On quite possibly our most amazing hike so far, we headed up to McNeil Point on Sunday with fellow Jiver and hiking enthusiast Matt (who also joined us on Nesmith Point earlier this summer… congrats on being the first repeat special guest! :)). Inspired by some recent trip reports, it looked like the time was right for this hike, with the snow on its way out and the wildflowers still in full bloom. This was only our second hike actually on Mt. Hood, and it brought us closer to the summit than we’ve been before. It’s a humbling experience to say the least.
Mt. Hood National Forest
McNeil Point Shelter: ~6,100 feet; McNeil Point: ~6,870 feet
Total hike distance: 11.48 miles (including trip up McNeil Ridge)
Total elevation gain: 3,312 feet (including trip up McNeil Ridge)
Click map for full GPS data
We started up the trail at Top Spur trailhead (about 3,940 feet), and while it started climbing right out of the gate, it was pretty gentle. This hike is absolutely full of breathtaking views at every turn, with the first one coming around .7 miles in. We rounded a bend on the trail and came face to face with monstrous Mt. Hood. Note: Not only is the trail full of views, but also full of confusing junctions. There are trails criss-crossing all over this area… if you’re heading up, make sure you have clear directions as it’s easy to make a wrong turn (which we actually did at one point, and had to backtrack). The directions in the Sullivan book were pretty solid.
Well hello, Hood
Blankets of wildflowers
On a typical hike the major payoff view comes at the end of your climb. This time, we were spoiled with amazing views of Mt. Hood right away! And not only were we treated to mountain views the entire way (which you’ll see), but I’m pretty sure that we saw every single variety of wildflower that we’ve ever seen and then some, all on this hike. Ridiculous.
Matt (and Buckley’s butt)
At about 3.5 miles or so, we came to a pair of shallow but perfectly clear tarns reflecting the mountain above. This part was a little confusing as the trail forks and it’s not obvious which one you should take (FYI, you can either fork right just after the first tarn, or go a bit further on the left-hand trail and take an unmarked side trail to the right that spurs off by the second tarn and meets up with the main trail). From the tarns you have a clear view of McNeil Point above.
The far point directly below the Hood summit is where we’re headed
You will know you are on the right trail when you hit this McNeil Point sign about .3 miles after the tarns. Despite this very clear sign, later on we saw people hiking through the protected meadow. Hey, you suck.
Shortly after this point we started to hit snow. We were expecting and prepared for a lot of snow, and in the middle of a sunny day we were fully expecting to post-hole through it. It actually ended up not being too bad. Most of the snow patches were pretty packed down with clear boot tracks to step in, the other parts were soft enough to kick in your own steps. At about the same time we encountered snow, we also encountered ridiculous views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. I just can’t get enough of this.
Mt. Adams in the distance
Looking back over the outflow of the Glisan Glacier with (L to R) Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainer and Mt. Adams
Most of the trail was clear of snow, but there were a few large snowfields to cross. It looks worse than it was. It was pretty comfortable to cross even without poles. It was also a very hot and sunny day, so I took advantage of the snow by mashing handfuls of it against my forehead and the back of my neck for quick cool-downs. 🙂
The first big snow field
Another wildflower first for us! Got to see some Western Pasque Flower, also known as “Hippie on a Stick.” Heheee!
Before we knew it, we were at the McNeil Point shelter. This is a great place to declare victory and have some lunch, but the trail does continue up from here to the actual McNeil Point, adding another 800 feet or so of climbing. I think most people do turn around at the shelter, but that trail was beckoning to us…
McNeil Point Shelter
The trail just kept going… how could we stop??
We decided to press on and get to that point. It doesn’t look all that far away, but man… it’s up there. I struggled with this last stretch. I could only take about ten steps before I had to pause and catch my breath (I distinctly remember this feeling from South Sister!). Paul was crushing it, but little by little I made my way up.
Buckley stood there and cheered me on until I made it up this part. He is awesome.
About halfway up this extra hike I had to sit down for a minute. So did Buckley. 🙂
Taking it in
The trail ends at that big rock outcropping just to the right of middle
So I have to admit… I didn’t make it all the way to the very end. I stopped probably a tenth of a mile short, and decided to hang back to take pictures of Paul. I was proud of myself for getting as far as I did anyway, since I really wasn’t sure if I could make it up the ridge. In any case, this is the closest either of us had been to Hood’s summit. It felt like it was right there! I felt microscopic next to this beast.
After taking it in for a minute, we headed back to the shelter area for a quick lunch and then our return trip. The descent was relatively uneventful, but it was nice to revisit all of the gorgeous views again.
Thousands of Avalanche Lilies
We did briefly meet one PCT thru-hiker when we were almost done. It was the first time we’d met one in person, very exciting! People actually backpack the entire Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada, over the course of several months. That’s 2,650 miles of walking. The woman we met (I regret I didn’t ask her name) was French, and had started from the Mexico border 3 1/2 months ago by herself. She said it was more difficult than she though it would be – not the hiking so much, but being dirty all the time. I totally identify! I feel so grimey after one day I can’t imagine what several weeks or months feels like. Even so, the thought of conquering the PCT is enticing… what an accomplishment. Maybe next year.
This was one of the most enjoyable hikes yet, and we will undoubtedly return. There were lots of great campsites along the way, so I have a feeling this will turn into a backpacking trip in the near future… 🙂
p.s. I am just about to wrap up a beginner photography class that I have been taking for the last few weeks, which has been awesome! The day before this hike my class went on a little photo outing around downtown Portland. I uploaded some of my favorite shots to my Flickr photostream, if you’d like to see them you can click on the “More Photos” link in the Recent Photos box to the right!