you when it comes to early morning hiking though. I also find it pretty hard to sleep past 7am when the aura of Helios is blasting you in the face.

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