Along the Eliot West Moraine

To get a really good sense of the power and movement of the glaciers that shaped the area around Mt Hood, a hike along the Eliot West Moraine is a treat. It’s not hard to imagine the Eliot glacier filling the expansive valley, churning the rock below and pushing up the great behemoth gravel moraines on either side as it flowed slowly down the mountain. Even now, the glacier still covers the upper end of the valley, much of its ice mixed with rocks and gravel across the flat of the floor, opening up here and there with the mighty beginnings of the Eliot Branch cutting through. Further up the ice is steely and really what we expect from a glacier, with great ribs and crevasses opening up.

To get up close and personal this route takes you from Cloud Cap, across the Eliot on the Timberline Trail, and then off trail on a pretty well established user trail that rides the very crest of the moraine rocky cliffs overlooking the glacier. Round trip it covers 5.8 miles and 2300 feet of elevation gain. The hiking on the ridge is quite steep (and really narrow in spots) and all gravel, sand and scree, so sure footing is important and trekking poles can help with balance. A slide down would be a pretty rough few hundred feet. Be careful!

From the Cloud Cap Trailhead follow the Timberline west while switch backing down to the crossing of the Eliot. The crossing here is ever evolving, even after having been closed for years after a massive blowout. There had been a log that was useful, but sides are steep and loose. The Forest Service continues to add improvements and clean things up after yearly changes to the trail but use good judgment when finding a place to cross. The river runs fast through the narrow chasm here.   

Crossing the Eliot Branch on the Timberline Trail

Once across keep on the Timberline Trail about 0.6 miles, and after the trail stops switch backing is following the ridge, keep an eye for a user trail cutting sharply back to the left which climbs up onto the ridge. Look out for a sign that warns of danger (this is where the makeshift crossing before the trail got rebuilt was) listen to the sign, and don’t go that way, instead keeping up the ridge through the burned forest.

Before long you’ll pop out onto the ridge, which you can follow for a ways, at least until it gets covered with vegetation, then duck down to the right and follow along in the valley till things open up again and you can get back on the ridge again.

Around 7300 feet the ridge turns into large broken boulders and starts to ascend towards the cliffs. The view here of the glacier and up toward the summit is outstanding. Check out Copper Spur across the way, and the Langille Crags to the north. Return via the same route.

Published by Jim Wilson

An avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast, I settled in Oregon after years of working on hiking trails in Southeast Alaska with the USFS and exploring the Pacific Northwest and rest of the country in the offseason.

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