This trip brought back happy memories from a July hike I ventured on three years ago with friend Craig who has since moved out of the area. I was very much a Mt Hood newbie at the time as our trek up to McNeil Point was only my second up-close experience with the mountain. Having taken the Bald Mountain trail into the area several times since then, I decided to try a new route on the Mazama Trail which follows Cathedral Ridge.
The forecasted morning clouds were present, but I spotted a small bank of blue bordering Vista Ridge on the drive in and hoped that was a sign of the day ahead. I’d emailed several others on joining up with me, but hadn’t received any takers, so it was just my dog Kodi and I. Before leaving, another gentleman in a pickup pulled up and we chatted as we got our gear together. Miles had done most of his hiking on the east side of Mt Hood. That being the case, I guessed he was from Hood River, but it turned out he was a teacher from the Aloha area. Kodi and Miles' dog were happy to greet each other as well. Miles set off first, but we wound up running into each other several times later.
Trailhead turnout along Forest Road 1811, ridges in the clouds
Let's see what this trail's like!
Looking for Colors
After getting past two lengths of switchbacks, the trail followed a more direct line up the ridge. Much of the vegetation along the ground was turning from green to yellow, but not red. I wondered if perhaps being in the shade their turn to red lagged behind that of the shrubs and deciduous trees out in the open. The clouds held strong as we got to the heather meadow at 5300 feet. Here the colors were much more pronounced with reds, oranges, yellows, and the green of bear grass mixing together under the lengths of trees extending themselves into the fog.
Kodi eagerly leads the way up the first switchbacks
Yellows in the forest: will still turn to red?
Open views and a mix of colors in the heather meadows at 5300 feet (but still no sun!)
Dew still clinging to the leaves in the cool autumn air
It got quite cold in the next stretch as we continued to hike in the clouds enveloping our side of the mountain. I got out my stocking cap and was even wishing for about ten minutes that I had brought those gloves I’d decided earlier I wouldn’t need and had left in the car. Before we knew it we hit the intersection with the Timberline Trail where we met a couple backpacking for the weekend. They provided some useful input as I found out the first turnoff for McNeil Point was now closed and one must continue to the second one just a few minutes beyond. Sure enough, when I reached the first one there was a sign stating it was closed for meadow restoration. Seeing it there I could remember hiking up the path with Craig where we spotted a small frog dwelling in the creeklet flowing along the path.
Colder and quiet stretch of the trail
The mountain's out there, somewhere...
The closed trail to McNeil Point. Wonder where Mr. Frog goes in the fall and winter?
Receding of the Clouds
After finding the second turn, we caught up to Miles who offered some trail mix which I couldn’t pass up. As we continued together, we spotted the sun pushing through the gray above. We hoped that meant we were getting close to seeing some clear skies. Within ten minutes, in an almost magical instant the shroud on us was lifted, a transformation so fast in such an unexpected manner I was forced to stop to soak in and fully appreciate the event. An outcrop of land extending out above the newly revealed cloud deck created an illusion that we'd just been transported to a floating island far above in the sky.
The second and correct turnoff to McNeil Point
The sun starts to overtake the clouds, Miles hiking up ahead of me
Patches of red splashed along the trail leading to McNeil Point
The clouds recede revealing a different world
The path behind us shown for the first time
The land falls away to the abyss below
A halo forms over the trail behind me, a stunning image punctuating the dramatic change we'd just experienced
Now where is Jack? I hope we don't find the giant like he did!"
Islands in the Sky
Instead of heading straight for McNeil Point shelter we wound up following a bypass trail heading directly towards Mt Hood which now beamed out its presence before us. It looked like the trail went up another 500 feet, so when we finally huffed it to the turnaround overlook I was surprised we'd gained nearly 800 feet. The view of the cloud deck crashing into the flanks and ridges of Mt Hood was amazing. I was quite enamored by it for some reason and just couldn’t help but look at it. It was just chilly enough for me get my wind shell on.
Clouds run into the massif of Mt Hood
"Cape Yokum" extends into the ocean of clouds (Yokum Ridge visible to the south looking like an Oregon headland)
More clearing of the clouds to the north over the Columbia River, Mt Adams also visible
Full view of Mt Hood awaits while continuing on the trail above McNeil Point
Small "island" off Mt Hood
Final turnaround point ahead up on the right with Mt Hood's rugged NW face before us
Below us the McNeil Point shelter was visible above the clouds, but as Kodi and I descended to it the clouds moved in again and overtook our view. Satisfied in seeing the shelter, we started our way back. Before hitting the turnoff junction for McNeil Point, we got a few more stretches of blue and joined up with Miles who was chatting with another hiker. Once we hit the Mazama trail at 5600 feet the clouds took hold of us permanently and hid away the blue the rest of the way down.
Soaking in the autumn sun at ~6900 feet
McNeil Point way below just above the cloud deck
The clouds overtake us by the time we reach McNeil Point shelter
Another smattering of red
A blast of sun through the trees heading back to the Timberline Trail junction
Clear to the lower-left, shrouded to the upper-right
I’ll wrap up with a few more pictures. It was a richly rewarding and priceless day outdoors. I was definitely glad I hadn’t slept in which had been the other option I’d considered for the day!
Kodi hurries to catch up to Mile's dog at the Mazama Trail junction with Timberline Trail
The parking area visible from Cathedral Ridge (just above the second group of switchbacks). The sun also visible to the northwest beyond the clouds wedged against Mt Hood