|Last of the Cascade Lilies|
A trip up McNeil Point has become an annual tradition. Of all the places I visit, this trail takes top honors as most-hiked. Located on Mt. Hood's northwest shoulder, this ridge packs lots of high alpine scenery and incredible wildflowers.
|Climbing the steep trail to McNeil Pt|
I joined up again with my friend John and his hiking buddies. He gathered a group of seven happy trekkers, and we set out from the Top Spur trailhead one sunny July morning.
The route up to McNeil Point is always the same. A half mile climb up the Top Spur Trail to it's junction with the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and Timberline Trail. From there, our group contoured around Bald Mountain, to take in the amazing views of Mt. Hood's craggy west face. Then, back to the Timberline Trail, for a nearly two mile trek before reaching the unofficial "scramble" trail up McNeil Point.
|Resting in the meadow by McNeil Pt shelter|
Hidden in the thick vegetation is a route directly up a steep, rocky cliff. Only a half mile in length, it's a great shortcut to the McNeil Point shelter. But hikers beware - it's a leg-burning, lung-busting doozy of a climb!
|Mt Hood towers above the meadow|
When hiking a steep trail, I find taking photos as I go is the perfect way to sneak in rest breaks. I hung at the back of the pack so I could stop and snap whenever a lovely scene inspired me.
|All paths lead to the shelter|
Panting, sweating, sometimes grabbing rocks to pull myself up, I slowly made progress. Good thing the views were so wonderful, otherwise I wouldn't put myself through such a tough slog! As I got higher, the horizon broadened, until the entire Sandy River Valley lay before me. White-topped peaks of Mt. Adams, Rainer, and St. Helens began to appear on the northern skyline.
After what seemed an eternity, the cliff finally topped out, and I glimpsed the roof of the McNeil Point stone shelter. I had arrived! My friends were already relaxing in the nearby meadow.
|Red paintbrush blooms|
Three of the guys, John, Steve and Randy wanted to continue higher up the ridge another mile to a killer view of Mt. Hood. Normally, I would've joined them, but today I just wanted to hang out in the meadow with my camera. So I stayed put with the other members of our party. We had a nice leisurely lunch, soaking in the wonderful alpine panorama.
Adjacent to the stone shelter, the meadows here are known for their prolific wildflower displays. Past years, I've seen the entire slope covered in a colorful kaleidoscope of lupine, paintbrush, heather, and Western Pasque flowers. However, it appeared this year wasn't a banner one for flowers. Only a few lupine and paintbrush blooms straggled above the greenery.
But luckily there were plenty of my favorite - Western Pasque flowers, or as I like to call them, "Hippy on a Stick." I think their fluffy seed pods are really cute.
|Making a snow angel|
And there was also a snowfield nearby. Perfect for cooling off with snowball fights, or making a snow angel!
|Crossing a snowfield|
After a wonderful relaxing hour, the men returned to the meadow. Together once again, our group headed back down via the "official" trail. Much gentler than the ridge scramble, this path traverses a stunning alpine meadow before heading down a high rocky ridge to rejoin the Timberline Trail.
But first we had to cross a snowfield.
|Top of the world views|
Down in the valley below, I spied two small ponds (or "tarns" as they are called). Our return path would pass by both these tiny water bodies. But right now they looked so far away!
|The incredible meadow wasn't as colorful this year|
My group traversed a lovely green alpine meadow. In years past, this area had been dazzling with an abundance of paintbrush and heather (check out last year's post). But this year's flower show was disappointing. Only a few meager patches of paintbrush, and even less heather, bothered to show their colors. I guess you can't expect every year to be a banner bloom.
|Another snowfield crossing|
But it was still a lovely place, and I enjoyed the wide-open views from on high. And we got to cross another snowfield.
On the other side, was an enormous field of avalanche lilies. These were almost as good as paintbrush and heather.
|Traversing a talus slope|
The group traversed a couple of rocky talus slopes that offered great views of the nearby mountains (although somewhat hidden behind clouds).
And we passed by an area thick with lupine and orange paintbrush lining our trail. (By then Terri realized sticking with me meant she'd be in lots of pictures!)
|Mt. Hood watching over us hikers|
Connecting with a rocky ridge, we began to climb downward, all the while paralleling lovely glacial-fed Ladd Creek. Mt. Hood rose behind us, looking quite magnificent in the afternoon sun.
It was an amazing parade of forested ridgetops, mountain lakes, and blue skies that we enjoyed all the way down to the Timberline Trail. A feast for the eyes!
|Perfect Mt Hood reflection in a small pond|
But the best was yet to come. Remember those tarns I'd spotted high above? Arriving at the first of the tiny ponds, I walked around to the very end. From last year's visit, I remembered there was a perfect view of Mt. Hood reflected in the tarn's waters. Today's reflection was absolutely terrific. Seeing what I was up to, my friends wandered over and joined in the photo session.
|Hiking buddies make good reflections too!|
These still waters were not only good for mountain reflections. I also caught a nice shot of my companions returning to the trail.
|Beargrass and bug|
Although it didn't have the wonderful reflections, the second tarn sported a nice field of beargrass. The only blooms I'd seen all day, it warranted a quick photo break. I was lucky enough to catch a small bee gathering pollen in one of the plumes.
|Afternoon sun looks good on Hood|
Then, it was a long trudge through the forest. But before putting my camera away for the day, I made one final stop at the last clearing. Afternoon sun lit Mt. Hood, her glaciers illuminated gleaming white. A fine view of my favorite mountain, and a great way to end another perfect trip to McNeil Point.
Although the flowers weren't up to their usual standards, the wonderful alpine views, sunny skies, and great company more than made up for the lack of blooms. Any day spent on Mt Hood is a great day!
Stats: 8 miles, 2200' elevation gain.
Sharing with: Weekly Top Shot and Weekend Reflections.