Wednesday, October 2, 2019

First Day of Summer?

Know how you get Mt Hood's uber-popular Mirror Lake trail all to yourself?  Get up crazy early and pick a foggy, cold day.

Foggy forest

The short trail to Mirror Lake has a lot of bang for one's hiking buck.  That, and the trailhead's proximity to busy Highway 26 makes for easy access to the masses.  One of the busiest trails in the Mt Hood National Forest, the parking area adjacent to the highway would overflow on busy summer weekends.  For that reason, I'd only hiked this trail once many years ago, and had since avoided it like the plague.

Rhodies are out!

But this year the Forest Service closed the trailhead's highway-side location and relocated it adjacent to nearby Ski Bowl's parking lot.  Although adding two miles to the round-trip distance, it made for a larger and safer parking area.

No views at Mirror Lake

June 21st, my Friday off work, and the first day of summer.  I wanted to go hiking, but had a 1 pm appointment that afternoon.  Was there a short hike I could fit into a morning?  Then I remembered the Mirror Lake trail.  Interested in checking out the new parking area and expanded trail, I decided to give it a try.  However getting back in time for my appointment required an extremely early start.  Like arriving to the trailhead at

Friendly bunny

It wasn't easy but I got my sleepy butt out of bed and made the hour and 1/2 drive to Mt Hood.  I had the honor of being the second car in the parking area.  Upon exiting my car, I was surprised by the extremely cold air.  It was a foggy, bone-chilling 39 degrees outside.  Wait a minute, wasn't this supposed to be the first day of summer?


Pulling out knit hat and gloves from my backpack, I bundled up in my winter coat and headed down the new trail.  It had rained the night before, and the adjacent forest dripped with cold precip.  Sure didn't feel like the first day of summer!

The rhodie show continues

The first mile of new trail was sort of boring.  It wound through unremarkable forest.  But after reconnecting with the old trailhead, I climbed through a mass of rhododendron bushes.  And began to see pink blooms peeping through their waxy green leaves.

Lots of green

Mirror Lake was another uphill mile.  Famous for it's stunning Mt Hood reflection, I was disappointed to find it shrouded in heavy fog.  I could barely see across the lake, let alone glimpse the mountain!

Rain-dappled rhodie blooms

I took the short trail that circled the lake anyway.  Although camping is allowed near the shore, I didn't see a soul.  The only sign of life was an extremely tame rabbit, who didn't seem to mind this camera-wielding lady.

Crossing a foggy talus slope

Beyond Mirror Lake, the trail continued another two miles to the summit of Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain.  Lacking any views, I almost considered turning around.  But...the exercise would do me good and I still had plenty of time.  So upward I went!

I couldn't stop taking flower photos

This turned out to be the best part of the entire trail.  Beyond Mirror Lake, rhodies were blooming profusely.  The trail was absolutely lined with hundreds of lovely pink blossoms. 

Lovely forest

The fog, which I'd cursed for blocking mountain views at Mirror Lake, actually made great light for photographing the green and pink colors in the forest.  And, best of all, the entire trip to the summit I didn't see another person.

No views today

Arriving at Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain's summit, I was greeted with a thick fog bank.  Nope, no views for me today!

First day of summer?

An extremely chilly wind was blowing at the summit.  I bundled up, pulling jacket hood over my head.  Lingering long enough for a couple of photos and quick snack, I decided to beat a hasty retreat to lower elevations with (hopefully) warmer temps.

This was supposed to be the first day of summer?  The weather gods must've missed the memo.

Blooms below the summit were especially pink

Back into the forest, I came upon some newly-bloomed rhodies that were an incredibly vibrant shade of pink.  Then I ran into a large group of people - the first hikers I'd encountered all morning.


As I made my way back towards Mirror Lake, I noticed the fog beginning to lift.  Passing through a talus slope about halfway down, I noticed the adjacent forest and hills could now be seen. 

Clearing skies on the way down

Back at Mirror Lake, I passed by two unused campsites that were packed with rhodie and beargrass blooms.  Oh my, this warranted an extended photo stop!

Rhodie explosion at Mirror Lake

The fog was beginning to clear from the adjacent peaks.  Was I able to stick around longer, I probably would've gotten some mountain views.  But, looking at the time, I knew I had to hustle if I wanted to make my afternoon appointment.

Beargrass was also going strong

Quickly descending, I began to encounter other hikers - lots of hikers!  Seemed half of Portland had decided to visit Mirror Lake.  At first, I said hello to everyone I passed.  But as I drew closer to the trailhead, the sheer volume of people began to wear me down.  It was like a superhighway!  I got tired of stepping to the side to let groups of hikers pass.  By the time I reached the trailhead, I remembered why I hadn't hiked this trail in several years. 

Last glimpse of Mirror Lake

I reached my car right at my designated departure time.  Delayed by a traffic jam on the way home, I arrived home with just enough time to change clothes before rushing off to my appointment.  But I made it with five minutes to spare!

Glad I was able to fit in the morning trek.  Getting up early had it's advantages, with empty trails on normally popular hikes.  Although the weather was less than perfect, at least it wasn't beastly hot.  All in all, not a bad start to summer.  (But the fog can clear up anytime now........)


  1. A very energetic walk so early in the morning. Pity about the crowds but at least you were almost back by then .

  2. Belas fotografias, gostei de ver e aproveito para desejar a continuação de uma boa semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  3. person I prefer not to have to share a special spot, but I'm thankful that your shared all this beauty with me!

  4. Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain without Tom, Dick and Harry - perfect! I used to use similar early start tactics when walking in the English Lake District and it usually worked, though the weather was often similar too. You've used the conditions well to gather a set of magnificent photographs.

  5. I love the fog photos! The pink does pop even with fog. Bob and I got an early start this week for a popular hike near our house. We had the trail entirely to ourselves until we were in sight of the trailhead coming back. I'm always glad to avoid hoards of people!

  6. The pink Rhodies are magnificent. I always find that if I make the effort to start early it is well worth the effort. Just wish it came more naturally.

  7. Smart woman! The early bird truly does get the worm...errr, the trail to herself! Love all the rhodies!

  8. Early morning walk sounds cool and fun....with all those rhododendrons!!! Glad you had a good time and got home in time for your appointment.

  9. There's a trail like that here. I love it but it's way too packed. I ventured there this Tuesday thinking there wouldn't be very many people in October at 4:30...I counted 99 people!

  10. Lovely photos, early morning seems to have some magic!

  11. Hello, I like your fog photos. The blooms and flowers are all beautiful. I like getting an early start. Great collection of photos. Enjoy your day, wishing you a great new week ahead.

  12. I don't feel like we had a summer at all. Honestly I'm a little afraid to hike near you because of the mountain lion situation. I mean, I know we have them too but...

  13. Don't you love shooting in the fall? The moodiness, the misty trees, the sense that everything has moved closer. Yes, we lose the distant views of our lovely mountains... but all that haunting atmosphere is so beautiful.

  14. Cold foggy days cut the crowds, but improve the close-at-hand colours!


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