Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Vista Ridge, Carin Basin, and McNeil Point

We went on an incredible hike last weekend on Mt. Hood. The trailhead was really remotely located--it took us about an hour and a half from the highway turnoff of navigating steep gravel back roads.

We started by taking the Vista Ridge Trail #626 up to the Timberline Trail #600. The Timberline Trail is a nice and sometimes challenging 38-mile hike around the mountain. It climbs and dips around alpine meadows, forests, rock formations, and across streams. This trail offers awesome views of the mountain top and also can be accessed from a variety of trail heads on all sides of the mountain.

The Vista Ridge hike passes through many areas that were affected by the Dollar Lake Fire in 2011. It was pretty interesting moving through both scorched and untouched areas in the same hike. The scorched areas were a little spooky and Halloweeny, and at the same time, there was (is) evidence of life coming back all over--many young trees poking up through the blackened earth, bright green ground cover and purple flowers starting to dot the brown and black landscape. 

I found this great map on a website called InciWeb. They also have information about how the fire started (lightning strike) and the progression of the fire over time.
Click here to see a larger picture of this map.
I was really interested in how the fire-scorched landscape had such a dramatic vibe. And from the bright blue skies to the periods of cloudiness--this charred forest took on an etherial mood.  

See the difference between the above and below photos? They were taken minutes apart. It was a partly cloudy day on the mountain and from moment to moment clouds of different size and density would blow up into and over/around the mountain. 

And here's some more burnt woods detail:

At one point, the fire was so hot it became propelled by thermal gusts and tore up Vista Ridge. As it did, the heat created a situation where the bark just fell off of the tree. There were piles of blackened bark all throughout the affected Dollar Lake fire area. 

And then, just like emerged from the burnt forest into an untouched wood, protected by one of the glacial streams running down the mountain. 

And our buddy Mount Adams was out! Notice the lenticular cloud on top. The Vista  Ridge hike offered great views and nice scenery, and I feel the burnt forest adds character and fun to the hike. 

Trail Junction: at the Timberline. 
From the Timberline Trail, we hiked south over to Eden Park (turning off on Eden Park #600H). We also hiked over to Cairn Basin, stopping at Carin Shelter along the way. We continued south on the Timberline Trail and headed up the mountain again at the McNeil Point turnoff. 

Stand of dead trees bordering a lush meadow.

Then the mist started to roll in.

When a low cloud's movement through the sky was impeded by the mountain, the sun became a silvery disk. 

Ladd Creek

Carin Shelter

Here we turned up and began the climb up to McNeil Point and McNeil Shelter. There were a lot of people on the mountain the day we went, and most notably were a group of about five women, all smelling heavily of crappy scented perfume and wearing bright teal and magenta sweats. They were all eating lunch, sitting on a bunch of large boulders that look like they had rolled down the mountain haphazardly and stopped right at that spot. The leader of the group looked like Jerry Seinfeld's mom, and stopped us to thoroughly question us.

"You two look like you know where you are going. Are we on McNeil Point? Or is it up there?" She indicated at a ridge, visible above our heads and accessible by a trail down near the shelter. We explained that they are sitting on what we thought to be McNeil Point.

"I don't think this is it," she insisted, "it has to be up there." Again, she's pointing at the ridge above, and that ridge was quickly becoming obscured by a super large incoming cloud.

We explained that we didn't know for sure, we could be wrong, and that trail might be worth checking out. After al, if it isn't McNeil Point, at least it's a cool climb that brings us closer to the mountain. Jerry Seinfeld's mom continued to question us a little more about our hiking plans, then we bid them farewell and good luck.
McNeil Shelter, and some random weird dude taking a nap against the outside wall. 
The weird thing about random dude taking a nap at the shelter is that it took us about 5 hours to get here, up grueling hills, down steep embankments, across swift moving streams, and through less-then-optimal visibility conditions. And here is this guy, like he's at the local city park, just taking a nap!

Se we began our hike up the ridge that Seinfeld's mom pointed out and were greeted by a thick mist. Our ability to see not only the mountain, but also the trail ahead and landmarks were significantly diminished. Before we knew it we passed up Seinfeld's mom's group and turned off to a flat area near the trail to break for lunch.

Seinfeld's mom caught up with us and seemed a little annoyed with the weather. "I don't think we're going to see anymore of the mountain," she lamented. "It's gone, we should just turn back."

"The mountain's not gone, it's just behind a cloud. If you wait a little it will emerge," we reassured her.

"What time did you guys start hiking? Where did you come from?" Seinfeld's mom's questioning seemed to be getting a little more defensive. We explained that we started about 9:30 at the Vista Ridge trailhead. *On a side note, 9:30 is wayyy to late to start a hike. We didn't realize that once we turned off into the national forest that it would take about an hour and a half to get to the trailhead.

"Well how long are YOU going to stay here?" Seinfeld's mom's question sounded more like an accusation then an inquiry.

"I don't even know how to answer that..." I reflexively replied. Simultaneously, my hiking partner said, "none of your fucking business!" To that, she just shrugged, said nothing and just continued on.

Glisan Glacier!
We kept hiking up and had incredibly limited visibility. Before we knew it we were hiking up a knife-edge ridge alongside Glisan Glacier. We realized at that point that we were on a secondary climbing route and no longer on the McNeil Point trail. 

We were totally socked in coming back down the mountain. Check out what McNeil Shelter looks like now!

We didn't see a whole lot of wildlife on our hike, but we did happen upon a flock of grouse.

And finding the right trails back became a much more significant challenge...

But we made it through, no problem. We recognized landmarks and moved along at a good pace. 

Yay Ladd Creek again!
On our return, we re-entered the etherial forest. This area seriously transmitted such an intensely haunted, melancholy feeling. While it was a bit of a bummer we didn't get more views of the mountain, I did really like that we got a chance to hike through the shrouded forest. 

And at the end of the day, the clouds cleared and the mountain showed itself. I can't believe how incredibly awesome this mountain is, it looks more like a beautiful painting rather then a gigantic volcanic rock formation covered in glaciers. 

It took us forever to hike out back to the trailhead, and then it took a while to drive out of the woods. When we finally got back onto 26, dusk was in full effect and the sunset was a fiery orb on the bottom of our windshield. 

I took a ton of pictures on this hike, if you are interested in seeing more photos you can view them here on my Flickr account


Richard Campbell said...

That sure was a fun hike, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing such an excellent hike, I'm planning on doing it soon. How long did the entire trip take you? How far is it up to McNeil point from Eden Park 600H?