I love loop like hikes. I’ll often add extra distance, or hike along roads to turn an out and back trip into a circuit. Usually it works great and the pay off in extra scenery and new trail is worth it. Sometimes it doesn’t, and this was one of those. On the map the Polallie Ridge Trail parallels the Tilly Jane Ski Trail, so I figured it would be worth exploring as a route up to Copper Spur and then return on Tilly Jane.
I parked at the trailhead just after Cloud Cap Road leaves the pavement and headed the 0.7 miles up the Tilly Jane Trail #643 till the Polallie Ridge Trail splits off back to left, traveling around ski trails till it starts to ascend the ridge. Shortly the fun began, and by that I mean completely overgrown, intertwined, and often neck high salal.
The ridge burned in the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Wildfire, and the regrowth of salal was overwhelming. I started early and while it was a clear day, the morning dew collecting on the leaves had my lower half pretty well soaked through by the time I had scrambled, pushed, and harangued my way up the ridge.
Leave that trail for winter sports when there’s snow on top of it all. Especially when you can basically see the Tilly Jane trail one ridge over. Once you’re into the woods more, there are some really great (and steep) looks down into the canyon carved by Polallie creek.
After 2.25 miles and 1500 feet of elevation, you’ll reach the Tilly Jane A-frame and Guard Station area. For a shorter hike, take the Tilly Jane Ski Trail down the ridge now, but to head further up the mountain, follow the trail uphill. After another mile, just after crossing over the Timberline Trail you’ll come to Cooper Spur Shelter resting in the open with the mountain looming up behind it.
My favorite way to return is to follow a fainter trail to the right of the shelter (not the one that continues straight up Cooper Spur), leading up onto the Elliot east moraine for some incredible views of the Eliot Glacier. Follow the ridge of the moraine down for about 0.7 miles until the trail leaves the moraine, heading down to the right along some well-trodden (but unmarked) paths, which connect back to the Timberline Trail on the way to Cloud Cap Trailhead.
Keep an eye out for a junction and the Tilly Jane Ski trail heading off to the left. Return back to the campground and follow the trail down the ridge.
Compared to the slow and annoying ascent, the way down the wonderfully maintained and easy traveling Tilly Jane Trail was a breeze. It’s a great slope for a fast but controllable run, and I made up some time while taking in the trailside flowers covering the ridge which is recovering well from the fire. There’s a great pine on the way down that survived the fire and stands alone. This route ends at 8.75 miles, with almost 3000 feet of elevation gained.