Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cooper Spur

"The Forest Service has finally opened Cloud Cap Road!  Let's go hike up Cooper Spur."

Fab Mt. Hood view from Cloud Cap Rd

I recently discovered my skiing friend Mary Ellen had Fridays off.  Time to team up for a weekday hike!  Mary Ellen discovered that the road to the Cooper Spur Trailhead was opening the very day we'd chosen to go hiking.  Of course, we had to check it out.

The lupine were out in force!

Cooper Spur is a huge glacial moraine on the northeast side of Mt. Hood.  Directly southeast of the Elliott Glacier, it stretches from above the historic Cloud Cap Inn to it's highest point, the "Tie In Rock" at 8500' elevation.

The lupine were thick below treeline

In 2008, an enormous forest fire (the Gnarl Ridge Fire), swept through this area, charring the woods along Cloud Cap Road, and threatening the historic Tilly Jane Guard Station and Cloud Cap Inn.  When it was all over, these buildings were still standing, but the road was lined with hazardous dead, burned-out trees. 

Timberline Trail junction

Between 2009 and 2013, the road was open intermittently during summer months.  But in July of 2013, the Forest Service closed the road to facilitate logging activities.  When all the old burned-out hazardous trees had been removed, the road was reopened - which, lucky for us, happened to coincide with our chosen hiking day.

Still a few good lupine patches

A bright, sunny August morning found Mary Ellen and I navigating the windy, 9-mile Cloud Cap Road.  The road was not much more than a one-lane dirt path through a ghostly burned-out forest.  But the fire had created some nice unobstructed views of Mt. Hood and flowers bloomed prolifically in the rich ash-enhanced soil.  While Mary Ellen drove, I admired the lovely scenery.

Huge purple patch

Our hike began at the primitive trailhead campground.  The Forest Service wasn't too prepared for hikers, as the pit toilet was missing both it's door and TP.  But no matter, it was good to be able to access this area once again.  I filled out our wilderness permit, and we hit the trail.

Above treeline, only boulders

After following the Timberline Trail through a fir forest, and up a bouldery gully, I began to see large clumps of lovely purple lupine blooming amongst the trees.  It brightened up the forest, and I couldn't resist getting a photo (or ten!).

And a few of these yellow ground cover

After a mile of following the Timberline Trail, Mary Ellen and I reached a junction with the route up to Cooper Spur.  From this point on, trees and other vegetation dwindled down to nothing, and the climbing began in earnest.

Trudging up the wide switchbacks

We quickly ascended above treeline, passing by a field of huge boulders.  These monoliths, called "erratics" were left behind from a long-ago retreating glacier.  The trail here was really rocky, and I wasn't real thrilled about navigating through all these hard, sharp stones.

Elliott Glacier overlook

From the Timberline junction our trail would climb nearly 2000 feet in 2.7 miles.  To help lessen the strenuous nature of this uphill trek, our path consisted of many long switchbacks, contouring along the entire side of the ridge, and back across. 

Looking back down the Elliott drainage

Looking ahead to our goal, it almost looked quicker to climb straight up the rocky slope.  Seeing another hiker charging up the ridge, Mary Ellen and I decided to give it a try.  We lasted one switchback, and then decided to return to the trail.  Navigating the long switchbacks was a bit easier on the legs and lungs.

Climbing above the glaciers

At one point, the trail led us up to the very edge of the Elliott Glacier's deep canyon.  Peering down below, I could see a narrow ribbon of meltwater snaking down the center.  Looking upstream gave an incredible view of Mt. Hood's northeast face and the Elliott Glacier's fractured, icy surface.  To the north, distant white peaks of Mt Adams, Rainer, and St Helens appeared above the skyline.

Japanese rock

Our route wound through a moonscape of rock and sandy soil.  Mt. Hood anchored the sky above, beckoning us to continue onward.  Up ahead, we could see a spot where the ridge flattened out.  But first my friend and I had to traverse this steep, rocky slope.  When our trail suddenly dead-ended into a snowfield, Mary Ellen suggested we head straight up through the boulder field.

Helicopter circling Hood

That was the toughest part of our hike.  It's no fun winding through a large field of rocks.  The soil below wasn't always stable, and you really had to be careful where you placed a foot.  Every once and awhile a rock would wobble or slide.  Add to that the fact that we were traveling nearly straight up, and it made for a tiring climb.

Final slog up the moraine

But finally we reached the top of this steep, rocky slope and the trail thankfully leveled out.  A few stone windbreaks had been constructed here, likely from climbers or backpackers spending the night.  Nearby was a large boulder with a date and some Japanese characters etched on it.  During later research, all I could find about this rock was that it commemorated a 1910 Japanese climbing expedition to Mt. Hood's summit.  The visitors were from Hiroshima, so it is informally referred to as "Hiroshima Rock."

Tie-in rock is in sight!

By this time, it was well past noon, and Mary Ellen and I were famished.  Although there was still a little bit of climbing left to reach Tie-in Rock, we both agreed a lunch break was in order.  I found a nice, flat rock and we stretched out in the sun and began to fill our bellies.  The views from our perch were amazing - Mt. Hood's northeast face rose up before us, so close it appeared you could almost touch it.  Towards the east, the entire Hood River Valley spread out in a mosaic of browns and greens.  We could even spot smoke from the latest fire, burning near the town of Mosier.

Plaque on Tie-in rock

Our lunch break was not exactly peaceful.  We'd barely unpacked our sandwiches, when the mountain emitted a low rumble.  Mary Ellen spotted a large rockfall high on Mt. Hood.  It appeared to be sliding down the Newton drainage to the south of us.  From our perch on the Cooper Spur moraine, we were totally out of it's path, so it was very interesting and humbling to watch the power of rocks and soil sliding down the glacial ice.

High above the glaciers

The dust had barely settled from the rockslide, when I heard a low buzzing noise.  Mary Ellen spotted a helicopter circling the very top of Mt. Hood.  It kept flying low, very close to the mountain's face appearing as if it was searching for something.  Neither of us had heard of any lost climbers recently (mid-summer is not the time to be climbing Hood).  We both surmised that with the melting glaciers opening up crevasses, maybe the 'copter was looking for people lost in previous winters.  The aircraft circled the mountain for a good 45 minutes, and the buzzing noise got to be quite annoying.  We'd hiked up here to get some peace and quiet after all!

Glacier ice close-up

But finally the noisy helicopter left.  Mary Ellen and I finished our lunches, and hoisted our packs for the final leg of our hike.  We followed the knife-edge of Cooper Spur's steep moraine, through  loose, sandy soil to Tie-in Rock, our day's goal.

A very happy Mary Ellen

It was slow, tough going.  Our boots kept sliding backwards through the unstable soil.  And the final pitch up to our goal was extremely steep.  But finally, up ahead, I spied a large boulder with a small plaque attached to it's side.  This must be the famous Tie-in Rock!

Descending through a snowfield

Tie-in Rock gets it's name because beyond this point is where mountain climbers traditionally rope up when they're climbing Hood.  The mountain rises to near vertical from this point, riddled by glaciers and loose rocks.  Climbing ropes are a must if one wishes to continue.  I had no desire to go any further from here!

Nice views of distant mountains

Mary Ellen and I soaked in the fabulous views from our lofty perch.  The Elliott Glacier spread out below us.  I could see all the deep crevices in it's dirty white ice from a very close range.  It's not very often you can hike above a glacier!  Mt. Hood's summit rose high above, nearly blocking out the sky.  And there were more great views of valleys and hills to the east.  Although the page from my Sullivan hiking book put the elevation here at 8500 feet, Mary Ellen's altimeter read 8800 feet.  (I'm going with the higher number.)

Huge erratics

After admiring the panorama we'd worked so hard for, and taking copious photos, my friend and I headed back down the slippery scree.  As with all hikes, descending went way faster than our morning climb.  Before I knew it, we were back at the point where a snowfield blocked the trail.  Since the afternoon sun had softened the snow by now, Mary Ellen and I decided to march across.  I actually had fun - the icy stuff felt good on my hot feet, and I enjoyed kicking steps into the soft, slushy snow.

We spot the stone shelter

As with McNeil Point, Cooper Spur also boasts it's own stone shelter.  Built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corp, it offers climbers a primitive refuge from the elements.  On the way up, I'd been so intent on photographing lupine, that I walked right by without noticing it!

Cooper Spur Shelter

Mary Ellen and I were determined not to miss the shelter again.  All the way down, we kept our eyes peeled, and nearing the Timberline Trail junction, we finally spotted it's metal roof.  Situated in a very scenic location, one can see Mts. Adams and Rainer, plus the Hood River Valley, and surrounding hillsides.  A few cleared areas with stone windbreaks had been built for backpackers to pitch their tents.  Looked like a great place to spend a clear summer's night.

Happiness at 8800 feet

Reaching the parking lot, I thanked Mary Ellen for her great hiking suggestion.  It was a wonderful day to be high up on the mountain.  The weather was picture-perfect, the flowers at peak bloom (down low anyway) and it's not every day you can say you climbed above a glacier!

Total stats for the hike:  8 miles, 2800 feet elevation gain.

Sharing with:  52 Photos Project and Weekly Top Shot


  1. Wonderful photos from your hike. I always enjoy your posts.

  2. Wow! What a great day in the moutons - we have nothing to compare with that in Australia - all out moutons were worn down to stumps aeons ago!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  3. Fab post Linda - I loved the writing carved into the rock, the trail sign and the cool shelter. I'd be curious about that helicopter too.

  4. It looks so barren up there but I guess it will improve as vegetation takes over. You were brave to climb on slippery scree. And I'm so glad the rockfall was not over your path!

  5. Amazing scenery Linda. A special area to hike!

  6. Fantastic hike; it's been on my list for some time now and it is opennnn. Thanks for the tip!

  7. Beautiful! That snow field looks perfect for a glissade down the mountain. I've been trying to plan a hike up a mountain that's only open a few weekends a summer too, so I'm learning how special it is to have a day like your Friday hike up this trail. :)

  8. WOW! Gorgeous lupine and amazing views! LOVE that stone shelter!

  9. You never seem to take the easy option. What a strenuous climb but those views were incredible.

  10. Captivating captures, Linda!!!

  11. Love the barren, almost otherworldly landscapes. But wow, what a climb, the views from the top are mesmerizing.

    Mersad Donko Photography

  12. Linda, another great hike.. I love the gorgeous views of Mt Hood. The lupine is pretty. Awesome view of the three mountains in the distance..Great post and I really enjoyed your photos.

  13. You are amazing to do all this hiking. I just love seeing the views from your hikes. So awesome. As always some terrific photos of your hike.
    I remember many, many years ago making a 15.4 mile hike up to Ice Lake in the Wallowa Mtns. with my dad, mom & youngest brother. I can't believe we did the hike up and back in the same day. I think I was about 18-19 at the time and in way better shape then I am now.

  14. An amazing place, and a wonderful way to spend the day. The photographs are spectacular! I love that lupine; gorgeous! And I really like the stone shelter. And the mountains! And on and on :)

  15. Looks like a very challenging hike! Glad you've got the energy, and great photos as always.

  16. Wow, that is a serious trail...And worth every bit of effort expended!

    I am so happy to find your blog since we love Portland area and intend to visit (and hike) there often.

  17. What a nice trek and spectacular photography as always.
    Love lupine !

  18. Another great post with amazingly beautiful images.

    Going back to look at them in lightbox.

  19. Your hikes are so fabulous. Looks like you had yarrow up there and also wooly daisies. I'm surprised at all the lupine still blooming. Footing looks treacherous, but the views magnificent. Always love "hiking" with you, Linda!

  20. Amazing views and sceneries, Linda! What an unforgettable hike you two have had!

  21. An engrossing read and fabulous scenic views. Love the wildflowers too.

  22. You are as hardy as that mountain....too adventurous for me♪

  23. Awesome photos and looks like a wonderful hike! I wish I still had that kind of energy but I've pretty much lost it over the last few years *sigh*

  24. Another beautiful hike and great photos! It's a shame about the fire but at least they got the trail open.

  25. What a hike, and the views...
    Loved your post.. Love you thirst for adventure!

  26. Wow, great shots. Sounds like quite the hike too

  27. Awesome!! Love these shots, Linda. Thank you for adding to {Somewhere you Visited}.

  28. Some very nice shots- what views!

  29. Thank you for your awesome photography. I now live on Long Island in New York, but lived in Portland back in the late 70's. I made it back to Mount Hood this past June (2014)to hike and climb. I studied your photos on many evenings. They bring back great memories of God's creation. Thank you for sharing your work with the rest of the world.


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