Hiking at Higher Elevations
- Mt. Hood Alpine Trails Conditions Report - June 2014 -
The higher elevation trails are starting to melt out on Mt. Hood and the Northwest's Cascade Mountains, but expect to travel on snow at least part of the time above 5000 feet. Trails should be mostly snow-free below 5000 feet as of this writing (June 26, 2014). If one sticks to south face and ridge-top routes, snow may be avoided at higher elevations.
Forest Roads to the trailheads are also melting out and are mostly passable, but beware of roads above 5000 feet that wrap around the north face, as impassible snow may still linger there awhile longer.
Once the snow gets too cruddy for skiing in the Spring, I start hankering to enjoy the alpine trails of Mt. Hood and northwest Oregon's Cascade Mountains. But one must be patient. It can take awhile for ten feet of snow to melt off the trail.
I have made regular trips to find check on snow conditions, even returning to some of the same trails to see how things have changed. Here's my report on recent trail conditions and alpine wildflower blooms.
Mirror Lake - Late April:
In late April, I hiked up to Mirror Lake. There were still patches of snow, and much of the trail was a slushy trickle of snowmelt. Mirror Lake itself had snow covering most of its surface, but still reflected Mt. Hood. However, the snow got thick above the lake, and the trail to the summit of Tom Dick & Harry Mountain was still buried under white.
Top Spur Trail - Late May:
By Memorial Day, the road to the Top Spur Trailhead was clear. Patches of snow were still here and there, but most of the loop route around Bald Mountain was snow-free. The Timberline Trail toward McNeil Point as far as the meadow viewpoint was also clear enough for an easy hike, but five feet lingered just over the north edge of the ridge. Blue Lark spur, red Indian Painbrush and yellow Senecio lined the trail.
Hawk Mountain - Early June:
After a night camping at lower elevation (see Round Lake Trip Report), I hiked the Rho Ridge Trail to Hawk Mountain. Much of the trail was clear, but there were some big patches of snow where the trail disappeared, and quite a bit of snow on the summit. Spring Beauty wildlfowers were just starting to bloom, but not many other flowers.
Mirror Lake - Mid June:
I returned to Mirror Lake last week. The trail to the lake was completely free of snow, and the beargrass and mountain wildflowers were really starting to bloom. The snow on the trail to the summit of Tom Dick & Harry Mountain that I had seen 6 weeks before was all gone.
Timberline Lodge - Mid June:
There was a fresh dusting of snow on Mt. Hood when I got to Timberline Lodge last week. Still lots and lots of snow at 6000 feet elevation. Skiing and snowboarding looked good with the fresh white coating, but the snow will continue to melt.
Top Spur Trail - Late June:
This week I returned to hike up the Top Spur Trail to the Timberline Trail. The snow I had seen just a few weeks before was gone, and the wildflowers were really getting going: red paintbrush, white beargrass, blue lupine, purple penstemon, white yarrow, yellow Senecio, and other flowers coated the hillside of Bald Mountain with color. Avalanche lilies were blooming along the trail in the woods.
The deep snow on the north face of the ridge at the meadow viewpoint was also gone. I was planning to camp above 5000 feet, so I was encouraged that summer was full on. But, BAM! We hit the snow hard at 5100 feet. It went from nothing to huge fifteen foot mounds of snow just like that. We kicked in toe-holds to climb up and boot-skied down one pile of snow after another, but there were bare patches between the drifts. Fortunately, our campsite had some bare forest floor to camp on under the trees.
We explored along the Timberline Trail as far as the Mazama Trail juncture. South facing slopes were often snow free and the trail easy to follow, but most of the route was up and down, up and down over the mounds of snow.
It will take well into July for those alpine trails to really melt out. So if you are heading to the mountain, be prepared for the conditions you will face. It does not matter if the forecast calls for 70 degrees if you are surrounded by snow - it will feel colder. Bring your map and compass for when the trail disappears. Bear in mind that going up and down each pile of snow can add up to significant extra elevation gain, plus slipping and sliding will wear you out sooner. Carry your survival essentials.
Most of all, be patient. Those trails will melt out sooner than later. Meanwhile, the mid-elevations have the wildest wildflower shows right now, so hike there!
Next Adventure has some great opportunities to get out and learn about the Great Northwest Outdoors.
Join us on a Wildflower Day Hike on July 13, or attend a free Mountain Wildflower presentation at the Grand Ave. store on the evening of July 15.
Find out more online at nextadventure.net!
Greg Hill is lead guide and program manager for Next Adventure Outdoor School.
Next Adventure is a fully-insured licensed Outfitter and Guide with the State of Oregon. Next Adventure is an equal opportunity Recreation Provider operating under special use permit on the Mt. Hood National Forest and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, USDA Forest Service.