Elk Meadow and Gnarl Ridge

Holy tardy blog post Batman! It is embarrassing how long it has taken to post this. Almost as embarrassing as how long it’s been since our last hike. 😦


So, uh, our last real hike was two months ago. The term WTF?!? immediately comes to mind, for two reasons: 1) I’m just posting about it now, and 2) how have we not gone on a hike in two months?! Of course, it’s November in Portland and the weather has turned less than stellar. Not like that’s a good reason for not getting out. It’s simply a convenient excuse. Paul has been working on me to actually go about our normal hike/camp activities in the rainy/snowy/cold weather. I’m slowly but surely coming around to the idea, but need some more appropriate gear first.


Back to two months ago. My mother-in-law Joyce and step-father-in-law Tom flew out from Michigan to visit us for a weekend. We had a fabulous weekend of eating and drinking and wine tasting and more eating and drinking (naturally), but I think all of us were most excited for a day of hiking. In Michigan, there isn’t much (or any) mountain hiking to be done, or anything terribly high elevation for that matter, so we really wanted to show Joyce and Tom a great time. Nice trail, maybe some water features, mountain views, decent distance and climbing… really wanted to fit it all in to one perfect hike. The weather in the city wasn’t looking great that day, so we decided to head over to the Elk Meadow/Gnarl Ridge trail on the other side of the mountain to catch some sun. We had perfectly blue skies and sunshine all day! Leaves were also starting to turn color, so we were treated to an all-around beautiful day.


Elk Meadow to Gnarl Ridge
Mt. Hood (east side)
Total hike distance: 11.87 miles
Total elevation gain: 2,638 feet


Click map for full GPS data



Picking up our wilderness permit


The trail starts out nice and easy until crossing the Newton Creek, then the climbing starts. When deciding which hike to do, I wanted to be sure we didn’t choose one too long or intense for our guests; not an insult to them, but Michigan is awfully flat, so I just wasn’t sure what level would be appropriate! They are super into mountain biking so assured me they were up for anything. After all my worry, they ended up kicking my ass up and down the mountain (big surprise, I know… I’m always the slowest).



Buckley doesn’t need no stinkin’ bridges! Crossing Clark Creek, an easy crossing on a footbridge.



Approaching the Newton Creek crossing



Newton Creek



Cairns lead the way through the rocky creekbeds


After crossing the creek, there are a series of fairly steep switchbacks that bring you up to a 4-way intersection of trails. You can take a more direct route to Gnarl Ridge from here, but we opted to go straight on the Elk Meadow Perimeter trail for a short detour that goes around Elk Meadow – well worth the extra 1.2 miles. You get a stellar view of Hood, the beautiful meadow, and can hang out at the shelter for a snack break.



The gang at Elk Meadow



The shelter just a little ways down the trail. We plan to camp here sometime soon!



View from the shelter



Tom and Joyce



Paul played photographer for a while πŸ™‚


After a brief break at the shelter, we continued on our way. The trail from there hooks back up with the Gnarl Ridge trail and is pretty slow and steady,Β  interesting but fairly uneventful as you are winding through forests without much of a view. Then after about a mile you turn onto the familiar Timberline Trail, and get to that wonderful ~6,000 foot subalpine level. At about this point you round a bend and come back into full view of Hood, not to mention the expansive view of Adams and St. Helens to your right. The subalpine zone is always my favorite when moving through elevations; I love the adorable little Hemlocks and Firs and Pines and rocky terrain and krummholz formations (stunted, twisted, and crooked trees caused by fierce winds and little shelter).



Getting into the subalpine






Actually not certain if this is a Hemlock or Fir or something else entirely…


This section of trail takes you right around Lamberson Butte (which you can scramble up if you feel adventurous), and from there you are above treeline heading straight up Gnarl Ridge.



Gnarl Ridge leading up to Hood



Looking back out behind us, you can just barely make out Mt. Jefferson in the haze (we could just barely see the Sisters as well, but the camera didn’t pick it up)



Finally… beer and lunch break!








There are several ways to get back down the mountain, aside from taking the same trail that we took on the way up. We decided to make a loop of it. Rather than taking the Gnarl Ridge trail back down, we stayed on the Timberline trail which follows along the rushing Newton Creek. We started out high above the creek, but the trail eventually makes its way down to the creek itself, where we were left to figure out how the hell to cross it!



Remains of a stone shelter crushed by avalanche



Thank goodness for cairns to show us the way


When we got down to the creek, the trail kind of disintegrated into a creek bed of boulders and sand. It was not immediately obvious where we were supposed to cross the creek, which was much deeper and wider and faster than it initially appeared. We almost made the mistake of “just going for it” before discovering just a little ways down, there were some logs thrown across the creek. Turns out there were a few pink-taped branches sticking out of the rocks to guide the way that we had initially missed. Glad we found it! Although, it was still a fairly nerve-wracking crossing. Those logs were not particularly stable and that water was not slowing down for us.




The “bridge”



We all made it, some of us on all fours πŸ™‚



On the other side


After crossing the creek, we followed more of the brightly-colored posts to a fun scramble that gets you back up onto the trail. Someone was kind enough to tie up some rope here to help hoist ourselves up.



Pretty much a straight shot from the creek bed up to here… maybe 20 or 25 feet? So much fun!


The rest of the hike out was uneventful but beautiful. The fall colors were starting to show themselves so we had plenty to marvel at.



A little natural spring that had… well, sprung



Farewell Mt. Hood


I have to admit, now two months later, I’m probably forgetting a lot of details on this one! I do remember that is was a huffer and puffer, but just beautiful. I have no idea what kind of shape this trail would be in now… I’m guessing covered in snow?


We’ve spent a lot of time at the indoor rock gym over the last month or two, working on our bouldering. Bouldering is addictive! I’ve conquered a pretty decent handful of V0’s thus far, and Paul has gotten several V1’s under his belt. Sadly, Paul suffered a sprained ankle a couple weeks ago so it’s put a little hold on things, but here’s hoping we’ll be back at it soon. This seems like the perfect time to get some low-elevation Gorge hikes in!

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5 thoughts on “Elk Meadow and Gnarl Ridge

  1. Hey found your blog as a link on Bob’s blog. Gorgeous photos!!! I did this hike a few times while backpacking in the 1970s as a teenager (once on a week hike on the Skyline Trail around the mountain). Back then we just threw our tarps down in the meadow at Elk Cove and slept under the stars in the moonshadow of Hood. It was glorious and so not allowed today.

    I blog about the Northwest also at Pacific Northwest Seasons, some hiking but also kayaking, etc. a hodge podge. Come for a visit and enjoy!

  2. I love your blog! I found it by researching June Lake early last summer! I love your sense of adventure…and your photographs are beautiful! My wife and I are new to the Portland area and we’re starting to get some hikes under our belt! I read that you love Starbucks VIA…I work at Starbucks and you’re right…VIA is perfect for hiking!

    Cheers,

    Jason

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