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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.

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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

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Hood Area Oregon Trip report

Barrett Spur via the Mazama Trail

After a short break following our vacation in Central Oregon we were back on the trails exploring the north side of Mt. Hood. Our scheduled hike was the Mazama Trail which climbs to the Timberline Trail along Cathedral Ridge. From the Timberline Trail we would head clockwise around the mountain passing through Cairn and Wy’East Basins to a viewpoint overlooking Elk Cove. Then the plan was to head up to Dollar Lake then on to the 7300′ knoll on Barrett Spur and go cross-country back down to Wy’East Basin and back to our car, possibly visiting Eden Park on the way back. If that sounds like a lot it’s because it was. 🙂

The forecast called for isolated thunderstorms beginning at 1pm so we made sure we got our usual early start. There had been a nice storm that came through the previous night and clouds lingered near the mountain as we drove toward the trail head.

Mt. Hood from Lolo Pass Rd.
Mt. Hood from Lolo Pass Rd.

When we arrived at the parking area a group from the Mazamas was camped there. We found out they had been doing trail maintenance for 4 days. One of the group informed us that Search and Rescue had come down the trail the day before looking for a hiker that was missing from the Ramona Falls area and that we should keep on the lookout (We found out later that he was found after the S&R team had spoken with the Mazama group). From the trail head we had a great view of Mt. Hood with Barrett Spur just below and to the left and Cathedral Ridge to our right.
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The Mazama Trail was reconstructed by the Portland Mazama Club and they also maintain the trail. The group that had been doing the recent trail work had done an excellent job and the trail was in great shape. The trail sets off in a forest of Rhododendron but quickly comes to a rock slide which it switchbacks up through. After reentering the forest a second series of switchbacks ensue. This may have been the most switchbacks we’ve encountered in such a short distance but they made the climb a bit easier than it would have been otherwise. Near the bottom of the switchbacks we met a snowshoe hare on the trail.
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Once we had completed the switchbacks the trail climbed more gradually sometimes through burnt forest and others in the green trees. The previous days rain kept the dust and ash from being an annoyance in the burnt sections and the 4.2 miles of the trail went by surprisingly quickly.

When we reached the Timberline Trail we took a left and headed for Cairn Basin. We had been on this section of the trial the previous year when we had hiked up the Top Spur Trail to McNeil Point. It was interesting to find that even though we were visiting almost two weeks earlier in the year the flowers were already at a later stage due to the low snow pack and early Spring. Still the displays were impressive.
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We crossed Ladd Creek, passed through Cairn Basin, crossed another branch of Ladd Creek, and made our way to Wy’East Basin.

Aster field in Wy'East Basin
Aster field in Wy’East Basin

It would have been possible to head up to Barrett Spur from here, but we were unsure of the path so we decided to go on to the Elk Cove viewpoint and then up past Dollar Lake and try and come down to this point instead so I marked it on the Garmin for later reference.

The “unofficial” trail to Dollar Lake is approximately .7mi from Wy’East Basin, but we wanted to check out the Elk Cove viewpoint which was just an additional .2mi according to William Sullivan’s description. I didn’t do a very good job of reading his description though so we walked past the viewpoint and continued down the Timberline Trail toward Elk Cove a ways before I realized we had dropped further than we had intended. We consulted our topo maps, the garmin, and Sullivan’s book and climbed back to the correct viewpoint then walked back to find the path to Dollar Lake just as it was described in the guide book. The saving grace of the extra descent and subsequent climb was a nice field of western pasque flowers and paintbrush with a mountain view.
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We took the path up to Dollar Lake and easily spotted the trail heading up Barrett Spur on the opposite side. We took the sometimes faint path up along the edge of Elk Cove’s Canyon. Flowers dotted the ridge adding color to the climb and below in Elk Cove a vibrant display of flowers surrounded a patch of melting snow.
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At one point we heard an odd noise that we couldn’t place at first. We paused looking back down toward Elk Cove where the sound had come from when we heard it again. This time it was clear as a bell as it rose up the canyon walls, it was a Bull Elk bugling. 🙂

As we neared the knoll, clouds began to cover Mt. Hood and by the time we had reached the wind break atop it we were in the clouds and Mt. Hood was hidden.
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We settled in at the wind break to have lunch and hopefully have the clouds pass which they quickly began to do. As they lifted we were gifted with some spectacular views of the mountain.
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When it was time to head back down we could see the Timberline Trail below and after once again consulting our maps we decided on the correct ridge to follow down to Wy’East Basin. On the way up we’d spotted a small cairn that seemed to mark a possible path we could follow so when we reached it we veered left. A series of cairns led us along the ridge past several snow fields. Clumps of lupine and paint managed to grow amid the rocks in the gully.
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We followed the path down through the gully and wound up right where we had hoped in Wy’East Basin.

Back on the Timberline Trail I threw out the idea of taking a slightly longer return route by dropping down into Eden Park. We decided a different path was worth the extra .7 miles and took the Vista Ridge Trail for .3 miles and then turned right on an unmarked trail toward Eden Park. More floral displays greeted us along the way and Eden Park did not disappoint.
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From Eden Park we climbed back up to the Timberline Trail at Cairn Basin and hung a right to get back to the Mazama Trail. This time the trail felt all of the 4.2 miles despite the fact we were going downhill. When it was all said and done we had covered 16.2 miles and climbed a cumulative 5089′. The weather had remained nice despite the forecast and we still had a good view of the mountain as we prepared to drive home.
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Happy Trails.

Facebook photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10201808005669022.1073741849.1448521051&type=1
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157635036745114/