TRIP REPORT: Backpacking Mt. Hood National Forest
Camping on the summit of a mountain is a great way to cap off a day of backpacking, but getting there can be a bit tricky, and you may have to time it just right.
Come June in the Cascade Mountains, weather and snow levels can be unpredictable. A lingering snowpack can make sub-alpine trails hard to follow, and the going slow. The entire month can be grey, overcast and rainy ... or it can be warm and sunny.
We got a bit of it all this past weekend for the Next Adventure Outdoor School Introduction to Backpacking Tour. The snowpack is melting out at a good clip, so we only had to hike on snow above 4200 feet. The weather was warm and summery, for the most part, with a bit of drizzle in the morning. The stars were bright in a cloudless sky and the wind was calm for our night of camping.
Summer wildflowers like rhodies, beargrass and huckleberries were just popping out, and the higher we climbed, the more spring flowers we found: Trillium, oxalis, skunk cabbage, and Oregon anemones. Phlox bloomed on rocky outcrops.
We stopped at a stream to collect some water halfway to our destination, and talked about how to collect water safely in the backcountry. We used a Katadyn Hiker Pro to filter water from the cold, clear stream. The clouds hugged Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood, drifting apart now and then to allow views of the mountains. We used our maps and compasses to keep track of our progress when we paused at viewpoints along the trail.
We were on snow most of the rest of the way to the summit of Tumala Mountain, which allowed for a lesson on routefinding when you can't see the trail.
There wasn't as much snow on top as this time last year, but just enough to scrape out some level platforms for our tents. We reviewed basic tent, sleeping bag, stove, and camping gear use as we set up camp. I was comfy in the roomy Wilderness Tech Denali II tent, and Greg C had his lightweight Big Agnes Copper Mountain II tent. We had each brought our Jetboils, so we raced stoves (still just 2 minutes at 4770' elevation) to heat water for our Backpackers' Pantry freeze-dried meals, and enjoyed dinner watching the sunset.
We built a small fire and reviewed fire safety protocols and low impact ethics as the light faded on Mt. Hood and the stars came out. Stories were told around the campfire, and by the time the red embers turned to grey ashes, were ready to rest up from our long day on the trail.
The next morning we woke up in the clouds. It rained briefly, but everything got wet from the ambient moisture in the air more than from any actual precipitation. That led to a good talk about camping in Pacific Northwest rain: how anything really important should be kept as dry as possible, and how thin layers of clothing will dry faster than thick fabrics.
After an oatmeal breakfast with coffee, we packed up our gear and cruised back down the trail. The longer we hiked, the warmer and sunnier it became. Looking back uphill, we could still see tendrils of clouds caressing the summit of Tumala. We saw more wildflowers and some mushrooms pushing up through the moist earth as we strolled through the woods.
It was Greg C's first time backpacking, and it was more than just an introduction. We practiced advanced skills that bordered on mountaineering, but he was ready for it. You will often hear me say that the lightest thing that you can carry with you on the trail is knowledge. Greg C had done his homework and practiced using his equipment at home before we set out on the trail. That made all the difference. Instead of wrestling with unfamiliar gear, we were able to focus on the woods, the wildflowers, and the mountain views.
Yep, camping on top of a mountain. Not a bad way to start the backpacking season.
Next Adventure Outdoor School has more exciting adventures planned for you this summer!
There's a hike along the Clackamas River to see the wildflowers blooming there on June 15th, and another day hike scheduled on July 13th up to cliff-top views of the Columbia River Gorge.
And if you want to get deeper into nature, we have 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-day backpacking trips scheduled in July, August and September. Find out more and sign-up online: nextadventure.net/outdoor-school
Greg Hill is a Lead Guide and Instructor for the Next Adventure Outdoor School, Portland, Oregon.
Next Adventure is a fully-insured licensed Outfitter and Guide with the State of Oregon, and an equal opportunity Recreation Provider operating under special use permit on the Mt. Hood National Forest and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, USDA Forest Service.