Every year Glenn and I plan at least one mystery vacation for each other.
We plan a special outing and the other person doesn’t know what it is until it happens. I stole this idea from a co-worker who does this with his partner and I thought it was brilliant!
This past Labor Day weekend was our 14-year wedding anniversary so I decided to plan a mystery vacation for Glenn in celebration. I had heard about this event called “Round the Mountain” where you hike all the way around Mt. Hood (Oregon) from a friend that had done it a year or two before.
The event is hosted by the Mazamas, a mountaineering club in Portland. The route around the mountain is broken up into three sections and each day you hike one of the ~15 mile sections and then return back to their lodge for a hot meal, shower and a bed. The next morning you get a hot breakfast and they take you back out to the trailhead so you can hike the next section. Wash, rinse, repeat. It sounded like a perfect mystery vacation, so I signed us up!
Soon thereafter, I walked out of the orientation for the event with my heart in my throat.
They spent much of the orientation focused on the amount of physical conditioning one needed to do in order to survive the adventure – or at the very least have it be an enjoyable experience. They said it was the equivalent of hiking Dog Mountain…twice a day…three days in a row. Ugh! Hiking Dog Mountain just once a year is a significant accomplishment in my book.
To be fair to Glenn I knew I couldn’t wait until the last moment to unveil my mystery vacation.
I had to spill my secret sooner rather than later, as Glenn and I were going to need to get some significant hikes at altitude under our belts in preparation. And we did! We hiked to Tom Dick Mountain and up Dog Mountain. We did the Lost Lake Chuck Wagon (also with the Mazamas), got lost on the way to Larch Mountain and spent a week hiking in the Olympic National Park/Forest.
By the time the event arrived I felt like we had done a great job of preparing our feet, legs and lungs to carry us long distances high up on a mountain.
On Friday I arrived at the Mazamas lodge (near Government Camp and Timberline Lodge) with great trepidation. Not only was I anxious about the hikes (Will I be able to do it three days in a row? Will I be too slow and everyone will have to wait for me?), but my social anxiety was in high gear and I was worried about meeting the strangers I would be spending the next 3 days with.
The participants were divided into six groups of 12 people consisting of 10 hikers and two team leaders that serve as guides. Each group has a different pace from a more gentle “scenic” pace to a blistering “I’m walking so fast it’s all a blur” pace, and everything in between.
We ended up in a great group with a nice moderate pace that we could sustain over the 45-mile loop. Our group was made up of funny, interesting people that were very supportive of each other. We were also thrilled to find that my idol and inspiration, Gwen, was there for the event (I so want to be like her when I grow up!).
All of our physical conditioning paid off and not only were we able to accomplish something that I never would have dreamed possible, but we had a blast doing it!
Although the Mazamas hiking route doesn’t make a continuous circuit around the mountain (there are some sections, such as the Eliot Glacier landslide area, that aren’t safe to cross with such a group) it covers most of it.
Before this hike, my experience with Mt. Hood was as the mountain I drove past to get to Bend (Oregon) or that I could occasionally see in the distance out my window at work. After this hike, I feel like I actually know the mountain in a much more intimate way.
Each side of the mountain has it’s own distinct personality varying greatly by terrain, vegetation and weather.
Day One: Timberline Lodge to Cloud Cap
To put it mildly, the weather on our first day was miserable! It was cold, rainy and windy. Glenn and I spent most of the day dressed head to toe in rain gear and by the end we were soaking wet and cold. This was also the day we were on the East side of the mountain at the highest elevations of the weekend – crossing slippery snowfields and exposed ridges with no vegetation. We were battered by freezing rain and ~50 mph wind gusts on top of Gnarl Ridge (gnarly ridge, more like it) that were strong enough to actually blow you off the trail. Although it was cold and miserable and clouds obscured the views, this was actually one of my favorite days of hiking. It was exciting to be out there battling the elements and making the most out of the crazy expedition.
Day Two: Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls
The weather improved slightly the second day. It wasn’t as cold or windy, but we still spent much of the day in our rain gear walking through sporadic rains and misty clouds. In many ways this day’s hiking was the hardest for me. We started high on the mountain and ended at a much lower elevation. My knees and ankles were very sore and tired from all of the miles and miles of downhill.
I spent much of the day stressed about the Sandy River crossings. The Sandy River is a deceptively fast moving river that can be quite dangerous to cross at times. A couple of weeks ago there were some flash floods that took out the foot bridge over the river on the Ramona Falls trail. Sadly, a man was killed there when the bridge washed out while he was on it. We knew the bridge was gone, which meant we’d have to make it across the river some other way (twice), so I spent many miles on the trail envisioning falling into the river! In the end we found some logs and were able to make it across safely.
Day Three: Top Spur to Elk Cove
The weather was beautiful on our third day. As such, this hike was the most spectacular in terms of views of the mountain peak as well as the surrounding countryside. The wildflowers were amazing and sections of the hike went through areas burned by the Dollar Lake Fire (2011). I was mesmerized by the beauty and eeriness of walking through stands of silver-white dead trees with a green carpet of new plants at their feet and bright blue skies above their heads.
We had a ton of fun and I would highly recommend the Round the Mountain event hosted by the Mazamas. Both Glenn and I want to thank Robyn our friend that originally suggested the trip, as well as our other team members and especially our group leaders Aaron and Chris for such an amazing time. It’s an experience we’ll never forget and that we hope to do again next year!
More pictures from various days on the hike…