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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Dollar Lake

Whoa, it’s been a while. Three weeks since our last trip! I do believe that’s the longest we’ve gone since the spring. The week after Labor Day, we had another at-home weekend, and the week after that, Paul was gallivanting in LA while I went to Vegas with my Mom. Finally, this weekend, we made it out once again! It felt pretty damn good.


Summer is definitely winding down, and our high-elevation camping options are getting more limited (with the gear we currently have). We decided to head up to Dollar Lake (via Pinnacle Ridge Trail) on Mt. Hood before most of the mountain is covered in snow.


Dollar Lake via Pinnacle Ridge
Mt. Hood Wilderness (north side of Hood)
Total distance round-trip: 7.82 miles (including a small side trip to view Elk Cove)
Total elevation gain: 2,283 feet
Dollar Lake elevation: 5,960 feet

Click map for full GPS data


The original plan was to also hike up Barrett Spur after setting up camp, but we got a bit of a late start and ended up cutting it a little too close on time. I was pretty okay with that, as the hike in proved to be more demanding than I expected!



Stream crossing on the Pinnacle Ridge Trail


The Pinnacle Ridge Trail started out pretty gentle, which I was ever so grateful for (it’s amazing what taking a few weeks off can do to you). From the start, this trail is gorgeous. Huge trees and rock fields and streams and flowers. πŸ™‚ After the forgiving start, it wasn’t long before I was painfully aware that it had been a while since we’d done any real elevation gain. The trail quickly turns upward and has some pretty steep sections to climb. Despite my burning muscles and lungs, it felt pretty damn good to exert myself that way again.



One of the steep chutes to climb


After a couple miles, we emerged from the woods and into the beautiful Pinnacle Meadow. This section is pretty amazing with all the reds and golds, but very, very muddy and swampy. We somehow missed the use path that skirts around the right side, and instead headed straight up the main trail. Whoops. We had to tread very carefully here to avoid boots and ankles being swallowed by mud. Luckily we passed another hiker coming back down on the use path, so we knew it was over there for the return trip.



Wading through chest-deep brush



Just reaching Pinnacle Meadow


After cutting through the meadow the trail takes a left back into the woods, which was a relief (although still a bit of mud to deal with there). After a few more steep climbs, the Pinnacle Ridge Trail meets up with the Timberline Trail. Relief! Once we got there, we knew there wasn’t much climbing left.



Right after making a left onto the Timberline Trail (St. Helens has almost no snow on it!)


The side trail to Dollar Lake is only a few tenths of a mile further, and can be somewhat difficult to spot. I guess we weren’t looking hard enough, because we missed it. Luckily we knew that if we came to a point where we had a view of Mt. Hood and Elk Cove below, we had gone too far. So, once we got to that point we turned around, and chalked it up to a little scenic side trip. πŸ™‚ For future reference, the Dollar Lake trail is off to the right, and has three pretty large cairns at the base (which we also somehow missed). We had read that the side tail is about 370 steps back from the point where you first see Mt. Hood, so when we turned around, we started counting. Turns out it was pretty accurate!



Our first really good view of Hood



As I was standing there, this loud thing came flying right over my head… Drone maybe? They do make them in Hood River…



Looking down over Elk Cove, right before turning around and backtracking


We found the trail this time, and climbed a couple tenths of a mile further to Dollar Lake. The “lake” is little more than a pond, but it is perfectly round like a coin. The campsite right by the water was taken, as was the one across from that spot, but we found a great site just over a little ridge. No view of the water, but stellar views of Hood, Elk Cove, Barrett Spur, and the range to the north. Not to mention the bright fall colors that are coming out right now.



Home for the night



My little Buckles



Paul cutting some firewood



I was a little obsessed with the foliage



Adams and Rainier



Just chillin’



Okay, I had to post this one too, I think Buckley’s expression is hilarious


After getting everything set up, I got a fire going and we settled in for the night. It was a gorgeous night, completely clear sky with one of the brightest moons I’ve ever seen. We hardly needed headlamps it was so bright!



Right before sunset (click image to view larger)



Buckley playing with his new buddy Rory πŸ™‚



Adams and Rainier at sunset



The only picture I got of Dollar Lake





At some point during the night, the wind started to seriously pick up. Our little tent took quite a beating, but held up just fine. We decided to get up early enough to see the sunrise. It was still incredibly windy with gale-force gusts (making it awfully difficult to take a clear picture), and a little bit of rain had started to move in. Slightly unpleasant, but so worth it.



Good morning



Click to view the panorama a bit larger



The mist moving over Elk Cove


After a few photos, we decided to go back to bed for a while and just let the wind and drizzle pass. It did not pass. We eventually had to drag ourselves out of the tent around 10am to even gustier winds and harder rain (I wasn’t able to take any more photos because of the blowing rain). Not exactly the conditions you hope for when camping, but, we dealt with it. Our gear was pretty wet by the time we got everything packed up and on our backs. Once we were back on the trail, the wind immediately died down, but the rain/mist/drizzle persisted. Remember those muddy, swampy areas we fought through on the way up? Yeah, those are even more fun when heading downhill after a rain. I nearly lost my right foot in what felt like quicksand at one point. We were able to find the use path back down Pinnacle Meadow though, so at least that part wasn’t too bad. Once we were through that section, we were back to the chest-deep brush crowding the trail. This time, all those leaves were wet, so any remaining square inch of dry clothing was done for as we charged through. We finished the hike out in wet clothes, wet boots, and with wet gear strapped to our backs. Which really, isn’t quite as miserable as it sounds.


So glad we got at least one more mountain camping trip in before it starts snowing up there. Paul is trying very hard to convince me to camp in the snow… we’ll see. πŸ™‚

CooperΒ Spur

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.


Cooper Spur
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. πŸ™‚



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



Proof πŸ™‚



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.



Dinner time



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. πŸ™‚



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! Β 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 πŸ™‚






Oh Buckles



Hello Mayos



Wake up!





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



Mini meadow



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.

McNeil Point

Wow.

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.


McNeil Point
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.Β 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)


I couldn’t resist the Tiger Lily


I am pretty sure these are Subalpine Mariposa Lily – anyone know for sure?





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


That tree looks a little threatening…


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. πŸ™‚



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. πŸ™‚



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.



Almost there…


Made it!


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.



Hippies!


The view on the descent


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… πŸ™‚


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!

Devil’s Peak

This is a hike that taught me not to go in too cocky. Eight miles, 3200 feet elevation gain… meh, that’s not so bad. Lesson learned!

This weekend we took on Devil’s Peak (via Cook Creek Trailhead) for the first time with Don, one of Paul’s coworkers. Devil’s Peak is tucked away in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness of the Mt. Hood National Forest, a little southwest of Hood.


Devil’s Peak
Mt. Hood National Forest, Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness
Summit at 5,045 feet
Total hike distance: 8 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,200 feet
(Our GPS data is slightly off near the trailhead, but mostly accurate)


Click map for full GPS data

The trailhead is right off the side of the road, it will sneak up on you!


Two words: butt-kicker. The hike report I had read on this hike was terribly dramatic, with tales of endless climbing, gasping for air and sweating uncontrollably; at first I figured someone was exaggerating the details in order to tell a good story, but quickly realized that that is exactly how it is. It became painfully clear that I have been slacking this year (I can’t speak for the guys though, who bounded up the trail with no trouble… almost like they were part machine… hmm…).The trail is steep right out of the gate, with absolutely no warmup time. The first mile or so is pretty brutal, climbing up and up through dense forest. After that mile, the trail is slightly tamer, and starts to open up to gorgeous viewpoints. The trail is also lined with tons of wildflowers the entire way, including several I haven’t seen in person before, which was a nice distraction from my racing heart and profuse sweating.



Tons of Salal everywhere


Some Cascade Lily right where the trail starts to open up to the views – this was the only bunch on the entire trail


Red Paintbrush



The trail is over so slightly more forgiving after that first mile, but is always climbing at a pretty steady grade. There are a few spots with well-worn side trails to viewpoints and campsites along the way, perfect opportunities to catch your breath and take in views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and even Mt. Rainier on a clear day (which we had, woot!). It took most of my energy to even stay within sight of the guys ahead of me, so I really didn’t take too many photos on the way up. My mission was just to get there without keeling over. All physical over-exertion aside, this is a really enjoyable hike. Great scenery, and you really feel like you’re working hard toward something. It makes the summit feel that much more awesome.


A gentler side to the trail


You know you are close when you come to the junction with the Hunchback Mountain Trail; you make a right here, and very shortly thereafter is the glorious “<— Devil’s Peak Lookout” sign pointing you to the left toward the summit. It felt great to get to the summit on this one and breathe a collective sigh of relief. There are little wildflowers everywhere carpeting the ground; Phlox, Paintbrush, Larkspur, and I’m kicking myself for not taking a picture of the Subalpine Mariposa Lily, which is apparently somewhat uncommon. The views are fantastic and the weather was perfect – I could have stayed up there for hours. Actually, we did spend quite a bit of time hanging out up there, drinking beers and just relaxing. Super fun.



Don and Paul enjoying a very well-deserved summit beer


View of Mt. Jefferson from the summit


There is a very cool fire lookout situated at the summit here, which you can actually overnight in if it’s not already claimed. I’m not sure if I could sleep there though; it’s pretty dirty and there are reports of mice scurrying about at night. I think I’d prefer a tent.



The old fire lookout


View from the lookout


Giant shutters around the outsides


The way up


The bed looks inviting and all…


The lookout was surprisingly stocked with wood, supplies, snacks, fresh water and toilet paper… if you did decide to make a night of it, you’d be all set (and I can easily see how one might get to Devil’s Peak and not want to leave). There is supposed to be a log book somewhere, but all I saw were some nonetheless entertaining notes on a single piece of paper from visitors over last year.



Josh, Cody and Toby had a badass weekend.


The view of Hood out the front door


If you take the narrow trail past the summit, down and to the left a little ways, you come to another amazing viewpoint (on a small and steep rocky slope though, use extreme caution!) with views of Hood, Mt. Jefferson and even Three-Fingered Jack on this perfectly clear day. It was nice to do a hike with such a view of Jefferson, we don’t usually get that.



Trying to figure out what’s what on the horizon


View of Jefferson


Buckley found himself a nice shady spot up there too


This is either Rock Penstemon or Barrett’s Penstemon… I simply don’t know… which was growing straight out of the rocks at this viewpoint. Anyone know for sure?


My rugged mountain man


I’m including this picture because it’s the only one I’m almost in. See reflection in the left lens of sunglasses. πŸ™‚


After taking in Mt. Jefferson, you turn around and are face-to-face with Mt. Hood.



Mt. Hood


Up close and personal


Mountain love


After lounging around in the sun a little longer, we threw the packs back on to head back the way we came. Needless to say, the descent is almost as hard on the knees and toes as the climb is on the thighs and calves! At least I was able to stop and take a few more wildflower photos, now that I was actually able to keep up with the gang.



Wild Rhododendron were in full bloom


Bunchberry carpeted the ground


Dainty little Foamflower (I think?) was also in abundance


Columbia Windflower (in the Anemone family)


There were also Vanilla Leaf and Queen’s Cup all over the place that I didn’t get photos of. I was loving the flower variety!



One more look at that single Cascade Lily on the way down


Walking through a Rhodie wonderland


We got back to the trailhead in no time, and proceeded to nom out on BBQ, mac n’ cheese and deep fried pickles at Skyway in Zigzag (our first time there – it was totes awesome). This hike was quite the workout, and completely worth it, even despite the grueling ascent. As Don put it: Some trails are happy and nice and give you a good feeling, but not this one. This is a mean one. This one is like… “#&@%Β you.”

Shellrock, Middle Rock, and Serene Lakes

Happy Independence Day!


To take advantage of the long weekend, Paul and Buckley and I headed out for a two-night backpacking trip. We decided on a loop in the Mt. Hood National Forest (in Clackamas County) that includes Shellrock Lake, the Rock Lakes Basin (which includes Lower, Middle, and Upper Rock Lake – we headed to Middle), and Serene Lake.


Shellrock Lake, Middle Rock Lake, and Serene Lake Loop
Mt. Hood National Forest (Clackamas County)
Total hike distance: 12.23 miles
Total elevation gain: 2,407 feet


Click map for full GPS data


We found this loop in our One Night Wilderness guide book, and the distance from Portland and the distance between campsites on the loop seemed to make sense for the amount of time we had allotted (gotta have that Zipcar back on time!!). My only concern really was that it gave this loop a “Solitude” rating of 4. Out of 10. Not great right? We gave it a shot anyway, figuring if it was really that crowded and we couldn’t find a campsite, it was short enough to get back to the car. Over the course of the entire weekend, we saw eight people. Eight! I would rate this loop a solid 9 for Solitude, considering it was July 4th weekend and it was still so empty. Granted, the weather was not stellar (more on that later), so that might have kept some people away, but I certainly don’t think it’s as bad as the guide books made it out to be. The book also mentions some “poorly signed” junctions along the way, but honestly, this was probably one of the better signed hikes we’ve been on – plenty of signs and blazes to guide the way. Seems like the authors of that book need to revisit this spot.


We departed Portland on Saturday morning and made it to the Shellrock Lake trailhead in about two hours (because I was driving – we shaved a good 20-30 minutes off of that on the way home with Paul driving!). The last five miles or so are on a gravel road with plenty of potholes, so be careful on this one. So that we could hike out quickly on Monday morning, we decided to hike to Middle Rock Lake (about 3 miles in) to camp the first night, then complete the loop on Sunday and make our way back to Shellrock Lake to camp that night (about another 8 miles to that point), then just hike the .7 miles back out to the car in the morning. It worked out perfectly.



Toward the beginning of the trail


The entire loop is above 4,000 feet, so leftover snow can be a factor – it’s good to expect it and be prepared. We hit snow at about 4,530 feet, and had intermittent patches throughout after that. All campsites were clear of snow however, and even on the trail there wasn’t so much that you couldn’t find your way. Before I knew it, we had already hiked the three (or so) miles to Middle Rock Lake, our first destination. There are some campsites right where the trail hits the lake, but we found an even better (and more isolated) one about .1 miles further out on a narrow trail to the right, right on the water.



Middle Rock Lake from our campsite


Another view from our site (you can see some lingering snow across the lake)


It was already mid-afternoon when we got to this site, and despite the sun, it was pretty chilly out. After setting up, first order of business was to build a fire. We scrounged for some wood, adding another layer of clothing every few minutes it seemed. Sadly, most of the wood we found was pretty wet, but we had to try anyway.





By about 6pm I had on every single shirt that I brought with me, a hat, and my hood. It was cold! We got some sticks and twigs to start burning, and got a really nice bed of coals going, but it just couldn’t survive. I spent two solid hours huffing and puffing on that thing, adding twigs and more firestarters, but it was not meant to be.



The little fire that couldn’t


Eventually we had to give up… it just would not happen. It was a bit too cold to hang out outside without fire, so we ended up turning in to the tent around 8:30pm. Our tent gets remarkably warm with the rain fly on, and our sleeping bags are quite warm as well, so we ended up just having a nice cozy night in the tent. Paul had his Droid loaded up with movies, so we decided to put on a flick before bed (I know, how very rustic of us, huh?). Of all movies, we watched Zombieland. Nothing quite like the imagery of blood-spewing, flesh-eating undead to lull oneself into a tranquil night’s sleep in the middle of the woods, right?! I vaguely recall dreaming of zombies that night… but I think Woody Harrelson was in there too so it was okay.


We woke the next morning… very, very early… to a fog-covered lake. Like, gone… total whiteout. So, we went back to sleep for an hour or two. πŸ™‚ When we finally dragged ourselves out of the tent, the lake had cleared up but the ridge above still had fog moving through it. Amazing.



Fog moving through the trees above


Still clad in several layers, we cooked up some egg n’ bacon breakfast burritos and started packing everything up. At about 11am, hallelujah, the sun made an appearance! It didn’t stick around for too long, but it was nice to see for a little while.



The sun emerges just in time for us to hike on


Buckley really doesn’t care how effing freezing the water is!


We set out around noon to tackle the better part of the loop. By the way, what a great feeling to have a full day to hike, no worries about when we get started or when we need to get back to the car… the only goal is to get to camp before dark. It made for a very enjoyable hike. Our first destination was Serene Lake, about 2.5 miles from Middle Rock Lake.



After returning to the main trail from the spur trail to Middle Rock, it was two miles to Serene Lake


A cool downed tree along the way




After a decent amount of climbing we reached Serene Lake, and it was… serene. We were the only people there (that we could see anyway) so we had the place to ourselves. We hung out for a little while and made some lunch at one of the campsites.



Serene Lake


Buckley jumped right in… shocker eh?


A little chipmunk friend hanging out in the tree next to us


I actually made it into some pictures! Buckley and I having some lunch.


We will be climbing up to the ridge in the top left corner soon


Heyo!


After lunch we set back out on the trail. The remainder of the hike was a lot harder than I anticipated. There was a decent amount of climbing involved, plus heavier packs than usual (Paul got a new 70-liter pack, twice as big as mine!), plus some trudging through snow… plus we may have kind of spoiled ourselves lately with easier and shorter hikes. This hike was certainly a swift kick in the rear. A mile or so past Serene Lake, we had climbed up to a ridge high above the lake, and straight into the clouds. Luckily they parted often enough to catch some glimpses of the lake below.



A walk in the clouds


A (very) brief glimpse to Serene Lake below


And of course, some more snow


After a little dip in the terrain, we climbed back up to another great viewpoint over the lake. The clouds had also lifted a little more by this point, hooray!



Doesn’t seem like you’d be able to see much from here…


But then bam! Serene Lake!


The next “checkpoint” along the loop is Cache Meadow, a low-lying meadow full of pretty little wildflowers three miles from Serene Lake. We descended pretty rapidly from the ridge to get to this point (I tried to just enjoy it, and not think about the fact that we’d soon have to climb back out!). I’m not sure if it dries out later in the summer, but it was pretty wet and marshy this weekend. We slogged around a bit to look at the different flowers.



A small section of Cache Meadow


White Marsh Marigold (I found out just now when looking these up that they’re poisonous)


Some Shooting Stars, and I think the little yellow guys are Western Buttercup (but not positive)


After Cache Meadow, we were in the home stretch. It was just a couple miles back to Frazier Turnaround (which closes the loop portion), and then 1.2 miles back down to Shellrock Lake. Victory is close. But of course… we had to do some serious climbing again to get there.



Some cool upturned roots. I guess you can’t really get the scale here, but they were huge.


Back up to a snowy ridge (actually an old Jeep road) to close the loop


We made it to Shellrock Lake right around 5pm or so, and found a great campsite right on the water. Bonus! A previous occupant had gathered a huge pile of firewood and left it there! My least favorite part of camp-building is collecting wood, so this was a very welcome site. And extra bonus, the wood seemed to be relatively dry. We threw a bunch of twigs into the pit and dropped in a firestarter, and like magic, we had a fire. This stuff burned right up, and soon we had quite the roaring fire. This thing was devouring logs – we could hardly throw wood on it fast enough. While we were getting the fire going, a couple hiked past that, as it turned out, had stayed there the previous night and collected all that wood – but couldn’t get a fire started with it. I offered for them to come enjoy the fire, but they were on their way out to their car, not wanting to camp in the cold again. For some reason, I felt sort of guilty. Should I have offered to let them camp there? Given the rest of the wood back to them to set up their own camp? What is proper etiquette in this situation?? They carried on. After the previous night without a fire, I was especially appreciative to have this glorious, wonderful, soul-warming source of heat. So, this fire was in their honor.


Even with the fire, it was a chilly night and I was exhausted, so I retired my camera for the evening. I will try to paint a picture. Expansive blue-green lake backdrop with mist gently rolling by, butt plopped in front of a crackling fire as the sun goes down, glass of wine in hand, a giant bowl of orzo mac and cheese with chorizo and garlic that Paul made (actually made – not a prepared freeze-dried meal in a pouch, but cooked fresh at camp) in front of you, and a very tired and satisfied Chocolate Lab cuddled up in your lap. I mean really, does it get any better?


We woke to another foggy morning, but not quite as cold as the night before. The car was due back fairly early in the day, so made a quick breakfast and started packing up.



Shellrock Lake just starting to reveal itself


So pretty


Skunk Cabbage, named for its putrid scent, although we didn’t notice a smell (but of course Buckley went right for it)


I was trying to take a picture of the waterbug, and caught a little salamander friend underwater as well!


I thought these were so cool, but I cannot seem to identify them! Anyone know? They were about 6 inches tall.


The remaining .7 miles back to the trailhead (mostly downhill) felt like a breeze! We were back to the car in 30 minutes.



The trail back to the TH lined with wildflowers


Not exactly sure what this flower is either, might be more identifiable if it was fully bloomed…


One of my personal favorites, Beargrass


It was truly a wonderful weekend. There is something very satisfying about being totally self-sufficient for a couple days, sleeping on the ground and carrying everything on your back. We’ve kicked around the idea of taking a month or two off and just backpacking… who knows? The idea of being away from civilization for that long is enticing. But, I will admit, once we were back home I made a beeline for the shower. πŸ™‚

Backpacking on the Salmon River

First backpacking trip on the books!

Finally. We have been collecting gear for backpacking for the last year and a half… we’ve been “practicing” for it by carrying most of our gear with us on day hikes… we had even started cooking on the trail on our day hikes to test out our equipment. And we finally got to use all of it! I will admit, it was the purchase of my sleeping pad that held us up for so long. For some reason, I have had an irrational fear of actually camping out on our hikes. I’m not sure if it was the thought of carrying every single item I’d need on my back, or being that far from civilization without a vehicle, or maybe having to dig a hole to poop. I can’t say for sure, but I think subconsciously, I may have waited so long to buy that sleeping pad because I knew as long as I didn’t have it, we’d have to sleep at home in bed. πŸ™‚ Whatever the reason, it is now a distant memory that I can barely remember.

This weekend we headed out to Salmon River in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness area near Mt. Hood (still only about an hour drive from home). We had read this is a good beginner and early season backpacking route, so we decided to try it. This trip wasn’t really about the hike this time, as the one we chose was pretty short and pretty flat; this was more of a chance to test our setup out before relying on it when we’re 20 miles deep into the woods.


Salmon River
Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness
(I should note, we did not do the complete hike – just until we found a camp spot)
Total hike distance: 5-ish miles
Total elevation gain:Β  Haha! Maybe 500 feet.


We were camping right about here. GPS data is forthcoming… just wanted to get the post up.


While we spent a relatively short time on this trail, I am completely in love with it. First of all, talk about green. Everywhere, like whoa. The trail starts out pretty standard but then moves away from the river for a bit and into this crazy old-growth forest with gigantic trees soaring overhead and piles of colossal tree trunks that fell ages ago. It made me feel miniature, and it was so eerily quiet and still… a little surreal.



Away we go.



Enchanted forest.



Just love these mini-forests springing up on dead trees.


We hiked 2-3 miles in and started seeing campsites along the way. The further we got, it seemed that the sites were already taken… so we decided to backtrack to a nice spot we saw a mile or so back, before that was taken too. You have to see this site to believe it. Huge campsite right on the rushing river, nice and secluded with no other sites nearby, and lots of fallen trees around to serve as seating and tables.



Paul sawing some firewood for us at our site.



The tent finally gets to see the light of day.



Guard dog.



Buckley doing what he does best… barking at mommy and daddy.



No, this isn’t staged… I actually cut some firewood myself.





We had originally planned to set up camp and then hike further up the canyon with our lightened packs, but… we had gotten a bit of a late start that day, and by the time we finished setting up camp it was close to dinnertime. So, we decided to just chill and enjoy the scenery at our site for the evening. We had some more freeze dried goodness from Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry for dinner, and a couple Oskar Blues cans of brew which we enjoyed riverside.



TenFidy Imperial Stout



The gorgeous river, sans beer can.



Ghost Jenny





After a beer we headed back to camp to start a fire and relax.







Teepee style.


We were even able to accompany dinner with a bottle of wine, thanks to my birthday gift from Paul: two collapsible wine glasses and aΒ PlatyPreserve wine platypus that holds a full bottle. πŸ™‚ It was nice to enjoy a glass of wine or two next to the fire.



Post-sunset: once it got going, this was a badass fire.


After it got dark, I decided to see what would happen if I left the shutter on the camera open for like 30 seconds. Paul didn’t know that I was taking a photo and turned his headlamp on for the last few seconds, whomp whomp. I am regretting not taking this again sans headlamp.






I was pretty psyched to test out my sleeping bag and pad, thinking I would be super comfy and warm. Well, I was definitely warm… the tent and sleeping job did a stellar job of that. Unfortunately, we failed to notice the slight downward slope the tent was on, as well as the large tree root that stuck up right under my back. The bags were kind of slippery against the pads, and with Buckley flopping himself around all night, I kept getting shoved off the pad. Even so, falling asleep to the sound of the river is not a bad way to spend the night. I am confident that next time, on flat and even ground, I will sleep like a baby. Especially if it’s after a bottle of wine.


The next morning we were up by about 6am (thanks, Buckley). We hung around camp for a little while, cooked breakfast, made coffee, and started packing up. It was much easier to pack up on the way out, with more room in the packs after eating all the food and drinking all the beer and wine. πŸ™‚



Disassembling the tent.



Buckley seemed a little confused and upset that we were packing up. I think he wanted to stay.



Breakfast! Mountain House Breakfast Skillet + tortillas + Cholula.


And with that, we headed out. We only had the Zipcar out for a certain time so we didn’t have the extra time to hike up further. I was actually sad to leave the campsite and head back to reality.



Fully loaded.



Bye, Salmon River…



Super clear water.



Some pretty little trail wildflowers for good measure.


And wouldn’t you know it, I actually survived my first backpacking trip!Β It was indeed sad to return to the city, but we will most definitely come back here soon to see the rest of the trail and the canyon views. Now that my irrational fears are quelled we can do this more often. I am pretty certain that I think this about every hike/trail we see, but this really was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen. There was a sign at the trailhead indicating that the US Forest Service was thinking about closing the area down to camping due to complaints about trash, trampled plants, cut trees, human waste, etc. If you camp here, PLEASE be responsible and clean up after yourself! It would be a shame to lose this privilege.