Wandering White River

Wandering White River

on Mt Hood

Part I.


The White River begins on the south slope of Mt Hood from the terminus of the White River Glacier as two branches separated by a moraine that stretches down the mountain, widening and flattening at an area known as Mesa Terrace.  Ancient Trees from a forest buried under pyroclastic debris during the last major eruptive period are visible in the walls of the canyon here, best seen from the Timberline Trail/PCT on the ridge to the west. The right branch, the main stem of the White River, is joined by a drainage from snow fields between White River Glacier and Newton Clark Glacier. The two mighty branches flow past the Timberline Trail circling Mt Hood, and join together above where the river flows under Highway 35. From there it continues south, before curving to the flow east and into the Deschutes River which flows north to the Columbia.

In the wide floodplain around the highway crossing on the south side of Mt Hood, the river is in constant evolution, carving new paths and excavating material, wandering around in the deep lahar deposits. Recently the river has been moving east, and last winter a huge relocation happened after during a high water event, where the river flooded the Sno-Park before carving a new course on the eastern edge of the canyon, flowing now under the overflow bridge and not the main span of the highway bridge. The WyEast Blog has an exemplary history of battle between river and highway infrastructure.


Wanting to have accurate views of the location of the river, especially in relation to mapping the Timberline Trail crossing, I set out to wander along the river and record it's track.


(I hadn't found any recent high resolution imagery to use for tracing and just after realized Google had updated it's Google Earth Imagery to 2021 images (although not yet the Google Maps. Had I opened up Earth instead of just maps, I could have saved the extensive wandering, but it was a lovely excursion.)


Starting from White River Sno-Park mid afternoon, I headed up the snowshoe route/trail. I got distracted by the sound of water pouring down the hillside, coming off of Boy Scout Ridge, and ducked into the a thick layer or alders and brush looking for anything interesting. A nice mossy small drainage.


I continued heading north to the Timberline Trail junction, and then crossed both branches, both doable with the current flow rate without getting feet wet by using rocks to cross. Then I crossed back and headed upstream between the branches, hugging close to the east branch while GPS tracking to get close to it's location. My phone GPS hovers around +/- 12 to 15 feet in open terrain like this, so I made notes of which side I was on to later help clean up the data.  Navigating around in the river valley it is amazing to see the winding, wandering dry sections cutting through deposits, evidence of the past motions of the river. Some immense piles of debris and huge boulders are testament to the power of the river in a flood stage. Looking at this area in Google Earth now is interesting, as the discrepancy between the recent aerial imagery and the elevation data used to generate the terrain in three dimensions makes the river seem to flow uphill and downhill, highlighting the significant changes by erosion.


Timberline Trail Crossings


I got intrigued by the smaller, furthest east branch that flows into the main White River, and headed up the steep area between the two, drawn by a glimpse of the Lower Dryer Falls off in the distance. This side journey took me across the creek where I saw the work of beavers in the vegetated, protected drainage. The valley here cuts through an imposing layer of lava flow that sets a very picturesque scene.


After this scenic diversion, I headed back and began walking the branches of the creek, retracing steps to get both branches, and then walking the creek from where they joined south of the Timberline Trail crossing. The sun started to lower, casting warm light on the canyon as I neared the bridge on highway 35. Some of the sections where the river shifted to the east along the canyon wall have freshly cut deep walls showing the layers of deposited material from past movements.


buried forest exposed by the new river course

Following the river course here was an enlightening view of the constant change and power of the river here, coursing down from it's glacier source, the destination for my next wandering of the White River.

Ho Rock and Snow

Ho Rock and Snow


With the first measurable rainfall in months coming to northwest Oregon this past weekend, several inches of snow fell on Mt Hood. Excited to see snow return and crisp fall conditions up high after a dry and hot summer, I headed up the way to McNeil Point from Top Spur Trailhead. The first stop was to head up the forest path to the viewpoint at the old fire lookout site on Bald Mountain. Early in the morning the sky was clear and blue.


I took the steep scramble cutoff trail at the base of McNeil Point, which offered great views of the immense patch of blowdown in the McGee Creek drainage, the Sandy Glacier Volcano remnants in the Muddy Fork drainage, and views up to the last pieces of the Sandy Glacier Caves.


approaching McNeil Shelter

Clouds started to roll in over the mountain, settling of the glaciers and moving around on the summit, providing for a dramatic ascent up the ridge behind McNeil Point. The trail is steep but pretty easy going all the way up to Ho Rock and its views of Co Rock, the massive gendarme beyond. The names Ho Rock and Co Rock were lifted by chance from the topo quadrangles of the area where The Ho in "Hood" and the Co in "County" happened to be placed on their locations.


clouds coming in


glacier cave remains


approaching Ho Rock


gathering clouds


looking over Glisan Glacier


snow covered Barrett Spur above Ladd Glacier


Mt Hood above Co Rock


looking back at Ho Rock, out of the cloud




furry friends in talus fields


Glisan Creek


clouds clearing and sun returning


mountain visages


views of the Sandy Glacier Volcano, Razorblade Pinnacle center

The Sandy Glacier Volcano is an entirely different, ancient, volcano system that predates Mt Hood by millions of years, now worn mostly worn away.

Seeking Water on the Dry Side of Mt Hood

Seeking Water on the Dry Side of Mount Hood


For mapping the Timberline Trail route around Mt Hood as a summer hiking map, part of my process has involved ground truthing the hydrology to try and give a much better portrayal of where water may be found while hiking in summer than the current maps. The National Hydrology Dataset from USGS is the standard in maps, and while generally good, shows a huge amount of possible flowlines, not representative of conditions hiking in summer months when most backpackers hit the trail. For planning purposes, it will be nice to have a better idea of where water is actually likely to flow. On the east side of Mt Hood, water is scarce along the trail in summer once the snowfields have melted. From Gnarl Ridge north to the Timberline Trail High Point, the area is drained by the many forks and tributaries of Cold Spring Creek, which flows north to tumble over Tamanawas falls before reaching the East Fork Hood River.

Current maps show the South Fork Cold Spring Creek as a non-intermittent stream originating just below the trail, 0.4 miles north or the Gnarl Ridge Trail Junction. For hikers that may have underestimated their water needs, it would be good to know how close reliable water was to the trail here, in case a short trip down the drainage would be an option instead of waiting the 1.2 miles to the reliable clean water stream just west of the Newton Creek crossing. So finding this point was my first goal of the day.


USFS Classic Topo

I set out just around sunrise from Elk Meadows Trailhead, taking the lower crossing Newton Creek and heading up the switchbacks before heading up the Gnarl Ridge Trail. At the Timberline Junction, instead of heading onto the trail, I went north, keeping at the same elevation and following deer and elk paths before cutting to the west and finding the drainage after just about a quarter mile, dry here. I crossed it, and continued down along it, as the canyon walls grew steeper, until I started to hear water.


Following some well used game trails, I descended into the flowing creek, then up just a touch to where the creek began flowing out from under a boulder, at a spot where a tributary joins. Lush vegetation, and just a short way downstream the flow was very strong and some large pools. This spot is a bit more than 0.4 miles down from where the trail crosses the creek drainage, so not really a great option unless desperate, but this is where I’ll mark the stream start.


Next I wanted to investigate a nice flat area to the north, so I headed that direction. The forest is delightful through here, pretty clear undergrowth, spaced out trees and easy travel, especially when encountering some of the veritable elk/deer highways. The flat area had some wide spaced trees with smaller trees growing up. I took a moment for a snack on a log while nuthatches screamed all about.


Continuing on, I wrapped along the wide ridge and into the North Fork Cold Spring Creek drainage, keeping to a band of moderately sloped forest, here with denser undergrowth, between two sections of steepness. I found myself at the base of field of large boulders strewn about, nicely mossed over throughout. I detoured and explored them up the hill, getting a look at the cliff origin through the forest at the above the field before dropping back down. Just as I was exiting the field and thinking that it would be a nice home for Pikas, one gave me a grumpy MEEP, bidding me good riddance. Just through the forest, I came to the base of cliffs, a nice grassy spot, little more than a tenth of a mile away from the Timberline Trail but 150 feet lower. The landscape through here is a set of steps of steep then flatter sections heading downhill toward the creek.


Keeping at the same elevation but heading toward the creek, I came to some deep cut finger drainages not on the maps (though well visible on lidar) with flowing water, and peeked over the edge where one of them poured down a scarp. The creek had a high and loud flow 100 feet below. The creek is steeply banked here.


Gaining elevation along the shoulders of the creek here was steeper, and as I gain over 750 feet of elevation, the forest began to thin out and become replaced with pines and open sections, the high rocky terrain characteristic of near timberline on the east side.


I found water in the southernmost tributary, flowing out of a heavily vegetated area. More details about this spot later from when I visited it on my return journey, from the Timberline Trail, but for now I continued north, climbing the ridges then descending into he dry drainages. The open terrain allowed me to view down the drainages in sections, and the dense vegetation strips along the creeks cues where water is to be found or seen flowing down stream.


The terrain here is incredible and diverse. I was discovering series of tall dry falls, fields of giant talus, and the significant bowl feature where glaciers must have carved out a sudden drop, breaking through resistant layer of rock. On the north side of this bowl the rocks are polished smoothed by glacier action with deep striations, features that remind me more of spots around Mt. Rainier and I’ve seen less of around Mt Hood.


Finding wonderful spots like this are why I love off trail exploring. Pressing onward, in and out of a drainage with faint water, I came to a steeper descent down to a strongly flowing creek and a series of tiny falls and pools over boulders. Here I found mylar balloon for the day. In most every long deep off trail exploration I come across at least one of these. Today’s was directly in the creek and shed glitter paint all throughout the water on onto my hands as soon as I disturbed it to haul it out. Don’t release balloons.


My northward journey was halted at another such incredible geologic feature, the ridge separating the Cold Spring Creek drainage from the Pollalie Creek drainage is a sharp and sudden drop into a wide scarp filled with a scattering of thin jagged plates of rock. The ridge is a assembly of these plates stuck together, loose here at the surfaces rising vertically up from the ridge, scattering down the sides.   This is along the off trail end of the uncompleted Lamberson Spur 644 route.


It’s about 0.3 miles up to the Timberline Trail, a bit north of the trails high point. Just south of the high point, the Timberline Trail scatters and into a set of trails due to user trails in reaction to the snowfield that lingers here. All snow gone from on the trail now, I found barely a trickle of water around the leg that follows east at the highest level, turning at a campsite along the drainage, but the direct route straight south that is slightly more scrambly and looses then gains elevations crosses spots with better flowing water, and even small pools available, and much better and audible flow just down drainage. This is the most reliable on trial spot to collect water along the middle of the east side late into the dry season, and good to not pass by.


Timberline Trail high point cairn

Not yet through with exploring, and so close to one of my favorite spots on the mountain, I headed onwards and upwards, skirting the loose and steep edges to climb up between two landmark mounds of glacial deposited material and up onto the lip overlooking the furthest north arm of Newton Creek, where it emerges from the glacier and collects water from Cooper Spur Falls.


Cooper Spur Falls, Tie-in Rock above

A muddy torrent, I found a spot to cross and forded, then climbed up to gain views of the “Football Field” flat and Bandit Boulder, debris from a large 2001 landslide that broke off the mountain and deposited all the orangish debris around. I marveled in its immensity, checked out the glacier and large rocks precariously perched on it while listening to cracks and rockfalls, spotting tiny dots of people migrating along Cooper Spur.


Bandit Boulder


Tie-in Rock on the saddle along Cooper Spur


I dipped down to the south to stare for a while at the Newton Clark Moraine and Glacier, clouds starting to come around the mountain and bring some drama to the skies.


I then climbed back up and was surprised to see two explores making their way across the flat- the first people I’ve seen up that way. After recrossing the creek my descent was along the southeast ridge above the flat meadowy spot above the Timberline Trail.


views of the landslide terminus from different spots

Back on the trail I proceeded down Gnarl Ridge, admiring the viewpoint along the way of the cascading falls of Newton Creek and the ancient Whitebark Pines.


Newton Creek drainage and falls


Now completely out of water, I decided to utilize my found water source, and realized that from the trail I could see the patch of vegetation that indicated that start of the creek just about 400 feet down the valley. I made my way down and filled up. I’d actually recommend approaching from the area of the Gnarl Ridge Shelter, heading north and slightly west, which will put you just before the vegetation and with a stronger flow that will help to avoid carefully stepping amongst the flowers and brush around the creek there. The canyon becomes steeper and looser shortly below there, but this makes this a good option for seeking out water if you are camping on Gnarl Ridge by the ruins of the old shelter- a pretty great spot to enjoy stellar night views of the mountain.


water just off Gnarl Ridge


Gnarl Ridge Shelter Ruins


trail crossing South Fork Cold Spring Creek Drainage

The lower Newton Crossing had swelled to calf high and gotten much muddier since the morning, and I failed to probe a step on the far side where the water was flat, and I assumed shallow, resulting in a nice sudden drop down above my knee, but easily recovered from.  A lovely day exploring around the mountain – about 7 miles off trail, 16 total, much of it through terrain new to me.


lower Newton crossing, morning vs. afternoon

Sunrise and Moonset from Eliot East Moraine

Sunrise and Moonset

from Eliot East Moraine


Leaving town around 3AM, I headed up to the slow going Cloud Cap road, driving through the open landscape of the burned forest just as deep colors were starting to fill the sky in the east. The moon was glowing vibrantly over the mountain, resulting in a stunning level of detail observable in the last moments of night.


I arrived at Cloud Cap Saddle Campground, and headed up north, taking the trail up onto the Eliot East Moraine, the vast triangle of gravel and glacier deposits left behind by the Eliot Glacier as it retreated up the mountain. Shortly after arriving I was treated to the sun rising above the horizon to the east behind me, and the moon settling down behind the mountain ahead of me.


morning sun on the glacier


I continued along the moraine, before cutting up to Copper Spur and following the trail up to Tie in rock and then beyond to the edge of Newton Clark Glacier above 9000ft elevation from here the Eliot Glacier is a massive expanse of ice, crevasses many stories high cutting through the ancient ice, a complex and beautiful set of textures and colors on display.


looking down over Eliot Glacier sandwiched between its moraines


Newton Clark center and left, Eliot Glacier to the Right


a full view of Copper Spur and Eliot Glacier from viewpoint at Cloud Cap Inn

Wizard Way, New Meadows Trails

Wizard Way

Mapping New Trails at Mount Hood Meadows


Mount Hood rising above Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area

This summer, the Mount Hood Meadows Ski area debuted a set of new trails, nearly 8 miles that explores some of the National Forest that falls within the bounds of the ski area. As ski seasons shorten, this is part of a pivot to increase summer tourism at the lodge and sell lift tickets when there is no snow by offering the draw of riding the lifts up and exploring the meadows trails on a hike all down hill to the lodge. Of course all the trails are open to hikers, and it is really nice to have good access to some of the lovely spots in the Meadows Area that have been hard to navigate to through all the ski infrastructure. Most notably, the area above timberline and heading up the moraine above Heather Canyon is now accessible on a great trail.

These upper areas are some lovely spots that in the past I've accessed by patching together hiking trails, ski roads, and off trail. Now the segments of the Wizard Way Trail take you up to the moraine, and offer incredible views of Heather Canyon, and the Newton-Clark Moraine and Glacier. It's sort of if you mashed together the Gnarl Ridge section of the Timberline Trail with Cooper Spur and sprinkled in some Paradise Park. It's easily one of the most diverse and scenic trails on the Mount, and now that it is fully connected as an official trail, deserves to be one of the classic destination trails on the mountain.


On my last trip around the Timberline trail at the end of July, in the late afternoon just as I was leaving the Wilderness Area and entering the ski area, I encountered a hiker heading towards me (into the wilderness) who asked about trail, looking for a numbered trail. I got him turned around to go the right direction on the Timberline, and then noticed the new trail coming up the ridge and connecting to the Timberline, with a sign post and number "6" on it. New trails!


Turns out the Meadows/Forest Service has a map/pamphlet showing the new trail system, but it is somewhat of a cartographic nightmare. I decided to go out and collect tracks and make a nicer map to show off the area, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the new set of trails. Except for the higher elevation sections of Wizard Way, the trails are built wide, graded excellently, brushed, and cleared of logs. They're really nicely built and explore through meadows, across grassy ski runs, up lovely and lonely forested ridges, and to some excellent view points. At the highest elevation, the trail system on the Official Map ends past an overlook above Heather Canyon, but the trail continues, even with a marked "10" on the post, and while it's a fainter path and slightly more windy, it is still followable up onto the moraine. There is a good sized cairn where I've chosen to end the trail on the map, but the way up the moraine continues on to some great views of the Glacier, much like trekking past tie in rock over on Copper Spur in the summer.


Top of Wizard Way


For mapping the area, I designed a map that echoes the format of the old USGS Topo Quads, and designed it at a native size of 18"x 24". The basemap is my custom map of Mount Hood's Terrain that I am developing for my Timberline Trail map project, and it is based on DOGAMI lidar data, and colorized and detailed to bring to life the geology, landforms, and vegetation of the mountain.


Exploring Mount Hood Meadows


I started my exploration at the trailhead on the road up to Mount Hood Meadows where the Umbrella Falls trail cuts across the road on its way to the falls. After visiting the falls, I continued on to the first new junction, heading north on the Umbrella Cutoff, trail "4". The junctions are marked with numbered stakes that don't include any names. Most, but not all junctions and trail starts are marked.


The Umbrella Cutoff continues north to the edge of a ski run, where it meets the Bear Grass Trail, which I followed east as it cut across ski runs and into the forest, offering glimpses of the early morning sun glowing on Mt Hood above, and south across the forest to Mt. Jeffereson where smoke from the fires in Bull of the Woods Wilderness filled the valleys.


Bear Grass along the Bear Grass Trail


The Picnic Rock Spur leaves the Bear Grass Trail and travels over to emerge on a rocky outcropping looking west over the meadows, with views up Clark Creek. This is certainly one of the most photo-op worthy spots where hikers can scramble out onto the rocky ridge.


Sunrise at Picnic Rock


Wildfire smoke drifting over Mt Jefferson


Continuing north on the Bear Grass Trail, the path climbs gradually through quiet forest, deer and elk tracks happening across the dusty trail. The trail is well designed, although it may require some water bars to control drainage in some spots once flow patterns are established when/if it ever rains. The trail through here feels quite remote and is a good exploration through some of the deeper forest. Eventually the Bear Grass Trail reaches its peak, and just before it starts to head south again, the Jack's Woods Trail splits off. This trail travels up to one of the ski area roads, and passes east on it for a short length, until just at the bottom of the Shooting Star Express it crosses one of the upper tributaries of Clark Creek and goes into the forest to climb along a ridge up to meet the Timberline Trail. Just below the Timberline Trail, it passes through a small section of forest that burned last year, but was quickly controlled.


Looking back at Picnic Rock