Of all the trails around Mt Hood, the hike to Mirror Lake is by far the busiest. No matter the season, it's trailhead parking area is always full. Online hiking forums commonly post multiple trip reports for this trail every week.
So why did in the world did I decide to snowshoe here one sunny Wednesday morning?
|Snow covered bridge
Well, this trail is popular for a reason. Easy access off the highway, a relatively short (2 mile one way) trek, and the reward of a lovely alpine lake with Mt Hood views are why the Mirror Lake trail gets so much love. And that's precisely why I decided to make a visit.
|Little snowman on bridge also snow-covered
One Wednesday in late February the weather looked promising. After overnight snowfall, sunny skies were predicted. Perfect weather for a snowshoe trek to Mirror Lake! Although I realized this forecast would bring out the masses, I decided to suck it up and go anyway.
My rule for hiking on a busy trail - go early! I did just that, arriving at the trailhead around 8 am. Although not as early as I'd planned, I wasn't prepared for what awaited me at the parking lot. I was the first vehicle - nobody else was there!
|First view of Mirror Lake
Stunned, I exited my car, looking around. Did I miss something? A sunny day with newfallen snow and I was the only person in the parking lot at 8 am? Was there something wrong that I didn't know about?
|My footprints were the only ones!
Not believing my good fortune, I quickly gathered my hiking stuff, strapped on my snowshoes, and headed for the trail. Might as well get a jump on the other hikers, I reasoned.
A good 3 inches of snow had fallen the night before. I got to make first tracks through an untouched canvas of new-fallen snow. Although I worried that the trail would be hard to find with the snow cover, navigation turned out to be easy. The snow underneath was packed down enough that I could make out a slight depression where the trail was located. Also, I'd hiked this trail before, so the route was familiar. And if all else failed, I had my trusty gps as backup.
|Classic Mt Hood view from the lake
So off I went, through a forested winter wonderland. The first mile of the trail wound through relatively flat woods, crossing a creek multiple times on sturdy wooden bridges. The bridges were draped with a thick white blanket, snow piled high on the railings. On one of the bridges someone had built a small snowman on the rail, which was now nearly unrecognizable under the previous night's accumulation.
For the second mile my path climbed steeply through snow-flocked trees. Again, I was breaking trail the entire time, which was mostly fun, except for having to detour around a large downed tree. It took a couple minutes of pondering the best route around this obstacle, and then climbing above and sliding over the tree trunk before returning to the trail.
Although I made a few photo stops along the way, I kept them to a minimum. I really wanted to be the first person at the lake - I had visions of awesome photos of the lake and adjacent woods with untracked snow as a backdrop. I kept waiting for other hikers to pass me by, but I arrived at the lake without having seen a soul.
|Ahh, that's much better!
Snow-covered Mirror Lake was so beautiful! The surrounding forest and higher hills sparkled with untracked, powdery, newly-fallen snow. The sky was a blinding bright blue. And I had it all to myself. I couldn't believe my luck!
It almost seemed a shame to stomp tracks through this virgin white canvas. But the desire to explore overrode preservation. From previous visits, I knew which side of the lake offered Mt Hood views. Plowing through sparkly snowdrifts, I made my way there.
|Snack break view
It was the photograph I'd dreamed of capturing. Mt Hood framed by the snowy forests and surface of Mirror Lake. After clicking several images, I sat myself down in the snow for a quick snack break.
|Hole in the lake's ice
Then it was time to get the official "selfie" for my blog's 2021 hiking page. Propping the camera on my backpack, I set the timer and clumsily hustled to my chosen spot in front of Mt Hood. However, the first attempt didn't quite go as planned. In my haste to make it to my desired selfie spot, not only did I accidentally bump the camera, I also tripped over my snowshoes and landed on my back in the snow. It did make for a funny photo (which I've included for comic relief).
|Another shot of snowy trees
Snack devoured and selfie-taking finally accomplished, I shouldered my backpack and explored the trail around Mirror Lake. The surrounding trees were covered in thick, frosty snow. Mirror Lake appeared to be frozen over, except for one small hole of open water. I'm not sure what caused it but the opening made for an interesting photograph.
I must've spent at least an hour roaming around Mirror Lake's shoreline, exploring and snapping photos. Although I initially planned on navigating the trail around the lake's shore, an area of deep snow and steep slopes made me decide to retrace my steps back the way I came.
|Hood beginning to cloud over
Making my way to the main trail, I stopped once more at the Mt Hood viewpoint. By now, clouds were beginning to gather around the mountain's summit. Once again I was glad for my early arrival. Not only did I have the lake to myself, I also got great unobstructed views of Mt Hood. It appeared clouds were now moving in to cover up the mountain.
|One more cool snowdrift
Snapping one final photograph before leaving Mirror Lake, I ran into my first hiker of the day. By now I was so used to solitude, the woman startled me. Luckily I was just leaving - I'd had the lake to myself the entire time. By then it was nearly 11 o'clock in the morning. Starting back down the trail I couldn't believe it had taken that long before I'd encountered another hiker.
|Sun shining through the forest
But......the rest of the world had finally awoken and made their way to the Mirror Lake trail. On my way down, I ran into hiker after hiker. My trail, just a single set of tracks on the way up, was now a well-packed rut in the fresh powdery snow. Returning to the fallen tree, I was amused to see that everyone had followed my detour - nobody had thought to try an alternate route.
|Snow-plastered tree trunk
The nearer I got to the trailhead, the more people I encountered. I think I counted at least 40 hikers (and their dogs) in the final mile. It was just one conga-line after another. Arriving back at the parking lot, I found it nearly at capacity. Definitely time to get the heck out of there!
I still can't believe I hiked one of the most popular trails on Mt Hood on a good weather day and didn't see a soul for nearly three hours. It was definitely my lucky day.
(I should've stopped and bought a lottery ticket on the way home!)