The Cloud Cap Inn
The Crag Rats occupy and maintain historic Cloud Cap Inn, located at 6,000 feet on the north side of Mt Hood, under a special use permit from the US forest Service. For more than 100 years, Cloud Cap has withstood fierce winter storms, forest fires and changing economic fortunes. For more than 50 years, the Crag Rats have carefully maintained and improved Cloud Cap, using it as a base for snow surveys, training, and rescue missions, as well as regular group meetings and outings.
Early History (1884 – 1954)
In 1884, four Hood Riverites and their workers cut a primitive road through the thick forest in the foothills of Mt Hood, and eventually established a summer tent camp at 6,000 feet near the Eliot Glacier. The camp was hosted by Mrs. David Cooper, of the Cooper Family which gave its name to the distinctive ridge above the inn. Several years later, two Portlanders acquired the rights and began to improve the road and build a timber lodge on a rock promontory near the old tent camp. Giant firs were felled from a site 2.5 miles below and hauled up the road by teams of horses. Rock was blasted from nearby cliffs to build two great fireplaces. Water was piped in from Tilly Jane Creek, 1,200 feet away. Upon completion, the structure was anchored against the severe winter storms by steel cables. Cloud Cap Inn opened to the public on August 6, 1889. Business was slow in the beginning. The Inn closed down in 1890 and the original developers turned over operation of the Inn to Sarah Langille, in 1891. Sarah ran Cloud Cap at a much simpler level and was able to operate at a profit. Her two sons Will and Doug worked at the Inn as mountain guides. In February 1890, Will and Doug Langille skied to the Inn on homemade skis. This trip was followed by many other successful winter trips and this early exploration enticed others to make the same journey.
Summer access was via horse drawn stage up the 1889 wagon road which is mostly used for skiing today. The road was difficult to build, and hard to drive. Chinese laborers dug and filled the grade of the road by hand, all the way to the timberline level. Just below Cloud Cap Inn there is a spot with a 22- percent grade on a curve over a small ravine that was named “China Fill,” which proved to be very challenging. The grade was so steep that the stages would usually have to change horses at the livery stable ¾ mile below Cloud Cap. The trip to Cloud Cap Inn usually started with a 40-mile train ride from Portland to Hood River. The horse-drawn Cloud Cap Stage took passengers from Hood River to Cloud Cap where they arrived five and a half hours later after a stop for lunch and several horse changes at livery stables along the way. In 1906, the Mt. Hood Railroad was built, taking passengers fifteen miles to Dee. In 1910, it was extended to Parkdale for a 22-mile trip. The first automobile, a one-cylinder Cadillac, drove up to Cloud Cap in 1907. Sarah retired from operating the Inn successfully in 1907 and turned operation over to Horace and Olive Mecklem. Mecklem used a Pierce Arrow as a stage from Hood River to the Inn. The auto could only go to the China Fill, but it cut down the time from Hood River from eight hours to three.
Homer Rogers, who ran a lodge in Parkdale, bought the Inn in 1919 for $5,000, and a long-term contract from the Forest Service was made. (Click to see stationery with photos, courtesy of the Roy Family.) In 1925 the government was planning the Mt. Hood Loop Highway and considering building a newer and bigger Inn, similar to Rainier’s Paradise Hotel. They pressured Rodgers to make improvements to the road or lose his permit. Homer ended up selling the Inn to a group of people headed by J.C. Ainsworth. The plans for a new Grand Lodge didn’t bring the funds needed by private investors.
In 1927 Noyes Tyrell took over the Inn’s operation, and ran it until 1932 when it stood empty for about a year. Boyd French Sr. leased it around 1934 until the war caused it to close its operation. The Mt. Hood Road and Wagon Company sold the Inn in 1942 to the Forest Service for $2,000. Attempts to operate the Inn failed after that. Hunters and vandals took their toll, as did the weather. The Forest Service considered tearing it down in 1950. In 1954, the Hood River Crag Rats offered to fix it up and maintain it if they were given a permit to use Cloud Cap as a base for their snow survey program and mountain rescue. The Crag Rats most recently renewed their Special Use Permit in 2003.