Trip Report: Mount Hood Circumnavigation. Day Three
Finding myself above tree line with the morning sun warming my neck and the back of my head, was a lovely way to start the day's walk. Taking a slight detour on the Cooper Spur trail, it had taken only 15 minutes to leave the forest behind and I was treated to a spectacular 360 degree view with the east side of Mount Hood ahead, Mount St Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams to my right and the sandy-smokey coloured horizon of Eastern Washington behind.
After visiting a stone shelter on the Cooper Spur, I headed up and south toward the highest elevation point of the Timberline Trail at just over 7000 feet ASL.
This section of the route was the most baren. After walking for a couple of hours on an easy-to-follow trail through pumice and other volcanic rock, I crossed some snow patches and stopped to rest a top spectacular ridge above the Clark river. The view was equally as impressive as the Sandy, Zig-Zag and Eliot Valleys. Formed from a combination of glacial, water and wind erosion, the ridge where I stood looked over 2,000 feet down to the tiny-looking white river below. As I looked south east and down along the ridge, it seemed that it would be hours of walking to get to any suitable crossing site. After a break, I shouldered my pack and set off down the ridge. It wasn't long before I dipped into a mixed forest with pines, firs and surprisingly, some oak trees. With the air getting warmer in the middle of the day, and as I descended, the shade provided a welcome break from the sun.
Clark river was easy to cross and I could see how in summer this would have been a challenge with higher water.
The river was a bit silty, but I got some water and made some soup, then took a rest and let my feet dry out in the sun. I realised that it was only eight miles to Timberline Lodge and it suddenly dawned on me that the past few days seemed to have flown by very quickly. Too quickly perhaps. I made a mental note to take four days next time, and go the opposite direction for variety.
The views of the mountain from Hood Meadows were some of the best of the trip, with the peak standing orange and black and white - against the backdrop of blue - and tall above the grey granite. The otherwise-bare slopes were dotted with mosaics of red, gold, yellow and green, as pockets of pines, sun-baked blueberry bushes and grasses flourished among the stone and the rich sandy soil.
After missing a faint trail, I headed up a gully with waterfalls for half a mile before realizing I was headed off-route. After a quick map consultation, I retraced my steps and began a couple of miles traverse towards the White River.
White River is the widest river crossing on the route, but with only the White glacier above, and all of the south-facing summer snow gone it was not difficult to cross the silty and gray morain. Dotted on each bank of the river, there were small groups of waist and chest-high trees; hardy mountain hemlocks standing side by side with their eastern cousins - ponderosa pines. It was fitting that these were together because my lasting impression and curiosity of Mount Hood - with its exact location, sitting on (and dominating) the subtle line between the western and eastern crests of the Oregon cascades - is that it is a mountain of many terrains and temperaments. Whether going up or down, or around as I had, the diversity of climate and vegetation zones had made this trip seem much grander than I would have expected.
After scrambling up dirt, and finding a trail, I walked up towards a junction with the Pacific Crest trail and set off for the final mile and a half to Timberline Lodge. The trail ahead climbed several hundred feet and straight towards the Palmer Snowfield and glacier. My tired legs were ready for a break and I chuckled to myself because instead of a firm trail to walk on, there was sand -soft beach-like sand - so I sweated a bit and took a few breaks in the thin air.
Nearing the top of the trail, the sun had just set, as the lodge came into sight. I savoured the solitude and turned around to see Mount Jefferson, Broken Top and the Sisters range rising above the otherwise level horizon. In the last light of the day and listening to the steady soft sound of the river and the wind through trees. I took off my pack, sat on top of it and took it all in. It was a perfect way to end a spectacular few days.
If you are interested in more information, check back for an upcoming post on logistics and another on river crossing considerations. Thank you for reading about my experience. It was a short but wonderful trip. I hope you feel inspired to do this fantastic Pacific Northwest adventure.