Changing Seasons on Mount Hood
Hiking from spring back to winter
Leaving the Tilly Jane Sno-park just before sunrise (the gate up to Cloud Cap still shut), the forest along the lightly flowing Doe Creek was no quiet space. Instead it was a chorus of babbling wrens, trilling juncos, calling flycatchers and the ethereal swirling calls of Swainson's Thrushes. Having traveled through the rain and clouds on the west side of the mountain, I was happy to see clear sky above and warm orange glow of sunrise splashing onto the tops of the hemlocks as I ascended.
After a mile the trail emerges from the forest into the burn zone left behind by the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Fire that left this northeast corner of Mount Hood a forest of whitened, debarked standing dead timber rising over a vibrant undergrowth including beargrass and wildflowers, some just starting to poke out now. This habitat denuded of the canopy provides home for a plethora of birds, especially groups of Mountain Bluebirds, Pine Siskins, Juncos, Wrens, swallows, and easy viewing of them as they float about the open hillside. Woodpeckers love the area, and their battering of the trees can echoes across the ridgelines.
The sun climbed behind me, basking the area in a warm glow. Gone along the way is the formidable ponderosa pine that had stood alone on the ridge, having the survived the fire; it was felled by winds sometime this last winter. The warm sun, bursts, of bird flight across the trail, and budding flowers and grasses gave a very spring feeling to the climb. The wheel of time was abruptly turned back after a mile and a half on the open ridge, when I entered the forest again at the Tilly Jane Historic Area.
Under the trees around the A-frame cabin and ampitheater several feet of snowpack whisked cold air, dropping the temperature several degrees, and winds cut in. I wandered past the old guard station, and through the deteriorating campground space to where I knew a site furthest to the east poked out into the burnzone, and thus, the sun. There I was greeted by a curious Townsends Solitaire, who watched as I threw on more layers and ate breakfast.
Once fueled up I headed across the snow, following, in general, the buried trail to Cloud Cap Saddle. There entire campground is still encased in snowpack, some of it covering the entirety of picnic tables at sites. Snow lingers on the road heading up to the Inn, and I climbed up the hill to the viewpoint to take in the view of Hood and the expanse and the Eliot glacier. Back into the forest, I found the Timberline Trail still buried under many feet of snow, and headed north following it's general course.
I know the way of the trail through the forest well enough to follow with only infrequent GPS check ins, but decided I'd rather head up onto the melted out moraine than traverse on top of snowpack through the forest. Along the way I came upon an interesting phenomenon where the snowpack on the edge climbing up the moraine was buried under several inches of fine ash and soils that had had been carried down by the recent heavy warm rains from the exposed, snow free upper reaches of the moraine.
I continued along the top of the moraine, noticing the moon starting to set down behind the mountain, much like my last trip here, while observing the fresh erosion and movement of debris down the slopes of the moraine into the valley where the Eliot is retreating up the mountain. I left the moraine to head over to the Cooper Spur Shelter, layers of clouds started to float up on the slopes from the below, eventually shrouding me in a dense mist when I left the shelter and headed towards the Timberline Trail.
From the snow covered Timberline Trail - Tilly Jane Trail junction it was a descent down the ridge through the cloud to arrive back at the Tilly Jane area. Reentering the burn zone in full sun exposure was a return to spring, with a baking warm hillside that made me glad I was descending and not climbing up now.