We extended our streak of 3000+ feet elevation gains and checked off another of Sullivan’s featured hikes with a visit to the Hunchback Trail in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. We started our hike at the trailhead just off Highway 26 at the Zigzag Ranger Station.
This trailhead is almost directly across Highway 26 from our previous hike, West Zigzag Mountain (post). Based on the forecast there was a really good chance that we’d get to see similar views of Mt. Hood that we’d missed the week before. Similar to that hike the Hunchback Trail began with a steep climb via a series of switchbacks which brought us into a wilderness area.
Unlike the Zigzag Mountain Trail, which was well graded and rarely felt steep, the Hunchback Trail felt quite steep at times.
Switchback below a rock outcrop.
Looking down the hillside from the trail.
Trail dropping to a saddle.
After nearly 1.75 miles of switchbacks the trail gained the ridge and turned SE following it for the remainder of the hike. After an up and down we gained our first limited view of the day to the south.
Looking south across the Salmon River valley. The Bonanza Trail (post) climbs the ridge to the right up to Huckleberry Mountain (hidden behind the first tree on the right).
The ridge was a little more open than the forest below allowing for a wider variety of flowers.
Sub-alpine mariposa lily (cat’s ear lily)
The first really good view came after just over two miles when the trail climbed steeply up to a catwalk along rimrock cliffs.
Starting the steep climb.
Coming up to the cliffs.
Cliffs along the trail.
Salmon Butte (post) (tallest peak on the left and Tumala Mountain (post) (pointy peak furthest back and right)
While Mt. Hood was visible through tree branches to the north there wasn’t enough of a view for photos. There were however plenty of flowers to take pictures of.
Oregon sunshine, blue-head gilia, penstemon and yarrow.
There was also quite a bit of clarkia present but it was too early in the day for the blossoms to be open so they would have to wait until we came back by later.
At the end of the cliffs the trail dropped back into the forest then almost immediately climbed steeply again arriving at a sign (on the opposite side of a tree) for the Rockpile Viewpoint.
Trail dropping toward the forest.
Trail starting to climb again.
Sign for the viewpoint.
The side trail headed steeply uphill and quickly devolved into a web of possible paths.
We followed what appeared to be the “best” route uphill for about 60 yards to the base of the “Rockpile”.
I scrambled up through the rocks enough to see that while it was a great viewpoint for Mt. Hood it was still a little too early for it as the Sun was right above the mountain.
The top of the rocks.
Washed out view of Mt. Hood
I let Heather know it probably wasn’t worth the effort to scramble up right now and we decided to stop on our way back instead.
After scrambling back down to Heather we returned to the Hunchback Trail and continued SE along the ridge. The next mile was the gentlest section of the trail as it continued to do some ups and downs but they were only little rises and drops with some level trail mixed in.
The forest here was home to a number of flowers that rely on their relationship to fungi to survive.
We also got a brief glimpse of Mt. Adams at one point through some trees.
Approximately 1.1 miles from the side trail to the Rockpile Viewpoint another side trail split off to the right. This one was much fainter and there was no sign where it left the Hunchback Trail but it headed uphill to the right toward some rocks.
We suspected that this trail led to the Helispot Viewpoint, but we weren’t positive and Sullivan described the view as overgrown so we decided not to follow this path just in case it wasn’t to the viewpoint. A hundred or so feet down the trail we wound up passing a sign (again on the opposite side of a tree) for the Helispot Viewpoint. There didn’t appear to be an actual route from the sign though as it was simply pointing at a hillside covered with rhododendron bushes.
We decided that on the way back we would take the route we’d seen above and continued on. Over the next mile the trail spent quite a bit of time on the east side of the ridge where the tread was wearing and rhododendron were beginning to encroach on it a bit. There was an short interesting walk on a narrow rocky spine and then there were two steep climbs which brought the trail to a bit over 4000′ in elevation.
Passing a rock outcrop on narrower tread.
Climbing up the Hunchback Trail.
Heather coming up the trail.
Beargrass near the 4000′ elevation.
After reaching the high point the trail began a steep 400′ drop to another saddle, but luckily our turnaround point was only about 50′ down. That turnaround point was the third signed viewpiont along this stretch of the Hunchback Trail, the Great Pyramid.
Heading down to the viewpoint sign.
Side trail to the Great Pyramid.
The short side path led passed an obscured view SE and some wildflowers along a rock outcrop.
Unfortunately the whole area was overrun with thatching ants. After a few steps out along the rocks there were numerous ants climbing our legs and although their bites aren’t as painful as the all red harvester ants they aren’t fun either so we left the viewpoint to the insects and retreated back up the trail.
We followed the Hunchback Trail back to where we had planned to take the side trip to the Helispot Viewpoint and headed uphill on the faint path.
A short distance up we noticed a fairly distinct trail coming up from the left which we assumed was the trail that the sign had originally been pointing too. The viewpoint was just as Sullivan had described it, overgrown. Probably not worth the tenth of a mile side trip but there were a few flowers present.
We returned to the Hunchback Trail happy to be on the gentler mile section. We detoured back up to the Rockpile Viewpoint just as some other hikers were leaving it which allowed us to take a nice break there all by ourselves with the improved view of Mt. Hood.
The cliffs of West Zigzag Mountain to the left of Mt. Hood where we’d been the week before (post)
We weren’t entirely alone as Heather was visited by a butterfly.
After a nice break we made our way back to the rimrock cliffs which were now fully in sunlight opening the clarkia and making for even nicer views.
Looking down into the Salmon River valley
Looking west toward Highway 26
Cat’s ear lilies
As we descended the 1500′ from the rimrock viewpoint to the trailhead our knees and feet were letting us know that they were done with three and four thousand elevation gain hikes for awhile. We’ll have to see about that :).
Both Sullivan and the Oregonhikers.org field guide put this hike at 9 miles roundtrip. They vary on elevation with Sullivan showing a 2900′ gain while the field guide showing 3270′. Our Garmin’s came in at 10.1 and 11.2 miles and we never pay attention to the elevation numbers. We were actually running an experiment on this hike regarding the distances shown on the GPS units. We both carry a Garmin GPSmap 62s unit. We’ve looked at the settings and they seem to be the same, but for the majority of hikes Heather’s Garmin reports a noticeable amount more mileage than mine (mine is typically closer to what the information for the hike states). For this hike we swapped units so I was carrying the one she normally does and vice versa. Sure enough the one she carried registered the higher 11.2 mile total. We are at a bit of a loss to explain what causes the discrepancy. On rare occasions the totals have been the same or within a tenth of a mile or two but more often than not the difference is at least a mile and sometimes a couple. Any thoughts out there as to what might cause this? I tend to hike faster, especially uphill but then I spend more time stopped waiting for Heather.
If you couldn’t tell the GPS thing is driving me a bit crazy, so much so that that night as we were going to bed I wondered aloud what would happen if one of us carried both GPS units on a hike? These are the things that keep me up at night :). Happy Trails!
Flickr: Hunchback Mountain