Thursday, August 8, 2013

Paradise on McNeil Point

Here's the flower that started it all.....  In late July/early August these fluffy plants sprout all over the higher elevations of the Cascades.  After missing last year's show, I wanted to be in this season's bloom.  So I convinced my friend Katie we needed to go hiking where I knew there'd be a bumper crop of these babies - McNeil Point.

"Hippy on a Stick"

The name of these fluffy plants?  Officially they are the "Western Pasque Flower."  They also go by "Old-man-of-the-mountain."  But I'm partial to their unofficial nickname:  "Hippy on a Stick."

This way to McNeil Point

McNeil Point is the place to be in late July/early August.  Located on Mt. Hood's western slopes, it's alpine meadows erupt in the best display of wildflowers on the mountain.  For years, a hike up McNeil was one of my annual events.  But last time I'd been here was August of '09.  High time to revisit this favorite place!

Mt. St Helens on the skyline

On weekends, the trail to McNeil Point is packed with people.  Knowing the word was out about the flower bloom, I made Katie get up super-early one Sunday morning to beat the rush.  Our dawn departure paid off - we actually got a coveted trailhead parking spot, and traveled empty paths all the way to the stone shelter.

We reach the stone shelter at McNeil Pt.

Our route to McNeil Point crossed the PCT, detoured around Bald Mountain for a good view of Mt. Hood, and then joined the Timberline Trail along a forested ridgecrest.  Along the way, Katie and I were treated to a few nice glimpses of Hood, but the sun was at a bad angle for photos.  I bookmarked these areas for a photo session on the afternoon return trip.

TONS of my favorite flower here!

From the Timberline Trail there are two ways to reach McNeil Point.  The long way (which is easier) winds around two small ponds, climbs a ridgecrest, and traverses a high meadow that frequently has snowfields into August.  But Katie and I chose the short trail - a steep, rocky scramble up a near-cliff.

Wildflower frenzy - and three peak view

I'd forgotten just how tough this scramble trail was.  It launches nearly straight up through a rocky slope.  Many times I was reduced to using both hands to rock climb.  Sweating, I slowly propelled myself upward.  A slide on loose rock produced a scraped elbow and bump to the knee.  As we ascended, the nearby mountains came into view.  A perfect excuse to take occasional photo (aka "rest") breaks. 

Katie and I pose by the snow

Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and a faint Mt. Rainier lined up across the skyline.  The bright blue sky highlighted these lovely white peaks.  On the other side of our trail, was a verdant green mountain meadow thick with beargrass.

Mt. Hood - up close and personal

Finally, I pulled myself up the final pitch to McNeil Point proper.  A high bare ridge, vistas extend north to the adjacent Cascade Peaks, south down the Muddy Fork valley of the Sandy River, and west towards Portland's suburbs.  A stone shelter marks the official point.

The trail crossed a rocky ridgeline

This stone shelter was built in the 1930's by the CCC and named to honor Portland newspaperman Fred McNeil.  It's an iconic structure on this wonderful ridge.

Katie is on top of the world!

Blooming in the meadow above the shelter was the most wonderful wildflower collection.  And prominently displayed amongt the lupine and paintbrush were my Hippies on a Stick!  Such cute little furry blooms, they remind me of the truffula trees from Dr. Seuss's book "The Lorax."

Flowers brightened the path down

But our climbing wasn't done yet.  An optional trail continued one mile and 800 feet up from the shelter to an amazing front-row look at Mt. Hood and her glaciers.  Since it was still early in the day, Katie suggested we check it out.

Such awesome views!

I huffed and puffed behind Katie climbing up another steep trail.  At least this one wasn't as vertical nor as rocky as the previous slope.  And the flower-filled meadows along the way made a pleasant distraction.  So did the panoramic skyline, opening up wider the higher we traversed.

Heading back down to the shelter

Along with my desire to the see the hippy flowers, Katie hoped to find a patch of magenta-colored paintbrush, her personal favorite.  Most paintbrush blooms are bright orange, but in the higher elevations of the Cascades, one occasionally encounters paintbrush of a brilliant red hue.  This type of paintbrush is commonly found in the McNeil Point area.

Hangin' out with the hippies

After climbing to the top of another ridge, Katie and I followed a faint trail winding along some large boulders.  We before finally arrived at trail's end on a rocky point that formed the dividing line between Mt. Hood's Sandy and Glisan glaciers.

Wonderful meadow above the shelter

What a magnificent view of Hood!  It looked as though you could reach out and touch the mountain.  Katie and I found flat spots among the rocks, and pulled out our lunches.  While we were eating, Katie noticed a group of four people skiing across the Glisan glacier.  We watched the skiers as they descended down the sun-softened icy snow.  Looked like a fun thing to do on a hot summer day.  Katie jokingly asked why we didn't bring our skis.

Could the flowers get any better?

After eating and a photo session, my friend and I started back down the ridge.  Now that I wasn't chugging up a steep slope, I had time to truly appreciate the magnificent views as we descended.  The forested ridges spread out in three directions.  You could see distant blue lakes.  I took tons of shots, most with Katie in them.  (Katie's realized by now that hiking with me means you're going to end up in lots of photographs.)

Mt. Hood anchors the skyline

I spied a rocky cliff jutting out over the Sandy River valley.  Knowing it would make a great photo op, I asked Katie to go out and stand at the edge.  Being the good friend that she is, Katie complied with my request, even though she later admitted being so close to the cliff made her nervous.  Turned out it was a good thing I made her go out there - while walking back Katie spied a man's wallet sitting in the dirt.  She put it in her pack, planning on turning it in to the authorities.

The lupine and heather were terrific!

Down the ridge we wound, ending up back at the shelter.  By now it was mid-afternoon and the shelter and adjacent meadow were buzzing with people.  Katie indulged me another quick photo session here before heading to our next destination.

Amazing pink sea of heather

Katie found a few small patches of magenta paintbrush in the shelter's meadow.  She stopped to admire them, and I snapped a few photos for her.  Then, deciding to make our hike a loop, we turned towards the longer trail for our return.  Knowing the meadow area directly below the shelter sometimes had good wildflower displays, we were hoping for more bright blooms.  This meadow was also known for often having large snowfields that hikers had to traverse.  We headed down the ridge, hoping for the best.

Mother Nature's wonderful garden

But nothing prepared my friend and I for what awaited us in the lower meadow.  The snow was all gone, replaced by huge fields of bright pink heather.  And complimenting the heather, were the largest patches of magenta paintbrush I've ever seen.

Katie finds a huge field of her favorite magenta paintbrush

The entire area was a huge patch of pink and red.  It was like someone had taken a paintbrush and stroked it across the meadow.  Absolutely stunning!

And a bonus view of Mt Adams

I, of course, got busy with my camera.  Katie wandered amongst the paintbrush, smiling broadly.

Red and pink everywhere

The scene was breathtaking!  I took image upon image.  Pretty soon, my camera indicated the memory card was full.  Katie laughed at me as I sheepishly pulled another card from my bag.

Walkin' through a kaleidoscope

This was hands-down the best flower display I'd ever seen here.

Simply amazing....

I stayed way too long trying to capture this incredible sight from every conceivable angle.  Katie, growing tired of waiting for me, started heading down the trail.  I bid the flower fields a sad goodbye, and stumbled after her.

Like someone painted the forest floor

Of course, the next ridge over there were more flowers.  I was stopped by a huge patch of frilly white avalanche lilies.  Naturally, I had to get a few shots of them.

And - avalanche lilies to top it off!

But then, I tore myself away, and kept pace with Katie.  There were still flowers gracing the trailsides, but they paled in comparison to the wonderful meadow.  This time, the camera stayed in my fanny pack.

Mountain reflections in a tarn

We crossed a few small snowfields, which were wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer's day.  I grabbed a handful of snow and stuck it down my back.  That felt good!  I briefly considered plopping myself in the snowbank and creating a snow angel - but the moment passed.

Back to the Timberline Trail, we passed by a couple of small snowmelt ponds (called tarns).  One had a nice reflection of Mt. Hood in its waters, so my camera got called back into service.  Otherwise, we made few stops on our return trip.

The beargrass is done blooming, but the view is still great

But my final photo session was in one of the clearings along the forested ridgecrest.  The afternoon sun now lit up Mt. Hood beautifully.  Stalks of past-bloomed beargrass added to the scenery.  A great last view from a spectacular day.

Although I didn't carry my gps, I figure we hiked about 10 miles, and climbed close to 2400 feet.  A successful hike, Katie and I both agreed it was the best wildflower display we'd seen this year.  And as an added bonus - I've now fulfilled my "Hippy on a Stick" quota!

Linking to :  Tuesday Muse and Sweet Shot Tuesday.


  1. Another spectacular post, Linda. I so thoroughly enjoyed it. The wildflowers are beyond beautiful, the views incredible.
    Thanks again for taking us along!

  2. Breathtaking, spectacular... there aren't enough superlatives to describe those views. I would be in my heaven walking amongst those wild flowers.

  3. Linda, I don't know how it's possible, but every post of yours I think to myself - this is the best hike/group of photos she's done yet! You keep out doing yourself. I am so jealous of where you live and your hikes each week!!

  4. Oh my gosh, all these flowers are gorgeous!!! I think I would be giddy just being in the middle of all that beauty. Such spectacular views and breathtaking photos! Just lovely!

  5. Now that was a LITTLE scary to read (especially the part with the cliff area), but I am SO thrilled that you did it, because I LOVED the heather and wildflowers-especially the 'Hippy on a Stick' and the magenta paintbrush!
    And your views of the other Cascades-wow!

  6. stunning shots. I don't think i have ever seen those hippy on a stick flowers I love them.

  7. Ohhhhhhh....I feel so lost for words. What an incredible hike...and the flowers! They are just amazing1 I feel I'm running out of words to describe what I'm feeling as I see this wonderful hike! I so wish that I could be there walking with reminds me of hikes in Switzerland and climbing the Matterhorn but the flowers weren't so incredible there. I think Hippy on a Stick is a very apt name for it! Are you doing a calendar this year? Last year I entered your giveaway and was gutted when I didn't win. If you do would you consider selling one to this UK addict? Thanks for visiting me and leaving such a kind comment. Joan

  8. That's an amazing hike, so much gorgeous scenery.

  9. Absolutely stunning!!! You must have been on such a high walking and snapping photos. The photos are all brilliant but my favourite is of Katie walking downhill through the heather and magenta paintbrush with the firs and 2 snowy peaks in the background.

  10. Amazing pictures from your hike. I know the feeling when we feel we have been super lucky on any trip.

  11. Beautiful photos, I'd love to visit there. Those hippy on the stick look like something from Dr. Suess, they are so fun in their floppiness. Laura

  12. Loving all of your postcards from the mountain Linda -- spectacular!

  13. Hippie on a stick.... I love it. Had to come over and visit this post too.

    You were right amazing and stunningly beautiful are some words to describe the wildflowers.


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