|Colorful hillside around Bald Mtn|
But I'd once visited McNeil Point in the fall, and knew this season could be spectacular too. So on a Friday in early October, I send out a APB hiking invitation to my friends. My buddy Steve was the only respondent.
|Beautiful vine maple|
Steve and I set out to the trailhead on a chilly, cloudy morning. Disappointment that cloudy skies would spoil the spectacular views didn't deter me. We began our trek on the Top Spur Trail climbing through foggy woods, their gloomy understories brightened by vivid yellow leaves.
|Bright color spots|
When the Top Spur trail intersected with the Timberline and Pacific Crest Trails, Steve and I chose to detour around Bald Mountain, hoping a break in the clouds might give us a glimpse of Mt. Hood. Although Mt. Hood only peeped briefly through the fog bank, we were treated to a brilliant display of fall color on the adjacent slopes. Lovely red-orange vine maple leaves lit up an otherwise dreary morning.
|Huckleberry bushes in full color|
And there was more good stuff to come. Following the Timberline Trail through more murky woods, we came to the steep unofficial climber trail to McNeil Point. This path shoots straight up a rocky ridge for a half mile. Although difficult, this shortcut provides the quickest route to access McNeil Point's shelter.
|McNeil Point shelter|
As Steve and I climbed, we noticed the clouds began lifting and more of the surrounding valley opening up. By the time we reached McNeil Point's shelter we'd hiked above the fog bank and could plainly see Mt. Hood towering above.
|Steve looks ahead to our destination|
A couple of young guys were hanging out in the tiny rock shelter. Since Steve and I had gotten a fairly early start, we were surprised to see someone up here ahead of us. The men said they were camping nearby and had climbed up to spend the day. They were friendly enough, but one guy was hiding behind the shelter. I smelled a nasty odor and realized he was smoking a cigar. Ugh! Steve and I were surprised to see someone smoking when conditions were so dry.
|Mt. Hood is looking mighty bare!|
There's an unofficial climbers trail that follows the ridge above McNeil Point for about a mile and 1000 feet of ascent to a magnificent front-row view of Mt. Hood. Steve and I had extra energy (it was still morning after all) and decided to extend our hike.
|Glacial ice caves|
So we chugged up the rocky ridge, stopping occasionally to take in the marvelous views. Glimpses of three Cascade peaks, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainer were visible above the cloudy horizon. Looking over towards the Sandy Glacier, I was surprised to see the entrances to three ice caves poking out of the very diminished glacier.
|Views from on high|
After a tough climb, the path leveled out and petered over a rocky ridgetop before deadending at the edge of a steep cliff. From this perch, Mt. Hood's west side opened up before us. The perfect spot for a lunch break!
|Relaxing at our lunch spot|
Steve and I were starving. As we chowed down our lunches, I took in the panorama of adjacent forested hills and mountain peaks. I sadly observed Mt. Hood's gray, rocky face and noticed how bare it was compared to other times I'd been up here. Her glaciers had shrunk to the smallest size I'd ever seen. It was painfully evident the toll this year's hot, dry weather had taken on my favorite mountain.
|Looking down into the valley|
After lolling at our sunny perch for nearly an hour resting and refueling, it was time to retrace our steps back down to the shelter.
|Above the clouds|
Our return route was one spectacular view after another. Hiking above the cloud bank made for some cool views (and photos!)
|Spectacular views coming down|
Walking along this high ridge was one of my favorite parts of the hike.
|Getting closer to the shelter|
We tromped downhill in record time. (It always amazes me how much quicker it takes to descend compared to climbing)
|Hood towers over the meadow|
Back at the shelter, the same young guys were still hanging around (thankfully NOT smoking cigars this time). A couple more hikers were having lunch in the adjacent meadow and Steve struck up a conversation with them.
|Red color spots|
Then, it was time to complete the loop. We headed back down via the "official" trail, across a heather meadow dotted with lovely spots of bright crimson huckleberry leaves.
Past a ridge overlooking mighty Ladd Creek, I glanced up it's drainage gully to a wonderful view of the mountain. Golden fall colors lined the creek's banks combined with more brilliant red huckleberry leaves which made for a stunning image.
|Steve admires the mountain|
Following the ridge downhill, Steve and I again rejoined the Timberline Trail. At the junction Hood towered mightily above the forest. It was such a great view, we both stopped for more photo ops.
|The ponds are nearly dried up|
Then it was a fast trip down the Timberline Trail three miles back to the Top Spur Trail. On the way, we passed two tiny ponds, shrunken even smaller thanks to dry summer weather.
|Patchwork quilt of color|
We also spotted another patchwork quilt of fall color high on a rocky ridge. It was here we began to encounter backpackers, getting an early jump on the weekend. All of them were amazed by the sunny skies. Apparently the lower elevations were still cold and foggy.
|The forest is ablaze|
Another mile or so down the trail and our sun began to fade. Temperatures started to drop. Beginning to chill, I stopped to pull my jacket back on.
|My favorite autumn color spot|
But, oh the fall colors were lovely here! I walked through a most spectacular group of huckleberry bushes proudly displaying their finest hues. The trail was lined in a technicolor tunnel. Our final trek down the Top Spur trail was a world of yellow-gold. By now we'd descended back into the fog bank, which added an air of mystery to my final photos.
|Golden forest in the fog|
Another wonderful hike! Although I usually visit McNeil Point during the height of summer wildflower season, I'm beginning to think a fall trip needs to be added to the annual schedule.
Stats: 10 miles, 2500 feet elevation gain
Sharing with: Photo Friday and Scenic Weekends