“Walking” is one of my favorite essays by Thoreau. In it he states:
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…
And so it is that whenever I choose to make the time, I go to the woods and over the hills to walk. My favorite hill is really a mountain – Mt. Hood – and it calls to me regularly. On this day, my best friend/life partner and I set out to walk the Timberline Trail No. 600 (which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail around Mt. Hood) from the historic Timberline Lodge to the Zigzag Canyon Overlook.
The trail begins at the 6000-foot elevation and is well-marked and easy to access from the lodge. After crossing under the ski lifts and passing the ski boundary heading west, we discovered a kiosk where you are required to fill out and wear a Wilderness Permit. Here, we watched a woman bid her man goodbye, saying “See you in a week,” and he set out on a solo journey of a lifetime.
For us, with permit attached, a day hike would have to do. Soon the trail took us near the site of the remnants of the old Timberline Cabin (1916), a cabin once built by the Forest Service as an emergency shelter.
We continued down into Little Zigzag Canyon where the Little Zigzag River drains out of Zigzag Glacier near the top of Mt. Hood. The loose gravelly glacial scree crunched under our hiking boots, reminding us that forces much greater than we could imagine helped to shape this landscape. With the low snowpack this year creating little snowmelt, the river was easy to step over.
From there we ascended back up out of the canyon into shady, dense conifer forest, passing through alpine meadows bursting with color from native wildflowers – lupine, paintbrush, beargrass and more.
Eventually we arrived at the impressive Zigzag Canyon Overlook, where we stood on a ridge that drops off into the Zigzag River 500 feet below and gave us incredible views of Mt. Hood, Mississippi Head and the Zigzag Glacier.
Feeling great and having not yet had enough of the jaw-dropping views, woods, and mountains, we decided to continue hiking until we got to the Zigzag river below. We descended the ridge and quickly entered lush riparian habitat on the steep slope leading down to the river. Small seeps and waterfalls sent water tumbling down the hill, and combined with small openings of sunlight provided perfect conditions for mosses, wildflowers, salmonberry and insects to thrive. It was so completely different from the arid, gravel of the alpine glaciers we’d walked across earlier.
Arriving at the bottom of the canyon, the cool, clear water of the Zigzag River invited us to ditch the hiking boots and cool off our feet. With Zigzag Falls in view upstream we sat and ate lunch while marveling at the geologic forces that shaped the canyon and wondering what it would be like to witness an avalanche, landslide or eruption from Mt. Hood. Indeed, in 1922 a glacial outburst flood occurred right where we sat.
Realizing that most of our hike back to Timberline was uphill and seeing clouds begin to form overhead, we decided to head back, vowing that we’d return again and walk further someday. When we arrived back at our car, the raindrops began to fall, but nothing could dampen our spirits after a day of sauntering in the woods and over hills in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
When we walk we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us if we only walked in a garden or a mall? – Henry David Thoreau
Indeed, what would become of us?