Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mountain Happiness

All week long, stuck at work, I dream of hiking.  I fantasize about the trails I'm going to explore, the vistas to see, the wonderful flowers that carpet the high country. 

When the weekend comes, I gleefully head to the woods.  Time to get my dose of mountain happiness!

Lovely Mt. Hood!

In early August, I had a yen to explore the east side of Mt. Hood.  The Elk Meadows Trail with a side trip to Gnarl Ridge makes an excellent summer hike.  I was delighted when my good friends John and Young agreed to join me.

Follow the trail

This trail starts near Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area and meanders through a lovely fir forest thick with huckleberry bushes.  After crossing Clark Creek on a sturdy log footbridge, the path directs hikers to a roaring Newton Creek.  No nice bridge here, one must either wade, or balance on one of the precariously placed logs.

Crossing Newton Creek in the am

River crossings are always scarier than they look, and my party made it across Newton Creek no problem.  Then a steep, switchback-y trail took us up the opposite bank.

Mt. Hood view at Newton Creek

The forest here was interesting.  It was a mix of Douglas firs and tons of old, barkless trees that appeared to have died or were in the process of dying.  Some of these trees sported huge round burls in their trunks.  One of the burls looked exactly like someone's rear end.  We all had a good laugh about the "butt tree" and funny John posed for the shot below.

That tree burl looks like a .......!

A mile and a half of steady climbing brought us to Elk Meadows.  In early August, this beautiful alpine area usually boasts a huge display of wildflowers.  When my friends and I arrived, we were disappointed to discover the bloom was nearly over.  All that remained were a few scraggly stalks of lupine.  Usually this meadow is purple with the stuff.

Flower photo session

Hoping to find some flowers at higher elevations, my hiking buddies and I continued up the path until it intersected with the Timberline Trail.  Following the Timberline Trail from here, it was a steep mile and a half trudge to Gnarl Ridge.

Unknown purple flower

Although climbing in the midday heat wasn't a lot of fun, our efforts were rewarded with a few flower-spangled meadows.  The higher we climbed, the more the forest opened up, and the better the views became.

Almost above treeline

Finally, the forest gave way to small, scraggly whitebark pines, their trunks bent by fierce winds and bleached white by the sun.  Above the trees, Mt. Hood was now visible, her glaciers gleaming.

Looking down on Newton Creek from Gnarl Ridge

A rocky trail led us to the wonderful cliff-edge views of Gnarl Ridge.  Far down below, I glimpsed Newton Creek, it's snowmelt-fed waters roaring down the mountainside.  Having crossed this creek only a couple hours ago, it was amazing to see how high we'd climbed.  Across the canyon, I spotted the ski lifts of Mt. Hood Meadows.

Young takes in the views

But at Newton Canyon's highest point, Mt. Hood dominated the sky.  She sat tall, majestic and beautiful at the very top.  The mountain was so close I felt as if I could reach out and touch it.

A rock for three

Out in the open, brisk winds forced John, Young and I to don our jackets.  Then we perched on a large rock and dug into some lunch. 

Mt. Hood rises above the ridge

My friends and I spent at least an hour lounging on top of Gnarl Ridge, taking in the scenery, and snapping tons of photos.  The wind died down and temps became pleasant enough to bask in the sunshine.  Although a few hikers came by, they didn't stop, and we had the place to ourselves.

Scrubby, gnarled whitebark pines

After an idyllic break, it was time to pick up our packs and head back down.  John joked that the local brewpub was calling.  Young and I agreed this was good incentive for a quick return.

Heading back down

But.....with views like these, my camera and I were easily distracted.  Luckily I wasn't the only one.  Young and I are kindred spirits when it comes to capturing lovely scenes with our cameras.  Poor John!  He joked that we were secret sisters, separated at birth.

Lotsa lupine!

Young sprained her ankle earlier in the summer, and today's hike was only the second one she'd done since the injury.  All the way up to Gnarl Ridge she did fantastic.  But halfway down, things began to throb, and Young finally conceded to a rest break.

A cairn marks the Newton Creek crossing

Approaching Newton Creek for our second crossing, I noticed the morning's clear rushing stream had changed dramatically.  Afternoon snowmelt had transformed it into a wide, churning mass of brown silt.  The water level rose so much that it barely fit under the logs hikers were using to cross.

Afternoon crossing of a roaring Newton Creek

Shakily, I approached the slippery logs, and slowly inched across.  Roaring water directly below the logs was unnerving.  Creek crossings always scare me a little, and I was relieved when my feet finally touched the opposite shore's rocky bank.

Huckleberry break

Creek crossing now out of the way, I followed my friends through the brushy forest.  Young became distracted by some ripe huckleberries, and before I knew it, both she and John were stopped by the side of the trail, grabbing handfuls.  Hey guys - did you forget about the beer?

Busy bee

But this gave me an opportunity to photograph some frilly white flowers.  A busy bumblebee, intent on his pollen-gathering, struck a few poses for my lens.

Hello from the bridge!

Back across the Clark Fork footbridge, before I knew it we'd arrived at the parking lot.  Time to hit the pub!  Although hot, sweaty and thirsty, my mind and body were invigorated.  There's nothing like a trek through some high alpine country to reset my attitude.  I'd filled my tank with some mountain happiness.  It would get me through another week.

Back to work tomorrow - time to dream and plan for next weekend's hike.  And more mountain happiness.

Sharing with:  Tuesday Muse and Share Your Cup Thursday


  1. You've brought even closer to me many of these mountains I've only seen in pictures and dreamed of seeing in person one of these days. That shot of Mt. Hood is gorgeous. I'm totally with you on the unnerving creek crossings.

  2. A perfect way to spend your day. Thanks for sharing.

  3. LOVE your cairn photo! I never knew that was the name for these little rock 'towers', but have always loved the ones by the strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state:)
    Mmm, huckleberries! I would definitely have stopped too.

  4. I can see why you dream of your mountain time all week long. It's just gorgeous! Time in nature really renews my spirit. Love the bee photo and all the scenery.

  5. Theses are great photos.
    PS: You need to get yourself a TV contract for a hikers reality show. :)

  6. I get my dose of mountain happiness in about a September 21st here yet?! I am so BAD at river crossings - when I know they are present, I need to remember my trekking poles.

  7. Always enjoy your adventures. Looks like a good time with some friends

  8. I can totally understand your love for your weekend treks. Gorgeous scenery and fun friends. :)

  9. Beautiful views! Strange to think in only a little over a month it will be snowy up there!

    And yes, I agree, the slug on my blog today is a OSU Slug. GO BEAVS! I cant wait for the game on Sat!

  10. What a way to recharge!
    I've been joking with my sister - who had to do 4 weeks of training down in the twin cities for a new job.. She was having itching burning eyes, and I told her she must be allergic to the city!
    She used to work outdoors, but has worked in an office for a few years now.. and cannot WAIT for the weekends.
    Fantastic photos as always, Linda!

  11. Great shot of the bee! Wish I was hiking today, but we bought a truck instead. Two hours drive each way. Yuck.

  12. How amazing to have these hikes to look forward to while stuck in the office. I think your blue flower could be a penstemon?
    Scary change in the water over the course of the day. Just shows how savvy you need to be when out in the wilds.

  13. Oh I envy you living so close to Mt. Hood. Gorgeous. You get out there and enjoy and I love that. Awesome.

  14. That looks like an amazing hike - there's nothing like getting close to a towering mountain.

  15. Perfect post title...wonderful photos. What a scenic area. I found myself taking in a deep breath upon looking at the mountain and flowers. Thanks for the spirit lift :)

  16. Hi Linda, I love hiking in the Fall. Hubby and I need to go do one! I am so happy that I got to visit your beautiful Mt. Hood last July. Really quite a sight! Your hike sounds wonderful and the butt trees made me laugh. Glad that you got a great shot of the white flower and bee! Thanks for sharing with SYC.


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