Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hot Day on Tilly Jane

The Pacific NW experienced another summer of record-breaking heat.  It was a tough few months for us PNW'ers accustomed to cloudy skies, moderate temperatures, and cool, wet weather.(Agghhh....what's that glowing globe in the sky???)

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!

Purple power

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). 

Purple trail
At 6700 feet elevation, the Cooper Spur Shelter provided impressive vistas of the surrounding Cascade peaks (Mt St Helens, Rainer, and Adams) and in-your-face views of Mt Hood.  After resting and re-hydrating, it wasn't long before my camera came out of it's bag.

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.

Silver forest

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!

Washington Lily

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.


  1. ...gorgeous views from the top of the world.

  2. Hello, the wildflowers are just gorgeous. Love the views of Mt Hood and the 3 peaks. What a beautiful day for a hike, pretty sky. Happy Monday, enjoy your day and new week!

  3. OMG...that is one steep hike! But looks worth it! I bet you were wishing for a few clouds as you slogged up the steepest parts. Like you, I find the burnt areas have their own haunting beauty, and they sure do open up the views and make the area fertile for flowers!

  4. Despite the fire damage that is a beautiful hike. Even with my hikes this weekend (up to 12,000 feet elevation) you make me feel like a lazy slug!

  5. Like the huts and the cabin. High altitude construction similar to alpine buildings that get heavy snow piled on top of them every winter.

  6. You are a amervel, Linda! Doing that hike and elevation gain in such a hot day must have been so arduous. I could not do it. The fall weather we are now experiencing is more the kind of weather I love to hike in. It was sad to see the burn scar but also it is amazing to see how quickly nature begins to restore itself with ground cover and flowers. I've heard aspen trees often replace pines after a fire. The wildflowers there are gorgeous and so profuse!

  7. Beautiful hike, I so enjoyed seeing the flowers:)

  8. We had some hot, hot days this past summer! That's an impressive hike in the heat. Interesting to see the various cabins along the way!

  9. So nice to see all the pretty wildflowers. It makes up for the sadness of the burned trees. Also loved seeing the 3 Mtn. Peaks together.

  10. Welcome to my summer. Yes 32 C / 90 F is hot and I wonder if you also had added humidity. I have the advantage / disadvantage of no high, steep, magnificent, wildflower covered, vista giving mountains to lure me to them. Fantastic effort and supurb images. Just love them.

  11. Hi! Nice contrast of burned trees and wildflowers. The photo of Three peak view is extremely beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Incredible view from the shelter! Yeah, water left in a car gets pretty hot! I have a cooler that fits behind the seat for bottles of water and a little bit of chocolate.


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