Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Ski Area in Summer

Poor Mt. Hood.....by early September she looked so gray and bare.  Snow-riding season was still nearly three months away.  But I had plans to visit my favorite ski area anyway.  Only this time I'd be on foot.

Mt. Hood is looking barren

Once the snow goes away, most ski areas turn into ugly barren places.  But not my home hill, Mt. Hood Meadows.  In summer, its ski runs turn into a wildflower paradise.  The Timberline Trail, which circles Mt. Hood, passes through the area's boundaries.  Connecting this trail with a couple other adjacent paths makes a wonderful 10-mile loop.  And late summer is a great time to visit.

The best butt-burl ever!

One sunny Sunday in early September I got a yearning to check out Mt Hood Meadows' side of the mountain.  My friend Katie was more than happy to join me for this latest adventure.

Parking at the Elk Meadows Trailhead, near the Hood River Meadows parking lot, our first leg of the journey was the Umbrella Falls Trail.  A short two-mile ramble took us through lush green meadows.  The adjacent forests were full of interesting trees, many sporting funny shaped burls.  The wide variety of burls kept my camera clicking.  Then I spotted one that was the most realistic replica of a butt crack I've ever seen!

Umbrella Falls

Leaving the butt-tree, Katie came upon lovely Umbrella Falls.  A hidden gem, this delicate stair-stepped cascade isn't as well-known as its Columbia River Gorge cousins.

Cascade close-up

But it's beauty rivals any waterfall in the Gorge.  While Katie took a snack break, I dug out my camera for a photo session.  Not having my tripod, I had to improvise by propping the camera on my backpack and utilizing its self-timer.  I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

View towards Mt. Hood Meadows parking lot

Leaving Umbrella Falls, Katie and I followed a continuation of the trail.  It led us past a nice clearing with great views of Mt. Hood.  The only problem - it was right next to Mt. Hood Meadow's main parking lot.  I tried my hardest to crop the ski area buildings out of my photos but this was the best I could do.

Beautiful mountain meadow

Leaving Meadow's access road, our path wound through a mixture of fir forests and open meadows.  Each opening offered yet another spectacular view of my favorite mountain.

More Hippy-on-a-stick

I was hoping to see a few leftover wildflowers, but sadly the main bloom was well past.  Happily, one meadow did have a small patch of "hippy on a stick" stragglers for my camera's enjoyment.

Looking down the Easy Rider chair

After climbing for nearly a mile and a half, our path intersected with the Timberline Trail.  Now into Mt. Hood Meadows' boundary, the scenery improved considerably.  The cleared ski slopes sported lush green vegetation.

Tons of color in this magic meadow

And lots of colorful plants and bushes.

Bright red berries on this bush

We hiked down through a small gully with a cute rushing stream at the bottom.  Filled in with snow during the winter, it was cool to see what was underneath all that white.  Tall bushes showed off bright red berries, giving the place a splash of color.

Still a few wildflowers

Although the flowers were mostly withered up and dead, I did come across one small field of asters still going strong.

And even a butterfly!

I even managed to catch a butterfly for a split second when it landed in the flower patch.

Dried, golden beargrass stems under the Express lift

The parade of scenery continued.  Our trail cut across the middle of ski slopes and snaked under chairlifts.  I had a great time identifying all my favorite ski runs.  Things looked so different without six feet of snow.

Another lovely meadow

Having skied at Meadows for many, many years, I know the place like the back of my hand and impressed Katie with my navigational knowledge.  From the bunny slopes on the west side, we traversed Express and Shooting Star lift areas.  I named off every run as we passed them by.

Heading northeast across the ski area boundary, there was just one final slope to cross - Heather Canyon.

Looking for a crossing point

Heather Canyon is a steep, experts-only area.  Cloaked in winter white, it's a wild, beautiful place.  But in summer, not so much.  It's barren, gray rocky slopes look like a moonscape.  Over the years, many avalanches have roared down this canyon - not exactly conducive to supporting vegetation and trees.

Climbing out of Heather Canyon

It was a long, steep trek down the west face of Heather Canyon.  In the canyon's very bottom, ran swift, chocolate-brown Clark Creek.  By the time we arrived, it was mid-afternoon, and the day's snowmelt had swollen the creek into a raging torrent.  No bridge existed here.  To get across hikers had two choices - wade or rock-hop.

Looking back up Heather Canyon

Katie and I traveled up and down the bank, scouting for a good place to cross.  Sometimes other hikers will lay logs down to form a makeshift bridge, or pile cairns to indicate a safe crossing route.  But today we found none of these.  Finally, I spied a narrower spot that appeared to have some well-spaced rocks.  Although it looked scary to hop across, I took a deep breath and made my move.  As I've learned, most creeks look way more difficult to traverse than they really are.  Both Katie and I leapt across no problem.

I thought we'd never find this trail

Katie and I celebrated our successful conquest of Clark Creek with a snack break.  Then we shouldered our packs for the steep climb up the canyon's east side.  The trail rose up and up and up.  I though we'd never see level ground again.  At the very top, we kept a sharp eye out for a junction with the Newton Creek Trail, the final leg of our loop.

Silver ghost trees

The Newton Creek trail followed this creek down the west side of Newton Canyon.  Snaking along the ridgetop, spectacular views abound.  I could see across the valley to Gnarl Ridge, on the opposite side.  Forested hills spread out in all directions.  And the very top was lined with a parade of ancient silver snags.  Good photo subjects!

Hiking along a ridgeline gives marvelous views

After such a long uphill slog, traveling downhill was a welcome change.  Our path charged steeply down, following the very top of Newton Canyon.  As we ascended, the views behind us kept getting better and better.  Mt. Hood appeared once again, anchoring the canyon's upper reaches.

Looking back up Newton Canyon

As we approached our last junction with the Elk Meadows Trail, the rocky ridgetop began transitioning into forest, and the tall steep slopes above Newton Creek began to flatten.  Then bursting out into a small clearing not 20 yards in front me was an enormous elk!  I immediately stopped in my tracks and gasped a garbled "ohhhhh" to Katie.  The elk stood there for a long moment eyeing us.  It was then I remembered my camera readily available in the fanny pack around my waist.  Fumbling quickly to get it out, my motions spooked our wild friend.  Just as I brought the camera to my face, the elk shot off into the forest.  And - surprise - right behind her, a second elk came bounding up the creek's steep slope and quickly followed her friend into the woods.

Katie and I celebrate a safe crossing of Clark Creek

Katie and stood open-mouthed.  In all my years hiking, this was the closet wildlife encounter ever.  We both agreed seeing those elk so close was the highlight of our day.  A perfect end to an amazing hike!

We finished our day's journey hot and tired, but with huge smiles.  Who would've thought trekking through a ski area in summer could be so beautiful, interesting, and exciting?

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.


  1. Fascinating all round! And rather incongruous with the winter infrastructure of ski lifts waiting for their season again.

  2. What a truly awesomely gorgeous and fascinating hike ! Umbrella Falls is breath takingly beautiful ! How cool to hike all these wondrous places Linda. Wonderful ,just so wonderful !

  3. It is so beautiful there! I love the falls and the butt-burl totally made me laugh :) Such beautiful wildflowers there, too. Great shots!

  4. Hi Linda, glorious captures!!! I feel as though I took this walk myself. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful photos.

  5. I was thinking that you'd know that mountain like the back of your hand too. You girls put in some grueling days.

  6. Wow that was a hike and a half. The umbrella falls looked amazing and then to see two elks.

  7. Awesome photo of the falls Linda! Beautiful. And that butt burl--I NEED one of those trees in my yard:)
    Blessings, Aimee

  8. Another fun day for Linda. With all of these hiking trips I don't know how you find time to do anything else.

  9. An elk -- would love to have the opportunity to maybe see one!

    Happy weekend to you Linda!

  10. What a great hike. That waterfall is exquisite, especially with the long exposure, and the butt-burl is classic!

  11. Hi! Your photos are breathtaking beautiful. I like the first photo and Umbrella falls photos very much.
    Thanks for sharing.

  12. Truly stunning views and wonderful captures

  13. Gorgeous!
    Love the waterfall and ghost trees!

  14. Lovely series- Mt. Hood may be "barren" but it's still beautiful- especially in your first shot.

  15. Fabulous set of pictures, Linda. What a wonderful way to spend time and enjoy the beauty of nature.

  16. What a 'wow' day. You constantly amaze me with this blog. Just when I think I've read the 'best' you post another and another. I just love it!!!

  17. What a beautiful series. Looks like you had a wonderful time hiking! Your aster with the butterfly would be a great addition to I Heart Macro this week:-)

  18. Thank you for coming by sharing your creative photography on the second anniversary of Weekly Top Shot, #104!

  19. A terrific series. The falls are gorgeous!


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