McNeil Point

Just after my birthday, my friend and I went on a one night trip out in Mt Hood National Forest. We left around 11 am, with a cup of coffee for the drive. We drove about 50 minutes to the trailhead. We parked at the Top Spur Trailhead, which wasn't too busy as it was a Thursday morning. The clouds clung low and fog blocked the tops of the trees. We pulled our bags onto our backs and headed up the path. 

We realized neither of us brought rain gear, but figured it would only mist over us. We pushed on to a small part of the PCT, then quickly were off it and we kept hiking up the Timberline Trail. We chose to go the longer scenic route to see the ridge. 

Besides hiking a flatiron in Boulder, I hadn't done much backpacking or hiking recently. We went up and up and I was out of breath and sweating. But, it was marvelous. The views, even halfway, were wonderful. When we walked along the edge of the cliff I was extremely nervous. I love climbing, but I'm terrified of falling. There were many times on this route where I was nervous of falling. I made sure my footing was secure and stopped talking until the end of those points. My friend felt the same, though, so we would settle in silence and then pick up our conversation after those parts.

We stopped for a lunch break on an opening of rocks. There were a few other groups resting at the same time as the two of us. I just kept looking out and breathing deep, thinking of how happy I was to be there at that moment.

We continued on, passing a couple of streams and landing in a quiet meadow. We stopped to admire the wildflowers and the view beyond.

We then passed another stream and were off to another meadow area with ponds. Well, one of the ponds was dried up so it was more a field of grass, but the map did call it a pond. At this point the trail split and we continued on straight, thinking we were going the correct way. We ended up in a wooded area where the trail ended. So we went back down to the pond. Here we met two men who were also a little lost. Pulling out a GPS, they figured our elevation so make a better guess as to where we were according to their map. We headed back up the trail and descended a bit, crossing another stream. Then we went back up and around and passed a family. Finally we saw a sign for the Timberline Trail again. It looked to be pointing right so we followed the path down, which didn't seem right. And it wasn't.

We were back at that second pond, again, having come down the other choice of the split. Frustrated, we turned around and ran into someone else a bit confused. Then, an experienced couple quickly coming down the path stopped and asked us if we were heading to McNeil Point. We agreed and the women kindly pointed us back in the direction we just came to head up and continue on the path. There was a sign and we couldn't miss it. 

So, determined to keep pushing through, we went back up the path and continued on the Timberline Trail. Finally making headway, we continued up and over a rock field to a ridge line. We took a small break off the side of that ridge to fill a water bottle from the glacier stream.

As we were hiking through, we spotted a marmot! That was an amusing sight for us.

We made it to the McNeil shelter mid afternoon. Besides two men having a snack before their descent, we were alone. Looking out, several of the surrounding mountains were clearly visible. I was so shocked to be able to see them so clearly after the fog earlier in the day. My friend and I just kept reminding each other how amazing it all was. And then when we looked up the other way, we could see the tip top of Mount Hood just a stone's throw away. It looked like we could easily walk right up to the top.

We set up camp a bit up from the shelter. We thought about staying in the shelter, but honestly, it was creepy. There was a fleece blanket, one boot, a pot, and a bag tied up with trash in there. We opted for a flat gravel area a few hundred feet higher up. We set up our tent and made dinner. We hung our food in the shelter and went down to see the sun set. I can't explain the beauty of it. 

The hills rolled on and on in the distance with the sun slowly falling behind them. As the sky darkened, lights started to flicker down below. 

We stayed up talking for a while, watching the stars poke out one by one. We could see the Portland city lights off in the distance, twinkling. Such a neat feeling, seeing our new home, being so close, but also off in this wilderness alone. We stayed up as late as we could, but it began to get cold and we craved the comfort of our sleeping bags. Before we went in, we took another moment to look up at the now dark sky and could see the Milky Way. With a few sharp breaths, we marveled at another beautiful thing we were able to see that day and crawled into our shelter.

It was cold that night, colder than we packed. I forgot a hat and kept my socks on all night. I tossed and turned for three hours before finally dozing off completely. We slept in past sunrise, which is unusual for both of us when camping. We missed the full sunrise, but did get to see the sun sneak over the top of Mt. Hood. We made coffee and snacked before tearing everything down and descending. We made it down in a fraction of the time up and had two La Croixs waiting for us in the car for the drive home.

I'm a strong believer in the power of being out in nature. With all the shake-ups going on in my world, this was just the right medicine to start off my next year.