Cascade Locks to Timberline Lodge (46.8 miles via Eagle Creek & Ramona Falls alt routes)
Lisa came to pick us up at the Ale House in Cascade Locks and took us to their new home, where the first order of business was showers. They don't have a washer/dryer yet, but we had just washed all of our clothes in Trout Lake so we did some basic "hiker laundry" in the bathroom sink and hung those items out to dry in the hot sun. We enjoyed a 2nd hard cider each while having a tour of the house, and caught up with Lisa who we hadn't seen in several months. She brought out our stack of boxes and Macro set up our replacement tent in the yard while I tried on the 8 (!!!) pairs of shoes I had ordered online from Trout Lake, determined to find the best pair possible with a minimum of hassle. I quickly narrowed it down to two options, the same model shoe in both men's & women's versions, both pairs a full size larger than I would normally wear. I ultimately settled for the men's version thinking it was just a bit wider. From there it was off on a slew of errands including shipping the other 7 pairs of shoes back, mailing my current shoes home, and buying groceries for resupply to last us until Timberline Lodge. Thanks Lisa for running us all over Vancouver!
After Kathleen got home from work we all went out to eat, our first non-"trail food" dinner since this journey began. It felt a bit strange going to a pretty nice restaurant in my sleeping clothes, but they were much cleaner than my hiking clothes and it would be plain ridiculous to go out wearing my rain clothes. And those are the only options thru-hikers have. At least Macro was in the same boat, and Lisa & Kathleen aren't terribly formal people, AND this is the west coast, so it was all good. Dinner was fantastic. It was well past hiker midnight when we got home, and we headed straight to bed. In the morning we lounged around over breakfast as though we had nowhere to be, but eventually packed our bags and brought them downstairs. Kathleen, a crafter, had made us each a metal zipper pull stamped with "PCT" and our trail names, and attached them to our packs. It was such a thoughtful gesture and we love them. We all loaded up into the truck (dogs included) for the drive to Cascade Locks followed by a Friday outing for the rest of them. And like that, our nearly 24 hours off-trail were over and we were back at the trailhead near the Bridge of the Gods, munching on carrots and hummus as we waved goodbye to start our 31st day of hiking, and 1st day in Oregon.
We planned to take the Eagle Creek/Tunnel Falls route, a popular alternative to the official PCT headed south from Cascade Locks. Where the two trails diverged, Macro found a box of trail magic filled with freshly baked cookies and a note "for PCT hikers, sorry not gluten-free." Fortunately we love gluten, and they were delicious. Thanks, mystery trail angel. The alt route runs parallel to busy I-84 for a few miles then follows a paved trail along the historic Columbia Gorge Parkway, but we eventually reached the Eagle Creek trailhead and left civilization behind. Unless you count a few hundred day hikers as civilized... In any case, it was another hot day and as we headed up the trail we were grateful for the shade. The route makes a gradual but steady climb up one side or another of the deep gorge carved by Eagle Creek. The trail is occasionally blasted from the rock wall and in exposed areas has steel cables bolted into the rock to use as a handrail. Most of the time it meanders through a dense and lush forest, with intermittent views of the creek below that tumbles over rocks and logs making several cascades and waterfalls along the way. We haven't hiked near constantly rushing water since Glacier Peaks Wilderness, and it was music to our ears. Once we were beyond Punchbowl Falls (~2 miles in) the human population diminished dramatically, and by the time we reached the 4-mile bridge it was just us, a few weekend backpackers, and a handful of industrious day hikers. We continued to make our way up the gorge, crossing side creeks and pointing out cool dripping moss or particularly scenic cascades.
We could hear Tunnel Falls before we could see it, then rounded a corner for our first glimpses of this tall, narrow waterfall in between leafy deciduous trees. The water crashes down into a small, aquamarine pool at the base of a U-shaped recess in the gorge, and the resulting sound echoed off of the walls. The trail is cut right into the rock wall, about a third of the way up from the pool to the top of the falls, traversing around the periphery of the recess and passing through a rocky tunnel directly behind the falls. At either end of the tunnel the rock is encrusted with moss, the noise of the falling water prevents normal conversation, and the spray will quickly soak anyone who stops moving. In short, it was a beautiful spot well worth our foray along the interstate and through urban trails earlier in the morning. We stayed a while immersing ourselves in the power of the place, letting the constant roar of the water take over our senses and watching the rainbow dance in the mist between the tunnel and the pool below.
Once we finally dragged ourselves away from Tunnel Falls, we made steady progress up the trail since we still had a few miles before our intended campsite and knew there was a stiff climb near the end. Not long after we turned away from the creek to start the initial climb, we came across a PCTA volunteer trail crew of 6, carrying 3 crosscut saws out of the wilderness. We thanked them profusely for their work, and they apologized that they hadn't had time to cut all of the downed trees. Although the blowdown in this area hadn't been especially large (typically 12-18" diameter), they tended to lie just high enough from the ground that going under required a crawl, while going over required a serious hoist. And the terrain is steep enough that navigating around is often not feasible at all. So we thanked them again and as we continued up the trail made a point to especially enjoy walking straight through each downed tree that had been recently cut by hand. As promised by NOBO hikers we'd talked to at the Ale House, the last 2 miles of the alt route up the Indian Mountain Trail was STEEP. Not a switchback in sight, and the ground was loose too. Fortunately we are in good shape and have hiker legs, so we just powered our way up and finally reached the top where the alt route rejoins the PCT and where we would camp for the night.
Day 32 dawned clear but with a cold wind. We packed up and hit the trail early, since it wasn't comfortable hanging around. There was a short early climb from the campground to reach the spur trail to the summit of Indian Mountain, where we found spectacular views of Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier, and Mt Adams all rising above a line of low clouds. It was too cold to linger, but we did appreciate the vista and golden hour light. The trail followed a high ridgeline crossing several talus fields alternating with sections of forest. Even after the sunlight hit us the air was still cold, and we finally stopped to put on gloves and another layer each when we could no longer feel our fingers. Much more comfortable, we continued a gradual ascending traverse along forested slopes with occasional views of Mt. Hood (surprisingly close) and a cold blowing mist that gave the forest an ethereal quality but kept us from stopping much. By late morning, the cold wind had transitioned to a nice breeze on an otherwise hot day, and we were able to remove our extra layers. The trail was mostly forested, with long stretches through areas where the primary undergrowth was broad-leaved rhododendrons and huckleberries. Throughout the entire day we walked past bushes filled with ripe berries, both huckleberries and salmonberries. There were enough ripe berries that you could open an entire pie shop with the harvest. I was reminded of our friend and SOBO-hiker extraordinaire Nuthatch, who recently said that her daily dilemma is miles or berries. I concur! We didn't have a terribly long day planned, but our goal was a bit over 20 miles so I restricted myself to single berries while hiking, and an occasional small handful. Such restraint.
We stopped on the shoulder of Sentinel Peak for a luxury snack of avocado on crispbreads, the result of our grocery store resupply. Just as I was cutting into the avocado, who should come along but Beanstalk and Dustin. We were surprised, as we knew they were gunning for breakfast at Timberline Lodge tomorrow morning and thought they would be well ahead of us by now. This breakfast has nearly as big a reputation as the bakery in Stehekin among the PCT community, and it has been the second-most common topic of trail conversation with hikers we've passed in the past 10 days (after mosquitos). It turns out they were caught in the town vortex of their Cascade Locks zero, and didn't hit the trail until nearly 3pm yesterday. They actually camped in the same spot we did last night, a bit lower down, and got a later start this morning, so we didn't see each other there. We were happy to see them and catch up.
We spent the rest of the day leapfrogging with Dustin & Beanstalk. We stopped for a break where the PCT meets the Timberline Trail, a path that circumnavigates Mt. Hood. The PCT follows the shorter leg around to Timberline Lodge. We looked at the map posted at the junction and joked that all trails lead to the breakfast at Timberline, but get it wrong and you'll be sorry (it would be a 40+ mile detour to go the other way). We thought of our friend Dylan, a trail runner who recently ran around Mt. Hood and probably took these same trails - he's speedy enough that he'd be there in time for breakfast either way. While we were sitting there an older gentleman day hiking on the Top Spur trail came over to chat, pegging us as thru-hikers by our trekking umbrellas and SmartWater bottles. He was interested to know our trail names, and whether we had an online presence (Hi Bill, if you're reading this). He's a fan of the PCT and has attended many presentations by thru-hikers at his local REI store. During the conversation Beanstalk & Dustin came by, and we introduced them as they consulted the map. Bill joked that he used to be a beanstalk too, until his tapeworm died when he turned 55. Since then he's gained 40#, making it much harder to hike. We all agreed that it will be difficult to adjust our eating habits when we are no longer burning 6000-8000 calories a day. Bill asked if we were all hiking together and at first we said no, but then Dustin pointed out that we have seen each other on & off since Stehekin, over 3 weeks ago, and have gotten to know each other pretty well. A funny thing about the trail is that even hikers of seemingly different speeds can end up with the same overall progress due to differences in hiking styles, resupply stops, and length of town days. We leapfrogged with Beanstalk & Dustin for a few more miles, until we finally said goodbye at Ramona Falls where they pushed on with another 10 miles to reach their goal of Timberline tonight while we planned to stay just a mile further up the trail. We don't expect to see them again for a while as they are rushing through OR due to impending non-trail obligations, but you never know.
We enjoyed increasingly close views of Mt. Hood all afternoon, and the glacial silt streams of Muddy Fork and Sandy River. Although we hiked 21+ miles today, we set up camp along Rushing Water Creek just after 5pm and had a few hours of leisure before it was time for bed. We have a reservation to stay at the Timberline tomorrow so there is no need to rush. We'll have trail breakfast in the morning and a leisurely lodge brunch the following day.
Day 33 started out overcast with occasional cool mist. We had just over 9 miles to hike to reach Timberline Lodge, and the trail followed a long meandering contour around every nook and cranny at the base of Mt Hood. We dipped in and out of sandy/rocky ravines carved by glacial melt and walked through several ecosystems as we gradually gained elevation (a total of 3700' climbing, nothing terribly steep). Early on we walked past cedars, huckleberries, and broad-leafed rhododendrons then transitioned to hemlocks, heather, the ubiquitous lupine, and even alpine pussy paws. The sky remained unsettled with rare patches of blue exposing an incredibly close and dramatic Mt. Hood. There were quite a few hikers on the trail, a few thru-hikers but mostly weekenders and day hikers. We enjoyed this incredibly scenic walk and appreciated the cool weather for what would otherwise be an exposed and steady climb. We didn't care if the sky was just moody or portended rain, since it made for better drama and we are staying indoors tonight anyway. This has been a luxurious week-long stretch with 3 nights indoors spread over just longer than a week, and though we won't get used to it we plan to enjoy it to the fullest!
We walked under the ski lifts and looked up to see that Mt. Hood was completely encased with fog and clouds. If we didn't already know there was a huge mountain right above us we might not have believed it. The wind had really picked up and it even felt like it might rain. A good night to sleep in the lodge, indeed. We turned a final corner and the turrets of the historic Timberline Lodge came into view. Neither of us has ever been here before, and it was quite a beautiful sight against the angry grey sky. We came in through the back patio to the main lobby, a mayhem of tourists and day-hikers and thru-hikers and skiers and probably a handful of lodge guests, too. Sunday brunch was in full swing and there were a ton of hikers hanging out on the couches and at tables in the restaurant. We didn't recognize anybody, and most seemed to be NOBO based on the conversations. We half-expected to see Dustin & Beanstalk still enjoying breakfast but saw from an IG post that they had probably headed out. We claimed a space on a couch and caught up on emails, social media, etc. Macro commented that it felt like a train station and I had to agree. Not too long after that a familiar voice said hello, and we were surprised to see Sherpa! He and Nuthatch had ended up taking a zero in Cascade Locks, had camped not too far from us last night, and were on their second round of the all-you-can-eat brunch. We were happy to see them, and it was yet another example of how the trail works in mysterious ways. They are going off-trail in 5 days to attend a wedding back east, so we'll definitely see them later on when they catch up to us.
We were able to check into our room early, which meant getting laundry done before the mad rush on the single machine - score! We showered, did some business, and caught up with a few friends then wandered down to the day lodge to claim our packages. Our resupply box was there as expected (thanks Dad!), and we also found not one but TWO boxes of supplemental treats thanks to both Tung and Sue. Not only is it just plain fun to get packages, but we appreciate the thought and care that go into sending us something and enjoy every delicious calorie that arrives. We've decided to splurge and have both restaurant dinner AND the famous breakfast here at the Timberline Lodge, since it may be our last hotel of the hike. The only thing left to figure out is which of their three restaurants we'll eat in. As we ponder the options, it's gotten quite stormy outside and it seems that we chose a very good night to "camp" indoors.