To The Pinnacle
My goal for the the day was to trek up the Elk Cove Trail now that the road to access the trailhead has been reopened after having washed by the Eliot Branch and check on snow levels around the Timberline Trail. Starting near mid-day it was a warm slow trek up through the remains of the Dollar Lake Fire. The trail is well maintained until the wilderness boundary, after which there are a good number of trees down on the trail and encroaching brush. Some slight snow patches approaching Elk Cove.
Elk Cove is mostly melted out around the Timberline Trail junction, and flowers starting to bloom. I first headed east on the trail, and in the 0.8 miles there was only a few short patches of snow, and more than a dozen logs down on the trail. Coe Branch was flowing muddy and powerful, and there I encountered a hiker who had just come across the stretch from Eliot, which they mentioned was a fast deep ford and a rough scramble. Their details are that the chutes crossing the arms of Compass Creek and side slopes along the way were hold a lot of deep, steep snow with sketchy exposure.
After heading back to Elk Cove, I proceeded to cross Elk Cove Creek and follow the trail where it cuts uphill across the slopes of talus and trail below the cliffs of 99 Ridge. Much of this stretch has steep snow coverage, with some long exposure in parts, but was manageable by kicking steps into the malleable, softer snow, just slow going. Found a good example of some of the hazards of snow melt along the trail where I was able to punch a large pocket into some hollowed out snow cover. Right were the trail cuts to the west and is north facing, a vast stretch of deep snow along the trail that was very shaded and sloped opened up, with much more exposure and snow down below as far into the terrain as I could see. Frustratingly I seem to have not taken any photos of the view as I was assessing the conditions. Both myself and the hiker I met at Coe Branch called it there and headed back to Elk Cove.
Heading back down the Elk Cove Trail I decided I wasn't quite finished exploring, and cut across the expanse of the the Dollar Lake Fire about a mile to the back of the Pinnacle. From behind the Pinnacle looks more like a hill, but looking at it from the north it is an imposing feature of shear relief - a volcanic plug of basaltic andesite with hues of red along its jagged rocky precipice. During the Dollar Lake Fire in 2011 The Pinnacle was a beacon of flame, all the trees clinging to its backside burned. A handful of trees clinging to the steep northside survived the fire.
I explored around the back of the Pinnacle, clambering up a ways to get some views and descending before things got too much like rock climbing.
From there, I pressed down and continued my westward trek to the Pinnacle Ridge Trail, and headed back uphill towards the Timberline Trail. The path is faint and overgrown in many sections, and a bit hard to follow through the very soggy Pinnacle Meadows. Back around 5300 feet the snowpack became extensive, and I followed the general way up to the Timberline Trail. Between The Pinnacle Ridge Trail and Wyeast Basin the trail has short sections not covered by snow, and then many feet in the channels and chutes coming coming down from Barrett Spur. One of these was steep enough that I trekked up and over to a flatter section, but in general not too much exposure, although GPS check ins are helpful as the trail is hidden.
At Wyeast Basin the trail is free of snow but covered in overland flow from the snow melt. Lots deep snow all up the basin, and on the trail heading up and over Vista Ridge, which will require a careful ascent for a good bit longer. With the sun starting to sink, I headed back toward the Pinnacle Ridge Trail, and chose the quicker descent just following snow down one of the long wide open gentle chutes, until it became thin enough I could hear the creek underneath and see it starting to thin out and tunnel around the flow, at which point I headed up and into the forest to refined the trail.
The Pinnacle Ridge Trail has a lot of overgrowth in parts, water flow caused erosion to the tread and many logs down in the fire scarred area, but is generally good to follow. It wraps down alongside The Pinnacle, giving views of the cliffs and jagged rock structures I was on the backside of earlier. Approaching the Wilderness boundary there is crosscut work opening up the trail, and outside of the wilderness the trail is well maintained. Hopefully the work will continue up to the Timberline to preserve the trail.
With the sun sinking down to cast a warm glow on the north face of Mount Hood, I arrived at the Pinnacle Ridge Trailhead, and headed down into the clear cut for a shortcut back to the Elk Cove trailhead. I stirred up a nighthawk to burst from below my feet and take wing to the evening sky. A connector trail really needs to be constructed here to link the Elk Cove and Pinnacle Ridge Trails for a better loop. It would provide an opportunity for an easily accessible outstanding viewpoint of the north side of the mountain.
Cautionary Note: The description and routes I described here utilizes off trail travel through burned terrain, here countless hazards and challenges to navigation can be present. Always be prepared and have the skills and gear to properly mitigate the risks you may encounter.