We set out over Gnarl Ridge, on Mount Hood’s eastern face, with a forecast of 30% showers. A few hours later, afternoon gusts were hitting us at over 70 mph, frozen hail coming at us sideways, and for some of us, we were reaching our limit. Of course Tom wasn’t even wearing a jacket— hauling a 120 pound backpack of perfume- making equipment around and not even wearing a jacket, even though Obi, the rear anchor on the long train of hikers, reported looking over at Tom and seeing a thick crust of ice form across his arms. All we could say to everyone: Welcome to the Timberline Trail.
This was our first proper expedition to the Pacific Northwest in several years, and the most ambitious Field Lab harvest ever. 19 people backpacking and scent sampling for almost a week across Mount Hood’s famous Timberline Trail? The logistics alone were seemingly insurmountable, and that was before we knew about the challenges that lay ahead, or the staggering beauty.
When asked, “Why this place?”, Hall Newbegin, our intrepid leader explains with dreamy eyes, “I grew up in Oregon and spent my summers hiking and backpacking around the lakes and peaks of the Cascades—Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, The Three Sisters…just saying those names brings a little of their magic into the room for me. That’s what our perfume is all about. That’s my inspiration. When I was a kid it’s just what we did in the summer, and then as an adult I started digging in deeper, learning the names of all the little wildflowers, harvesting wild foods, spending quiet weeks out on the trail. Everything I do in my life now is an expression of that deep, helpless kind of love for the quiet stillness of the outdoors.”
Hall is very good at conveying that love, and for some of us, his projection of that love was the only thing that got us through. For some of our team, especially those on their first backpack, the end couldn’t come soon enough: Peter fell in the river, Jordan’s jacket caught on fire, Derek nearly broke his camera a few times and Kate? Well, Kate was just not having it. We may have ruined poor Kate.
But after Gnarl Ridge the weather got better, and by the time we resupplied at Elk Meadows, after our trek down from Tilly Jane Hut, we began the hike and harvest and finally got to enjoy the process: collecting the little yellow flowers, the spruce tips, the fir pitch that we harvested a hundred bottles of over the course of four days.
This harvest trip had a bit of everything you might expect Juniper Ridge Field Lab trips to have: campfire distillations, drunken ukulele choirs late into the night, every kind of weather imaginable, lots of freeze dried camp food, river crossings, poetry readings, little flowers, big flowers, a hundred ziplock bags full of fir needles, heavy jars full of plant tinctures, and a team of wilderness perfumers, all deliriously happy with sharing these, rare, beautiful moments.
“We always have some vague idea about what the ingredients are going to be in these Field Lab formulations,” explains Obi, “But when we get out there, and we get into it, we always find something new. This year it was the Fir Pitch. Pop those little blisters on the fir tree and this kind of liquid gold spills out. It smells just like heaven… which this trail kind of is.”