Total Miles: 5.5
Fifty miles east of Portland, Oregon, a snow-capped cathedral of glacier and stone holds a blue sky atop its broad shoulders. Even on a sunny day in August, ski lifts spin skiers to the only place in North America where turns can be had all 12 months of the year. But even that may not be Mount Hood’s most well known feature. That honor belongs to a place that has haunted people’s dreams for 42 years.
Sitting just beneath a ski area that extends up onto the Palmer Glacier, Timberline Lodge has been giving people nightmares ever since Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 thriller masterpiece, The Shining, introduced us to it with its opening scene. Though it was only used for the outside shots of the movie’s infamous Overlook Hotel, it’s a hard association to shake free from your brain when you see it in real life for the first time.
The lodge also marks the most common starting point for the Timberline Trail, a 41-mile loop around Mount Hood that rises and falls to the bottom of each river basin draining the glaciers that cling to its upper slopes. Like its companions to the north—the Loowit Trail around Mount Saint Helens and the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier—it is a rare opportunity to see a massive volcano up close and from all sides.
Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and completed in 1938—the same year that Timberline Lodge opened to the public—it takes only a few minutes of walking away from memories of The Shining to realize how dynamic a landscape the trail is navigating through.
Glaciers expanding and contracting, rivers swelling and receding, and shifting sands of once large stone now ground to dust fine enough to fall through an hourglass. It is nature’s Etch-a-Sketch. For as static as a mountain this massive may seem from afar, up close it is quite the opposite, where each visit yields some new permutation of experience.
When Ace and I set out from Timberline Lodge late on a lazy afternoon onto this ever-changing trail, it wasn’t without a note of nostalgia. Six years ago, at the same spot, I waved goodbye to her one final time on my journey from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that briefly shares tread with the Timberline Trail on the south and west side of Mount Hood. Softening the blow was the fact that, in her place, my Mom would be walking beside me, along the very same miles we now finally strolled together under the afternoon sunshine.
Revisiting trails for a second time sometimes triggers a strange, and unnerving daydream. Not exactly the stuff of Kubrick’s nightmare, but an unsettling, albeit transient, thought. That after all I’ve seen of wilderness and beauty, of trails and mountains, I’ll wake up and realize that it was all just a dream.
From the cozy warmth of my hammock, strung between trees on the edge of a flowery alpine meadow, I look out from my proverbial front porch at what looks like it must surely be torn from the pages of such a dream. The shining of sunset, bathing the flanks of Mount Hood and its freckled face of snow and stone in a warm blanket of oranges and reds. The dream, prolonged—at least for one more day.