Monday, April 28, 2008

Mt. Hood and Timberline Lodge

Monday, April 28, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

The last few nice days have been a welcome change from the lousy weather that has prevailed during the last six weeks or so.

Saturday, we headed to the mountain -- Mt. Hood. This time of year (especially this year) there aren't many days that are clear enough so it's possible to see the mountaintop and the surrounding valleys. So, with a clear day, we were off to explore Mt. Hood, Timberline Lodge, Hood River, and drive the Historic Columbia River Highway back. Over the next couple days I'll write a few posts that highlight various aspects of that day.

The plan was to drive up from the Portland area on Hwy 26, zip up and down the road to Timberline, and then head east and north on Hwy 35 as we make a loop around the east side of the mountain and down to Hood River on the Columbia River. From there, we'll drive the Historic Columbia River Highway back to the Portland Area.

Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge

Mt. Hood stands 11,239 feet high. It stands alone, as do the other tall volcanic mountains of the Cascade Range, and looks more impressive than other mountains due to the elevation change from almost sea level to over 11,000 feet in just 30 or 40 miles. Portland, for example, is just a few feet above sea level and is just 50 miles away. By comparison, typical Rocky Mountain peaks may top out higher by but are seen from surrounding land that's already a mile or more high. Mt. Hood is still considered "potentially active" by the USGS and up near the top it's still venting sulfur-smelling gas from somewhere deep below. This time of the year a heavy snow pack still totally covers the top of the mountain. It's a stark bright frosty white seen against the winter browns and dark greens of the surrounding valleys.

The drive up on Hwy 26 from the Portland area took us through the towns of Sandy, Welches, Zigzag (cool name for a town, isn't it? If I lived there I'd have to start a driving school or alcohol rehab program), and Rhododendron. After Rhododendron, the climb upward steepens until you reach the town of Government Camp, which is at the high point on the highway (about 4000 feet) and plastered right on the flanks of the mountain itself. This is one town that certainly hadn't escaped the national building frenzy of the past 5 years as big new condos and lodges attest.

From Government Camp, a steeper winding road ascends up the side off the mountain another 2,000 feet -- to Timberline Lodge at 6,000 feet. It was build by the WPA in 1937, during the great depression, to serve as a destination resort for skiers.

Timberline Lodge

It has 70 guest rooms, restaurants, bars, dining rooms, and large open central lobby and sitting area. A very impressive huge stone chimney dominates the large central lodge, or head-house as it's called. We grabbed a table right next to a window in the Ramshead Bar for a quick, albeit somewhat expensive, lunch. Snow was piled up so high around the lodge that it partially obscured our view of the mountain from the window where we were seated -- and we're on the third level.

Our Table in the Ramshead Bar

Dar, looking for photo opportunities, decided we'd walk around the exterior of the lodge on snow that was tens of feet thick, but packed and walkable. (For a moment, I thought I was back in Wisconsin.) The views are nothing short of spectacular -- both the mountain above and the valleys far below.

After lingering a bit to soak in the scenes, we headed back down the mountain to explore the east side of the mountain. Be sure to check out more pictures of the trip on our online photo collection, and I'll write more about this trip in my next post.