Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gnarl Ridge

Last week my friend Chuck tempted me big time.  He'd taken the entire week off, and was planning a hike on Tuesday.  He told me (jokingly) to call in sick and join him.  I thought "why not?" and told Chuck I was in!  (But lest you worry, I was a good girl - instead of calling in sick, I asked my boss for the day off).

Chuck's in the lupine

We chose Gnarl Ridge, a cliff high up on the east side of Mt. Hood as our hiking goal.  I hadn't been there for many, many years and was up for a re-visit.

Clark Creek footbridge

The trail to Gnarl Ridge crosses two creeks that, fed by glacial melt, race down the side of the mountain.  The first, Clark Creek, is a snap to cross.  A wonderful sturdy footbridge spans its churning waters.

Chuck on the bridge

But the second, Newton Creek, is not so easy.  This creek has a reputation for frequent, destructive floods that roar down it's canyon.  The Forest Service gave up trying to maintain a bridge across this stream, leaving hikers on their own to find a way across.

Newton Creek, running mightily

There's basically two ways to cross Newton Creek:  take off your boots and wade across the torrent (and hope the current doesn't knock you over), or find a log that you're comfortable balancing on over the raging stream.  Other hikers have left makeshift log bridges at various crossing points.  But not all of these crossings are sturdy, so one really has to be aware before stepping out onto a random log.

Dicey Newton Creek crossing

Chuck and I walked up and down the bank scoping out the best place to cross.  Once we'd decided upon a log pile, I let Chuck go first and be the stability test guinea pig.

Our first Mt. Hood view from Newton Creek

Chuck made it across just fine, and said the log pile was nice and sturdy.  Then it was my turn.  I don't have the world's best balance, so am always a little apprehensive when crossing over raging mountain streams.  But these log bridges always look worse to cross than they really are, and I made it over no problem.  From Newton Creek's far banks, we were treated to our first great view of Mt. Hood.

Lost in lupineland

After a long mile switchbacking up the other bank, Chuck and I headed towards Elk Meadows.  This area is supposed to be a beautiful forest clearing with lots of flowers and views.  We skirted the SW corner of the meadow, but found it to be swampy and mosquito-ridden.  Not seeing a compelling reason to stick around, Chuck suggested we head up to Gnarl Ridge.

Hiking through fields of purple

As we climbed through the forest, purple spots of lupine became more and more numerous.  One clearing was a huge mass of purple intermixed with greenery.  I lagged behind Chuck camera in hand, clicking away.

Lupine overload

This was probably the best display of lupine I've seen yet this year.

Chuck checks his map

We finally intersected with the Timberline Trail, which encircles Mt. Hood.  That meant Gnarl Ridge wasn't too far away.  By this time it was past noon, and the day was beginning to get hot.  Chuck and I were more than ready to get to the top of the ridge and eat lunch.

Chuck standing in a field of flowers

We climbed on, through more lupine fields, and past a nice display of paintbrush. As we neared treeline, the woods opened up and offered some good views of Mt. Adams.

Some nice red paintbrush

Then we hit treeline, and there, before us was Mt. Hood, filling up the sky.  Climbing out onto Gnarl Ridge brought us face-to-face with the mountain.  It almost felt like you could reach out and touch Hood.  The edge of the ridge dropped off abruptly 800 feet into Newton Creek's canyon.  We could see the churning water far below.  Looking to the south was a nice view of Mt. Jefferson and the tiny outlines of the Three Sisters. A most impressive sight indeed!

Mt. Adams in the distance

The wind was really whipping, so after a couple of photo ops, Chuck and I took cover behind some large rocks and rolled out our lunches.  Crummy PB&J sandwiches never tasted so good!

Dramatic Hood view from Gnarl Ridge

Our original plan had been to take make a loop hike by taking the Timberline Trail back across Newton Creek, fording it at a higher place than the morning's crossing.  But it was a longer route back to the car.  Beings it was already early afternoon, and Chuck needed to be back in town for an evening appointment, we reluctantly decided to return on the same trail.

Mission accomplished!

The trip back was uneventful.  Even the Newton Creek recrossing was no problem.  I returned to the trailhead, tired, but happy.  It was a wonderful day full of beautiful floral meadows, dramatic mountain views, and a good workout in the sweet mountain air.  A great use of a vacation day.  Thanks Chuck for convincing me to play hooky!


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