Thursday, September 22, 2016

Paradise Park

After tackling McNeil Point on Friday, recovering Saturday, Sunday I was ready for more.  So back up to Mt Hood I drove, this time destination Timberline Lodge.

Mt Hood peek-a-boo

Another fave summer hike was on the agenda - a trek to the lovely wildflower meadows of Paradise Park.

PCT sign

The hot summer temps had given way to a cloudy, cool morning.  Weather in transition, rain was forecast the following day.  Not a fan of heat, I was more than happy for this fall-like weather.

Lupine everywhere!

Parking in Timberline's "climbers lot" gave me immediate access to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  Following it across the bare ski slopes above the lodge, I wandered past a huge field of luscious purple lupine.

Illumination rock emerges from the clouds

Mt. Hood, partially cloaked in low-hanging clouds, peeped out for a quick cameo.  I also got a few quick glimpses towards Illumination Rock, looking awfully barren for early August.  Quite a difference from last December's ski trip!

Lupine and Timberline Lodge

Looking downslope on the famous Timberline Lodge, I couldn't resist a photo of this brilliant lupine patch.

Nice rock-lined path

The PCT was well-defined here.  Not only nicely graded, someone had lined the path with rocks.  Timberline's chairlifts were still running too.  This ski area is well known for it's summer ski season high on Mt Hood's glaciers.  I saw a few ski camp kids heading that way, toting their boards.

Quick view of the entire mountain

Even at my early start time (unlike Friday's hike, I'd arrived by 8:30 am) the trail was busy.  I was joined by quite a few daytrippers - guests of Timberline Lodge.  And several backpackers passed me going the opposite direction.  Some were wrapping up a weekend trip, and others were hiking around the entire mountain on the Timberline Trail.

Newer PCT sign

But a few folks I met were hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  I met several southbounders who told me they'd begun their hike at the Canadian border.  These people have my total admiration for attempting such a grand adventure.  Rock stars of the hiking world!

Little Zigzag Canyon

Leaving the ski area, I crossed into the Mt Hood wilderness.  The path dipped down across Little Zigzag Canyon's deep gully.  In past year's trips the running creek created a small crossing issue, but today it was bone dry.

Zigzag Canyon

Climbing out of Little Zigzag, I continued my hike across a series of forested switchbacks.  Then, the trees cleared, and I found myself staring into Zigzag Canyon's huge abyss.

Stream crossing Zigzag Canyon

Over time, the Zigzag River has cut a 700-foot deep chasm into the side of Mt Hood.  Hikers must descend down a steep trail to it's very bottom, and ford a gushing glacial stream.  Although I'm always nervous about water crossings, a series of strategically-placed boards made passage a snap.

Climbing up Zigzag Canyon's other side

Now I had to climb up the canyon's other side.  A long, tiring trek I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and before I knew it I'd arrived at the junction with the Paradise Loop Trail.

Beginning of the loop

Not much further to Paradise Park's famous flower fields!  I eagerly started up yet another steep, twisty trail. 

Best lupine display!

The back to back climbs were starting to do me in.  Luckily, there were huge fields of lupine providing distraction from my misery.

Paradise park flower field

Finally, the lupine parted and I found myself in the midst of the often-photographed flower field of Paradise Park.  Sadly, the prolific blooms I'd seen in past year's trips seemed to have taken this season off.  And Mt Hood also decided to hide behind the clouds.

Orange paintbrush

Still it was lovely.  I took a short break and chatted with a nice French couple who'd been backpacking nearby.

More lovely meadows

Bidding my trail friends goodbye, I continued my journey following the loop trail.  Another meadow had a bit more wildflower variety, and the low-hanging fog added some drama to my photos.

Scenic stream crossing

Passing by a small creeklet, a nice patch of pink monkeyflowers grabbed my camera's attention.  I stopped at a nearby campsite and took a quick lunch break.  As I ate, the clouds dipped lower, and the wind began to pick up.  Chilled, I opened my backpack and put on every bit of clothing I was carrying.

Wild-haired "hippy on a stick"

I needed to warm up.  Time to get moving again!  Continuing past the campsite, the forest opened up into a spectacular alpine meadow. 

Huge patch of magenta paintbrush

I passed by a huge patch of pink heather and magenta paintbrush.  Oh it was stunning!

Clouds parted for a few views

Although this high meadow boasts wonderful views on sunny days, I wasn't disappointed to be missing out.  The low clouds were fascinating to watch.  Every once and awhile they'd part, offering teaser glimpses of the foothills below.

Technicolor meadow

I crossed one fabulous flower meadow after another.  Although most of the wildflowers appeared to be past their prime, it was still a great display.

Trail through this alpine meadow

Finally, the Paradise Loop reconnected with the Timberline (and PCT) trails.  I had a long 2.5 mile trek across this dull portion before retracing my steps down Zigzag Canyon. 


However, this section turned out to be anything but dull.  I spotted more wildflowers, crossed under a shimmering waterfall, and chatted with another group of PCT southbounders, eagerly anticipating the legendary hikers buffet at Timberline Lodge.

Resting at the bottom of Zigzag Canyon

Climbing down Zigzag Canyon, my right foot began to hurt.  Although I usually hike in my trusty Lowa boots, today I'd tried out some lightweight trail shoes.  The shoes did great until I began heading downhill.  It was then I discovered my right shoe was apparently a tiny bit too small, as my outer toes were rubbing against the end. 

No mountain views on the return trip

But...after reaching the bottom of Zigzag Canyon, most of the final 2.5 miles of this trail were uphill.  Other times I might have complained about ending my hike with a climb, but today it was totally okay.  Uphill steps would keep my toes away from the rubbing end of the shoe.

Glad to see Timberline Lodge again!

The final miles of any hike are always the longest, and today's trek was no exception!  I was never so happy to see Timberline Lodge come into view.  Although I had a bad case of "horse in the barn" syndrome by then, I still couldn't resist one last photo of this amazing patch of lupine near trail's end.

Two hikes in one weekend!  That's my idea of time well spent. :)

Stats:  12.5 miles round-trip, 2300 feet elevation gain.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Flower Time at McNeil Point

"You're sure starting out late in the day!" an older lady chided as I climbed the Timberline Trail towards McNeil Point.

She and her early-bird buddies were heading back to their cars at 2 pm, while I was two miles into my 10 mile trek.

Fireweed starting to bloom

I usually don't start hikes in the afternoon.  Normally I'm right there with that "crack of dawn" lady.  But a morning hair appointment delayed my plans.  I almost didn't go - the Summer Olympics opening ceremony was that evening, and my belated start meant I'd surely miss some of it.  But, in the end, the call of the mountains was too strong to ignore.  Besides, I'm not one to waste a Friday off work!

Mt. St. Helens view on the way up

McNeil Point is one of my favorite summer hikes.  By late July it's alpine meadows erupt into a frenzy of brightly colored wildflowers.  The views from on top are grand indeed - three Cascade peaks and the surrounding foothills.  When deciding which trail to visit, the choice was clear - time for my annual McNeil sojourn!

Steep climb to McNeil Point

I started my journey from the Top Spur trailhead.  A half mile climb had me intersecting with the Timberline and Pacific Crest Trails.  As always, I followed the optional route around Bald Mountain for a front-row view of Mt. Hood, before reconnecting with the Timberline Trail and continuing my trek up.

Very happy to see this stone shelter!

Although the "official" way to access McNeil Point is via a winding path that passes two cute ponds, climbs a breathtaking ridge, and crosses a lovely heather meadow, I always opt for the shortcut - a extremely steep climb up a rocky slope.  Gets me up to the stone shelter quicker, and shaves a mile and a half from the total round-trip distance.  But, oh do my legs and lungs pay for it!

The "yahoo I made it" photo

At the bottom of this slope I fortified myself with gummy bears before starting my climb.  It wasn't long before I was dripping with sweat, huffing and puffing.  The mid-afternoon heat did not help whatsoever!  As many times as I've done it, this steep traverse never gets any easier.  But I took lots of photo (aka "rest") breaks and kept moving steadily upward.  Still it was a huge relief when I finally arrived at McNeil Point's lovely alpine meadow.

Hippy on a Stick

This windswept ridge offers killer views of the Cascade peaks and surrounding forested vista.  And a unique stone shelter, constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp, is an iconic sight. 

A few flowers in McNeil's meadow

Yes, the high altitude views can't be beat, but this ridge is famous for it's prolific midsummer wildflower bloom.  Normally the meadow adjacent to the stone shelter is chock-full of paintbrush, heather, lupine, western pasqueflower and many others.

McNeil Point's views can't be beat

But this year's bloom was a huge disappointment.  Only a few straggler paintbrush blooms remained in the meadow.  And I've seen much better displays of the western pasqueflower (aka "hippy on a stick") in previous trips.

Lots of pink heather

A few bright pink patches of heather could be found nearby.  But that was about it for wildflowers.

Looking down on the return trail

Oh well, the views more than made up for any lack of wildflowers!  From the top of this ridge, I could look down on the trail below and spot my return route.  (It's that light green line in the middle of the above photo.)

Paintbrush and heather below the shelter

After enjoying a snack, and soaking in the views, I was ready to take the "official" trail back down.

This meadow is a lovely shade of pink

I descended the ridge into another meadow.  In past years this particular area had been chock-full of heather and magenta paintbrush.  (Check out this post for a good example)  But a dry spring and summer had not been conducive to large wildflower blooms. 

More colorful meadows

This year's flower patches were few and far between.  But the ones I did manage to find were awfully nice.

Paintbrush line this ridge

Topping out on another ridge, one side was dotted with red paintbrush blooms.

Stunning magenta paintbrush

Only found in high mountain habitats, the crimson petals of magenta paintbrush are always a visual treat.

Monkeyflowers blooming along McGee Creek

Descending the meadow, I came upon another ridge.  McGee Creek bordered on side, it's banks thick with brightly colored monkeyflowers.  I couldn't resist a trip down to check out the show!

Classic mountain view

One of the advantages to starting my hike later in the day - I got to see these familiar sights in different lighting conditions.  The afternoon sun illuminated Mt. Hood beautifully, and I was able to get some great shots.

Pink monkeyflower

The flowers along McGee Creek were some of the best I've ever seen in this location.  Totally made up for the lack of blooms up in the meadows.

Killer Mt. Adams view

Following the ridge down, I again intersected with the Timberline Trail.  Although I wasn't up high anymore, the forest still provided clearings - perfect opportunities for another glimpse of the adjacent Cascade peaks.

Still some beargrass blooms

And still more surprises - on my return trek I passed by several patches of beargrass, some still very much in bloom.  Unusual to see in early August!

Backlit beargrass

I also passed by several meadows still sporting lots of wildflowers.  I especially liked these purple asters.

Asters join a magenta paintbrush

Two tiny tarns, ponds formed from glacial snowmelt, are well-known landmarks along this portion of the Timberline Trail.  Passing by the first (larger) tarn, I was able to capture some nice Mt. Hood reflections.

Pond reflections

About halfway to the Top Spur trail, I passed by a wide clearing that gives hikers a panoramic view of Mt. Hood and its surrounding forested ridges and valleys.  A "must stop" photo site, I took full advantage of the excellent evening light.

Then I had to hustle to the trailhead to beat the sunset.  Although I always carry a headlamp, I really didn't want to hike in the dark!  I arrived at my car by 7 pm, with about 45 minutes of daylight to spare.

Classic Mt. Hood view from the Timberline Trail

Glad I was able to carve out time for my annual McNeil Point trek.  Although the flowers weren't quite up to par, the magnificent views and lovely sunny day more than made up for it.  Time spent in the mountains is never wasted!

And I even got home in time to watch most of the Olympics opening ceremony.  :)

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