|Bare ski slopes|
It was mid-September, and wildfires were raging all over Oregon, the worst being a huge blaze in the Columbia River Gorge. With all my favorite Gorge hiking haunts off-limits I looked to the mountains for my hiking fix. Luckily for my friend and I, Mt Hood's forests had so far escaped the infernos. But while plotting to explore the beautiful Paradise Park Trail we neglected to take one factor into consideration - wildfire smoke. It lingered over Portland the morning of our trip, causing worry about what kind of air quality we'd encounter at the trailhead.
|Catherine poses at the PCT sign|
Neither of us were keen on sucking smoke while trudging uphill. After hemming and hawing in Portland, trying to come up with alternate trails, we finally decided to bite the bullet, drive up to Timberline Lodge, and see how bad it really was. Although the air was hazy for nearly the entire journey, when we pulled into Timberline's parking lot Hood was visible, save for a few lingering clouds (regular old clouds, not smoke).
|Chairlifts patiently waiting for winter|
Catherine and I decided to go for it. Since rain and cold weather were forecast the following day, we both knew it might be our last chance to hike Mt Hood's high alpine country. Following a paved path behind historic Timberline Lodge, we located the large wooden sign for the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) which in this location also shared paths with the round-the-mountain Timberline Trail. Today's goal was to follow this trail westward four miles to the Paradise Park loop, and then head uphill to it's famous flower meadows.
|Winding through high alpine tundra|
The first mile was an easy saunter through shriveled flower fields. The wide-open plains offered wonderful views of Mt Hood and the idle chairlifts of Timberline Ski Area. On this late summer's day, it was hard to believe in a few short months these slopes would be covered with several feet of snow.
|Crossing Zig Zag River|
Past the wilderness boundary, Catherine and I crossed Little Zig Zag Canyon, journeyed across more delightful wide-open vistas, and then began the long descent into Zig Zag Canyon. Losing 700 feet in 3/4 of a mile, the trail twisted and turned through forest before finally popping out into barren moonscape surrounding the Zig Zag River.
|Looking back up Zig Zag Canyon|
Rushing with glacial meltwater, crossing the mighty Zig Zag can sometimes be a challenge. But this year traversing was easy peasy thanks to a sturdy log some kind soul had placed across it's banks. Catherine and I shuffled to the opposite side and paused to take in the the upriver views. A waterfall churned in the distance, and beyond we could make out steep canyon walls from the hazy skies.
|First of the blow down|
Then it was time to climb once again! Although the opposite bank didn't gain quite as much elevation, it was still a long slow slog. And it didn't help that we ran into a huge pile of blow-down trees blocking the trail.
|Massive blow down trees covered the trail|
Last winter had not been kind to the forest here. Several enormous fir trees had blown down across a short stretch of trail, necessitating Catherine and I's best climbing skills to bypass. Although other hikers had created a few work-around bootpaths, in some spots you had no choice but to clamber over the giant logs. Up to now, my broken toe had been behaving, but climbing over these obstacles caused me to place my feet in different, non-walking positions. One sketchy foothold was all it took to get my toe throbbing.
|Red fall berries|
After negotiating all that blow-down, we came to the first Paradise Loop Trail junction. Time for more climbing! Although this trail to the famous flower fields was less than a mile, I remembered from prior visits that it seemed to drag on forever. Some things never change.....although a long slog, the forest was brightened by a huge patch of bright red berries. And I even passed by one large field of dried up purple asters.
|Not what you think it is.....|
Although the lupine bloom was long gone, its leaves were still green. Dropping my trekking pole into a patch, one clump of lupine leaves stuck to the handle. Funny and totally photo-worthy! (Yes, I know lupine leaves look similar to another popular plant, but it's not what you think it is!)
|Still some mop-headed Western Pasque Flowers about|
We passed by a huge slope covered with mop-headed Western Pasque Flowers (aka "Hippy on a Stick")
|Usually this meadow is full of flowers|
Sadly, Paradise Park's beloved flower meadows were way past peak. Upon arrival, all that was left were withered, brown stalks of what looked to have been a great bloom. Oh well, at least there was a nice (albeit smoky) view of Mt Hood .
|The famous Paradise Meadow sign|
By now way past lunchtime, rumbling tummies forced Catherine and I to find a spot nearby to rest and refuel. By now, my toe was aching mightily, and I gulped a couple of ibuprofen to ward off the pain.
|Re-crossing the Zig Zag|
It was funny, now that I knew for sure my toe was broken, I seemed to be hyper-cautious about every ache and pain, and baby it even more. Due to my gimpy state, Catherine said it was up to me to determine our turn-around point. Although I'd hoped to cover the entire Paradise Loop, with my now-unhappy toe, I decided it was wise to head back after lunch. Our return trip involved mostly downhill travel at first. This did not help my foot situation. However, I kept going, hoping the ibuprofen would kick in soon.
|Top of Hood shines through the smoke|
Clambering over the blow-down trees a second time wasn't a lot of fun on a sore foot, but I made it through. Then came the long, steep descent into Zig Zag Canyon. As Catherine and shuffled across the log once again, and looking up the canyon, we noticed the skies were getting quite hazy.
|Hazy mountain views|
Time for the brutal climb out of Zig Zag Canyon! To prepare, I fortified myself with a handful of gummi bears. At least I had good company - Catherine and I chatted as we ascended, and that helped take my mind off tired legs and lungs (and angry toe!).
|Fall colors starting to show|
My podiatrist is an avid hiker and mountain climber, and we both joked it would be ironic to run into her up here on this trail (I would've been so busted!) Luckily that didn't happen......(and I'm pretty sure my doc doesn't read this blog either.)
|Zig Zag Canyon overlook|
Finally Catherine and I reached the very top of Zig Zag Canyon. We paused at the overlook to take in the magnificent views of Mt Hood and the massive canyon below. But, oh were the skies looking smoky!
|Rusty red leaves|
The final two miles back to Timberline Lodge were the most brutal of all. Not only was I tired from hiking all day, the trail was all uphill. At least there were some lovely early fall colors to distract me (and my camera!) To save weight on my body, I only carried my new mirrorless Fujifilm camera on this hike. So all the images in this post were from the new camera. (I think they've improved from my first few photo excursions!)
|Crossing Little Zig Zag Canyon|
Catherine and I were glad we'd turned around early. The wildfire smoke seemed to be getting worse with every passing hour. Not only that, we could feel the weather changing. Tomorrow's rainstorm was definitely on it's way. I felt sorry for the backpackers I saw heading out. They were in for a miserable, wet evening.
|Hood in hazy afternoon light|
Finally, Timberline Lodge came into view, and I was never so happy to see the place! My sore toe now throbbing (so much for the "vitamin I") I was more than ready to take off my hiking boots and sit down. Today's slow, painful return trip made me realize my doc was right. If this toe was ever gonna get better, I needed to take a break from hiking. It took a nine-mile slog over downed trees to finally get it through my thick skull (told you I was a slow learner!)
But, despite the smoky skies and achy feet, I was happy to have completed one last trip high in the mountain meadows. The very next day rain and snow descended upon Hood, covering the slopes around Timberline with a good foot of white stuff - and giving me another excuse to stay home and finally rest my foot.
Stats: 9 miles round trip, 2000 feet elevation gain.