"A blank spot on the map is an invitation to encounter the natural world, where one's character will be shaped by the landscape. To enter wilderness is to court risk, and risk favors the senses, enabling one to live well.

...The time had come to protest with the heart, that to deny one's genealogy with the earth was to commit treason against one's soul."

-Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Taking it Slow: The Zigzag Mountain Trail and Paradise Park

I raced the Mt. Hood 50 on Saturday July 28th and then did the Rim to Rim Against Nestle protest run in the Gorge on the Wednesday after that.  The tough, epic 50 mile course of the Nestle run (of my creation!) felt like a 100 miler due to my fatigue but was good training for my last two ultras of the year, the Waldo 100k on Aug. 18 and The Bear 100 on Sept. 28-29.

I needed to rest my body and give it time to recover; with Waldo only 2 weeks away I wanted to make sure I was good and ready.  I got restless though with a rare free weekend and the perfect Oregon summer weather and had to take advantage and get into the mountains.

I decided to go hiking and spend a night alone out in the woods somewhere.  Being in the mountains in any way--hiking, running, climbing, strolling, observing, sleeping out--increases one's fluency with them.  Mountain travel is a true art and familiarizing with all its facets and getting to know the land and the movements intimately is essential.  I vowed to just take it nice and easy, go old school, take lots of pictures, have no real agenda, play it by ear, sleep wherever.

My Monday was free until the afternoon so I chilled Saturday and left Sunday morning and drove east toward Mt. Hood.  I'd gone back and forth literally dozens of times about where to go and what to do.  It was ridiculous.  First the 3 Sisters area, then Olympic National Park, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the Mt. St. Helen's area, and on and on.  My going solo definitely played a part in my decision making and I always considered driving times.  With so much so close, it's hard to justify driving three or four hours when you could drive one.  I ended up staying close and was, yet again, blown away beyond comprehension.

I parked at the Zigzag Mountain Trailhead just off the East Lolo Pass Rd. off Highway 26, 45 miles from Portland.  I packed up and set off climbing out of the bottom of the valley; a nice early start at just after 10 am.  My small pack weighed maybe 25 lbs. at most with one long sleeve shirt, a ~2 lb. 32 deg. sleeping bag, a headlamp, hat, map, cell phone, ID, cash, and food and water.  For the food I had some gels and the like but also real stuff: a couple prepackaged burritos, a Dave's Sin Dawg, and a stick of Olympic Provisions Salami (OMG! This stuff is SO next level.)  It was nice to feel still relatively light but have plenty to spend the night out comfortably.

The trail followed mellow switchbacks for three thousand feet, ascending onto the massive ridge system that runs all the way into Mt. Hood itself.  I'd eagerly scoped the feature on maps and was thrilled to be finally exploring the area.  Once up the main climb the trail is surprisingly moderate, rolling along the ridge line, in and out of the trees.  When it did pop out of the trees the views were incredible, initially to the south with Mt. Jefferson and Devil's Peak and the countless others in between and all around, and then in every direction, to Helens, Rainier and Adams to the north.  Wildflowers abounded.  No clouds, hot, 90 degrees, but perfect.  Mt. Hood looked really far away.  I had some epic schemes flitting through my head and visions of grandeur about going all night and doing a 60 mile loop around the whole mountain but those quickly dissolved as I was stopping constantly and taking my time to look at things and take pictures.  And I was hiking.  Things go much slower when you're not running.  I decided to follow the Zigzag trail all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail/Timberline Trail and then see what I felt like doing.  I already had an inkling that I might be tempted to head to Timberline Lodge for beers (and because I love that place, such a work of art.)

I was constantly blown away by the Zigzag Mountain Trail and the area right there to the west of Mt. Hood, with Cast and Burnt Lakes and the exposed, wildflower strewn high points and outcrops all along the ridge.   I finally saw a few people near the Burnt Lake trail junction (where they took a picture of me) but before that I had been completely alone, fighting through the spiderwebs across the trail all on my lonesome.  For real though it was crazy, spider webs and the occasionally quite large spiders residing on them were the theme of the trip.  I was seriously very thankful to have my trekking poles with me if only for the sole purpose of clearing my way on the trail.

After reaching the PCT/Timberline Trail I was, as suspected, hankering for a beer and not looking for the epic miles I'd briefly pondered.  After all I was supposed to be resting.  I would go to Timberline Lodge I decided, enjoy a beverage, some company, maybe catch some coverage of the Olympics, and then sleep somewhere around there.  In the morning I'd cut down the mountain on a shorter route to Highway 26 then hitchhike the short distance to the town of Zigzag and my car nearby.  That was the plan.

...And I did exactly that.  The last three miles of my day, on the PCT/Timberline Trail from the Zigzag Mountain Trail to the Lodge, were dramatic and beautiful, contouring in and out and the great and massive drainage below Mississippi Head and the headwaters of the Zigzag River.  I was buzzing off the brilliant sights and perfect early evening temperatures.  Blissful.

At the Ramshead Bar I drank two IPAs, ate a bread bowl of clam chowder, talked to some PCT through-hikers, watched Olympic beach volleyball and gymnastics, then headed back out of doors again, into the lovely night.  The talkative older character of an employee said there was a lightning show going on out to the south east and so I went to watch it.  I hiked up the rocky, scree slopes above the lodge and found a little perch near some trees, technically right on the ski slope, but out of sight of any of the lights of the lodge.  I pulled out my sleeping bag and crawled in and watched the storm flashing out there in the cool night.  I awoke to rain, as the storm apparently had moved north a bit, and had to move under the shelter of the tree in the middle of the night.  Pleasurable temps though.

I awoke to the ski lifts running nearby, taking folks up the mountain to carve up the snow parks and few runs.  There was a surprising number of people headed up at 7 in the morning, all dressed like it was winter.  I just sat and enjoyed the view, looking south at Mt. Jefferson in the early light.  I backtracked to the lodge to have some coffee and look at my map in the great room and decide which route to take down.  I walked in the back door and the coffee was all laid out right there on a huge table in front of the window with big white porcelain mugs lined up invitingly, ready to go.  What more could I ask for?  Well, there was no food prepared for me but I didn't even think the coffee would be free so I was already pleasantly surprised.  I sat and consulted the map and decided to retrace my steps on the PCT/Timberline Trail through some of the most dramatic parts of the day before, then take the Paradise Park Trail down the mountain.

It was a stunning morning.  Couldn't have been more agreeable to the senses.  When I reached my cut off to start descending I couldn't help myself and chose to add on the Paradise Park Loop (an additional 4 miles) before heading for home.  I had enough time and I was already up there and I'd never been on the loop before.  I mean what if I died the next day?  I had to take advantage while I had the chance...

I actually thought I had died and gone to my alpine mountain heaven...I can't say much more than that.  It is hard for me to comprehend that the trailhead to this literal paradise is less than 1 hour from Portland.  That fact makes me catch my breath.  The privilege of having that access is immeasurable.

I did the loop then headed down, running a little here and there, but still battling spiders and webs.  I finally saw hikers coming up and was thankful that they had just cleared my way, as I had theirs.  I reached the road and walked the pavement of Rd. 2639 for a mile or so to the busy Highway 26.  Thumb out, hot in the full sun at 12:30 on the side of the road.  Some cars passed and I started to have the normal doubts, what if I never get back?  But 2 minutes later a guy stopped and I hopped in.  Edwardo--super cool dude, soccer coach from Portland, been to the summit of Hood--told me about his weekend in Bend and we chatted and in no time he dropped me at the Lolo Pass Road and we said goodbye.  I walked the last mile to my car and then I was back, thankful for no broken windows.  I switched into flip flops, started driving and an hour later I was home, ready for work in the afternoon.

Another good adventure, dirt bag style.

Enjoy the pictures (there's lots...)

Thanks for reading and looking! Here's a wonderful video and song for your viewing and listening pleasure...


  1. It is pleasure Willie McBride to know you...keep on doin' that thing you do...it makes the world abetter place-oh yeah, you can really write a word or two as well!

  2. Simply stunning pictures!! The place really does look like an alpine heaven! Glad you had a nice adventure, hope there is more to come!

  3. Beautiful views. Hope I can see this with my own eyes someday