She and her early-bird buddies were heading back to their cars at 2 pm, while I was two miles into my 10 mile trek.
|Fireweed starting to bloom|
I usually don't start hikes in the afternoon. Normally I'm right there with that "crack of dawn" lady. But a morning hair appointment delayed my plans. I almost didn't go - the Summer Olympics opening ceremony was that evening, and my belated start meant I'd surely miss some of it. But, in the end, the call of the mountains was too strong to ignore. Besides, I'm not one to waste a Friday off work!
|Mt. St. Helens view on the way up|
McNeil Point is one of my favorite summer hikes. By late July it's alpine meadows erupt into a frenzy of brightly colored wildflowers. The views from on top are grand indeed - three Cascade peaks and the surrounding foothills. When deciding which trail to visit, the choice was clear - time for my annual McNeil sojourn!
|Steep climb to McNeil Point|
I started my journey from the Top Spur trailhead. A half mile climb had me intersecting with the Timberline and Pacific Crest Trails. As always, I followed the optional route around Bald Mountain for a front-row view of Mt. Hood, before reconnecting with the Timberline Trail and continuing my trek up.
|Very happy to see this stone shelter!|
Although the "official" way to access McNeil Point is via a winding path that passes two cute ponds, climbs a breathtaking ridge, and crosses a lovely heather meadow, I always opt for the shortcut - a extremely steep climb up a rocky slope. Gets me up to the stone shelter quicker, and shaves a mile and a half from the total round-trip distance. But, oh do my legs and lungs pay for it!
|The "yahoo I made it" photo|
At the bottom of this slope I fortified myself with gummy bears before starting my climb. It wasn't long before I was dripping with sweat, huffing and puffing. The mid-afternoon heat did not help whatsoever! As many times as I've done it, this steep traverse never gets any easier. But I took lots of photo (aka "rest") breaks and kept moving steadily upward. Still it was a huge relief when I finally arrived at McNeil Point's lovely alpine meadow.
|Hippy on a Stick|
This windswept ridge offers killer views of the Cascade peaks and surrounding forested vista. And a unique stone shelter, constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp, is an iconic sight.
|A few flowers in McNeil's meadow|
Yes, the high altitude views can't be beat, but this ridge is famous for it's prolific midsummer wildflower bloom. Normally the meadow adjacent to the stone shelter is chock-full of paintbrush, heather, lupine, western pasqueflower and many others.
|McNeil Point's views can't be beat|
But this year's bloom was a huge disappointment. Only a few straggler paintbrush blooms remained in the meadow. And I've seen much better displays of the western pasqueflower (aka "hippy on a stick") in previous trips.
|Lots of pink heather|
A few bright pink patches of heather could be found nearby. But that was about it for wildflowers.
|Looking down on the return trail|
Oh well, the views more than made up for any lack of wildflowers! From the top of this ridge, I could look down on the trail below and spot my return route. (It's that light green line in the middle of the above photo.)
|Paintbrush and heather below the shelter|
After enjoying a snack, and soaking in the views, I was ready to take the "official" trail back down.
|This meadow is a lovely shade of pink|
I descended the ridge into another meadow. In past years this particular area had been chock-full of heather and magenta paintbrush. (Check out this post for a good example) But a dry spring and summer had not been conducive to large wildflower blooms.
|More colorful meadows|
This year's flower patches were few and far between. But the ones I did manage to find were awfully nice.
|Paintbrush line this ridge|
Topping out on another ridge, one side was dotted with red paintbrush blooms.
|Stunning magenta paintbrush|
Only found in high mountain habitats, the crimson petals of magenta paintbrush are always a visual treat.
|Monkeyflowers blooming along McGee Creek|
Descending the meadow, I came upon another ridge. McGee Creek bordered on side, it's banks thick with brightly colored monkeyflowers. I couldn't resist a trip down to check out the show!
|Classic mountain view|
One of the advantages to starting my hike later in the day - I got to see these familiar sights in different lighting conditions. The afternoon sun illuminated Mt. Hood beautifully, and I was able to get some great shots.
The flowers along McGee Creek were some of the best I've ever seen in this location. Totally made up for the lack of blooms up in the meadows.
|Killer Mt. Adams view|
Following the ridge down, I again intersected with the Timberline Trail. Although I wasn't up high anymore, the forest still provided clearings - perfect opportunities for another glimpse of the adjacent Cascade peaks.
|Still some beargrass blooms|
And still more surprises - on my return trek I passed by several patches of beargrass, some still very much in bloom. Unusual to see in early August!
I also passed by several meadows still sporting lots of wildflowers. I especially liked these purple asters.
|Asters join a magenta paintbrush|
Two tiny tarns, ponds formed from glacial snowmelt, are well-known landmarks along this portion of the Timberline Trail. Passing by the first (larger) tarn, I was able to capture some nice Mt. Hood reflections.
About halfway to the Top Spur trail, I passed by a wide clearing that gives hikers a panoramic view of Mt. Hood and its surrounding forested ridges and valleys. A "must stop" photo site, I took full advantage of the excellent evening light.
Then I had to hustle to the trailhead to beat the sunset. Although I always carry a headlamp, I really didn't want to hike in the dark! I arrived at my car by 7 pm, with about 45 minutes of daylight to spare.
|Classic Mt. Hood view from the Timberline Trail|
Glad I was able to carve out time for my annual McNeil Point trek. Although the flowers weren't quite up to par, the magnificent views and lovely sunny day more than made up for it. Time spent in the mountains is never wasted!
And I even got home in time to watch most of the Olympics opening ceremony. :)
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