Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Timberline Lodge

On the side of Mt. Hood is Timberline Lodge. Mt. Hood dominates the northern Oregon skyline at 11,245 and Timberline Lodge sits just halfway up the mountain at 6,000 feet, just 3.6 miles from the summit. In the blustery winter months the average snow depth around the lodge and Mount Hood is somewhere around 21 feet. Now it's the end of August, Labor day weekend, so the signs of winter weather were just starting to begin as we walked into the Lodge on this chilly last day of August. We got up at 4:30 AM this morning and took down our tent in the pitch black as the gentle winds around us pushed and pulled the treetops of Douglas Firs and made them sway in the wind. Occasionally you could hear their creaking sound against the quiet of the morning like a rusty hinge on an old abandoned farmhouse door. Sometimes the creaking of the trees even sounded a bit birdlike, but we knew there weren't any birds up at this early hour. It felt like we may have been the only things up ! and about in the forest for miles. So we strapped on our headlamps and walked through the darkness and the chill of the morning, hoping for those first rays of sunlight to warm our bones.This was a very unusual departure for us. Recently we had been sleeping in because it was just so hard to get out of our tent into the chilly hands of the Oregon mornings. Our norm had become waking up at about 7 or 8 making a cup of coffee and some warm oatmeal, and then heading out at 9 or 10 am. The flatter terrain of OR allowed us to stride out 25 miles by about 9 pm, almost keeping a solid 3 mph pace the whole way. But today was different. Today ws the day we were heading into Timberline Lodge. That meant we'd gain 2,000 feet, and pop out above treeline and into the giant Lodge where "The Shining" had been filmed. More importantly, it meant we were camped near Highway 26 at Wipinitia Pass, just 10 miles from one of the greatest breakfast opportunities a hiker could imagine. An all you can eat gourmet breakfast buffet consisting of Belgium Waffles, fruit, granola, eggs, and the best, saltiest bacon I've ever had (It might even make you proud to be a pig cause it! tasted so good!) The only thing was that the buffet ended at 10. So today our usual 10 o'clock departure wouldn't cut it. Instead we found ourselves getting up before most farmers do to walk 10 miles to eat a breakfast complete with Spiced Cider, fresh squeezed O.J, and scones. After the dark cleared and the first peeps of light came in, we woke up a bit and cruised along the misty trail, now glad we could see where we were going. But even under the welcome morning sun, it was hard to shake the chill off. As we walked higher and higher, the air got dryer, but colder. Eventually we popped out above the trees and saw a perfect view of Mt. Hood hovering above our heads, the snow glistening on the side of the mountain against the crisp blue morning sky. Anyone whoever even thought about climbing this mountain to its summit, had to start before daylight just to avoid running into deep unexpected snow crevasses melted under the summer sun. Fortunately, we didn't need crampons or ice axe as we walked on the sandy trail below this giant.But the ground was still hard with frost and the fog we had just popped out of was now frozen and blowing at us like tiny sharp crystals being driven into us by the wind. Above treeline we were no longer protected by the shelter of the firs and now the wind was blowing harder. But through the driving fog we could see our beacon of hope drawing closer and closer. We came around the ridge, small icy-crystal patches of snow staring to accumulate in the frozen footprints of those who had walked before us, and we saw we were so close to the lodge. The wind made a couple last attempts to harass us and blew Rosie's jacket off the top of her pack. I caught it from blowing away and tucked my head back down so the wind wasn't blowing crystalline snow in my eyes and continued to trudge up to the lodge. We traipsed into the back of the lodge (probably where the kitchen staff walked in and out the back door) and threw our backpacks down and took in the warm fireplace glow of the ca! stle-like lodge and dashed into the all wooden dining room and took a seat among finely pressed tablecloth linens, tall crystal glasses shimmering with ice water and a buffet spread fit for a king. Whenever we slip quietly into these places we never fit in. I'm wearing a dirty red plaid kilt and have a giant untrimmed beard with unkept greasy matted hair. Rose is often looking a little better, but still wearing spandex and clothes with mud and dirt stains rubbed well into the fabrics. Our shoes and socks alone are enough drive everyone who doesn't have a head cold away from the room. And we smell like rotten skunk as as our bodies have been pouring out sweat and salt all over our clothes for 12 hours a day for a week. And the closest we'd gotten to a shower was walking through the chilled morning mist. Amongst a crowd of men in khakis and polo shirts and women in their fine Sunday dresses, we look like a bunch of homeless vagrants who have somehow manged to wander u! p this mountain into a fine dining establishment. Our lack of manners probably doesn't help any. I'll just paw the sausage right out of he stainless steel catering serving trays (The really nice ones with a handle wrapped neatly with a linen napkin so the handle isn't too hot to touch - the kind you see at a wedding buffet) and plop into my mouth right in line. It's like a wild savage who hasn't eaten in days just grabbing and slopping food into his mouth like he might never get to eat again. There is no casual conversation, no light and dainty bites and not talking with your mouth full, no sense of propriety in taking "healthy portions". My plate was chock full and all the foods had been slopped together in one big mountain mush of steaming goodness. Emily Post would probably have fainted to see it all. Living in the wilderness for four straight months we had lost all sense of dignity. We expelled gases without a bat of an eyelash and shoved food in our mouth as if a fork and knife were an idle combination that had! n't yet been invented. Everyone would shoot us glances from across the dining room as if to say, "What are THOSE two doing in here?" But we were oblivious. All the stares and appalled faces in the world couldn't take away from our enjoyment of our meal. We were like kids unleashed upon expectant Chrisrmas packages - wrapping paper flying everywhere, as the kids' anxious hands ripped and tore through in seconds what had taken months to put together.

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