Well...maybe that's true for other resorts, but my home hill, Mt Hood Meadows, is actually a nice place to hike in the off season. (There's a reason it's called Mt. Hood Meadows!)
|Young finds some huckleberries|
In early September, back home from my South Dakota trip, I needed a Mt Hood fix. My friend Young was more than happy to join me.
|Mmm....great morning snack!|
So off we went on Sunday morning, Mt Hood bound! My destination was the Elk Meadows Trailhead, on Hood's east side. The previous night had been clear and cold, but I was still surprised when pulling into the trailhead, my car thermometer read a chilly 37 degrees.
|This tree burl looks like a face!|
Pulling on hats, gloves, and extra layers, Young and I set out on the Sahalie Falls Trail. My goal was a roughly 10-mile loop that passed Umbrella Falls, before climbing to the Timberline Trail, then taking this trail through the Mt Hood Meadows ski area, before descending the Newton Creek Trail back to my car.
|Lovely meadow with a mountain view|
Young has a nose for huckleberries, and we hadn't traveled very far when she spotted a bush full of plump, ripe berries. This delayed our hike for several minutes while we picked our second breakfast. Mmmm, good!
|A few wilted asters|
Then it was a two mile climb through Doug fir woods to Umbrella Falls. The morning's bright sunlight made photography of this lovely cascade extremely difficult, so instead of waterfall photos I took a few pics of an interesting tree burl (it looked like an old man's face!)
|Walking under the chairlift|
Past the waterfall, Young and I continued our uphill slog, crossing Mt Hood Meadow's entrance road, and getting a glimpse of a brand new equipment garage under construction. We passed through a few lovely meadows, still sporting a few wilted wildflowers, with nice Mt Hood views.
|Ski trails without snow|
Upon reaching the Timberline Trail intersection, some nearby terrain began to look familiar.
|Daisy Lift cuts across the mountain|
Oh yeah, there was the Daisy chairlift - sitting motionless, its chairs silhouetted against the mountain. And I recognized South Canyon, one of my fave cruiser runs.
|A few straggler fireweed blooms|
The Timberline Trail contoured directly across some of Mt Hood Meadow's most popular ski runs. And instead of being rocky and brown, the treeless ski trails were lush meadows full of green grasses and a few remaining wildflowers.
|Hood rises over the meadow|
Oh it was lovely! And the wildflowers were nearly done for the season. I can't imagine what it's like here during peak bloom. I keep meaning to hike this trail in midsummer when the wildflowers are at their best. Maybe next year...
|Young rests her legs|
The day was sunny, and temps had warmed to comfortable shirt-sleeve hiking weather. Mt Hood loomed large over every clearing, giving spectacular views - even if she was looking a little barren.... (time for some snowfall!)
|Lunch under the lift|
Nearing noon, our tummies grumbling, I found a couple of stumps to sit upon directly under the Shooting Star lift. We enjoyed a leisurely nosh in our comfy perches admiring the views. It was interesting to sit, eat my lunch, and look down upon another series of favorite winter ski trails, looking very different without their familiar snowy coverings.
|Lovely waterfall in Heather Canyon|
Refreshed and rejuvenated, Young and I continued along the Timberline Trail, following it into Heather Canyon. The expert area of the ski resort, our trail began to descend steeply, winding down into the canyon's very bottom.
|A few autumn colors|
We passed a lovely waterfall, churning mightily over a steep dropoff. Who knew there was a waterfall in Heather Canyon? Certainly not me - hidden by the winter snows, I probably skied over it half a dozen times.
Throughout our trek across the Timberline Trail, we met several other hikers. Nearly all of them were backpackers on a quest to cover the entire Timberline Trail. This 40 mile trail circles the entire mountain, and is a popular multi-day backpacking trip. I've hiked most sections of this trail, but never all in a single trip. Maybe next year I'll dig out the big backpack and give it a try.
|Heather Canyon sure looks different without snow!|
After an extremely long descent, through more stunning meadows of late-season wildflowers, and early season fall colors, Young and arrived at Heather Canyon's lowermost reach. Looking up the canyon was a spectacular sight. Mt Hood anchored the skyline, and we spotted another tall waterfall off in the distance.
|Crossing Clark Creek in Heather Canyon|
But one more challenge awaited my friend and I - Clark Creek. This swift glacial stream had no bridge, and was churning mightily from afternoon snowmelt. Young and I wandered up and down it's banks, looking for the least scary place to cross. Finally Young spotted some rocks that looked close enough to jump across. Although it looked a little iffy, we both were able to hop over the creek no problem.
|Looking back up Heather Canyon|
Unfortunately, what goes down must come back up again, and now we had to ascend Heather Canyon's other side. It rose just as steeply as the opposite wall descended. But before beginning our climb, Young and fortified ourselves with a snack (I chose my go-to sugar source - gummi bears!) and that seemed to make the uphill trudge bearable. (Ha, ha, unintentional pun...)
|First fall colors|
We were nearing the homestretch! Once on top of the canyon, Young and I followed the Timberline Trail through an area of amazingly vibrant huckleberry bushes, all sporting brilliant fall colors. The ensuing photo session may have delayed us just a little....
|Newton Cr Trail Junction|
Our second to last junction was with the Newton Creek Trail. This wonderful path followed the very top of a high ridgeline above Newton Creek. The view down into it's 800-foot-deep chasm was breathtaking.
|Newton Creek is way, way. way down there!|
|Looking up the Newton Creek drainage|
We continued downhill until our trail was nearly at the creek's elevation. Then, the Elk Meadows Trail, our final path of the day, took Young and I the last mile back to my car. But not before we crossed Clark Creek once again, this time in style on a sturdy log bridge.
|Bridge over Clark Creek|
Another great day to be outside in the wonderful Pacific NW! And fun to see my favorite ski area without it's winter white.
Although Mt Hood Meadows is a beautiful place winter or summer, I'm already looking forward to the time when snow again covers the slopes. Ski season is coming! :)