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Fernando, Fatigue, and Glacier Gawking


I stayed up way past my bedtime Saturday night.  That’s okay, it was in support of the great Fernando Viciconte and his band of merry men rocking their way through the night.  He has an album coming out later this month featuring heavy hitters like Peter Buck of REM.  You should check it out if you like rootsy rock with a twist.  He happens to be one of the nicest guys  I know too.

So that’s why I was tuckered on Sunday, and my hiking ambitions started to lag. I can be pretty lazy if I allow doubts to linger.  The forecast called for more heat.  Bagging a peak would be nice, but nothing within a 90 minute drive sounded appealing.   I decided to fall back on an old standby and headed to Timberline Lodge, which was having its last day of summer skiing–actually early for them due to the unusual heat.

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I had no particular plan, but ended up choosing to ad lib an adventure along the upper reaches of White River Canyon.  The entire area is above treeline, so navigation is both easy and difficult.  I started going straight up a ski lift acess road, which was a mistake in that I was now far from the trail I wanted to be on.  So I sidehilled across multiple small drainages, finding the last remants of natural snow, mostly buried beneath a coat of dirt, presumably windblown.

Strange piles of dirt in the bottom of the drainages that seemed to have been the subject of violence.  Large cracks crossed the deep brown soil.  I surmised it might be from soil once blown atop snow which later melted, undermining the dirt, creating the cracks. Just a theory, and probably not a very good one.

The weather was not terrific, with rain falling briefly and winds buffeting me almost constantly.  Still,  the temperature was comfortable once I’d donned a shell.   I climbed slowly, and was slightly depressed when a younger man toting a couple ice axes passed me.   By the time I turned around, I was probably lose to 8000 feet, and as a lowland dweller now, the altitude taxed me more than it used to.

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Skiers and snowboarders were enjoying their last turns for a while.  I watched them for a while, but ultimately found White River Glacier and White River Canyon more fascinating.  My descent was easier than the climb, although I was reflecting on the unique dynamic of hiking in wild environs not far from a ski lift.   I was a speck on the horizon to them, but they were omnipresent to me.   Had I ventured to a similar alpine area on any other side of the mountain, it would be an all day affair rather than the few hours I spent above Timberline.  That’s the trade off.

I had lots of ashy soil to pour out of my boots when I was done, and I was glad to get back to a place where the water actually looked clear.


Bucket List Hike Daydreaming

Above McNeil Point on Mt. Hood.  Not bad.

Above McNeil Point on Mt. Hood. Not bad.

I haven’t had any epic trips in a while.  The image above is a year old now. But this morning I stumbled on an image of a spot in Norway, and I was reminded what gorgeous scenery surrounds the fjords.  I want to go there!  I’d also love to hike in the Dolomites, climbing a peak or two the easy way. Before that, I should probably hit my family’s ancestral homeland in Scotland.  Ben Nevis, here I come!  Ah, but I’m only dreaming.  If money were no consideration, where would you like to hike?

Bald Mountain to McNeil Point and Beyond

Bald Mountain

Early morning view west from Bald Mountain

Just over twenty minutes after leaving the Top Spur trailhead, I reached one of the classic Oregon hiking viewpoints.  Mount Hood looms large over the steep, bare flanks of Bald Mountain and the silvery strands of the Muddy Fork far below.  There is barely a spot wide enough to get comfortable for a photo.  The sun is in my face, so the first photos with my new Nikon don’t come out well.  Soon I dipped back into the trees, but this sort of spot is always a good start to a hike.

Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees...

Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees…

My destination was the old CCC shelter at McNeil Point and the alpine terrain above it.  I’d been there a few times, but I’d never climbed above the shelter toward the upper reaches of Cathedral Ridge.  The hike is casual for the most part.  There are two great viewpoints along the way, one of which even has nice rock perches.

More open views along the way

More open views along the way

The Timberline Trail doesn’t officially go to the McNeil Point shelter, but there is spur trail heading up there.  There is also a steep climber’s trail which takes off alongside a tiny creek.  I missed it on my way by but found it after hopping across a rockslide.  This is much shorter than taking the official trail, but it is also much steeper—not for the faint of heart.

Love this little cascade

Love this little cascade

The shelter was as I remembered, a stone remnant of one of FDR’s stimulus programs.  It is a great spot to relax and absorb the views, with the glaciers and craggy ridges of the mountain looming above, and views into the maw of the Muddy Fork’s canyon below.  Across the canyon, the bulk of Yocum Ridge is enticing.  To the north, Mounts St. Helens, Rainier and Adams are all visible.

McNeil Point shelter

McNeil Point shelter

Upwards.  A hiker’s trail headed up through the alpine tundra world.  Vistas reminded me of the alpine scenes in The Sound of Music.  Serious.  I was feeling out of shape, so I took my time to snap photos and stay hydrated.


The hills are alive…

40 minutes of hiking above the shelter, the trail vanishes and I wandered along a craggy ridgeline.  At first it was mere rock hopping, but eventually I needed to use my hands, and I finally had to commit to climbing with a lot of exposure.  The experience was reminiscent of the landscape along nearby Barrett Spur as well as the epic ridge traverse I did between Sacagawea and Matterhorn in the Wallowas in 2012. (Those are each classic Oregon hiking scrambles as well, but the traverse on the latter trip is only for seasoned alpine hikers.)

I like the different colors in here

I like the subtle color differences; note the strip of burnt forest from the Dollar Lake Fire.  Mt. Adams in background

The ridge was far more rugged than it had appeared from below, which is a good thing in my book.  Tough scrambling was worth it to stare at the face of Mount Hood from this vantage.  It might not be as tall as a lot of peaks, but it is, to borrow the old Columbia Sportswear ad, one tough mother.

Craggy scramble land

Craggy scramble land

Looking across at the base of Yocum Ridge

Looking across at the base of Yocum Ridge

Mount Hood glacier

The Sandy Glacier and wispy clouds on Mount Hood

The glacier.  A stream begins in the crescent shaped hole

The Sandy Glacier. A stream begins in the foreground hole

White wispy clouds gradually grew, and the skies slowly darkened.  Time to get going.  Other hikers appeared below along a grassy sub ridge adjacent to the Sandy Glacier.  I wondered if they were on a decent path, and I decided it looked like a safer route down.


Easy scrambling here. This looks much smaller in the next photo.

Looking back the way I'd come

Looking back the way I’d come: some rock is loose, and some is solid

When I descended, I found no trail, and the hikers had vanished.  Some ridiculous talus slope hopping ensued.  Rocks teetered underfoot and slid on the micro-pebbles beneath.  It’s a broken ankle waiting to happen.  In retrospect, this was not my best choice, but I didn’t want to lose too much elevation.

Looking down the valley of the Muddy Fork

Looking down the Muddy Fork drainage. Bald Mountain is the bare spot on the right.

Eventually I traversed back to the path and enjoyed the last of the killer views before clouds cloaked the volcano.  With my scrambles on top of trail hiking, I probably ventured 10 or 11 miles, which is relatively modest, but more than 3000 feet of elevation gain and challenging scrambles made it a very respectable day in the mountains.

The signpost is tired.  Clouds obscure Mount Hood as I depart.

Back on the Timberline trail. Clouds obscure Mount Hood as I depart.

I would be sore the next day, but it was worth it.  I hadn’t known what to expect from the terrain.  What I found was an experience that fits perfectly in the pantheon of classic Oregon hiking trips.