Yesterday was THE BEST DAY E-V-E-R!!!!! My mom and I spent the entire day together, just the two of us, something we haven't done since we moved back to Oregon from Chicago over two years ago. I picked her up at 7 a.m. and we headed to the Original Pancake House. Over the years it became our favorite place to go for breakfast when I'd come to visit. It holds a legacy of memories for us and we just had to start our day off there.
After breakfast, we headed out for a hike on Mt. Hood. Mom and her husband Terry hike every weekend so I asked her to choose a hike that was challenging enough that Curt and I couldn't do it with the kids. She chose McNeil Point on Mt. Hood. The author of my hiking book described this hike as a "strenuous 9.2 mile, out-and-back, 5.5 hour hike through old-growth forest, meadows and rugged mountainside." He was more than accurate on all accounts.
We stopped at the ranger station in the little town of Zig Zag to pick up a map to the trail head then headed down LoLo Pass Road (aren't these names so cute?) to Top Spur, our starting trail destination. After loading our day packs with various layers of clothes, water bottles, snacks and my handy hiking book, we took off through the woods.
We didn't hike long before the trail meandered out of the woods and onto a narrow ledge with a cliff on one side and steep hillside on the other. We skirted around the hillside and BAM! Out of nowhere, Mt. Hood. The beauty took my breath away. Panoramic mountain views from every side, glacial run-offs carving waterfalls down the slopes and one huge majestic mountain standing guard over it all. We commented that the place where the trees drop off and the snow cover starts looked like a patchwork quilt. Little did I know we'd hike up into the base of that snow cover or how amazing the journey would be to get there.
We walked and talked and took a bazillion pictures (thank you self-timer and Sam for loaning me your camera). At every turn, there was a new view more stunning than the next. The trail was narrow, rutted and steep. We hiked through deep woods, over rocky ledges and through mountain meadows littered with wild flowers in full bloom. We dined on wild huckleberries and snacked by a mountain pond. We picked our way across wet rocks of an unnamed waterfall that cascaded over the trail. We stood in a field of flowers with a rocky shale cliff behind us and breathed in the view from the other side of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier commanding an army of smaller mountain ranges.
My favorite part of the hike was also the most difficult. We came out of thick woods and were surprised to see what was left of Mt. Hood. The snow cover patchwork quilt was a mere 1,000 vertical feet (give or take) ahead of us. I couldn't believe how much ground we'd covered in just a few short miles. The trail took us out onto a windswept ridge and the temperature immediately dropped at least ten degrees. To the left, the Sandy River crashed and rumbled hundreds of feet below us. On the right, a rock slide and patches of yet unmelted snow even though it's the end of August. The magnitude of the overwhelming panoramic beauty stopped me in my tracks. It was almost too much to take in.
We burst into singing "The hills are alive with the sounds of music" complete with the background "oohs," dissolved into giggles and then mustered the strength to gain the last 1,000 vertical feet to our destination point. The trail took us across the rock slide which was a little harrowing, especially for Mom who hikes with poles to help with her balance. I felt responsible for her safety and could tell she was petrified, but step by careful step, she crossed that rock slide and safely reached the other side. I was so proud of her for not letting fear stop her a mere 1/2 mile from her goal. A few minutes later we reached the 1930's era shelter called McNeil Point. Built on the edge of steep ridge at the base of the snow cover, it's one of the highest points you can hike to on Mt. Hood without tying in and being a real mountain climber. It felt like we were on top of the world.
At one photo op early into our hike, we ran into three men (Dave, Steve and Jim) who were giggling like a bunch of girls. Old college friends, they have a tradition of reuniting for a week every year to hike in the mountains. Their laughter and goofiness was infectious and we utilized them to take pictures for us. Throughout the rest of day, we ran into them at various points on the trail and we joked about who would reach McNeil Point first. Turns out, they beat us to the top and decided to picnic behind the shelter.
We approached the shelter and Mom left to investigate the view. She came back seconds later with an alarmed look on her face and whispered, "There's someone taking a dump behind the shelter." She proceeded to tell me that as she rounded the corner a male voice said what she interpreted to be, "Don't come back here." She caught a glimpse of white legs and someone in a squatting position and assumed the man was relieving himself. She got frazzled while we waited for him to finish his business and mused out loud about what kind of person would dump in plain view of all the hikers on the trail. We stood around twiddling our thumbs for a good five minutes wondering what on earth could be taking so long when Dave poked his head around the shelter and said, "We were just kidding. You can come over here."
Peals of laughter echoed across the mountain as we unraveled the story. He had joked, "Don't come back here. We've reserved this area for the next hour," and the squatting Mom thought she saw was him sitting on the ground eating his lunch. I haven't seen men laugh that hard in months when they found out we thought they were relieving themselves. Being experienced hikers, they actually had a roll of toilet paper with them so they took a picture of Dave squatting and grunting by the shelter holding the TP.
The three stooges pointed to the edge of the ridge and said, "That's the way we're going back." I thought they were joking but they were serious. Jim, who has hiked this trail many times, proceeded to tell us that it's a steeper, more direct route that cuts two miles off the return trip. I could tell Mom was dreading crossing back over the rock slide so I decided to check it out. It looked steep but conquerable and a definite trail was visible through the rocks and brush. I checked my hiking book and read out loud, "You may hear or see reports of another, more direct trail between NcNeil Point and the Timberline Trail, connecting with the latter at a point west of the ponds. The word from many hikers, including this one, is to avoid that trail. It's steep, rocky, brutal and unnecessary." The Stooges laughed about the "brutal and unnecessary" description, invited us to follow them down the trail, and guaranteed our safety.
After much deliberation, Mom chose to go for it and we started down the trail. About 200 feet into our descent, we realized why the author described this trail as "brutal." It was dangerously scary. The men carried Mom's hiking poles and at each point gave her specific instructions on navigating the steep terrain. We grasped trees and rocks, scooted on our butts, and pirouetted backward to get down the rock scramble safely without plummeting to our deaths (okay - slight exaggeration here about the plummeting part for the sake of a good story). At one break, Jim pointed across the mountains to a meadow way in the distance and quipped, "And that Ladies, is where we first met." When we reached the real trail, my legs were shaking from adrenaline and my heart was full of love and pride for my amazingly brave and strong Mom. She came down the face of mountain at 59 years old and did it with finesse.
When we finally made it back to the Top Spur parking lot, it was 5:45 p.m. We'd been walking and talking, singing, conquering fears and worshipping our amazing Creator for 7 hours together. We were hungry, thirsty, tired, achy muscled and overflowing with love for each other. I mean really - who gets to climb mountains with their mom? And think that it's fun?
The euphoria of the magical kept me awake long into the night. My dreams were filled with mountains, cliffs, steep drop offs and wild flowers. Twelve hours later, the euphoria lingers on. I can't pinpoint what about our day was so magical but it felt like the adventure of a lifetime, one I'd pay thousands of dollars for but got to do with a $5 parking pass and the cost of two meals. The combination of the awe-inspiring beauty and the journey of doing it with the most remarkable and influential woman in my life cemented this day in my mind as unforgettable.