For some reason I found myself poring over old photos tonight. Flashback to two summers ago. I hiked up the Salmon River Trail with my friend Steve, who toted his infant daughter on his back. There are couple great lookout points on the trail including this one. After hiking a bit over an hour to get there, we sat and enjoyed the views and each other’s company. Glorious day.
The easiest way I know to get to elevation in Northwest Oregon is to drive to Timberline Lodge. The second easiest way is to hike to McIntyre Ridge or Wildcat Mountain from the west. The access road is paved until the very end, and you get a three thousand foot elevation headstart on most trails in the area. The area used to be more popular with dirt bikers and target shooters, but access and the rules have changed. It is less noisy than fifteen years ago, but target shooters still find spots to practice their skills. The start of the trail winds around an old quarry-like area, the far side of which drops off into a canyon for great views.
The trail climbs briefly, then levels off at a spectacular promontory with views over the Eagle Creek drainage–unrelated to the more famous Eagle Creek in the Columbia Gorge. After a mile of casual uphill walking, there is an unsigned junction. Most people head left here, the way to the unassuming but beautiful high point along McIntyre Ridge. I found a few other hikers out there taking in the pretty forest and the view so the always dramatic Mount Hood. A man sat on the bench installed there years ago as a tribute to two men who loved the area. I wandered around the ridge for a while, then turned back. I had more destinations in mind. At the junction, I headed left, or the other way, on the Douglas trail. The trail soon heads up through some switchbacks. At the high point, there is another unsigned trail to Wildcat Mountain itself. This is another modest peak with almost no views, but I scaled it anyway.
The peak is anticlimactic. Views can only be had by peering through trees. The best part of the hike, however, was yet to come. I remember continuing east on the trail more than a decade earlier in connecting to Huckleberry Mountain. There is a spot on the narrow ridge I wanted to find. I dropped back down to the Douglas Trail, and fifteen minutes later, I emerged on the open rocky ridge. Clouds had started to move in, but I could still see Mounts Hood, Adams, and Jefferson as well as many foothill peaks and the Eagle Creek and Boulder Creek valleys. It’s a gorgeous green spot in all directions, and not a soul in sight. Just my kind of place. I sat there for a while contemplating the state of the natural world and then hiked back to my car, more than satisfied.
On Sunday, I visited an elderly friend in my former hometown near Mount Hood. We enjoyed a delectable meal at the Resort at the Mountain, which offers some of the finest restaurant views I’ve ever seen. Some people sat out on the large patio. Even inside, there is a view over the golf course towards massive forested ridges which define the green Salmon River valley. Not bad. After our meal, we drove to the Lost Creek Campground. This is often less crowded than other campsites in the region, and it also offers a short nature trail with interpretive signs. Part of the path is paved, although the massive firs and cedars in the area have buckled some of the pavement.
It was fascinating to once again realize the power of volcanic eruptions and how it shaped the landscape. Volcanic mudflows emanating from Mount Hood in the 18th century changed the floor of the area ecosystem and preserved stumps of old trees right in the creek bed. What a wild world. At the end of the path, we sat on a bench in front an old beaver pond. The beavers have vanished in recent years, ostensibly to find better trees to eat. I hadn’t been to Lost Creek in at least four or five years. It’s a gorgeous, peaceful place to spend an afternoon with an old friend.
Here’s a little view into the gorgeous forest on the west side of Mount Hood where I took a walk with my wife recently along the Zigzag River. We started out on the Pioneer Bridle Trail and then veered off on an unofficial spur that cuts back along the riverbank. The path is overgrown in spots, but that made it more adventurous.
The Sandy River trail connects two popular recreational spots on the west side of Mount Hood: Riley Horse Camp and the Ramona Falls trailhead. The trail cuts through a forest that has unique soil due to a volcanic eruption on Hood just prior to Lewis and Clark’s passage nearby on the Columbia River. People scavenge for mushroom, camp, ride horses, and hike as much as they like in this section of the Mount Hood National Forest. Solitude is a rare quality here. Yet I find that it is possible with a little off trail travel in the relatively flat environment below the Ramona Falls trailhead.
After dealing with a pseudo retirement party Friday night, we spent Saturday doing paperwork and visiting a friend who is fighting cancer with a powerful will. I have no doubt she will win. Afterward, a serene trip to the woods was in order. The Sandy River Trail cuts across the main access road at one point, and we parked nearby. The walking is casual, the ash and mudflow soil apparent at various points where it is very soft and gets rutted easily in heavy rains.
Our destination was a stretch of open riverbed not far from the trail. Multiple channels cut through rocks and sand, the water too high for us to channel hop. There were glimmers of sun as we enjoyed the noisy company of the Sandy River and a view of the lower stretches of Mount Hood. We threw sticks for Jackie, soaked in the natural environment, and came away feeling rejuvenated.
Bigger trips are soon to come with summer weather. This was a nice stopgap stroll. For now, back to the city, work, and life.
The section of the Pioneer Bridle Trail north of Highway 26 (between Rhododendron and Government Camp, Oregon) has a vastly different feel than the one I wrote of a week ago. Like the other section, it receives little traffic, but this area is much hillier and has denser woods. There are few obvious destinations beside an old mineshaft, but there is nice second growth forest, and on a gray day, this is still a worthy area for a hike. Yesterday I began hiking at the east end of Road 39, which locals call Kiwanis Camp Road, although a start at the west end of the road, right where the trail crosses the highway, gives a better workout.
When I arrive with Niko at the trailhead, I spy a photographer setting up a shot alongside the stream, presumably looking at the colorful leaves. I almost talk to her, but I don’t have a leash for Niko, so I think better of it and move on, across the water, onto an old road. A couple hundred yards uphill, the road peters out and the bridle trail cuts beneath it. I peel off and head west toward the mine.
The walking is always pleasant. One unique aspect of this area is the signage of the actual Barlow Road. History buffs have flagged spots where they have seen evidence for the old wagon road, and there are a couple wooden signs if you know where to look.
The mineshaft is a gaping maw straight down. Fencing is there to keep the clueless from hurting themselves. If you really want to check out an old mine, head up the Bonanza Trail ten minutes away, south of Welches.
Beyond the mine, the trail dips slightly, crossing a nice mossy rockslide capped by cliffs. The top of the cliffs are an easy scramble, but I remain on the trail this time. There is no view to be had today.
Further on, the trail gets into denser, darker woods, with plenty of Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars, along with Vine Maples in the open areas.
I reach a saddle and bushwhack to a favorite secret open spot above the trail. I call it Baker’s Bump. It must look nondescript from afar, but there are terrific views in multiple directions. Today, with the low clouds, the view calls to mind the Smokies or the Misty Mountains of Tolkein fame. It is a perfect topper to the walk.
I return the way I came and consider visiting the third and final section of the trail next week, headed up toward the town of Government Camp.
Snow cloaks Mount Hood now; it could be a much more serious endeavor. I could use such a more adventurous hike, so stay tuned!
The end point of the Pioneeer Bridle Trail is a replica of a Barlow Road tollgate that was a money maker in the 19th century for Sam Barlow. He built the road and charged five dollars of the hardy pioneers who took wagons on the rugged bypass around Mount Hood rather than deal with the Columbia River Gorge.
I like to hike up the trail towards Government Camp. It starts in a small pullout east of the Tollgate Campground, which is a suprisingly lovely spot given that it is right off Highway 26. On a recent hike there, the leaves had finally turned gold and orange for us, weeks after they seemed to hit their peak in New England.
I leash Niko for the first part of the trail. He is getting old and deaf and I don’t trust his judgment near the highway. The trail ascends slightly between the highway and the Zigzag River, going through some wonderful forest with amazing foliage typical of the west side of the Cascades.
We cross a few Forest Service roads that access vacation cabins, but there is no traffic, and I only have to be careful for Niko in one or two spots. There are few views, but I still enjoy the trail, as it is easy walking, and usually free of other hikers.
At one point, the trail was somewhat popular with downhill mountain bikers. You can descend from Timberline Lodge at 6000 feet through the ski town of Government Camp, all the way to my trailhead at less than 2000 feet. With the more technical Sandy Ridge mountain biking trail system open now near Brightwood, the Bridle Trail may have paled in comparison, but that long descent must still be appealing, and there are stretches once that have a real wilderness feel when the trail crosses to the north side of the highway.
About a mile out of Rhodendron, the trail nears the highway where a pedestrian bridge parallels the highway bridge. I often turn around in this area when I am just out for a jaunt with the dogs. I find it interesting that conifer needles add traction on such a bridge when it is wet, yet seem to detract from traction when it is dry. Any physics explanations, readers?
This time, I continue half a mile further, crossing the bridge and meditating on the riffles of the Zigzag River before getting in a groove stretching my legs in the dark forest.
The Bridle Trail makes for a nice hour long hike when I can’t justify being away much longer. Paperwork to finish, papers to grade, dishes to wash, and so on. Life. Of course, the trail parallels a major highway, and it never feels like wilderness, but it is a nice respite from the chores of daily life. When I slow down a bit, I always find something unique to admire in the environment.
Mist falls intermittently. I head back toward my car and reflect on the history of this route as I walk. Life must have been tough for the pioneers traveling this route in covered wagons. They had already been gone from the midwest for months when they hit Oregon, and surely it was a welcome thought, knowing the last of the big mountains was behind them. It humbles me to walk on such a path, if only for an hour or two.
Timberline Lodge is a major Northwest landmark. In the past twenty five years, it has become a national mecca in the summer as the only venue for year-round skiing and snowboarding in the U.S. Situated on the southern flank of Oregon’s Mount Hood at tree line, the old lodge is a great place to feel nostalgic. The craftsmanship is amazing, from the giant beams and massive stone fireplaces to the collection of Depression era art.
Outside the lodge, while mountaineers target technical routes to the summit of the highest peak in Oregon, hikers can find nearby trails conducive to great hiking and backpacking, including the Timberline Trail, which circumnavigates the mountain over approximately 40 miles. Short hikes are also possible nearby. Just recently I discovered an almost hidden little trail to a bluff with great views looking south and east.
After climbing the paved access path above the old lodge, hikers can join the Pacific Crest Trail and head either way. A weathered wooden sign points out distances. Canada 500 miles, Mexico 2000 miles. Sigh. Perhaps someday….
Two of my favorite hikes near Timberline are out and back jaunts departing from this intersection. The first is the Timberline Trail heading counter clockwise around the mountain. In short order, it skirts the open maw of White River Canyon, and there are many spots to meander in the area. Backcountry skiers could have a great time in the upper reaches of the broad canyon.
Heading clockwise on the Timberline Trail is popular even after Labor Day. The trail starts by passing beneath a few chairlifts, offering great views toward the mountain above and south along the spine of the Cascades, which sit in moody blue tiers.
Most wilderness walkers head west on the Timberline Trail towards the meadows of Paradise park, a gorgeous spot at treeline with tent sites scattered in the trees, rocks to climb on, and lovely wildflowers. It is a 12 mile round trip, and a great day hike or back pack, but today Denise and I want to simply hike to the lip of Big Zigzag Canyon. The trail loses gradually loses elevation, but there are small climbs out of Sand Canyon and Little Zigzag Canyon, and again when approaching Big Zigzag Canyon.
The trail dips into the trees as it passes the turn off to Hidden Lake, but comes back out onto open slopes as you near the dusty edge of the big canyon. The trail crests the ridge at an open saddle of gray ash like dirt with a big drop off beyond. I warned Denise about the drop off, but she was still apprehensive, and glad we’d leashed the dogs. I have heard multiple stories of dogs slipping over the scree edge and sliding way down, followed by owners trying to save them. A paramedic friend of mine recently made it onto CNN while rescuing such a dog owner.
Steep as the canyon walls are, the views are great views toward the watery babble far below. The steep gray slopes are dotted with green islands of bushes. I take a few photos and soak in the spectacular alpine atmosphere without requiring a major climb. We seem to be the first hikers of the day, but others are close on our tail. Because our new puppy Jackie Chan is not used to hiking, we are unsure of his reactions on steep trails or with other hikers and their dogs. Thus we keep him leashed more than we might otherwise.
We pass many hikers on the return trip, including a local couple who are volunteers for the Forest Service. They are taking a survey of wilderness users, and we have a pleasant chat.
The sun is glorious, our dogs behave well, and my legs are just tired enough on our return to the parking lot. Timberline is known as a ski area and a destination for tourists, but it’s a pretty great place for hikers, too.