Doubly difficult if you're planning to hike above timberline on Mt Hood.
|Mt Hood sighting
For one of my mid-July Fridays off I planned to explore a trail that until now I'd only experienced during winter months, the Tilly Jane Ski Trail. This route passed through an old burn area showcasing spectacular mountain views, including picture-perfect Mt Hood vistas.
|Butterfly posing for me
I'd seen photos from past summers where the fireweed grew thick below skeletons of burned-out trees. Hoping to catch the bloom, I headed to Mt Hood's Northeast side and parked near the Cooper Spur Ski Area. Having previously only visited during winter months, the trailhead and parking area looked so different without snow!
Then it was slather on the sunscreen, top off my water bladder, don a large, shady hat, and hit the trail! The first mile meandered through thick forest. Temps were already rising, so I enjoyed the shade while I could.
|Mountain views through the burn
Beyond a trail junction, the terrain abruptly changed. I entered the burn zone from the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Fire. Gray, dead, tree trunk-covered slopes as far as the eye could see. (No more shade for me!) But the silver lining was this lack of vegetation cleared the way for amazing views of Mt Hood. And, although I was too early to catch peak fireweed bloom, the ground was thickly covered with other yellow and purple wildflowers. Totally unexpected!
|Tilly Jane A-frame cabin
So, per normal "Linda with a camera" hiking speed, I sauntered slowly by these colorful flower fields, capturing the beauty from all angles. (However, full sun and hot temperatures also were to blame for my granny-gear pace.)
After nearly three miles and 2000 feet of uphill climbing, I came upon the famous Tilly Jane A-frame Cabin. Maintained by the Oregon Nordic Club, this rustic building can be reserved for year-round overnight accommodations. (The only hitch, access is human-powered. Visitors have to hike or ski/snowshoe to get here.) On this day, I took advantage of the cabin's sturdy outdoor picnic tables for a short rest and snack break.
|Timberline Trail intersection
Then after a bit of snooping around, located trail 600A, a connector that would take me to the 'round the mountain Timberline Trail. Another mile and thousand feet of climbing was in store.
|Cooper Spur shelter
Oh boy, this part of the hike was tough! Although the path wound through a few forested areas at first, the majority of this leg was above timberline in full sun. Steeply uphill. At midday.
|Three peak view
Needless to say, I reached the Timberline Trail junction feeling fully cooked. I'd been sipping water from my Camelback reservoir at regular intervals, but it didn't seem to make a difference. Feeling a tiny bit delirious from the heat, I scanned uphill towards the Cooper Spur Trail, trying to locate the stone shelter. My day's destination, I was hoping it wasn't much farther.
|Hood looks really close!
Upward I slogged at a snail's pace. Although the shelter itself was only a quarter mile from the Timberline Trail junction, at the time it seemed like I would never get there.
|Shelter and mountains
Finally the metal roof of the tiny rock structure came into view. Toiling up the final steep pitch, I was never so happy to see the shelter's rocky walls. I gratefully removed my backpack and sank into a tiny patch of shade. Time for some food, rest, and copious amounts of electrolyte drink!
|Stone shelter close-u[
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's, several of these sturdy little shelters were constructed in strategic places around Mt Hood. Designed to withstand extreme mountain weather, all featured small wood-burning fireplaces, metal roofs, thick rock walls, and dirt floors. Although primitive, these tiny huts were intended to provide refuge from the elements for hikers, skiers, and rescue parties. Sadly, only three shelters have survived (the other two are located at McNeil Point and Cairn Basin).
|Some white-ish lupine
Although clear skies meant full sun exposure on this scorching hot day, it also provided perfect views of nearby Cascade peaks. I guess there are some advantages to sunshine!
|Mountains peek through the trees
Rest and hydration did wonders for my parched body. After a half hour break, I was ready to haul my hot, sweaty, tired self back down the mountain. Although facing a four mile return trip, at least this time gravity would be in my favor.
|Lupine and bug
The first mile back to Tilly Jane A-frame was steep and challenging. My quads and feet weren't too happy about this rocky, arduous descent but once we reached the cabin, the trail flattened out a little.
Normally forest fires leave behind charred patches of ugliness, but the Tilly Jane Trail is really a scenic area. These silver, ghostly trees add to the beauty. Void of vegetation, the surrounding hills and Cascade peaks are visible. Exposed to full sun, wildlowers bloom profusely. Although I didn't take as many flower photos (the uphill trip had already been well documented) my return trek became focused on capturing the mountains, gleaming white between bare trunks.
|Lots of Penstemon
On such a beautiful summer's day, I expected to see lots of hikers out and about. But I only encountered a handful of folks the entire time, and most of them were near the Timberline Trail.
|The flowers were amazing!
Guess this place is kind of a hidden secret. (Well, until certain bloggers post fantastic wildflower and scenery photos. Wink, wink!)
|Golden flower patch
When I finally reached the trailhead it was over 90 degrees, and I'd sucked the last drops of water from my Camelback reservoir. Thirsty, sweaty, and filthy dirty (dust from the trail had stuck to my sweaty legs so it looked like I'd hiked through mud) I felt totally gross. The water bottle I'd left inside my car felt like bathwater. Perfect for cleaning up, but not so perfect for drinking. Time to head to the nearest town for a cold beverage!
Another "new to me" hike (well, sort of), I discovered the Tilly Jane Ski Trail is just as amazing in summer as winter. Hindsight has a way of diminishing the difficulties while amplifying the wonder. Once back home, showered, and reviewing the day's photos with a cold beer in hand, I decided it had been totally worth the toasty trek.
Stats: 8 miles round-trip, 3000 feet elevation gain.