It’s been a long time since I posted on here. What a year it has been! I have had a few adventures worth posting about that I have neglected to take the time to share. I had my first DNF, finished a 50K that I signed up for a few weeks in advance, tried to complete the Great Virtual Race Across Tennesee, and went on an epic run in the Gifford-Pinchot National forest. I hope to share about each of those before the memories are all gone, but I am starting with the biggest adventure of the year: Running the Timberline Trail in one day!
Since I last posted on this site, I earned my MBA. That is the main reason for not continuing to post. Anytime I was on my computer, I was studying. Now that is done and I am getting back to the extra things that time is giving me back. Yay!
So, onto the adventure. The Timberline Trail is a 40 mile run around Mt. Hood in Oregon. It has about 9,000 feet of elevation gain and like a million river crossings. There are continuously views of Mt. Hood and the vast wilderness surrounding the mountain. This trail is popular for 3-4 day backpacking trips and the few runners who attempt the whole loop in a day. We ran it 2 weeks before labor day weekend, August of 2020.
We chose to go clockwise. Mainly because we had support meeting us at Cloud Cap and that made the most sense. But also, we didn’t hear that counter clockwise is the better way to go until days before. So, if you want to do this and you haven’t heard yet, most people run this trail counter clockwise.
Some friends and I have been talking about running this for a long time. We officially picked a date almost a year in advance. In the end, there were 5 of us ladies who ran together and one guy who ran ahead at his own pace. We stayed in a condo in Government camp and drove to the trailhead to start at 5am.
We were in the dark for about the first hour. With headlamps on, we made our way at a slow jog along the well traveled trail through small gullies and over the ridgelines. As the sun rose, we were treated to the early views of the mountain that we would see from different angles throughout the day. It was breathtaking and we took all of the opportunities to soak it up.
It wasn’t long before there was a rolled ankle. We stopped a few times to assess the damage and then tape it up. After a bit we were back on track with our slow jog. The beginning of the trail is not too hard. Nothing too technical or steep. It was a good start to the day.
With 5 of us girls, there were a lot of breaks. We stopped to refill water, pee, pee again. Before we knew it, the trek was taking longer than we had hoped. The water crossings were no joke either when it came to considering time. There was one in particular that we had to climb on the boulders along the stream for a while before we could find a safe place to cross. It just ended up taking a lot of time.
While we weren’t in a hurry, we had expected to finish before dark, but how to do you pass up stopping to take in these views?
My husband and kids were waiting for us at 28 miles. There is an old lodge and campground that you can drive to and they graciously made the trek to feed us in order to help get us through the end of the journey. We were an hour or two behind schedule now and the rest of the trail wasn’t going to be easy. There was a little hesitation from my husband on us finishing, but we were all in. We knew we could do it, just maybe not in the daylight.
After everyone quickly filled up their water, scarfed down a quesadilla, and made use of the pit toilet, we were on our way. From here we split into two groups. It was going to end up being such a long day it was difficult to decide not to stick together, but also as we knew we were going to be finishing later there was an element of needing to finish at the pace we were capable. I wavered between the two groups in the middle, on my own for a while. Not really sure where I would fit better, I ended up making my way back to the front two and was able to stick with them the rest of the way.
The last 10 miles was river crossing after river crossing. We had worked all day to stay dry, but the later it got and the more crossings we had, the less we cared. We just wanted to finish this trail. As evening set in, the backpackers were setting up camp and some of the rivers were very popular with people camped all over the place. It was interesting to just be continuing on while others were settling in for the night.
Once it was dark, our lights came on and a quiet determination took over. We began to see the landmarks that told us we were getting close. We ran (or hobbled) under ski lifts and spotted lights in the distance. We would think we were done with the rivers and then would find more that needed to be navigated. Eventually, we could see the lights of the Timberline Lodge straight ahead. Then we turned towards the mountain and away from the lodge. I will be honest, it felt a little devastating. I couldn’t see the gully that was between us and the lodge, but I knew that was the reason we had to turn.
We became aware of the cliffs to each side of us even though the complete darkness kept us from really knowing. One of the girl’s lights went out. I handed my phone over to use the flashlight mode. We were so ready to be done. In the end, we cut the trail through the bushes to get back to the lodge. Too impatient to pass by the lodge to the proper trailhead.
We knew the other two weren’t far behind us. Maybe an hour. We wanted to wait, but as we sat down on an old lift chair in the parking lot we started to get so cold. We ended up calling for a ride and letting the other girls know that we couldn’t wait. They had the car, so they would be able to drive back to the condo.
Back in the warmth with food, we settled in. Hobbling around trying to clean up and find comfort. It was around midnight and even as exhausted as we were, we enjoyed some time to talk about the accomplishment.
Part of me wants to go back and do a better job. We could have done better time wise. Stopping less, faster downhills, going the other direction. All of those things would have earned us a better time and I am curious. The other part of me would be happy to never cross one of those rivers ever again.
Interested in more of the story? Here is a video of the day. It isn’t too fancy, but some of the best views towards the end are there.