Friday, July 16, 2010

Walkin' Round da Hood

Mt. Hood that is, near Portland Oregon. We just finished a five day, 40 mile (65 km) hike around the mountain, starting and ending at the historic Timberline Lodge. We lucked out with fantastic weather - glorious sunny blue skies and warm temperatures.

It's a great hike, some of it through shady green forest and some of it on open slopes above tree line. There's a fair bit of up and down, as you'd expect, but mostly quite gentle inclines so not too tough. There are quite a few stream crossings, which can be challenging depending on the flow. We took sandals and used them a couple of times to wade across. Coming straight from glaciers and snow melt, the water is about as cold as water can be! The other crossings we managed by boulder hopping or by balancing across temporary bridges of wobbly tree trunks.

Mid July is early for this trail and they'd had a late spring so there was a lot of snow in some areas. So much that the trail disappeared under it and we had to practice our navigation to hook up with it again. Mostly we did pretty well. Once we followed some faint tracks in the wrong direction and ended up much too high. But we found a nice little spot to camp and found the trail fairly quickly the next morning, a few hundred feet lower. An altimeter was more useful than a compass in this kind of terrain. I had my GPS, but the map we had didn't have much of a grid so you couldn't really relate the two. I had topo maps on my iPhone, but the GPS only works when there's a cell phone signal, which we didn't have most of the time.

With the meadows just emerging from the snow it was a little early for the wildflowers, but there were still quite a few. Lots of crocuses coming out. And beautiful rhododendrons blossoms making splashes of bright pink in the forest. Some of the forest trail was covered with a thick carpet of small pine cones. Other places there were huge 7 or 8 inch pine cones. There are some big trees in the forest, high enough on the mountain to escape the loggers I guess. The only big stumps we saw were in the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area. If you ask me, downhill ski areas don't belong in a "wilderness" area. (any more than they belong in Banff and Jasper National Parks) We didn't see a lot of wildlife but a deer passing by paused to watch us, and a squirrel came down his tree to inspect us up close. There were lots of deer tracks and some that looked like bear and big cat (cougar?).

Officially, the trail is "closed" at Elliot Creek near Cloud Cap. Not because of the creek itself, but because of the steep, unstable rubble slopes forming the sides of the canyon. Landslides destroyed the main trail a few years ago but hikers have made a new route if you're up to it. (Take the faint trail heading up from the "Trail Closed" sign.) There are even fixed ropes on the worst sections on each side. I wouldn't have minded a climbing helmet since there was a high risk of falling rock. I can see why they officially discourage people from crossing. The trail has also been damaged by landslides on the section between Ramona Falls (beautiful falls) and Muddy Fork, but you can bypass that section if you want by following the Pacific Crest Trail.

With less snow we could easily have done the loop in four days but given the conditions, five days was just right. Since it's a wilderness area you can camp wherever you like (except on the meadows) which is nice, but if you want flat ground and water nearby there are limited spots. Early in the season and mid week we didn't have any competition for sites. We only saw a few other backpackers and day hikers only at a couple of places close to road access.

I'd definitely recommend this hike. Even if you're not up to doing the entire loop, you can do sections of it as day hikes. There's even a guide for this - Around Mt. Hood in Easy Stages by LOLITS Press. (Little Old Ladies In Tennis Shoes)