Holy mother of wow! It’s true that almost every hike we go on is dubbed my “new favorite,” but I think this one is most deserving. Paul had been wanting to do this hike since we moved here two years ago, and we finally made it. We ended up hiking up to the Cooper Spur Shelter and setting up camp there (around 6,600 feet), then hiking up to the true Cooper Spur, which is the highest point you can reach on Mt. Hood on a formal trail (at around 8,500 feet). The trail officially ends at Tie-In Rock, a spot where those continuing to the summit typically rope up.
Mt. Hood (NE side)
Total hike distance: 6.72 miles (for our route – we took some shortcuts, some longcuts, and I forgot to turn on the GPS in the very beginning :))
Total elevation gain: 2,725 feet
Highest point at: 8,507 feet
New discovery! I can actually show our GPS track on a 3D view of the terrain with Google Earth. Badass! Full track is still loaded into GPSies for download as normal, just click the image.
Click on image for the full GPS track data
We started from the Cloud Cap Trailhead near the historic Cloud Cap Inn – after driving in on the very rocky and bumpy dirt road. The trail first took us through old-growth forest, then some boulder fields, and then through some very soft volcanic ash (talk about a calf workout). After about 1.2 miles we came to the Cooper Spur Shelter. This is a stone shelter built some 60 years ago, one of only a few shelters still standing on the mountain today. Anyone can stay in the shelter, which might not be a bad idea in a storm or something, but we opted to pitch our tent just outside the shelter.
Toward the beginning of the hike, we could barely even see Hood
Hood, Cooper Spur Shelter, and our home away from home. I think this is a suitable location. Yes.
And looking the other direction, heyo!
Mt. Adams in the distance
While setting up camp, the clouds started to lift ever so slightly, which was quite encouraging. From camp, we had approximately two(ish) miles and 1,900 feet to go to reach Cooper Spur. The trail took us right along the rugged, heavily crevassed Eliot Glacier, which is just awesome. Soon we were switchbacking up the shoulder of the spur, all the while the grade was surprisingly gentle and forgiving. One mistake that we made: the final long switchback leads right across a snowfield, with no clear trail after that. We crossed the snowfield, weren’t sure what direction to take next, so we just decided to go UP. We climbed up the snowfield until it met back up with the trail on the ridge. We found a different trail back down (along the ridge), and saw where it met up with the other trail that we mistakenly took. I think it was around 8,100 feet or so that we went straight but should have cut right (the ridge trail is a little fainter and less obvious). If you look at the GPS track close to the spur, you can see where we took different routes on the way up and down. I don’t think we took the wrong trail necessarily, that one may just have gotten buried at some point. Oh well, our way was more adventurous. 🙂
Getting ready to head up
The clouds and sun made for some very cool views along the way
Once we got about to the point where we hit snow, we were also heading straight into the clouds. It’s kind of a crazy feeling to be walking through clouds, but also see clouds high above you, and then look out behind you and see lots of clouds below you.
Looking back toward Mt. Adams
We were clearly not the first to make this mistake, judging by the existing tracks (notice we’re heading straight into nothingness?!)
Oh just a little ways to go
I know this looks very dark, scary, and cold… it wasn’t. It was beautiful.
Here we go
At about this point, the yucky clouds just sort of magically… lifted. There were still some white puffy puffs lingering around here and there, but the dingy foggy clouds were dunzo. We did have some pretty gnarly cloud formations for the rest of the night though, more pictures of that below.
The mean-looking Eliot Glacier
Looking down the other side
Before we knew it, we were on top of Cooper Spur! The view, to say the least, is absolutely breathtaking. This was also officially the closest we’d ever been to Hood’s summit. I know it’s still almost 3,000 (vertical) feet away, but it looks so close from there. Like you could just walk right up to it. The photos have a hard time capturing the depth and scale I think, but I can tell you this thing is just massive.
The boulder on the very left edge here is Tie-In Rock
On the spur, passing clouds, looking out at high desert
Looking back out toward Mt. Adams, you can actually also see the Columbia River in the bottom left
It was suddenly very chilly and windy up there, so we took it in for a minute then started heading back down. As we did, the sun started to peek out here and there. Hooray!
Gentle sunshine on Eliot Glacier
Beginning our descent
The descent was quick and painless (especially with no snow :)), and we made it back to camp pretty quickly. Time for a quick dinner (Mountain House Beef Stroganoff and an MRE my cousin Bobby gave us) before the spectacular show that was the sunset.
Buckley just chillin’
This was easily one of the most insane sunsets I’ve witnessed. It kept us completely, completely engrossed for at least an hour, probably more. Of the hundreds of photos I took, here’s a small handful. 🙂
The sun just starting to go down, but with a final blaze across the land
A nice cozy spot for Buckley to enjoy the sunset
We did end up having about 10 minutes or so of rain, which was little more than a light sprinkle. Even with just that little bit though, the sky started doing crazy things… swirling clouds, rays of sunshine, rainbows..
Ginormous rainbow over rays of light (which almost look like they are emanating from the bottom up, don’t they?)
Now, I probably snapped this photo just a few seconds too late, but I promise you this was actually a double rainbow for a minute. Seriously! Double Rainbow All The Way!
Lenticular cloud that totally looked like a flying saucer. I wonder how many people mistake these for UFOs?
Look closely… Mt. Adams is actually in there (toward bottom right), a massive mountain completely buried in sunset.
Once the sun went down, it did get just a bit chilly out (although really, not nearly as cold as you’d think). Campfires are technically banned above treeline, although there were a few obvious firepits around (and the gang of three that decided to camp about 50 feet from us had one going). We decided to take advantage of the little fireplace built into the shelter, and got a fire going in there. It was great! The place is small and cozy, so we just brought our little chairs and some snacks and beer in there to enjoy the fire. We thought we heard a mouse squeak once, but didn’t see anything. After a little while, we stepped out of the shelter into the completely dark night, and were just awestruck. The sky had cleared almost completely and we could see millions and millions of stars, including a 180 degree view of the Milky Way overhead, from one horizon to the other. While staring at the sky, we also heard the booming crack and roar of ice falling in the Eliot Glacier (which went on for several minutes). Epic.
Our little fire
We had decided early on that we were definitely waking up in time to see the sunrise. I set an alarm for 4:45am, and promptly dismissed it when it went off. Luckily we did wake back up around 5:30am, and after a little convincing, Paul managed to drag me out of the tent. I am so, so glad he did. I thought the sunset was epic, but this was like… double epic? We were completely above the cloudline in the morning and got up just in time for the sun to rise. Again, hundreds of photos taken, but here are my favorites.
Good morning Mt. Adams
Adams and Rainier, and even the very tippy top of St. Helens
There are no words
Dear Marmot, yes, I will sell you this photo for your catalog 🙂
It was a magical 30 minutes. After that, we had a leisurely breakfast and started packing up camp in regular old daylight. We started the short hike out around 9am, and made it to the trailhead just as dayhikers were starting to make their way in.
Our wilderness permit
Buckley taking it easy while we pack it up
There was tons of lupine on the way down
Ready to go home
The old dusty trail
Not exactly sure what this is… some sort of Penstemon maybe?
Cooper Spur is a very special place. We’ve only done a handful of overnight trips really, but this is certainly my favorite, and I can’t wait to go back.