Reportage

Through The Wardrobe: Exploring the Oregon Timber Trail’s Anaxshat Passage

Last Autumn, I found myself wondering, “How do I pack for a bike ride through Narnia?”. I had just been asked to sample a small section of the wonderful Oregon Timber Trail by my friend Gabriel. I packed a grocery bag full of Voile straps, my foul weather gear, a laminated local mushroom-foraging pamphlet, and prepared to step through the magic wardrobe.

A friend and I made the drive down from Seattle to Portland one rainy afternoon and after a massive yard sale across Gabriel’s living room to ensure all gear was accounted for, we had a quick snooze and a morning shuttle to the trailhead the next day. As we set off on our bicycles from Estacada—an old logging town turned gateway to the Clackamas River watershed—the weather welcomed us with the perfect amount of Pacific Northwest soggy, where the air is so heavy with dew that all the trails get that perfect packed-down loamy sensation and your tires squish right across the sparkling pine needles. Your bike is silent from the extra lubrication (at least for now!) and it feels like your fully-loaded rigid steel bike suddenly has suspension. There were zero insects and the air was cool and silent. We had embarked on a total magic carpet ride through the hills of Oregon.

The rest of the first day of our sweet little overnighter felt like the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe crossed with that rad 90’s board game Candyland, as we quickly began to encounter excellent characters who were foraging on the trail. The first mystical guide we came across was a super fungi (sorry, there isn’t mushroom for jokes and I couldn’t help myself) who was incredibly knowledgeable about the local edible mushrooms. He was very tall and had a nice wool outfit on and a little hat, complete with a special belt that held a medium-sized wicker basket on his hip. Inside held several small linen bags full of different species of mushrooms expertly harvested and brushed off with an Opinel knife specifically designed for this purpose. He was friendly and explained the different varieties, my favorite of which was one infected with a special bacteria that turns it bright red and extra tasty, earning the nickname the Lobster mushroom. We continued on as gorgeous golden sun-dappled autumn leaves fell like giant pieces of confetti all along the trail, suddenly noticing the many different mushrooms hidden in the moss on either side.

We soon came to rest for lunch at a sunny river. As the branches on the bank dripped rainbow crystal drops onto the rocks around us we noticed some salmon that had made it to that section of the river in their last phase of life. They were massive and dying, lazily swimming against the current with their last bit of strength.

We carried on and soon began a fast and fun road section with almost no traffic, beautiful views of the crystal blue river below to our right, and incredible fiery leaves on the cliffside to our left. The road eventually turned onto a gravel climb which, after dangling Base Camp IPA’s off sticks and rope from our handlebars to gain motivation for the climb, we were awarded with jaw-dropping views from up high of the valley and mountains below.

Late in the day we began our final leg of day one: the Miller Trail of Timothy Lake, where we would find our camp for the evening. This section was my favorite part of our overnight escapade. The trail is a gorgeous, very well-maintained singletrack along a lake with extraordinary views of Mount Hood reflecting off the water’s surface, plus super fun, fast, swoopy trail riding. We lit a fire on the beach, drank a beer and finished dinner, and then it was off to a cozy night’s sleep in our little tent village.

We began riding once again early the next day, eager to ride the rest of the zippy lake trail. There were several spots where old man’s beard-encrusted tree trunks had fallen across the trail and we lifted our bikes up and over while wearing bits of the moss as dapper mustaches.

Over a few more wooden, pine needle-decorated bridges and patches of brightly-colored mushrooms that looked like someone had spilled a bag of spare shirt buttons onto the moss, and we came upon the most astonishing waterhole I have ever seen. We paused on a bridge to look with fear and admiration into the clearest, deepest, bluest, coldest water you could possibly imagine, with one solitary moss-covered fallen tree reaching deep into its still abyss. It was like looking into the eye of a massive, frightening sea monster. We dragged ourselves away and continued on the Candyland map to see what else we would encounter.

Another long but not-so-steep gravel climb took us past some wandering newts and wooden signs with warnings of Big Foot danger levels, and eventually up to more incredible mountain views. The air was clear and crisp with no wind and no bugs. We flew down a fast rocky descent on Abbot Road with more panoramic views and wild color changes in the forest. We paused to fill our bottles up at a small pipe hanging off the cliffside: a perfect, pure mountain spring of ice-cold water sparkling in the gloom.

We hiked the bikes across a damaged wooden bridge where the trail had slipped down the mountain and soon entered a very fun loamy singletrack section, fast and mossy and swoopy through the deep dark woods. Before we knew it we were on a potholed gravel road descent through the night back into town. We had reached the end of the Candyland map, where we devoured several wood fired pizzas and pints of local craft beer. My friends and I sadly opened the wardrobe door and fell back into reality, to go to work the next morning.

Sitting at my desk the next day I smiled, knowing that you only need a weekend, a little knowledge of the local flora and fauna, some wet weather gear, and a couple of friends to escape back to the magic when you were ten years old. Any time you want, you can pack a sweater, a sandwich, and step through that wardrobe. See you in Narnia!

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So what’s up with the name, ‘Anaxshat’? As the Oregon Trail became a major emigrant route in the mid-1800’s the available pastures along Mount Hood’s Barlow Trail and Lolo Pass were over-grazed making a long, hard journey even more difficult. Lieutenant Henry Abbot—a topographical engineer—was hired to find a suitable alternate route with potential for a future railroad. He enlisted the help of a young local indigenous man by the name of Sam Anaxshat.

Native people in this region would use ridgelines to access meadows and hunting grounds in the high country, as well as for trade routes with other tribes in central and eastern Oregon. Up and down the Willamette Valley these same people would frequently light controlled burns to make foot travel easier, encourage camas growth (a staple food source), and deer to linger in hunting grounds. Sam had traveled this route through the Clackamas River watershed once before and agreed to take Abbot’s whole outfit along the treacherous passage. This route is named in honor of Sam Anaxshat’s knowledge of the local terrain.

Learn more about the trails and history of this area on the Trail Advocate website.

Explore the OTT’s Anaxshat Passage Hood Tier Loop at Oregon Timber Trail.