Thanks to everyone who contributed to the second annual Timberline Trail survey. It will take some time to analyze the results – especially a more detailed analysis based on the starting date. Here’s the first part of the 2023 Timberline Trail Survey results.
Overall 126 people answered the survey. This initial summary is from the raw results. I’ll split it into three parts. Here are the results from the first part of the Timberline Trail survey. At the end, I’ll do a comparison between this year’s and last year’s results.
Basic Hike Information
Timberline Lodge again remains by far the most common starting location, with 112 people starting from there. 6 people started at Top Spur and 4 from Cloud Cap. Only 1 person started from another location, which was Government Camp, and used the Glade Trail. They did this because the Timberline Lodge Road was closed due to an accident. Now there’s dedication!
Which Direction Did You Hike?
Historically the thought was that clockwise was the predominant direction. Although there is no real solid reason for this and many say that the slog out of the White Canyon at the end of the last day is a downside of the clockwise approach. This year clockwise seems to have taken a greater predominance over counter clock-wise.
76 people started in a clockwise direction, whereas 50 started in a counter-clockwise direction.
How many nights did you spend on the trail?
10 people ran the trail in a day. I am in awe of anyone who can run the trail in one day! As a percentage, this is slightly higher than last year.
3 nights is the most popular duration to hike the trail. This makes each day a comfortable 10 or so miles. 50 people opted for this pace. 40 completed the hike in 3 days / 2 nights and 14 in 2 days / 1 night.
For those who have a little more time, 11 completed the trail in 5 days / 4 nights or more.
How many times have you hiked the Timberline Trail?
Just around 2/3 of the people, 83, had this as their first attempt at the Timberline Trail. This is great to see and quite an increase over last year.
12 people had completed the trail one time before and 4 were on their third attempt.
15 people are regulars on the trail and have completed it 4 or more times! There are definitely some experts out there in our group who have had a lot of experience on the trail. I was lucky enough to meet Any Steward Ford twice this year, who has completed the trail more than 10 times!
Did you use a tent or hammock?
Tents remain by far the most common form of shelter. Only 2 people reported using hammocks. There are plenty of trees on the trail, maybe with some exceptions around the top of Gnarl Ridge towards Tilly Jane.
What was your heaviest pack weight in pounds?
The average pack weight was reported to be just a little over 27 lbs. It’s probably a good assumption that this was the starting pack weight as there is no need to resupply on the Timberline Trail.
The distribution of pack weights spread between 5 lbs, which is presumably for trail runners all the way up to 50 lbs. The overall peak distribution of pack weight is in the 25-35lb range.
Pack weight can be a good indicator of success on the trail. In a more detailed analysis, we’ll look at pack weight as a predictor of either injury or a correlation between pack weight and having to leave the trail early.
2023 had a slightly earlier start to the season than 2022. However, for those who journeyed out early, it was not an easy journey. One earlier hiker summitted both Hood and completed the Timberline Trail. He reported that the Timberline Trail in the early season was far harder than summitting. Early-season hikers had to contend with icy conditions that made many of the canyon traverses difficult and dangerous.
The season really kicked in from the middle of July to the middle of September. As a note, it’s not clear to me that the slow tail-off as the season progressed was more because I was preparing and then hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail.
Although the hiking season clearly tapers off this year, the weather allowed hiking relatively late. And although unpredictable, the trail was snow-free into late October and probably still passable in parts of November.
How many People hiked with you?
This year hiking alone was the most common grouping. However, hiking with a single companion was a close second.
As the number of people increased, so do the organizational challenges, but that didn’t stop folks from tackling the trail in groups of 3 or more. 9 people traveled in groups of 4 or more.
Did you hike with a dog?
I still feel this is one of the more underrepresented results. Maybe it’s because I’m always hiking with Hunter, or maybe when I hike the Timberline Trail there seem to be many dogs on the trail – maybe many of them are day-hiking dogs. However, out of 126 respondents, only 5 said they were hiking with fido. Admittedly it can be a tough trail for dogs. However, this result is in line with last year.
Despite the snow lingering for quite a while – this year was not too bad.
Probably the most feared part of the Timberline Trail is the stream crossings. Depending on the time of year, the rate of snow melt, and the temperature – these can be anything from a simple rock hock to a scary wade. There have been plenty of times when you can complete the trail without getting your feet wet and at others, you can be thigh-deep in fast, glacial run-off.
As you would probably expect overall the Eliot was considered the hardest crossing, followed by the Coe. This is pretty much in keeping with what people report from their trail reports. With the Eliot, there is the added challenge of getting down to the water! This year in the first part of the season, there was no good log crossing across the Eliot and then later it appears to have been re-organized by trail maintenance folks so there was a much better log crossing.
At the other end of the spectrum, not many problems crossing the Zigzag River. This year the crossing of Muddy is slightly more complex. Many folks started to take the original Timberline Trail that re-opened and which, in my opinion, has a harder crossing. The detour route which crosses the Muddy at the PCT, also changed this year. Although still relatively easy, One of the logs, which made a convenient handrail, has now gone.
If we look at how the streams were forded, a little difference from this year over last year is noticeable in the Eliot with more wading. This is also true of the Sandy, where I am assuming there was no good log crossing for the PTC / Timberline Trail hikers (but a very usable log crossing for the Ramona Falls crossing of the Sandy).
The Zigzag, Clark, and White look to have been pretty easy to cross with rock hopping.
That’s the end of the first part of the 2023 Timberline Trail Survey results – stay tuned for more to come.