Monday, August 22, 2005

Cloud Cap

No, Cloud Cap is not the name of a Foghat tribute band (at least I don’t think it is). Cloud Cap is the site of the amazing, Cloud Cap Inn, the oldest high alpine ski cabin in the U.S., built in 1889 on the northeastern slope of Mt. Hood. It’s located at 6,000 feet and even today, it’s a “slow ride” (heh, heh) up a deeply rutted, unpaved road that’s strewn with rocks as big as cantaloupes. After chugging up all 10 miles of it, painstakingly dodging the melon-sized rocks, in our low-slung 1989 Honda Civic, I felt like my skeleton had been somewhat rearranged. Back in the 1800s, visitors arrived under their own power or by stagecoach. (!) You can bet the road was even more marginal back then. Harrowing. The photo above is the view from the Cloud Cap Inn. (You can see why people then [and now] were willing to endure the punishing road up to the inn.) Note how Mt. Hood obliged me by producing a sporty little cloud cap for my photo.

Anyway, getting a chance to see the Cloud Cap Inn, which is no longer in use, was really just a nice serendipity. B and I were up there there to hike.

The Cooper Spur area, as it is known, is one of the few parts of Mt. Hood where I’ve never hiked. We started off on the Timberline Trail, which goes all the way around the mountain—not that we had anything nearly so ambitious in mind. We were headed for this stone shelter, which—despite being on a treeless ridge—is hidden from view until you get within a few feet of it.

Stone Shelter on Cooper Spur

Don’t you love it? It’s got a front row view of Mt. Hood and the massive Eliot Glacier (and a bunch of other glaciers). Backpackers who are circumnavigating Mt. Hood can spend the night in the shelter. We had our lunch there and then hiked back down to sample another of the ultra-tempting high-country trails that crisscross the Cooper Spur area.

We set out on a trail toward Elk Cove, knowing full well didn’t have time to get all the way to Elk Cove, but once you’re up that high, just about any trail you’re on is going to be spectacular, even if you take a wrong turn and find yourself on a knifeblade-edge ridge heading straight for the icefields. Whoops! It was great, though, I felt like I was part of the sky. I could see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles—all the way north beyond Mt. Rainier and and east well into the High Desert. It still blows my Midwestern mind to be able to hike at such exalted elevations.

It was an exhilarating day. And I now understand more fully why so many conservation groups have banded together to stop logging sales and to try to prevent a giant-ass ski resort from being built on Cooper Spur. If that happens, the Cooper Spur area will be ruined forever. Corporate greed and selfishness know no bounds.

At least we were able to see it while it's still unspoiled. It will be a disgrace if future generations don't get that chance.

We had dinner at the Elliot [sic] Glacier Public House, a brewpub that had gained mythical status in my imagination, ever since a Chicago friend told me that she had once visited her brother in Portland and they’d taken an old-fashioned train up a mountain to a brewpub. That sounded like heaven on earth to me. As soon as I moved to Portland, I started asking about this Brewpub at the End of a Mountain Railway Line. No one knew what I was talking about. I figured it out only a couple of months ago (we've lived in the area nearly four years now) when I was showing my brother and his girlfriend the Mt. Hood area. Turns out the Elliot Glacier Public House is at the end of the Mt. Hood railway, a very touristy little enterprise that travels from Hood River through picturesque pear and apple orchards to the tiny hamlet of Parkdale. For the record, it's not at the top of a mountain as my friend led me to believe, which is why it took me so long to find it. (I'm usually pretty good at finding brewpubs.)

It’s very cute. A former movie theatre, it's now on the National Historic Register. (I just love the way tumbledown buildings are always getting transformed into booze halls here in Oregon.) After all that hiking, I had a hankering for a hearty platter of fish and chips, but it was not to be. The menu was limited to things like nachos and burritos (very heavy on the black beans) and a few sandwiches. Alas, they had no deep fryer. However, the beer—I had the Gnarl Ridge IPA—was highly satisfactory. And that’s the main thing, isn’t it? Plus, look at the view from the patio.

Mount Hood Viewed from the Elliot Glacier Public House

After dinner we mustered enough energy to tour the town (all two blocks of it) and ran across this monument to equine-human companionship.*

Barbed Wire Horse and Barbed Wire Girl

The entire thing is fashioned out of barbed wire. Don’t believe me? Get a load of the little girl’s hair. Still don’t believe me? Check out her muscled calves. Freaky!

Speaking of freaky--when I got home I discovered that I had 8 angry, itchy mosquito bites on my arse. How does a thing like that happen? My only theory is that the skeeters were lying in wait in the pit toilet and managed to zoom in and get a snootful as I hovered** over the horrifying vault to take a leak after the hike.

*I'm a bit embarassed to admit that I could see the back end of the horse from the pub patio and formed the impression that I was viewing a real horse's ass.

**No way was I going to let any part of my flesh touch the pit toilet seat.


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