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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Hood Area Oregon Trip report

Cloud Cap to Elk Cove – 8/17/2019

For the grand finale hike of our August vacation we headed for Mt. Hood to do the section of the Timberline Trail from Cloud Cap to Elk Cove. We had been to Cloud Cap in 2016 during our hike up Cooper Spur (post) and we’ve visited Elk Cove a couple of times (most recently in 2017 post) via a western approach on the Timberline Trail. We had not however been on the 5 mile section of the Timberline Trail between the Coe Branch (we turned back at the crossing in 2014 post) and the Cloud Cap Saddle Campground.

We had a bit of a scare on the way to the trailhead as most of the drive was spent in a light drizzle which became heavier at Government Camp. At the White River sno-park Mt. Hood was hidden behind a layer of gray clouds but as we continued north on Highway 35 we emerged from the grey. By the time we were winding our way up Cloud Cap Road the sky was blue and there were no signs of the clouds hiding on the other side of the mountain. We parked at the Cloud Cap Trailhead and hiked through the campground to a pair of signboards marking the Timberline Trail.
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We turned right onto that trail and followed it through a short stretch of green trees before emerging into a recovering fire scar.
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The trail turns north toward Mt. Adams and away from Mt. Hood as it prepares to drop steeply into the gorge carved by the glacial Eliot Branch which could be heard roaring in the chasm below.
IMG_6951Mt. Adams ahead above the clouds.

We descended a series of switchbacks which provided ample views of Mt. Hood without having to strain our necks looking behind us.
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The Eliot Branch has a reputation as being one of the trickier crossing on the mountain ever since a bridge was swept away over a decade ago. In fact the Timberline Trail had “officially” been closed for years (there were still unofficial crossings) until the Forest Service completed a reroute of the trail in 2016. As we neared the stream the first looks were impressive.
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The combination of the cloudy water, thundering noise, and swift current make glacial streams seem particularly daunting. Crossing earlier in the day minimizes the amount flow making morning crossings easier than those later in the afternoon or evening. We arrived at the crossing shortly before 8am so that was in our favor. There was also a promising looking log a bit downstream but it looked like it might be a tricky descent to reach it from this direction and we were (or at least I was) hoping to get a little fording practice in so we picked a reasonable looking spot and made our way through the water which was only just reaching our calves at its deepest.
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It was a fairly uneventful crossing except for having forgotten just how cold a glacial stream is. Brrrr!!

We had lost over 350′ of elevation getting down to the Eliot that needed to be made up now that we were across. The Timberline Trail gained over 500′ in the next three quarters of a mile as it climbed out of the canyon.
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IMG_6973We entered the Mt. Hood Wilderness on the way up.

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The burned trees allowed for fairly consistent views of both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.
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IMG_6981Mt. Rainier peaking over the clouds to the left of Mt. Adams.

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The trail leveled out near the 6000′ elevation and passed through a stand of green trees before arriving at a small wildflower lined stream. A pair of marmots ran into the rocks as we approached.
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A second stream followed shortly after.
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Continuing on we passed a hillside covered with western pasque flower seed heads, often referred to as hippies on a stick.
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As we rounded a ridge end we stopped to talk to a backpacker going in the other direction. He asked if we were from the area and wanted to know which mountains he had been seeing to the north. In addition to Adams and Rainier, Mt. St. Helens was just barely visible from that spot which we were able to point out to him.
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We rounded the forested ridge and came to a large rock field below the Langille Crags.
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Just over a mile from the Eliot crossing we arrived at the first of Compass Creeks three branches.
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Compass Creek is fed by the Langille Glacier and each branch sports a waterfall above the Timberline Trail.
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A short scramble up the rocks along the creek brought us to the base of the falls.
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IMG_7076Mt. Adams from Compass Creek.

IMG_7079Wildflowers along Compass Creek.

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After admiring the falls we continued on rounding two small ridges before arriving at the middle branch of Compass Creek .3 miles from the first.
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This branch didn’t have nearly the amount of water as the first leaving the waterfall a little wispy.
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There was yet another stream a short distance away which was putting on a wonderful wildflower display including a nice combination of pink and yellow monkeyflowers.
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IMG_7123Lupine, paintbrush and monkeyflower.

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This alpine stream was sublime and a reminder of why Mt. Hood is such a wonderful place. We kept going passing an aster covered hillside and then another meadow full of other types of flowers.
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It was another .3 miles between the middle and final branches of Compass Creek where another waterfall crashed down behind a snow bridge.
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After crossing the final branch of Compass Creek the trail headed down a ridge along the creek passing views of a lower waterfall.
IMG_7157Mt. Adams (again) from Compass Creek.

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IMG_7164Waterfall on Compass Creek below the Timberline Trail.

In the next mile we passed through a wildflower meadow, green trees, a fire scar, and lost 350′ of elevation before arriving at yet another little stream.
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The trail then headed downhill more quickly as we approached the Coe Branch.
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A little over a mile and a half from Compass Creek we arrived at the Coe Branch and were pleased to find a pair of nice makeshift log bridges spanning the stream.
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The crossing was no issue at all and we soon found ourselves climbing away from the Coe.
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The climb away from the Coe Branch wasn’t nearly as steep as the descent had been and after three quarters of a mile we arrived at a sign for Elk Cove.
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We followed the trail into the meadow where the view of Mt. Hood and Barrett Spur (post) was as impressive as always.
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We explored a bit and then rested at a familiar spot along the stream that flows through Elk Cove.
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After resting and soaking in the scenery we headed back. We stopped again below Compass Creek Falls where we watched a hummingbird moth visiting the monkeyflowers.
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When we had finally made it back to the Eliot crossing we used the log we’d seen that morning as suggested by some hikers who we passed shortly before reaching the stream.
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We actually wouldn’t have minded the ice cold water at that point, but the flow had increased now that it was after 1pm so the log was the safest option. We made the final climb back up to Cloud Cap taking our final look at Mt. Hood and the Eliot Glacier.
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The hike was 12.3 miles round trip with approximately 2700′ of cumulative elevation gain, most of which came from dropping down to and climbing up from the Eliot and Coe Branches. It was a perfect day, blue skies and cool temperatures, and there couldn’t have been a better way to end our 6 days of hiking. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Cloud Cap to Elk Cove

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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

Pinnacle Ridge to Elk Cove – Mt. Hood

One of the trails on our backpacking to-do list is the 39.3 Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood. Until we get around to that trip though we settle for small sections at a time. We have managed to cover approximately 25 of those miles now with the most recent mile coming on our visit to Elk Cove and the Coe Branch.

There are a number of trails that lead to the Timberline Trail and for this hike we decided to try the Pinnacle Ridge Trail. This trail climbs just over 2000′ in 3.4 miles to the Timberline Trail between Wy’East Basin and Dollar Lake. http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood/recarea/?recid=53270

The trail passes through forest burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire. Vegetation is starting to return in some areas but the first section of the trail was still pretty barren.
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A pleasant surprise was a small stream with a picturesque crossing.
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We noticed a possible little waterfall downstream and left the trail to see what we could find. It turned out to be a lovely pair of little falls.
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The trail enters the Mt. Hood Wilderness just after passing a small rock slide and shortly after we got our glimpse of The Pinnacle, the rock formation the trail is named after.
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The forest began to get greener as we passed The Pinnacle. The trees had still been burned in the fire but a series of springs and bogs created a green undergrowth.
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After making our way around a particularly muddy area we started encountering some unburnt forest. Mountain heather and avalanche lilies greeted us along with some hungry mosquitoes.
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The bugs were pretty bad for a short stretch but when we met the Timberline Trail they relented. We had been on this portion of the trail on our trip to Barret Spur last year. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/barrett-spur-via-the-mazama-trail/ We retraced our steps from that visit passing the side trail to Dollar Lake and continuing around a ridge end to one of the more impressive views we’ve seen from the Timberline Trail. One minute the mountain is hidden and the next you are staring straight at it.
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The flower display along this portion of the trail was very impressive.
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Melting snow feeds several streams that help keep Elk Cove full of color. The contrast of Mt. Hood looming over the green meadows is breathtaking.
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We followed a small trail along the largest creek up through the wildflower filled meadows toward the mountain. The flowers along the creek were especially colorful.
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I managed to get up to the snowfield that was feeding the stream. Where the view back down at the meadow was filled with western pasque flowers and paintbrush.
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We returned to the Timberline Trail and began to make our way through the rest of Elk Cove. There were several meadows, each with it’s own variety of flowers and view of Mt. Hood.
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Our original plan was to continue on the Timberline crossing over the Coe Branch and continuing on to Compass Creek Falls where we would turn around. On the far side of Elk Cove we reentered the trees where there was still an impressive amount of flowers.
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As we came around a ridge end we got our first glimpse of the Coe Branch as it flowed down from the Coe Glacier.
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Even from up above we could tell by the sound that the Coe Branch was flowing very swiftly. When we arrived at the water we discovered it was already swollen due to the rapid snow melt caused by a very hot morning. We scanned for a good crossing point and found a couple of possibilities but in the end decided to call it good and make this our turn around point.
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Since we hadn’t made it to Compass Creek we did a little exploring down the Elk Cove Trail, another possible route to the Timberline Trail. Camping is prohibited in the meadows of Elk Cove but there were several nice campsites a short distance down this trail that had views and surroundings like this:
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After checking out several campsites we headed back up the Timberline Trail and out of Elk Cove. We decided to take the quick .2 mile side trip to visit Dollar Lake at the last minute as we passed by the hard to spot trail.
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The return trip from Dollar Lake was pretty uneventful. The mosquitoes had apparently had enough of the heat and left us alone for the most part. We did spot a very focused swallowtail butterfly that didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned with it’s picture being taken.
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When we arrived back at the parking area we got one last look at Mt. Hood.
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Another day hiking on the Timberline Trail had only reenforced our desire to tackle the whole loop someday. Happy Trails!

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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.

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