Friday, September 8, 2017

Pinnacle Ridge

In 2011, a massive wildfire torched Mt Hood's northern flank.  Named the Dollar Lake fire, after a tiny nearby pond (that coincidentally the fire never touched) it burned over 6,000 acres before finally being snuffed out by fall rains. 

This fire burned through the heart of Pinnacle Ridge, one of my favorite northside Hood trails.  I hadn't returned to this area since the fire.  But, hearing that the forest was in full recovery, I recruited two of my hiking buddies to go check things out.

Mt Hood through the burned forest

So one glorious, but hot, late July Saturday found myself, Young, and Steve bouncing down a gravel road bound for the new Pinnacle Ridge Trailhead.  Since the fire, the Forest Service had rerouted portions of this trail, and relocated the trailhead nearly a mile further away from the old one.  My friends and I laced up our boots, slathered on sunscreen, and located the new trailhead sign. 


We started off winding through an unburned forest, but that quickly changed.  Soon, stark gray tree trunks lined our path.  Although somber, there was also lots of green undergrowth sprouting from the forest floor.  Further down the trail, I noticed brilliant pink fireweed brightening up the landscape.  And I now noticed a perfect view of Mt Hood through the bare tree trunks - a new clearing created courtesy of the wildfire.

The old trailhead

After about a mile, Young, Steve and I came upon the old trailhead message board.  It looked as though the fire had touched some of the forest here.  After a quick photo op, we continued our climb through the burn zone.

Climbing through the burn zone

Although sad to see all the trees that burned, there was also a stark beauty to this silver forest. 

Creek crossing

And the higher we climbed, the better the fireweed bloom became (provided lots of photo distractions!)

Lots of fireweed photo ops

I especially liked this backlit stalk.

Backlit fireweed

These bright pink blossoms provided a nice splash of color to the forest floor.

New life from the ashes

But as the morning sun rose higher, the lack of shade in the burn zone became more apparent.  Temps were getting quite toasty!

The pinnacle is visible through the trees

Despite the fire's damage, I recognized much of the trail from the last time I'd hiked it, over 6 years ago. 

Silver forest

I even remembered the trail as it passed through a boggy area, which was still very much intact, and just as muddy.  Here Steve, Young and I lost the trail for a few minutes before we waded back through the muck and retracted our steps.

Surprise avalanche lily bloom

Near the junction with the Timberline Trail (Mt Hood's famous 'round the mountain path) we came upon a huge field full of frilly white avalanche lilies.  A huge surprise, as these flowers typically bloom right after the snow melts and are long gone by late July.

Lunch at Dollar Lake

Although supposedly only 3.5 miles from the trailhead, the Timberline Trail junction seemed to take forever to reach.  Climbing through shadeless woods in the hot sun didn't help.  But finally the sign and trail came into view.  My friends and I celebrated with an impromptu snack break, sitting right on the trail itself.

Magenta paintbrush

Now that we'd reached the Timberline Trail, it was decision time.  Did we hike over to Elk Cove or up to Dollar Lake first?  My friends, wanting a nice lunch spot voted for Dollar Lake.

Fabulous mountain views

So we trekked a short distance up a rocky meadow sporting magenta paintbrush blooms until we came upon the famous water body.  A tiny glacial tarn, round as a silver dollar, it was situated in a beautiful basin with great views of Mt Hood.  My friends and I sat on the shore, admired the scenery, ate lunch, and slapped at the pesky flies that wouldn't leave us alone.

Mt Hood from the Timberline Trail

The flies began to bother all three of us, so lunch was cut short in favor of continuing our hike.  Young, Steve and I climbed back down the ridge and rejoined the Timberline Trail, heading east towards Elk Cove.  The mountain views on the way down were nothing short of spectacular!  A parade of Cascade peaks - Mt Adams, Rainier, and St Helens lined themselves across the horizon.

Dollar Lake fire burn zone

And the scenery just kept getting better....we rounded one bend to a slope chock-full of colorful wildflowers.  Orange paintbrush and fluffy Western Pasque flowers covered the forest floor.

Young can't decide what to photograph first

Poor Young just couldn't decide what to photograph first!  I must admit I had the same problem too....definitely slowed down my hiking pace.

Western Pasque flowers and orange paintbrush

Elk Cove is a gorgeous mountain valley with a clear glacial stream, and reputation for amazing summer wildflower displays.  However, this appeared to be an off-year as the flowers weren't as thick as I'd seen in past visits.  And down by the creek, the flies were so bad, my friends and I didn't linger long.

Back down the Pinnacle Ridge trail

So it was back the way we came, retracing our steps back to the Pinnacle Ridge Trail's junction with the Timberline Trail.

Admiring Mt Adams view

Afternoon sun lit up the adjacent Cascade peaks beautifully.  When we reached the boggy area once again, it's wide clearing provided a great place to take in the mountain panorama.  Can you spot all three mountains in the photo below?  (Hint...Mt St Helens is a gray shadow on the far left next to the tall trees).

Can you spot all three Cascade peaks?

Then it was back down the endless trail through hot, dusty, shadeless forest.  Young and I kept our spirits up by discussing what brewpub we'd visit for our traditional after-hike beer.

Aster bloom

As I mentioned in the prior post, this past weekend my beloved Columbia River Gorge was the victim of a huge wildfire.  All week I watched the news in despair, thinking of it's lovely mossy forests now forever destroyed by flames.  But going through photos from this Pinnacle Ridge hike made me realize forests do recover, plants and flowers return, and sometimes new vistas are opened up.  So I hold out hope that when the fires are out, although altered, the Gorge trails just might have some new and interesting sights to see.

Great day with good friends

Good to see an old favorite trail rising from the ashes!  Eleven miles traveled, 2100 feet of elevation gain, and a fun day in the woods with my friends.


  1. Life returns.. and will in our beautiful gorge. It's been devastating watching the fires burn.
    Nice post.. of hope. ♥

  2. We drove through areas destroyed by bushfires in the Victorian Alps only to find a lush layer of ferns regenerating. The starkness of the burnt gums trees against the green ferns was surprisingly beautiful. Mother nature is pretty awesome how it rebounds.

  3. ...beautiful, Linda! Nature has a way of healing it's self.

  4. Hi Linda, this is the first time I think I'm seeing you? Am I? The person taking the photo in the last image? Do tell. Thanks for sharing this magnificent part of the world. Have a great day. Jo

    1. Yes, that's me. I do occasionally post photos of myself, and there are also some on my blog header.

  5. Yes, this is a good reminder that fire is only a temporary (in the scheme of things) destructor. It is a shame it will never be the same again in our lifetime, but the wildflowers go crazy in the aftermath and seeing new trees sprout over time brings hope. The new views seen through the stubble can be a nice surprise. Another beautiful day on the trail!

  6. Spectacular, but the fire devastation is sad. I see it frequently given how close I live to the wildfires of a few years ago - I was hiking in a nearby burn zone just this morning.

  7. Linda, it is sad that there was a fire, but it is amazing how wonderfully the forest rebuilds itself. I love that you can appreciate the silver forest and the spectacular views that the fire has provided. The wildflowers are gorgeous and the lake sounds wonderful!

  8. It is good to get out and explore a changed trail, and get that positive reminder that nature has a way of recovering. And that positive thought lets us appreciate the good that comes from such destruction. Like sequoia and redwood seeds that can't germinate unless they are scorched by fire. And an unexpected vista through the silver trunks of burned trees. Lovely photos.

  9. Hello, I have been wondering how you were doing there. The wildfire in Oregon looks horrible on the news. Is it out now? I hope you have some much needed rain. The wildflowers on this hike are just gorgeous. I also love the clear views of the mountains, awesome! Great collection of photos.

    1. No, authorities are predicting the fire won't be out until the winter rains come, probably not until at least October.

  10. Nature does work miracles. Time though, is the key. Thanks for lifting my spirits. I've been looking through my photos of the gorge and its spectacular beauty. To see it now in its naked dress will take time to adjust to.

    So many wonderful images here. My favourite - 'New life from the ashes'.

  11. What glorious and captivating views, Linda!

  12. Some truly spectacular mountain views there! Love that distant view of the big peaks.

  13. I am glad you could see some beauty after a forest fire, you have had so many fires in your beautiful area of the country, I hope you get some rain soon and all the fires are contained.

  14. Encouraging see life returning! I've never visited Pinnacle Ridge. Eleven miles is probably too far for me (I'll have to train!)

  15. Mais uma bela caminhada pela montanha com fotografias fantásticas.
    Um abraço e boa semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  16. Thank you for taking me with you on another beautiful trip. Your pictures, as always, are stunning. :-)

  17. Hi! Nice hiking for you and your friends. I was touched the power of the mother nature. Mt.Hood's photos and wild flower's ones are very beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Aha!! what a beautiful place to hike...

    Please visit:

  19. Excellent photos! I guess there will be lots of burnt-over areas to see next year, sadly.

  20. Wonderful views as ever. The walk does provide a sense of hope that fire is natural part of the forest lifecycle and its regeneration. Hopefully the recent fires were natural and not started by an act of wanton carelessness or worse

    1. Sadly, the fire in the Gorge was started by a 15-year old boy playing with fireworks. Much harder to take than if it had started naturally.

  21. I find wildfire burn scars to be pretty too. And the fireweed! Love the fireweed :)

  22. Sad to see the burned areas but as you stated you can see new beauty springing forth. - Enjoyed this little hiking journey.

  23. Oh be still my heart, what gorgeous views from this trail. The fireweed is soooooo beautiful growing amongst the dead trees.


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