On the second day of our epic Timberline Trail backpacking trip of 2020, Beck started unexpectedly menstruating. It was a fast lesson in how to continue being a functioning female while leading a pack in the wilderness.

At home and in modern life, you can easily use tampons and pads and discard them after every use. In the backcountry, it is not that simple. I use a flexible, reusable cup called a Diva Cup and reusable cloth pads. There are many other kinds of reusable cups.

How to use a menstrual cup

The menstrual cups work by collecting the flow. You insert the cup and then remove it hours later to empty the contents out. Some people can leave it in up to 12 hours at a time.

Just like other human waste products, dig a hole at least 6 inches deep. Clean your hands and then empty the cup into the hole. Wipe the inside of the cup using toilet paper, and then reinsert. Use a biodegradable wet wipe to clean the outside of your body. Then wash your hands again once you are done.

Cloth pads

There are many kinds of cloth pads as well such as Glad Rags. When you use a cloth pad, make sure you change out the pad at least one time per day and wash with a biodegradable wet wipe a few times per day. You should only need 2-3 pads no matter how many days you will be backpacking. Clean the used pads in a washbasin, bowl, or pot with biodegradable soap and hot water and then hang on your backpack so that it dries in the sun. (Obviously this doesn’t work if you are stuck in the rain!)

Date: August 2020
Activity: wilderness backpacking
Location: Timberline Trail, Mount Hood in Oregon
Best time of year: June to September
Level of difficulty: moderately difficult
Mileage: 44 miles
Elevation gain: 9,000 ft
Days: 2.5

We circumnavigated the 44 mile Timberline Trail during the last weekend of August 2020 with one of Beck’s besties, Kirsten, and her yellow lab, Porter. There are many different options on where to start and two directions to chose from: clockwise or counterclockwise. We started out on the Timberline Trail and hiked clockwise. The Timberline Trail joins up with the PCT for a short period of time. We also chose to add on the Paradise Loop, which added a mile to our first day. Greg created a route for our Garmin watches so that we had GPS navigation. We also used this guide to instruct us on safe water and campsite options.

The first day we hiked 19 miles. We would have stopped hiking around 15 miles if we had had more options for pitching our tents. After we passed Ramona Falls, there were so many people on the trail and not many camping spots available. So plan to spend the night near Ramona Falls or keep hiking another 8-10 miles past Ramona Falls to find a good spot to set up camp. Also, plan to set up camp in plenty of time before sunset. We ended up setting up camp at sunset on a little piece of property with a definite downwards slant. It was not the finest camp nor the best sleep but we had no other option because people were crawling all over the mountain and there just weren’t enough camp spots.

Our second day we hiked about 12 miles and ended up setting up camp just past the highest point on the Timberline Trail. We found a grove of stout trees to pitch our tents inside of, thinking they would offer protection from the wind. They did, until the wind changed in the middle of the night and, despite the trees surrounding us, our tents took a beating. The closest water was a mile hike up the canyon to a mountain stream. Compared to the night before, there were plenty of camping spots and not many people vying for real estate.

Our third day we hiked the remaining 13 miles back to Timberline Lodge. As we hiked the last 3 miles, we all realized the same thing: it SUCKS to circumnavigate Timberline Trail in a clockwise direction! The last 3 miles are sandy and a constant uphill grade. Every step feels like 1 step forward, and half-a-step backward. The only redeeming factor is the beautiful view of Timberline Lodge across a large valley that gives a person hope that possibly someday soon they will be eating a juicy burger.

TipS and tricks

  1. Start at Timberline Lodge and hike in a counter-clockwise direction. You may not know to thank us, but you will regret it if you don’t.
  2. Don’t hike this trail for the first time if there will be snowfall. And if you do get stuck in the snow, hike down the mountain (not up the mountain).