Cooper Spur: Part Two

This is the second part of a serialized recounting of my hike to the top of Cooper Spur, on Mt. Hood. Read the first part here.

***

We begin climbing through a forest of hemlock, the ground sandy volcanic ash that slides beneath us with every step. We are traveling uphill, notably, exclusively, but it’s not too steep of a grade, and it feels good to finally be moving toward our destination. I begin to shed my layers one-by-one until I am hiking in just a t-shirt and jeans, the sun beaming down on us and keeping us warm even at such a high altitude. We climb in and out of Tilly Jane Canyon, a place I had read about in the communal guestbook at the ski cabin Eric manages. We decide to refrain from taking the detour to see the campground, agreeing to catch it on the way back provided we have the energy and time.

Eric and I settle into a good pace, with me mostly following a few yards behind him. It is this part of the hike that I find most peaceful, when we walk long enough for both of us to drift into our own worlds, our footsteps lending a steady beat to the soundtrack of our thoughts. The wind brings in sweet smelling mountain air—fragrant pine trees and shrubs, alpine wildflowers, sandy ground. We take frequent breaks, stopping every thirty minutes or so to swig from our water bottles or snack down a handful of trail mix, and eventually the trail curves out of the forest and opens up to a tree-less, rocky landscape.

We spot the Cooper Spur shelter on our right and make our way towards it. The rustic structure is made of rocks, which form the walls and doorway; a metal roof which slopes downward, making it difficult to fully stand on one end; and a cool, packed dirt floor. The shelter is empty except for a rope strung up to hang a light from. It is cool and dark inside, but it feels warmer because we are protected from the wind. I crouch down inside the building and imagine sleeping so high on the mountain, with hundreds of stars above my head, waking up to views of mountains. From the doorway of the shelter, I look on to Hood River Valley, where Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier are clearly visible, hulking in the distance. It seems like we are on top of the world, although I know we’ll be doing even more climbing.

At this point I realize my shoes are inadequate for this journey. I am thankful that Eric has insisted we bring hiking poles with us because they allow my arms to take the pressure off my feet, sliding around in my worn out sneakers. While my shoes aren’t providing the stability or support I prefer, I know that had I worn my hiking boots, my ankles and feet would be supported, but my heels would be suffering from blisters, which form on the bony edges of my foot. At least my sneakers don’t rub as badly. Overall, my muscles are beginning to feel strain from all the elevation we’ve hiked up, and I am kicking myself for not bringing my “real” camera, having to take pictures of spectacular views with the not-so-spectacular camera on my phone, but mostly I am excited to continue.

Eric and I lean up against a boulder outside of the shelter, re-packing our backpacks, hydrating, and re-adjusting our clothes and shoes. He turns to me.

“You ready?” he asks, hoisting his backpack over his shoulders.

“Yes,” I reply. “How much longer do you think we have?”

“Less than a mile,” he tells me, which does not sound like much at all.

Encouraged, I start down the trail in front of him, my gaze following its upward climb into the horizon, as far as I could see.

***

This is the end of part two. I am hoping to finish the series with one more part, to be posted October 27. Update: Read the third and final installment here.

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