- Location: Mount Hood
- Start: Tilly Jane Sno Park
- Distance: 5.2 miles
- Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes (breaks included)
- Elevation gain: 1920 feet
- Type: Out-and-back
- References: Outdoor Project
For the past few years, winter has been the time that our outdoor adventures take a backseat to local trail runs. It’s not that we don’t like winter conditions, but we’ve never been equipped to enjoy them. This month, as an early Christmas gift to me, Mack purchased each of us a pair of MSR Lightning Ascent showshoes so we could start exploring all the wintry landscapes we’ve been missing out on. Over the weekend, we set out for Mount Hood to try them out for the first time.
After a slow and cautious (2+ hour) drive up snow covered roads, we started up Tilly Jane Trail around 9:30 am. Although the forecast from the previous night predicted 100 percent chance of precipitation, we were greeted by sunshine and blue skies. So happy we didn’t back out like we initially considered. The first part of the trek takes place in the forest. We explored this same trail back in summer of 2014 when hiked up to Cooper Spur, but seeing it covered in snow was like being in an entirely different world. The knee deep powder and frosted evergreens filled me with a childlike wonder that I haven’t felt in a long time. Playing in the snow has that effect on me. It also seemed to have that effect on Cassie, who was romping around like a wide-eyed puppy and swimming through snowdrifts with her tongue hanging out.
The steeper climbing began once we reached the burnt forest. The heel lifts on our snowshoes were incredibly helpful for this section. Now that the land was completely open and exposed, the untouched snow on either side of the trail literally glittered beneath the sunlight. It was magical, and it kept me from thinking about my burning calves. Mack and I stopped often to take pictures and throw powdery snowballs for Cassie to chase. She definitely seemed to be enjoying her first time out in the snow (as you’ll see in the pictures below).
We continued along this open stretch, alternating between hills and flat terrain. Mount Hood appeared in all her glory as we gained elevation. It was quite a sight and pleasant surprise considering we’d expected it to be completely shrouded in clouds. Every once in a while, the peaceful silence was broken by the rumbling of an avalanche (or maybe rockfall?) on the mountain. It felt reassuring to be down low, but those sudden explosions were a good reminder/reality check of the power of nature and the importance of risk assessment when exploring the backcountry in the winter. The uphill became more of a trudge as we occasionally post-holed in the deep snow. Even Cassie, light-footed as she is, had trouble staying afloat. At this point, we knew we were approaching the A-frame because the non-burnt forest was now getting closer and closer. The wind began to pick up and clouds were starting to move in, so it was good that we were nearing some shelter.
The A-frame came into view as we ascended the final hill leading into the forest. Seeing it again brought back memories of our Cooper Spur hike, but, similar to my reminiscence at the beginning of our hike, it was so much more spectacular beneath mounds of glistening snow, a solitary refuge in the heart of a winter wonderland. We walked up a few more yards to an open shelter filled with empty bunks. It was the perfect spot to escape the blustery winds and cold temps. We had originally planned to continue on to Cooper Spur Shelter, but we started later than anticipated and wanted to get back to the city for dinner with my mom before it was too late in the evening. After a brief lunch in the shelter, we packed up our things and started the descent to the car.
Now that we were going downhill and taking less pictures, we nearly doubled our pace. I was so happy when we re-entered the first stretch of forest that had me so enchanted at the beginning of our hike. As much as I loved seeing Mount Hood, I think walking beneath these snow-covered trees was my favorite part of the entire route. We got back to the car around 2 pm just as it started to snow. Perfect timing, especially since it only became heavier when we started driving. Despite the slow moving traffic we encountered as a result, all I kept thinking about was how incredible our first snowshoeing experience had been. I guess we have a lot more exploring to do this season!