Guest writer climbs Cooper Spur

A recent email from my boyfriend, Arno, was so entertaining I asked if I could make a blog post out of it. He gave his permission. Following is his email, unedited.

Arno at the stone hut on Cooper Spur, Mt. Hood Oregon
Arno at the stone hut on Cooper Spur, Mt. Hood Oregon

Driving up to the ski area (where the Tilly Jane trail head is) I turned off of Hwy 35 just after a northbound Toyota Landcruiser with Canadian plates. The Landcruiser was older (but not too old). It had a lift kit and oversize wheels, with more of a “go places trail worthy” look than the overbuilt penis compensating look. It also had a roof rack and an air intake snorkel. The easy guess was that the driver and passengers were young(ish) adventurers from up north, eh.

I followed it up the twisty road to Cooper Spur inn, and then it turned and ended up going all the way to the same Tilly Jane parking lot that I was going to. I pulled in and parked, and got out to start putting on my boots. The driver of the Landcruiser got out and wandered over to the trail head sign. Then he saw me and wandered over. It turned out that the rather capable looking Landcruiser was being piloted by a 72 year old retired engineer and co-piloted by his 65 year old wife. They were from Parksville BC which is on Vancouver Island (not to be confused with Vancouver the city) BC. They make an annual pilgrimage to Oregon to play around and their plan had been to drive up to the Cloud Cap parking lot eight miles further up the road. But the road is closed at Tilly Jane. That’s why the guy came over to talk to me, he wanted to know why the road was closed. I explained the Hazard Tree harvesting project this summer, and we talked briefly about forest fire management. He looked disappointed to have to hike up from so far down (I’d given him the data on how far it was to tree line). Then I asked if he and his wife had ever hiked Tamawanas falls. It turned out that they hadn’t, and it sounded a much better time to them than hiking up Tilly Jane. They thanked me and drove away.

It was not too cold (48F) and only mizzle when I started, so I warmed up quickly. I tried to hike slow enough to keep my rain shell on, but kept getting hot, so eventually I took off the shell and hiked in just my long sleeve thin icebreaker base layer shirt. The mizzle was light enough that I wasn’t getting too terribly wet (I kept my rain pants on cuz they were too much of a pain to change out of). The lower part of the trail, within the first half mile, has a couple of sections of soggy trail where people have put down logs. With all of the recent rain, the trail was a complete bog in places. Even the logs seemed soggy. Fortunately, my boots are exceedingly waterproof.

About a mile up the trail I caught a bit of brown motion in my peripheral vision and stopped. There were three doe black tail deer standing about 20 meters uphill from me, all three watching me intently. I stayed where I was and talked quietly, saying “hello my deer, how are you?” They didn’t answer back, but they didn’t take off running either. I keep talking gently, and started walking again. And they stayed where they were, I guess deciding that I was safe enough they didn’t have to run. Believe it or not this is the first time that I’ve seen deer on that trail. It struck me as odd at the time, but I guess it probably isn’t all that strange. It’s the time of year that deer move to lower elevations and this is the first time I’ve hiked that trail in late September.

About a half mile farther up the trail, more brown motion. This time, a solitary buck. When I saw him he was already in “cartoon” mode. He was moving from north to south, with that four footed jumping motion that deer can do. That casual, effortless looking spring into the air that says, “Hey, look at me you possible predator. I’m fast and springy and it’s really not even worth thinking about trying to chase me and eat me because I can spring away from you so fast it will make your head spin”. It was wonderful to watch him bound across the trail.

As I neared the Tilly Jane A-frame, patches of snow appeared on the ground, and the mizzle started to change over to sleet, then snain, and finally at the A-frame itself it was snowing, but only lightly. I stopped briefly to eat a ham sandwich that I’d packed. The only layer that I added for warmth was my rain shell, and that proved a little too light. I started to get chilled, but didn’t really want to dig out extra clothing, so instead I ate only half the sandwich, then packed up and started hiking again to generate heat, this time leaving my rain shell on for added warmth.

From the A-frame, the trail goes through woods for almost a mile before reaching the Timberline trail about a thousand feet higher up the mountain. As I gained altitude, the wind howled louder in the trees, and the snow both fell heavier and covered the trail more heavily. At first, there was only slush on the trail and spots of snow. By the time I was in the stunted growth trees, there was 6-8″ of snow on the trail. As I closed in on tree line, the snow was at least a foot deep. I paused to pull up my hood, contemplated getting out my ski goggles (it was obvious that once I cleared the trees the snow would be blowing sideways) and kept going.

It’s only a few hundred meters from the shelter of the trees to the shelter of the stone hut. The wind was spectacular. It was foggy, snowing, and blowing snow. I did a mental check to see if I remembered the compass heading back to the trail as I exited the trees. I could still see the trees, but if the clouds closed in only a little more, I could lose sight of the trees only 20 meters away. A compass is a useful tool. I didn’t want to get lost!  I go to the stone hut, took a picture, contemplated eating, then decided that the weather was worsening and opted to start back down instead. In the 20 minutes it took me to clear the tree line and get to the hut, and then start back, the wind and snow were strong enough that my tracks, punched through 18 inches of snow, were already almost covered over in places. The sky was noticeably darker, the wind stronger, the snow stinging. These were the kind of conditions that can get people who don’t know what they’re doing.

On my way down, back in the trees, mostly out of the wind. I was hiking along, making very good time descending, and was close enough to the A-frame that there wasn’t much snow on the trail. I came around a bend in the trail and almost ran into a guy in a yellow rain shell. He was more surprised than I was and actually let out a little shriek. We both stopped, and exchanged basic greetings. He was very surprised to see anyone else on the trail, and asked how much farther it was to the stone hut. I told him it was about half a mile and asked if he’d been up there before. He said that he had, but not by this trail. He’d always driven up before and taken the upper trail from the old Cloud Cap Inn, but with the road closed he’d been forced to hike. He then explained that his grandmother in-law had died the previous year, and they’d taken her ashes up to the moraine by the stone hut (he didn’t say moraine, he said the edge of the valley with the view, but he meant the moraine). Then he continued his story, saying that his grandfather in law had just passed away, and the family wanted his ashes spread at the same place. He was the one that got to do the extra-long hike to do the job.

He seemed reasonably well prepared based on his gear and how he was using it. I was a little concerned that he wouldn’t be prepared for the transition in weather above tree line (it really was like night and day with the wind and snow, vs where we were standing having a conversation). I actually contemplated asking if he wanted me to go up with him, but then decided against it. I told him how much farther he had to go, mentioned the wind and snow and how my tracks started to get covered up pretty quickly and asked in a left handed way if he had a compass with him (he did, in his pack, I almost suggested that he should take it out now before he hits the wind so that he would have it to take a bearing, but I stopped short of saying that. I just suggested that taking a compass bearing above treeline was a good idea.

And then I resumed my descent. I ate the other half of my sandwich at the A-frame on the way down. Marveled at the worsening weather (the mizzle was a very solid rain at the lower elevation), and didn’t see any more deer. Back at the truck I changed into dry layers and then headed home.

So, like I had texted you, a moderately eventful trip.

The retired folks with the mondo 4×4 were entertaining and unexpected. The guy carrying his grandfather in-law’s ashes reminded me of the closing scene in the movie “The Bucket List”. And also reminded me that I want someone to do that with my ashes. Maybe even haul my ashes up Cooper spur. Only it would have to be past the stone hut to at least the top of the pyramid at 8K feet. The view is better there.

-Your mountain geek.

3 thoughts on “Guest writer climbs Cooper Spur

  1. Awesome story and I have new words for my weather vocab. Like you when you write, I was right with him on the trail the entire hike. Thanks for sharing Arno’s email.

    1. I knew you would like it, Cuz. I told him the same thing: that I had felt as though I walked with him at each stage of the trip. I taught Arno mizzle, but now he has taught me snain. ha ha!

  2. I too felt like I was on the hike … meeting the others along the trail, feeling the chill, making a decision about how much gear to wear and when to eat, and the disappearing footprints in the snow. Excellent!

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