The last time I went up the Tilly Jane Trail on Mt Hood, it was in deep dark forest.
That was close to 10 years ago. A forest fire swept through the area in 2008 and I hadn’t thought to revisit the area until recently. Tilly’s a steep trail that takes you to some incredible backcountry skiing above timberline on the north side of Mt. Hood, but also to some excellent mellow tree skiing through the 2008 burn. The loop begs for clear skies and good snow, which is sometimes hard to come by around these parts. Yesterday looked like a good day to pay Ms. Jane a visit and get reacquainted.
Bill and I got an early start from a very foggy and socked in Portland, speeding toward the sunshine of the eastern Gorge as the sun rose over the mountains. It was cold and clear at the Tilly Jane trailhead, making for numb hands and runny noses as we loaded up for the 2,400 foot climb to our day’s destination: the Cloud Cap Inn. It had snowed earlier in the week, but only two or three inches and not that low. The parking area was an ice rink.
We started out with climbing skins, but probably could have just walked the first mile on the hardpacked trail (which would have made getting over the open creeks easier). To be honest, we were having some trouble getting into the swing of things. Bill’s water bladder sprang a leak on the way to the trailhead, soaking his down jacket and half the contents of his pack. Then he fell into one of the creeks and bent one of his ski poles. (I was too far up the trail to hear his plaintive
cursing cries for help.) I was feeling sluggish and queasy from the altitude. We had a sick dog back at home and didn’t know if we should have left her alone for the day, an emotional burden. But we soon smoothed out and got into the therapeutic groove of plodding exercise in the woods – our best medicine.
After a mile of climbing and creek dodging, we met the Tilly Jane Trail and turned up the ridge, straight into the sunshine. The air temp hovered in the high 20s, but we were soon in our t-shirts and slathering on sunscreen, sweating fiercely and skinning our way up the steep trail. The views were incredible: Mt. Hood straight in front of us and all of the major Cascadian peaks to the north – Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier.
It took us just under two hours to get to the Cloud Cap Inn, where we sat for lunch in the sunshine and enjoyed the tremendous view of the north side of Mt. Hood. Oscar napped on his pad.
We peeled off our skins and readied for the descent, following Ghost Ridge through the remnants of forest to the Wagon Road, which is a steep-ish trail that intersects the Cloud Cap Road. (You can ski the Cloud Cap Road, but it takes three times as long.) The snow was excellent – not very deep, but dry and light over a very consolidated base. It got grabbier as we dropped back down to the road, but wasn’t a problem unless we stopped. Solution: Don’t stop. It was a lot of fun skiing through the burned snags. Beautiful views with stark contrasts.
We descended where we wanted, generally following the Wagon Road cut through the former forest. As we dropped, the base got noticeably lower, as we skimmed over and around logs and bushes poking out of the ground. We intersected the last leg of the Cloud Cap Road just over two miles from the car – a sloggy cruise back to the trailhead. It was a great day to sweep out the gloomy winter cobwebs. 8.17 miles, 2,400′+ elevation gain (over 3.4 miles), double shot of Vitamin D.