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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Hood Area Oregon Trip report

Vista Ridge Trail to Elk Cove – Mt. Hood

August is typically one of our busier hiking months but this year things are working out differently. We’ve both had things come up at work leading us to change our vacation plans, the date of our annual family reunion changed, there are forest fires closing large areas of both the Mt. Jefferson and Three Sisters Wildernesses, and the upcoming solar eclipse essentially eliminated any realistic plans for hiking around the 21st.

We actually almost skipped our weekly hike this time around but knowing we’d later regret that decision we turned to Mt. Hood, which has thus far escaped the fire issues this year. Our plan was to take the Vista Ridge Trail up to the Timberline Trail and visit a few familiar areas – Eden Park, Cairn Basin, and Elk Cove.

We began at the Vista Ridge Trailhead.

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We set off through the forest which was damp from a light mist that fell for most of the day.

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It was actually really nice to hike in the cool temperatures and to see some moisture falling.

 

The trail enters an area burned by the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire near a registration box for the Mt. Hood Wilderness after a half mile.

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The Vista Ridge Trail is probably best known for its displays of avalanche lilies in the burn area during July but we discovered that August provided an amazing display of its own.

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The amount of fireweed was simply amazing.

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With all the fires currently burning it was nice to be reminded that the forests will recover eventually.

With the misty conditions views were limited but Pinnacle Ridge was visible across the Clear Branch Valley and we spied a bit of Laurence Lake as well as Bald Butte further in the distance.

IMG_6829Pinnacle Ridge

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After two and a half miles we arrived at the junction with the Eden Park Loop Trail.

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A few avalanche lilies were still blooming in this area.

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We turned down the Eden Park Trail which descended through more burned forest filled with more fireweed and some small meadows with other wildflowers.

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We also crossed several small wildflower lined streams flowing down toward Ladd Creek.

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Eight tenths of a mile from the Vista Ridge Trail junction we arrived at Ladd Creek itself.

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Just beyond Ladd Creek we arrived at Eden Park.

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Beyond Eden Park the trail began to climb on its way up to the Timberline Trail at Cairn Basin.

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We turned left on the Timberline Trail and took a short snack break in Carin Basin and visited the stone shelter.

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After leaving Cairn Basin we recrossed Ladd Creek.

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It was about a mile from this upper crossing to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail. There were lots of wildflowers along this stretch as well as some lingering snow.

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Wy’East Basin lay just beyond the junction with more flower lined streams.

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We continued on from Wy’East Basin heading toward Elk Cove. Despite not being able to see the mountain, just being on the Timberline Trail gave us that alpine feeling that only the mountains can.

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We had passed several rock fields where we had listened and looked for one of our favorite animals, the pika, but had not had any luck. As we began the descent to Elk Cove though we heard the distinctive “meep” of a pika. It’s a sound that always brings a smile to our faces. We had stopped along the trail for a moment to look around and just as we started to resume hiking we spotted one sitting on the rocks ahead.

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The descent to Elk Cove when hiking clockwise on the Timberline Trail is an extremely scenic section of trail when visibility is good. The clouds and mist took a bit away from the epic views but it was still an impressive sight.

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The further down into the cove we went the better the flower display became.

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We stopped at an empty campsite near a creek and took a seat while we took in the beauty of the surrounding area.

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We could occasionally see some blue sky to the east which gave us a just a bit of hope that maybe we’d get a view of the mountain after all.

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The blue sky looked to be just on the side of the mountain though and the clouds were continuing to blow in from the west.

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After a while the combination of our damp clothes and the cool breeze became a little chilly so we decided to head back. It appeared that we were out of luck on a mountain view this time but as we were climbing out of the cove the clouds began to break even more.

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We waited and watched as the sky cleared up just enough to reveal the mountain before swallowing it up once more.

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It had lasted less than a minute and then we were back in the cloudy mist but it was the icing on the cake for what had already been a great hike. We returned to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail where we turned downhill, passing the Eden Park Trail junction in .3 miles and arriving back at our car in another two and a half miles. The total distance for the day was just over 11 miles with a little under 2000′ of elevation gain.

We were very glad we hadn’t skipped our weekly hike. Getting out on the trail was really just what we had needed. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Vista Ridge Trail

Categories
Badger Creek Area Hiking Oregon Trip report

Bald Butte

I’ve already done a lot of shuffling on our hiking schedule this year due to the high amount of snow that fell over the winter/early spring that doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to melt off. We are currently in the midst of some 90+ degree days so that should help but for our latest outing the original plan to visit Lost Lake had been scrapped over a month ago and we were off to the replacement hike – Bald Butte.

Interestingly this hike was less than 15 miles (as the crow flies) from Lost Lake with the high point on Bald Butte coming in at 3770′ while the lake sits a little under 3200′. Location, location, location. In any event the snow coverage maps showed plenty of snow around the lake and none on the butte the day before our visit.

We began our hike at the Oak Ridge Trailhead. To reach the trailhead turn west on Smullen Road off of Highway 35 approximately 14.4 miles south of Hood River, OR. At a sharp right turn take a left off of Smullen Road onto a short dirt road to the parking area. The trail starts on the far side a small footbridge.
Oak Ridge Trail

The Oakridge Trail is 2.4 miles long and gains almost 2000′ as it climbs from the trailhead to the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail which runs north/south for 16.4 miles. The trail was fairly level at first passing through an old clearcut with a view of Mt. Hood.
Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

Flowers blooming along this stretch included lupine, arnica and some nice hound’s tongue.
Lupine

Arnica

Hound's tongue

We began to climb after the clearcut as the trail entered the trees.
Oak Ridge Trail

Additional flowers were blooming here including a few chocolate lilies, woodland stars, silvercrown, and various white flowers.
Chocolate lily

Prairie stars

Silvercrown

Wildflower along the Oak Ridge Trail

Wildflower along the Oak Ridge Trail

Anemone

Heather spotted a nice striped coralroot.
Coralroot

Switchbacks made the climb less strenuous than it could have been and soon we entered oak grasslands with even more flowers.
Wildflower along the Oak Ridge Trail

Wildflower along the Oak Ridge Trail

Balsamroot

Naked broomrape

Larkspur

One of the benefits of gaining elevation on a hike is that doing so typically creates more variety in the flowers seen which was certainly the case here.

The trail continued to switchback up through increasingly open grasslands allowing for some nice views.
Oak Ridge Trail

Balc Butte from the Oak Ridge Trail
Bald Butte from the Oak Ridge Trail

Mt. Hood
Mt. Hood

Mt. Rainier in the distance
Mt. Rainier in the distance.

Just before reentering the forest we ran into a small patch of paintbrush.
Wildflower along the Oak Ridge Trail

Paintbrush

Paintbrush

At this elevation the flowers in the forest included fairy slippers, toothwort, and trillium.
Oak Ridge Trail

Fairy slippers

Toothwort

Trillium

The trail leveled out somewhat once it was back in the forest and we soon arrived at the junction with the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail.
Oak Ridge Trail and Surveryor's Ridge Trail junction

We turned left following a pointer for Bald Butte which was 2 miles away.
Surveyor's Ridge Trail sign

After passing a “Leaving National Forest” sign the ridge became rocky and more open which once again provided views of Mt. Hood and now Mt. St. Helens joined the skyline.
Surveryor's Ridge Trail

Mt. Hood

Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens

Red flowering currant was profuse along this stretch and we also spotted a gooseberry bush.
Surveyor's Ridge Trail

Red flowering currant

Gooseberry

Mt. Adams also made a brief appearance.
Mt. Adams

The trail dropped slightly to a saddle where power lines and another possible trailhead sat beneath a hill.
Powerlines along the Surveryor's Ridge Trail

The trail so far had been off-limits to motorized vehicles but the final section is popular with dirt bike and ATV riders. We followed a steep dirt track under the power lines and up the hill.
Heading toward Bald Butte

There were quite a few flowers in bloom with more to come in the following weeks.
Biscuitroot

Daggerpod

Various small wildflowers

Near the crest of the hill we found one glacier lily still blooming.
Heading toward Bald Butte

Glacier Lily

After dipping into another saddle we faced the final somewhat steep climb to the summit of Bald Butte.
Bald Butte

Bald Butte

There was a nice display of wildflowers blooming along the way.
Wildflowers on Bald Butte

Balsamroot

Paintbrush

There had been a pesky line of clouds in front of Mt. Hood all morning and although it was still present it did seem to be slowly improving.
Mt. Hood and balsamroot

As we neared the summit Mt. St. Helens came into view followed by Mt. Rainier and most of Mt. Adams.
Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams

Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams

We had run into one dirt bike rider as we were coming up Bald Butte, he was headed slowly back down with a flat front tire. A second rider arrived as we were exploring the far end of the butte hoping for a clearer view of Mt. Adams (there wasn’t one). We were a little put off when the rider took his bike out into the wildflowers instead of leaving it in the dirt next to the road and more so when he started it back up while he was still out in the meadow. It was totally unnecessary and that’s all I have to say about that.

Mt. Hood was indeed becoming increasingly visible as we began our hike back to the trailhead.
Mt. Hood

As we were nearing the power line saddle we spotted a snake along the trail.
Snake

The snake wasn’t the only one out now that the day had gotten later. We had seen two other hikers that morning but passed a good deal more on our descent.

Back in the grassland a number of lizards scurried about.
Oak Ridge Trail

Lizard

It was nice to once again have a camera able to zoom in on the wildlife which came in handy one last time near the trailhead.
Douglas Squirrel

It was a little over 80 degrees back at the car and for the first time in a long while there was hope that summer was indeed coming. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Bald Butte