It is finally time for the high country. A quick camping trip up to Cloud Cap on the north side of Mt Hood (Oregon) gave us access to the most spectacular alpine terrain within a day-trip’s distance of Portland, where I live. We had a late spring and cool early summer here in the Pacific Northwest. I even got stuck without chains on Mt Hood in a snowstorm – in June!
As the temperature in the lowlands climbed to 100 on this first hot weekend of the summer, three of us drove up through Hood River and to the campsite near Cloud Cap. Cloud Cap is the site of a historic & extremely well-built climbing lodge (image above). The temperatures would not exceed the mid-80s up here, and it felt cooler because of a breeze coming off the glacier.
The last time I was up here it was the middle of winter, with temps. in the low 20s on a gorgeous bluebird day (image above). In fact, I have most often been to this area for backcountry skiing, not hiking. One can drive all the way to Cloud Cap in summer, on a 9-mile long gravel road. But in winter you don snowshoes or strap skins on your skis to climb the steep direct Tilly Jane Trail. There is a nice cabin – Tilly Jane Guard Station – plus a shelter at the top of that trail, for those who have made arrangements to spend the night.
Our plan was to hike up to Cooper Spur, a prominent ridge that extends northeastward from the north headwall of Mt Hood. We wanted to get to 9000 feet at least, on the 11,235-foot mountain. We climbed and my recent knee issue did not show up. So I was in the lead as we topped out on the Spur.
With the clear skies we had, the Cascade volcanoes of Mt Rainier, St Helens & Adams in Washington were in-your-face visible, and Mt Jefferson, the Three Sisters & Broken Top in Oregon also stood clear. Some low-lying smoke was visible from this lofty perch. This subtle layer of smoke hanging around has been transported all the way from huge fires in the Siberian Taiga. The view down on to the heavily-crevassed Eliot Glacier (Mt Hood’s largest) was fantastic as well.
We really wanted to get a closer look at this climbing route, one of Hood’s toughest. So we climbed up to about 9250 feet, where the climb markedly steepens & becomes technical. We had only ice axes, no crampons, so it was unwise to go further. But the mountain was certainly urging both Andee & I onward. Climbing conditions were excellent, and we were reluctant to turn around. This route now is firmly planted in my mind, and will bother me until I do it.
We glissaded back down. First we tried a standing glissade, but the snow conditions & steepeness demanded a sitting glissade, using the ice axe as a brake. Lower down, the snow fields offered fantastic foot glissading, which let’s face it, is usually more fun. I was able at one point to get a few shots of Andee in silhouette with Adams & Rainier (which is also calling me now) in the background (image above).
We passed the flower display that on this rocky and sandy side of Hood is fairly subtle, then back to camp just in time for sunset. It had been too long since I camped, & it felt great to gather around a crackling fire. The evening was cool enough to appreciate a fire.
Next day we traveled west along the Timberline Trail. A major flood in 2006 wiped out the crossing of Eliot Creek, and many people are turned around by this barrier even today. But it is not difficult to cross here, if you are sure to watch for loose falling rock. There are ropes to aid you on the steep canyon sides. We climbed up to the Languille Crags and descended an awesome knife-edge ridge.
The trees here are so stunted & bent (flagged) by the high winds & snows of winter that they look like a collection of old men. Some of these trees, such as the one pictured below left, are over 700 years old. We also passed several memorial plaques, which commemorate mountaineers who paid the ultimate price of their sport.
When we returned, Cloud Cap was buzzing with activity. It was the hottest day of the year, a Saturday, and plenty of people were seeking relief in these high elevations. This short trip definitely stoked that fire in my belly that I’ve always had for high country. Mount Rainier here I come!