On a crisp morning, the seven of us stood in front of Mount Hood to have our picture taken. Dubbed “The Eruption Tour,” our goal was to circumnavigate Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens on foot in three days, with runs varying from 32 to 40 miles per day. Checking my gear before leaving, I was told that a flashlight wasn’t necessary; we would be at the campsite each day before sundown.
With feet sliding on volcanic ash and our energy echoing against the tall pines, we made our way onto the Timberline Trail. It wasn’t long before my hydration pack started leaking. I stopped to try and save some of my fluids, telling the gang I’d catch up shortly. They took off at a furious pace. Frustrated, I filled my water bottles, dumped the remaining water from my hydration pack and strode off in soggy shorts and a damp shirt, hoping to catch my friends.
My route morphed into a dotted line, the landscape becoming a tattered treasure map with the “X” being my friends. They were nowhere in sight and questioning passing hikers got me no closer. A steady diet of running and fast hiking kept my spirits up. I ate on the move, not wanting to lose anymore time.
Reaching the Pacific Crest Trail, three trails heading in different directions stood before me and I couldn’t see Mount Hood. Checking the map, I headed north. The winding, shady single track was smooth and comforting. Starting a big climb got me to thinking that I was headed in the wrong direction. I swiftly ascended the climb and spotted two hikers. Coming to a halt, I explained where I wanted to go. Correcting my misfortune, they dispatched me with the proper bearing of due south. Hood finally broke into view, and my worried body relaxed in her presence.
Sixteen hours and a few more wrong turns later, my food source had dwindled down to a few energy gels. Darkness fell quickly and, without a headlamp, I kept hiking under a cloudy, crescent moon. As the night progressed, the distant sound of a stream crossing stopped me in my tracks. A fun challenge during the day, stream crossings in the dark of night are loaded with uncertainty.
Taking this as a sign to stop, I turned from the stream, tripped, and tumbled off the trail. Spitting pine needles out of my mouth, I spotted a lone pine and sat down, hoping its wide, green canopy would provide more shelter than I had brought with me. Taking my plastic map case and tearing it in half, I fashioned a kilt to keep my legs warm. I put on my gloves and pulled the hood of my wind shell up tight. It was going to be a long, cold and sleepless night. I hunkered down and stayed awake, enjoying the simple but uncomfortable pleasure of sitting underneath a tree set against a wild night sky – Lyra, Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Eagle; shooting stars blazed in all their glory; a distant wind grazed on the valley’s treetops.
When the early morning light appeared, I rose and stretched my weary body. I took a deep breath and slowly got moving. My body quickly warmed with the sun and the movement, last night’s sleeplessness dropping away. Rounding a corner and descending the trail, I crossed the last stream and saw a trail marker: four miles to Timberline Lodge. Adrenaline kept me upright all the way to the lodge’s busy parking lot. Cheerful friends, hot miso soup and a deputy sheriff greeted me with equal enthusiasm.