Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cooper Spur

"The Forest Service has finally opened Cloud Cap Road!  Let's go hike up Cooper Spur."

Fab Mt. Hood view from Cloud Cap Rd

I recently discovered my skiing friend Mary Ellen had Fridays off.  Time to team up for a weekday hike!  Mary Ellen discovered that the road to the Cooper Spur Trailhead was opening the very day we'd chosen to go hiking.  Of course, we had to check it out.

The lupine were out in force!

Cooper Spur is a huge glacial moraine on the northeast side of Mt. Hood.  Directly southeast of the Elliott Glacier, it stretches from above the historic Cloud Cap Inn to it's highest point, the "Tie In Rock" at 8500' elevation.

The lupine were thick below treeline

In 2008, an enormous forest fire (the Gnarl Ridge Fire), swept through this area, charring the woods along Cloud Cap Road, and threatening the historic Tilly Jane Guard Station and Cloud Cap Inn.  When it was all over, these buildings were still standing, but the road was lined with hazardous dead, burned-out trees. 

Timberline Trail junction

Between 2009 and 2013, the road was open intermittently during summer months.  But in July of 2013, the Forest Service closed the road to facilitate logging activities.  When all the old burned-out hazardous trees had been removed, the road was reopened - which, lucky for us, happened to coincide with our chosen hiking day.

Still a few good lupine patches

A bright, sunny August morning found Mary Ellen and I navigating the windy, 9-mile Cloud Cap Road.  The road was not much more than a one-lane dirt path through a ghostly burned-out forest.  But the fire had created some nice unobstructed views of Mt. Hood and flowers bloomed prolifically in the rich ash-enhanced soil.  While Mary Ellen drove, I admired the lovely scenery.

Huge purple patch

Our hike began at the primitive trailhead campground.  The Forest Service wasn't too prepared for hikers, as the pit toilet was missing both it's door and TP.  But no matter, it was good to be able to access this area once again.  I filled out our wilderness permit, and we hit the trail.

Above treeline, only boulders

After following the Timberline Trail through a fir forest, and up a bouldery gully, I began to see large clumps of lovely purple lupine blooming amongst the trees.  It brightened up the forest, and I couldn't resist getting a photo (or ten!).

And a few of these yellow ground cover

After a mile of following the Timberline Trail, Mary Ellen and I reached a junction with the route up to Cooper Spur.  From this point on, trees and other vegetation dwindled down to nothing, and the climbing began in earnest.

Trudging up the wide switchbacks

We quickly ascended above treeline, passing by a field of huge boulders.  These monoliths, called "erratics" were left behind from a long-ago retreating glacier.  The trail here was really rocky, and I wasn't real thrilled about navigating through all these hard, sharp stones.

Elliott Glacier overlook

From the Timberline junction our trail would climb nearly 2000 feet in 2.7 miles.  To help lessen the strenuous nature of this uphill trek, our path consisted of many long switchbacks, contouring along the entire side of the ridge, and back across. 

Looking back down the Elliott drainage

Looking ahead to our goal, it almost looked quicker to climb straight up the rocky slope.  Seeing another hiker charging up the ridge, Mary Ellen and I decided to give it a try.  We lasted one switchback, and then decided to return to the trail.  Navigating the long switchbacks was a bit easier on the legs and lungs.

Climbing above the glaciers

At one point, the trail led us up to the very edge of the Elliott Glacier's deep canyon.  Peering down below, I could see a narrow ribbon of meltwater snaking down the center.  Looking upstream gave an incredible view of Mt. Hood's northeast face and the Elliott Glacier's fractured, icy surface.  To the north, distant white peaks of Mt Adams, Rainer, and St Helens appeared above the skyline.

Japanese rock

Our route wound through a moonscape of rock and sandy soil.  Mt. Hood anchored the sky above, beckoning us to continue onward.  Up ahead, we could see a spot where the ridge flattened out.  But first my friend and I had to traverse this steep, rocky slope.  When our trail suddenly dead-ended into a snowfield, Mary Ellen suggested we head straight up through the boulder field.

Helicopter circling Hood

That was the toughest part of our hike.  It's no fun winding through a large field of rocks.  The soil below wasn't always stable, and you really had to be careful where you placed a foot.  Every once and awhile a rock would wobble or slide.  Add to that the fact that we were traveling nearly straight up, and it made for a tiring climb.

Final slog up the moraine

But finally we reached the top of this steep, rocky slope and the trail thankfully leveled out.  A few stone windbreaks had been constructed here, likely from climbers or backpackers spending the night.  Nearby was a large boulder with a date and some Japanese characters etched on it.  During later research, all I could find about this rock was that it commemorated a 1910 Japanese climbing expedition to Mt. Hood's summit.  The visitors were from Hiroshima, so it is informally referred to as "Hiroshima Rock."

Tie-in rock is in sight!

By this time, it was well past noon, and Mary Ellen and I were famished.  Although there was still a little bit of climbing left to reach Tie-in Rock, we both agreed a lunch break was in order.  I found a nice, flat rock and we stretched out in the sun and began to fill our bellies.  The views from our perch were amazing - Mt. Hood's northeast face rose up before us, so close it appeared you could almost touch it.  Towards the east, the entire Hood River Valley spread out in a mosaic of browns and greens.  We could even spot smoke from the latest fire, burning near the town of Mosier.

Plaque on Tie-in rock

Our lunch break was not exactly peaceful.  We'd barely unpacked our sandwiches, when the mountain emitted a low rumble.  Mary Ellen spotted a large rockfall high on Mt. Hood.  It appeared to be sliding down the Newton drainage to the south of us.  From our perch on the Cooper Spur moraine, we were totally out of it's path, so it was very interesting and humbling to watch the power of rocks and soil sliding down the glacial ice.

High above the glaciers

The dust had barely settled from the rockslide, when I heard a low buzzing noise.  Mary Ellen spotted a helicopter circling the very top of Mt. Hood.  It kept flying low, very close to the mountain's face appearing as if it was searching for something.  Neither of us had heard of any lost climbers recently (mid-summer is not the time to be climbing Hood).  We both surmised that with the melting glaciers opening up crevasses, maybe the 'copter was looking for people lost in previous winters.  The aircraft circled the mountain for a good 45 minutes, and the buzzing noise got to be quite annoying.  We'd hiked up here to get some peace and quiet after all!

Glacier ice close-up

But finally the noisy helicopter left.  Mary Ellen and I finished our lunches, and hoisted our packs for the final leg of our hike.  We followed the knife-edge of Cooper Spur's steep moraine, through  loose, sandy soil to Tie-in Rock, our day's goal.

A very happy Mary Ellen

It was slow, tough going.  Our boots kept sliding backwards through the unstable soil.  And the final pitch up to our goal was extremely steep.  But finally, up ahead, I spied a large boulder with a small plaque attached to it's side.  This must be the famous Tie-in Rock!

Descending through a snowfield

Tie-in Rock gets it's name because beyond this point is where mountain climbers traditionally rope up when they're climbing Hood.  The mountain rises to near vertical from this point, riddled by glaciers and loose rocks.  Climbing ropes are a must if one wishes to continue.  I had no desire to go any further from here!

Nice views of distant mountains

Mary Ellen and I soaked in the fabulous views from our lofty perch.  The Elliott Glacier spread out below us.  I could see all the deep crevices in it's dirty white ice from a very close range.  It's not very often you can hike above a glacier!  Mt. Hood's summit rose high above, nearly blocking out the sky.  And there were more great views of valleys and hills to the east.  Although the page from my Sullivan hiking book put the elevation here at 8500 feet, Mary Ellen's altimeter read 8800 feet.  (I'm going with the higher number.)

Huge erratics

After admiring the panorama we'd worked so hard for, and taking copious photos, my friend and I headed back down the slippery scree.  As with all hikes, descending went way faster than our morning climb.  Before I knew it, we were back at the point where a snowfield blocked the trail.  Since the afternoon sun had softened the snow by now, Mary Ellen and I decided to march across.  I actually had fun - the icy stuff felt good on my hot feet, and I enjoyed kicking steps into the soft, slushy snow.

We spot the stone shelter

As with McNeil Point, Cooper Spur also boasts it's own stone shelter.  Built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corp, it offers climbers a primitive refuge from the elements.  On the way up, I'd been so intent on photographing lupine, that I walked right by without noticing it!

Cooper Spur Shelter

Mary Ellen and I were determined not to miss the shelter again.  All the way down, we kept our eyes peeled, and nearing the Timberline Trail junction, we finally spotted it's metal roof.  Situated in a very scenic location, one can see Mts. Adams and Rainer, plus the Hood River Valley, and surrounding hillsides.  A few cleared areas with stone windbreaks had been built for backpackers to pitch their tents.  Looked like a great place to spend a clear summer's night.

Happiness at 8800 feet

Reaching the parking lot, I thanked Mary Ellen for her great hiking suggestion.  It was a wonderful day to be high up on the mountain.  The weather was picture-perfect, the flowers at peak bloom (down low anyway) and it's not every day you can say you climbed above a glacier!

Total stats for the hike:  8 miles, 2800 feet elevation gain.

Sharing with:  52 Photos Project and Weekly Top Shot

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Groovin' in the Gorge

I love live music.  It's always fun to see and hear your favorite band in the flesh.  And during the summertime there's no better concert venue than the great outdoors.

Let the show begin!

Back in 2011, I won tickets to see Styx perform at the Maryhill Winery.  Located on the Washington side of the eastern gorge, the winery constructed an amphitheater on the banks of the Columbia River overlooking vineyards, steep bluffs, and wind turbines.  It was such a perfect place to view a concert, I'd been wanting to come back ever since.

Maryhill amphitheater

When Maryhill announced their 2014 concert schedule, I was thrilled to see Styx on the list.  Even better - they were paired up with Foreigner.  Two favorite bands from my high school days! (Yes, I realize I'm dating myself)  I bought tickets the minute they were available.

Golden hills of the eastern Gorge

Concert day was the first Saturday of August.  Blazingly hot in Portland, temps only rose higher as Roger and I headed east.  But once we we arrived at the winery, and settled in to a spot on the lawn, a thin cloud layer slipped over the sun.  Ahhh....not having the sun's hot glare beating down upon us helped so much.

The local vino

The venue allows concert-goers to bring in outside food and sealed, non-alcoholic drinks.  But if you wish to imbibe, one must purchase wine from the winery.  And it isn't cheap!

Of course we had to try some!

But this was a special event, so we decided to spring for a bottle.  Gotta sample the local vino!

Foreigner takes the stage

Waiting for the concert to start, we lazed around in the grass, sipping our wine, eating our sandwiches and cheese, and watching the crowd around us.  It was people-watching at it's finest.

This guy's t-shirt made us laugh

There were lots of gray-haired people in the crowd.  Roger and I laughed about all the "old farts" sitting around until we realized most of them were probably the same age as us!  But it was fun to see so many folks having a good time.  Everyone reliving their younger years - remembering the first time they'd seen these bands.  We even noticed a lady, well into her 70s, who stood along the sidelines dancing away.

Colorful crowd

Foreigner took the stage first.  Although we were told by the people sitting next to us that the original band members no longer tour, the new "Foreigner" sounded just like I remembered from high school days.  They put on a great show and had the crowd rockin'.

Time for Styx

Then after a brief intermission, Styx took the stage.  As with Foreigner, there's only one original member of Styx that still tours with the band, guitarist Tommy Shaw.  Sadly, the man who replaced their lead singer (the amazing Dennis DeYoung) was nowhere near as good.

No more flicking your Bic - now everyone turns on their cell phones

At one point in the show, the audience was encouraged to turn on their cell phone screens and hold them high.  A 21st century equivalent of "flicking your Bic" before the concert (anyone remember doing that??)

Confetti finale

Styx only played a little more than one hour, before ending their show in a rain of confetti.  The sparkling paper bits twinkling in the stage lights made for a great photo op (except that someone walked into my frame....)

End of the show

Although Styx was a bit disappointing, it was still fun to be outside enjoying music and wine in a beautiful setting.  I'm ready to do it again next year.  Wonder when Maryhill's 2015 concert schedule comes out?

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Rose

Here in Portland we've been having an unseasonably warm summer.  Temps have soared into the 90s for days on end, and we've hardly had a drop of rain since late June.  Although dry summer months are common here in the PNW (our reward for enduring the fall/winter/spring rains) the hot temperatures are not.

Portlanders don't know what to with so much sunshine.  We're used to cool, rainy, cloudy days.  Local lawns and flowers are taking a beating.  Nearly all our flowers have dried up (well.....forgetting to water them doesn't help....but normally we don't have to water very much!)

Luckily we have a few hardy rose bushes in our front yard that are still producing some lovely blooms.  My hubby discovered this gorgeous rose the other day.  Not only a creamy white, it's petals are tipped in a delicate shade of pink.  Nice to have something to brighten up our fried front yard!

Linking to:  Our World Tuesday.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

McNeil Point Revisited

 If you wanna see wildflowers, there's usually no better place to find them than McNeil Point.

Last of the Cascade Lilies

A trip up McNeil Point has become an annual tradition.  Of all the places I visit, this trail takes top honors as most-hiked.  Located on Mt. Hood's northwest shoulder, this ridge packs lots of high alpine scenery and incredible wildflowers.

Climbing the steep trail to McNeil Pt

I joined up again with my friend John and his hiking buddies.  He gathered a group of seven happy trekkers, and we set out from the Top Spur trailhead one sunny July morning.

View break!

The route up to McNeil Point is always the same.  A half mile climb up the Top Spur Trail to it's junction with the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and Timberline Trail.  From there, our group contoured around Bald Mountain, to take in the amazing views of Mt. Hood's craggy west face.  Then, back to the Timberline Trail, for a nearly two mile trek before reaching the unofficial "scramble" trail up McNeil Point.

Resting in the meadow by McNeil Pt shelter

Hidden in the thick vegetation is a route directly up a steep, rocky cliff.  Only a half mile in length, it's a great shortcut to the McNeil Point shelter.  But hikers beware - it's a leg-burning, lung-busting doozy of a climb!

Mt Hood towers above the meadow

When hiking a steep trail, I find taking photos as I go is the perfect way to sneak in rest breaks.  I hung at the back of the pack so I could stop and snap whenever a lovely scene inspired me. 

All paths lead to the shelter

Panting, sweating, sometimes grabbing rocks to pull myself up, I slowly made progress.  Good thing the views were so wonderful, otherwise I wouldn't put myself through such a tough slog!  As I got higher, the horizon broadened, until the entire Sandy River Valley lay before me.  White-topped peaks of Mt. Adams, Rainer, and St. Helens began to appear on the northern skyline.

Shelter backside

After what seemed an eternity, the cliff finally topped out, and I glimpsed the roof of the McNeil Point stone shelter.  I had arrived!  My friends were already relaxing in the nearby meadow.

Red paintbrush blooms

Three of the guys, John, Steve and Randy wanted to continue higher up the ridge another mile to a killer view of Mt. Hood.  Normally, I would've joined them, but today I just wanted to hang out in the meadow with my camera.  So I stayed put with the other members of our party.  We had a nice leisurely lunch, soaking in the wonderful alpine panorama.

More Hippies!

Adjacent to the stone shelter, the meadows here are known for their prolific wildflower displays.  Past years, I've seen the entire slope covered in a colorful kaleidoscope of lupine, paintbrush, heather, and Western Pasque flowers.  However, it appeared this year wasn't a banner one for flowers.  Only a few lupine and paintbrush blooms straggled above the greenery.

Dueling photographers

But luckily there were plenty of my favorite - Western Pasque flowers, or as I like to call them, "Hippy on a Stick."  I think their fluffy seed pods are really cute.

Making a snow angel

And there was also a snowfield nearby.   Perfect for cooling off with snowball fights, or making a snow angel!

Crossing a snowfield

After a wonderful relaxing hour, the men returned to the meadow.  Together once again, our group headed back down via the "official" trail.  Much gentler than the ridge scramble, this path traverses a stunning alpine meadow before heading down a high rocky ridge to rejoin the Timberline Trail.

But first we had to cross a snowfield.

Top of the world views

Down in the valley below, I spied two small ponds (or "tarns" as they are called).  Our return path would  pass by both these tiny water bodies.  But right now they looked so far away!

The incredible meadow wasn't as colorful this year

My group traversed a lovely green alpine meadow.  In years past, this area had been dazzling with an abundance of paintbrush and heather (check out last year's post).  But this year's flower show was disappointing.  Only a few meager patches of paintbrush, and even less heather, bothered to show their colors.  I guess you can't expect every year to be a banner bloom.   

Another snowfield crossing

But it was still a lovely place, and I enjoyed the wide-open views from on high.  And we got to cross another snowfield.

Avalanche lily

On the other side, was an enormous field of avalanche lilies.  These were almost as good as paintbrush and heather.

Traversing a talus slope

The group traversed a couple of rocky talus slopes that offered great views of the nearby mountains (although somewhat hidden behind clouds).

Flower-lined trails

And we passed by an area thick with lupine and orange paintbrush lining our trail.  (By then Terri realized sticking with me meant she'd be in lots of pictures!)

Mt. Hood watching over us hikers

Connecting with a rocky ridge, we began to climb downward, all the while paralleling lovely glacial-fed Ladd Creek.  Mt. Hood rose behind us, looking quite magnificent in the afternoon sun.

Ridgetop panorama

It was an amazing parade of forested ridgetops, mountain lakes, and blue skies that we enjoyed all the way down to the Timberline Trail.  A feast for the eyes!

Perfect Mt Hood reflection in a small pond

But the best was yet to come.  Remember those tarns I'd spotted high above?  Arriving at the first of the tiny ponds, I walked around to the very end.  From last year's visit, I remembered there was a perfect view of Mt. Hood reflected in the tarn's waters.  Today's reflection was absolutely terrific.  Seeing what I was up to, my friends wandered over and joined in the photo session.

Hiking buddies make good reflections too!

These still waters were not only good for mountain reflections.  I also caught a nice shot of my companions returning to the trail.

Beargrass and bug

Although it didn't have the wonderful reflections, the second tarn sported a nice field of beargrass.  The only blooms I'd seen all day, it warranted a quick photo break.  I was lucky enough to catch a small bee gathering pollen in one of the plumes.

Afternoon sun looks good on Hood

Then, it was a long trudge through the forest.  But before putting my camera away for the day, I made one final stop at the last clearing.  Afternoon sun lit Mt. Hood, her glaciers illuminated gleaming white.  A fine view of my favorite mountain, and a great way to end another perfect trip to McNeil Point.

Although the flowers weren't up to their usual standards, the wonderful alpine views, sunny skies, and great company more than made up for the lack of blooms.  Any day spent on Mt Hood is a great day!

Stats:  8 miles, 2200' elevation gain.

 Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot and Weekend Reflections.