To the Mountains, to the Desert

The end of September also marked the end of the festival season for me. This past weekend was the first one since before Labor Day where I wasn’t either out of town or vending at an event or both–and yes, it really was as exhausting as it sounds. (Not that I didn’t manage to have a lot of fun at the same time!) But at the same time it also meant I spent less time out in the wilderness, and I decided to make up for that.

Two Fridays ago, I hiked to McNeil Point on the northwest shoulder of Mt. Hood. It had been two years since I last hiked there, and then I’d gotten turned the wrong way before I got to the point itself. This time I was more successful, arriving at the old stone shelter as my turnaround point mid-afternoon. I wrote some at Paths Through the Forests about the healing power of wilderness and its challenges, and I must admit that I really did need that alone time on the mountain. It helped me to shake off weeks of dust and stress and the wrong sort of isolation, and I’ve felt rejuvenated ever since.


This is the path that led me into the woods, with Douglas firs and bear grass to greet me. The trail to McNeil Point (a ten mile or so round trip) is similarly rough and full of roots and stones, and there’s an elevation gain of over two thousand feet, so it’s one of the more challenging trails I’ve hiked this year. But that’s exactly what I needed.


I’m never ready for summer to end, though at least this year I feel like I had something of a summer; last year because I worked full time all summer I felt a little cheated. The mid-sixties temperature belied autumn’s arrival, though the red of the vine maples told true. These lovely little trees also reminded me how many new-to-me species I’d identified over the past year; I’ve been making more of an effort to get to know local flora, fauna and fungi I hadn’t been acquainted with before.


One of the challenges of this trail is that it’s not as well-marked as some others, especially if you decide to divert from the Topspur trail. I like going around the south side of Bald Mountain so I can get gorgeous views of the Muddy Fork valley below Hood, but the trail to get back to Topspur can be a bit tough to find. Thankfully, some kind person created a trail marker with some local andesite. These always make me happy, because they remind me of the Mark Trail comics I used to read as a kid, and which taught me things about outdoor activities that I still use to this day (trail markers included!)


Speaking of the Muddy Fork, it really is a fantastic sight from Bald Mountain. You can see how low the clouds were. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get to McNeil Point or not.


Thankfully the point wasn’t socked in, and I got to visit the stone shelter for the first time. It was built in the 1930s by the CCC, when they thought the Timberline Trail was going to head through that way, but the elevation was too great. The shelter thankfully remained, and is still remarkably intact.


I made it down from the mountain just fine, and spent the following Tuesday and Wednesday tooling around the Bend, OR deserts with my friend Emily. Much different territory, as you can see.


I went to the top of Pilot Butte–twice–where you can see many other peaks in the surrounding land (including, way off in the distance, Mt. Hood!)


We had a late afternoon trek to Tumalo Falls.


And we went to the High Desert Museum.


And around Smith Rock.


But eventually our adventure ended, and we had to head back to Portland. Still, it was a much-needed vacation, and really nice to take a road trip that had absolutely no work obligations whatsoever. I will say I’m glad to be home, though, and grateful that travel will be minimal through the rest of the year. I have a lot of art projects I want to work on, I’m about to start another book manuscript, and some uninterrupted home time seems to be about right.

(With some hiking thrown in, of course.)

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