BEND, Ore. — Like skiers in search of wintertime powder, outdoor enthusiasts across Central Oregon recently were in search of clean air. I started checking purpleair.com obsessively, looking for good or moderate air quality for running and mountain biking as smoke from wildfires inundated the High Desert.
One day I saw that the sensors at Mount Bachelor ski area indicated good air, while the air in Bend was very unhealthy to hazardous.
So the family and I made the half-hour drive into the mountains, planning for a trail run around Todd Lake and then a hike of Tumalo Mountain.
Todd Lake is a decent option for a hike or trail run in the Cascades because the 1.7-mile loop around the lake is relatively flat and a Central Cascades Wilderness permit is not required.
The clear lake offers dramatic views of Mount Bachelor and the tip of Broken Top, and the trail leads to a meadow on the north end of the lake.
My wife, our 13-year-old son Mason and I ran the loop three times for a 5-mile run in moderate air quality. But we were not quite ready to head back to town and the smoke, so we headed to Dutchman Flat Sno-park for a hike up Tumalo Mountain.
Tumalo Mountain is perhaps more known to Central Oregon locals as a wintertime destination, where they can hike to the summit and then ski or snowboard down the prominent northeast bowl of the 7,779-foot peak.
Because of that, I have often discounted Tumalo as a summertime hiking spot.
But at 2 miles, it is a relatively short trail to the summit, and its location in the Cascade Range west of Bend offers a pretty easy route to some of the best views in the Central Oregon Cascades — when the air is clear. The Tumalo hike also does not require a Central Cascades Wilderness permit, so spur-of-the-moment trips are possible.
It’s no secret
The trail is steep in certain locations, but the 4-mile round trip can be completed in about two hours or less.
The parking lot was fairly full, as Tumalo is no secret. The climb begins in thick forest, and we could hear cars along Century Drive as we made our way up above the tree line.
Once above the trees some, we could see Mount Bachelor as it came into view to the south just across the highway. But the wind shifted and the smoke from Bend started blowing west, in our direction.
We came across lots of other hikers making their way back down the dusty trail, which increased in steepness as we approached the summit about an hour into the trek.
When we crested the final ridge, all we could see was smoke on the horizon. What would normally be a dramatic view of the Three Sisters and Broken Top was spoiled. We could just barely make out Broken Top through the smoke.
A trail cut along the summit, and we walked along it, trying to identify the peaks through the haze.
A few other hikers lingered on the summit, grumbling about the smoke and the lack of views.
After exploring the summit for about a half-hour, we made our way back down, running here and there on the less technical spots along the trail. The path is pretty smooth for the most part, but hikers must negotiate rocks and roots on a few sections.
The descent took about 45 minutes, and by the time we reached the sno-park, we were tired but not completely exhausted.
Beautiful alpine vistas
While Tumalo Mountain is a backcountry gem in the winter, it also makes for a relatively easy half-day hike in the middle of summer.
And when the air is clear, the alpine vistas are tough to beat atop Tumalo.
As we head into fall, hopefully the smoke is a thing of the past — at least for this year — and autumn brings clean air for all of our outdoor pursuits in Central Oregon.