Hiking from Highway 35 to the Timberline Trail
This is an epic loop around the east side of Mt. Hood, climbing 4500 feet up to the Timberline Trail from Highway 35 through some punishing yet scenic off trail terrain. It follows the Lamberson Spur Trail till its unceremonious terminus amongst the ruins of the 2008 Gnarl Ridge fire and then presses forward, through the burn zone and along the ridge, climbing until reaching the Timberline Trail near its high point and following marked trails downhill for 11 miles back to the trailhead.
Words of caution- navigating the burn zone is tricky and dangerous- there is no set way and everything is a jumble of fallen, half burned trees amongst dense spiky regrowth. The ridge is slick and rocky in places, with opportunities to fall or get lost following a game path. Take a GPS, avoid going in the rain when logs and rocks will be slick and you’ll get soaked by the thick undergrowth and unable to see the route ahead. Use caution, and hike at your own risk.
The route starts at the Polallie Trailhead along Highway 35. Cross the road and head steeply up, making sure to not miss the sharp junction where the East Fork Trail keeps going straight and our way is to the right on the Elk Meadows Trail. Keep hiking upward and stay right on Elk Meadows Trail, passing by the junction that heads down to the popular Tamanawas Falls. Stop at the self-issue Wilderness Permit and fill one out for the journey before continuing. As the trail continues upward, listen for the sound of the falls crashing down in the valley below. Before long you’ll come to a split. The Elk Meadows Trail keeps going to the left. That will be your return route, for now take the right on the Lamberson Spur Trail #644. The trail climbs steadily up the ridge for 1.8 miles before entering the area burned by the Gnarly Ridge Fire.
The route way is laborious and slow through the thick regrowth and over downed longs. The official trail, if even follow-able ends a mile into the burn, and there is no real way, just some semblances of paths used by hunters or elk. Ahead the ridge gets steep and covered with downed trees. I spent a lot of time walked on downed trunks, hopping over and crawling under logs. Trekking poles help for balance and protecting against falls.
There is a flat spared by the forest where I startled a few elk and came across a lot of elk sign. Be aware that if it is hunting season, you may not be alone in the woods. It climbs steeply and then ascends to where the ridge narrows and some great views up toward the mountain start. Be careful hiking the ridge, seek out paths that are safe, I ended up retracing my steps in spots and finding different ways around or over some of the rock formations.
Before long, when the side hill became less steep and the ridge was becoming harder to stay on, I headed down off to the left and found my way through the valley, which was an easy route to follow uphill. Any way you can head east and uphill will take you eventually to the Timberline Trail from this point. I came across a beautiful stream appearing out of the scree field. The last bit before arriving on the Timberline Trail is open and rocky.
Approaching the Timberline Trail
Once you come to the Trail, head south to the Elk Meadows Cutoff Trail, then around Elk Meadows and north on the Elk Meadows trail as it runs along Cold Spring Creek. Soon enough you’ll be back at the start of the Lamberson Spur Trail, having completed a massive adventure of a loop. Head the rest of the way back to the trailhead on the way you came.