The legend of the mountain is, well, stuff of legend. Having been given its current name in 1972 during the expedition of Captain George Vancouver, Mount Hood was formerly known by its native Multnomah name of Wy’east. Call it what you will, the mountain is not only incredibly beautiful, but offers seemingly infinite opportunity for adventure.
We decided to make the most of the expected sun, devising a plan to squeeze two rides into one day, each in two very different areas. Our morning route found us heading up and in the direction of the Cloud Cap Inn and Tilly Jane Campground. It was a pretty straightforward affair, and as long as you channeled your inner mountain billy goat, quite enjoyable. We set out from Parkdale and, after 9 or so miles and 1,900’ of climbing, left the pavement and began playing on the dirt.
A paradise for those who relish the outdoors, Mt. Hood offers skiers six ski areas with 4,600 acres of skiable terrain and the only year-round lift skiing in North America. For those more inclined to warmer pursuits, Hood boasts more than 1,200 miles of hiking trails, and seemingly endless options for gravel cycling. The latter, obviously, is what we were after. Mt. Hood didn't disappoint.
The big one
Beautiful and majestic, Mount Hood is Oregon’s highest mountain and the fourth highest in the Cascade Range, measuring 11,240’. It’s considered a ‘potentially active’ stratovolcano by the U.S. Geological Survey, and although the odds of an eruption in the next 30 years hover in the 3-7% range, it still provides ample mystery in both its expansiveness and its potential explosiveness. Oregonians rely on Mount Hood for both timber and as an outdoor playground, as well as a continual, underlying source of worry.
We in the Pacific Northwest – and on the western side of the mountain – spend a considerable amount of time on moss-covered roads amidst towering Douglas Fir. All fine and well, but the variety offered on the north and east side of Hood is exciting stuff. While glaciers carve large and clear swaths above, ample burn zones below offer a stark contrast to the surrounding dark green forests and contribute to a sense that you are nowhere close to home.
After a further 9 miles and 2,000’ of additional climbing on some quality gravel and a switchback-laden hillside, we reached Cloud Cap Inn. Built in 1889, but long since shuttered, this historic alpine lodge is the oldest in the US. From Cloud Cap you feel within spitting distance of Elliot Glacier and the northeast side of Mt. Hood.
Following a rather quick descent, lunch, and the obligatory checking of email, we headed across the Columbia River and into Washington for our afternoon jaunt. Our goal was to climb up the roads just north of the river and simply ‘pop out’ atop the Syncline Trail. Long story short: there ain’t no popping to the top of a 4-mile, 2,000’ climb.
On a brighter note, the top of the ridge offered amazing light and spectacular views, and we were suddenly re-energized. The trails were certainly more suited to full suspension MTB, but we rode what we could, hiked what we could not, and played on bikes as though there was nothing else we’d rather be doing. Because there wasn’t.
As the sun began to set, we made the most of the final moments of light, riding over the rocks and through the fields in what would become one of the more memorable moments we’ve spent on bikes.
Mount Hood and its surrounding area undoubtedly provide ample opportunities for getting together with friends, getting outdoors, and getting lost, physically and metaphorically. And we were again reminded of how lucky we are to have a playground such as this to call our backyard. If you find yourself in the area and the weather is cooperating, you simply can’t go wrong with a spin on the bike. Just remember to bring your climbing gears.