On the list of forgotten trails of Mt. Hood National Forest, the length of the Barlow Butte Trail #670 is up there on the list. It’s a shame, because it can make up half of a great loop by using the scenic Barlow Road as a return. The first half is quite the adventure up along the ridge and then the last a relaxing journey along the magical corridor used by pioneers heading west on the Oregon Trail.
The Forest Service details: “from Barlow Butte to Klinger Camp is no longer maintained. The trail is extremely steep and rough for the last 2 miles.” That’s an excellent explanation of the situation, although for the last mile coming off the butte, the trail is so seldom used that its less a trail and more of a way to go. There are some ancient markers and blazes on the trail but keeping up with them can be hard.
I ended up losing the path and swinging further north than the trail corridor where I progressed down through some very steep, but manageable terrain, avoiding areas where the way cliffed out or seemed too steep ahead. A logging road runs north-south along the base of the ridge and the Barlow Road runs east west, so as long as you are safe getting down the hill, eventually you will come to a road. I think the trail might be easier to follow from its southern base, at least not so easy to lose, so that is an option if you are worried about off trail navigation or getting lost. A GPS is advisable. I had no cell service along the backside of the butte, where you’re most likely to get lost. Also, I got swarmed by hornets and stung multiple times from stepping on a nest on my way down. But mitigating the risks, it’s great fun.
Starting at the Barlow Pass Sno-Park, head south on the Barlow Road just 0.15 miles till the Barlow Butte Trail on the left. Stay on the Barlow Butte Trail as it heads uphill climbing about 1000 feet in a mile and a quarter till a short spur that heads up to the summit of Barlow Butte.
After about 2 miles further the trail starts to descend but becomes harder to follow and then it’s basically off trail navigation. From the base of the hillside, find your way to the Barlow Road and head west then north as the road turns.
A nice side trip can be made onto Devil’s Half-Acre Road, a right off the Barlow road, and then by following the trail behind the campground. The area around the campground burned years ago when pioneers were making use of the road and meadows remain in places.
The trail reconnects to the Barlow Butte Trail and return back to the trail head the way you came.
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.
In about 42 miles the Timberline Trail encircles Mt Hood, following the contours of each of its major drainage’s. It is an exercise in gaining elevation and then loosing it again to cross the next river, over and over again. It is soft, needle covered forest trail, sandy, rocky, ash covered trail. It is yawning drainage’s and open endless expanses above tree line. It is trail side waterfalls, crystal clear glacier fed streams, meadows full of lupines, paint-brush and bear grass. It is the crispy matchstick smell of forest burned a decade prior, galvanized by an afternoons sun. It is chattering, grumpy squirrels and Juncos bursting forth from blueberry bushes ahead of your foot falls. It is glaciers, crags, and timelessness. It is constant, immediate and future changes. It is a view of summit, translated by 360 degrees. It is a start and an end with nothing but a mountain in between.
For me this year, it was a rejoicing and a reaffirmation. It was journey, and pain, and perseverance. It was securing, to myself, that I would be able to do things that had once been able, and even do them better, even with disease. Since the first time I had set out and circuited the mountain in single day, I had encountered the withering disease in my head and body and mind encouraged by a prolactinoma that, while likely growing for many years, had blossomed fall of last year.
A prolactinoma is type of tumor that grows on your pituitary gland at the base of your brain. I first started having eye pain and visual disturbances in April, eventually jaw pain and numbness. I was further losing the ability to handle stress. After a lot of unproductive urgent care visits that treated me for sinus infections I went for an eye exam, which found a bilateral defect in my field of vision (I missed many of the little wavy lines that dance around the viewfinder in that test). I was losing bits of my sight though gradually enough I didn’t notice. This set into motion a series of visits which cumulated with an MRI which found the 3 cm tumor growing all up in there, pressing its way out toward my sinus cavity and starting to cinch in on my optic nerve. Blood levels of my hormones were all out of whack, and definitively, prolactin levels were over 100 times what they should be.
As far as tumors in your face go, I hit the jackpot- a pituitary tumor that is only significantly producing prolactin can have its cells slowly destroyed by a medication that looks onto receptors on the cells and interferes with its out of whack feedback cycle.
By the time I got the diagnosis, and for the next few months before things slowly started to clear up, I had been physically demolished. A half mile walk in the park was exhausting and someday only a triple shot of espresso after work could break the restraints that seem to bind me melting into the couch.
In those months I spent a lot of time planning hikes, scouring maps and books and websites for journeys that I would undertake, hoping that I could undertake. So much of my life had been wrapped up in being outside, and feeling comfortable in myself and in nature, from working Alaska or adventuring in the southwest, and now living outdoor enthusiast paradise of Oregon. I didn’t feel comfortable in my body, my body hurt me, and my head didn’t feel like my own. Getting back outdoors and hiking was restorative, and over the coming months helped rebuild my confidence in myself and in my health.
By April I was able to get out and hike a bit, and in May finally started to feel like I had legs attached to my feet. My medicine could make me feel woozy and out of sync, like on a delay, but exercise seemed to help after a dose, and help to quell the extra anxiety it incurred. I got out on five hikes in June. Then in July, ten hikes, building strength and pushing my mileage while immersing myself in the terrain around Mt. Hood. I was becoming surer footed and more confident in my skills. I was darting up fire downed logs and scrambling scree with a finesse I hadn’t felt even before, channeling squirrel and dipper.
Mid-August I completed a 20-mile route taking me all over the back country of Mt Hood, visiting Mooney Tarn and spending lot of time off trail. Maybe irrationally, I felt like I was ready. I wanted to be ready. So I pulled the trigger, and after a giant sushi dinner with Cara the night before, set out for the Timberline Trail.
I had decided to head the opposite direction than my first trip, two years prior. That go around I had journeyed clockwise from Timberline Lodge, descending Zigzag canyon right away and then coming around the mountain to bake on the completely exposed eastern slopes in the afternoon sun. The sandy slog up from the White River in the dark felt like climbing a dune and stuck with me as a grueling endeavor after a long day that I wanted to avoid this time. I had seen the lights of the lodge for so long that it seemed to stretch out the trail, and I made it back far later than I had hoped. Cara had met me with a Tupperware of the most delicious tasting cake imaginable, but I missed the open hours of the bar at the lodge.
So I as I set out, with just barely enough light bouncing around the crystal clear sky to see the trail, I flew down the sandy trail, passing PCT hikers nestled in their tents who had come up that way the day before. I felt pretty confident at this point and I was seeing miles of terrain that was new to me, even though I had hiked the trail before. I darted across the White River, which last time I had encountered and forded in the dark, loosing maybe 20 minutes to seeking out the continuation of the trail heading west. The sun came up sometime when I was in Mt Hood Meadows, and I made good time, filling water at Heather Canyon and passing backpackers making breakfast along Newton Creek.
I certainly don’t consider myself fast, but I was trotting along at a good pace. I tend to run the down hills, and hike heavily the up-hills, working to keep myself from exerting too much energy and blowing out my legs early. I’m certainly not out to match anyone in a contest of speed, but I’m good at just keep going-ing.
Halfway through the climb up Lamberson Butte I rested on a down tree and ate my Banh Mi sandwich I had strapped to my pack for fuel, all the while berated by squirrel nearby.
Soon I crested the high point of the trail, running down through the open, rocky eastern slopes of the mountain with Mt Adams and the Columbia River Gorge ahead, the desert unfolding out to the east and length of the Cascade Range behind me. It’s my favorite length of trail on the mountain.
On my way down to the Elliot crossing I encountered a pair of Forest Service trail crew workers who informed me they had just finished securing some rock steps on the far side of the canyon. This was welcome news and saved a few minutes of time as compared to my crossing a few weeks prior which had been a dusty scramble up loose rock.
My timing worked out too, and the afternoon sun and heat didn’t really pick up till after I had passed Cloud Cap. By the time the heat would have started to roast me, I was finding more tree cover. At noon I crossed through Elk Cove with its glistening stream and flower lined trail. Past Cairn Basin I started to encounter a steady stream of hikers out enjoying the way up to McNeil Point.
After looping around Bald Mountain, the long route down to the Muddy Fork really started drag time, and on the way back up I kept expecting to cross over Yocum ridge only to find I was not there yet.
I friendly white lab adopted me for a mile or so and I had buddy to converse with on the trail. After crossing the Sandy, I was really starting to feel the 12 hours and thirty some miles under my feet. I hadn’t expected or thought through at least how long and uphill the slog out of the Sandy River had would be from this direction.
My pace fell, the afternoon humidity was keeping me drenched, and piece of back had started to twist in an unforgiving pinch. I slowed and sat on a log paralleling the trail, eating some snack bars and water with electrolytes, wiping off the crusty layer salt and sweat collecting around my temples, draining into and stinging my eyes. I munched as I watched hikers carrying immense loaded packs briskly passed, making the ascent look a breeze.
My pace was idling to barely over 2 miles an hour, which I desperately wanted to increase with the miles still ahead of me. So I pushed on, knee bits also starting to hurt, the center of back berating me for my choices. This wasn’t unexpected or new to me. My experience with hiking or running distances over 30 miles in a day is that generally, at some point, it aches like your body asking you to reconsider. But it’s not a broken hurt, or an injured hurt. Eventually knee starts to forget it was aching, and back unfolds itself from its kink. Acquaintance with hurt, and learning what pain can be companion and what pain is yelling out an injury to not be ignored is as much a skill for running and hiking long distances as learning how to properly fuel yourself.
The descent down to the Zigzag river, my last, is a grace, and I am met with a horde of rusty orange butterflies dancing along the creek, sparkling in the late and low sun cutting up the canyon. These ones are familiar and known to those that spend time in high places late in the summer as they pass through in their migrations.
The hike out of the canyon, the last great uphill from the last of so many stream crossings feels better, and I am encouraged. The familiar sight of Zigzag canyon over-look and the mountain starting to turn rosy with alpen-glow pushes me onward. I don’t, however, expect the last miles to be so long. I’ve travelled this trail often, and usually when feeling fresh, so the extended time it takes for my depleted steps to turn into miles seems cruel at this point. It is almost crushing, but I keep on with the steps. The sky is turning pink, and slowly, through the trees, I see the sun blink out, setting beyond the coast range.
My legs are past the point of losing their certainty, and now just moving from sheer rhythm of hours and hours of the same motion. I know I cannot stop, or slow at this point as I pass by the lodge visitors out for an evening hike or coming down from watching the sun set. I don’t stop till I’m back at my car, 42 miles and 14 hours, 7 minutes after I left it. I’ve over three hours hours off my previous time from two years ago. I’ve done better. I felt more in tune with the trail, more present on the mountain and knowledgeable of where I had been.
This route was not the most direct way to this stellar curiosity on the northeast slopes of Mt. Hood, but I had just been hiking around Cloud Cap Inn and the Eliot Moraine, and I wanted to visit the verdant Elk Cove. Therefore I started at the Elk Cove trail head just up NF-2840 from Laurance Lake. The whole adventure would follow suit in not being the most direct way to anywhere, but a large, 20+ mile figure eight that brought me through a variety of some of Mt Hood terrain. The first, and primary goal for the day was to visit Mooney Tarn, a glacier cirque below Langille Glacier.
The drive up toward Laurance Lake from Hood River presented a stunning dawn with Mt. Hood looking gorgeous. The Elk Cove trail head has a few spots on the side of the road, and the trail takes off by crossing Pinnacle Creek and heading up an old but easy walking logging road. After about a mile and a quarter the trail leaves the road and starts to head up the ridge.
The trail climbs steadily, passing through a clear cut and up to a great overlook with views Mt. Hood. The trail was lined in places with bushes bursting with huckleberries which slowed my pace and filled my belly. I came across a few spots with perfectly ripe black cap raspberries- a real treat.
Back into the woods, surrounded by the impacts of the 2011 Dollar Lake fire and vibrant displays of wildflowers, the trail crosses Coe Creek and continues uphill. There is some sporadic blow down across the trail, but nothing to much to impede the way. I knew I was nearing Elk Cove when the terrain became more grassy and I could hear the voices of campers and Timberline Trail hikers having breakfast. Elk Cove hosts a lot of dispersed campsites and is certainly an alluring spot to camp if you’re backpacking. A little more than 4 and half miles in, I arrived at the Timberline Trail.
Here I took a right, passing east on the Timberline Trail through Elk Cove. Over the next two and a half miles the trail drops 300 feet to cross the west branch of the Coe River then switch backs and climbs to cross the east branch before climbing up the side of ridge to the first branch of Compass Creek.
There are multiple ways one could go about reaching Mooney Tarn, mostly revolving around heading up ridges along the different branches of Compass Creek, and all of the involve off steep off trail travel. The risks involve coming up to impassable cliff areas, steep jumbles of scree, and misplacing yourself along the way and heading the wrong direction. I headed up the edge of the field to the ridge left of the waterfall and found it to be a steep, scree and wildflower filled romp.
Once I got into too thick of a growth of pines with too steep of fall off below and had to back track a moment, to cross the ridge, but then I came up into a lovely valley with a a creek flowing through and occasionally disappearing among moss covered scree. Vibrant displays of red paintbrush covered the hill side.
Eventually the slopes of wildflowers gave way to rockier scree and up ahead the giant pile of talus of the moraine with a visible cleft. That the tarn, and the eventual goal. Before heading up though, among the rocks, lies the flattened wreckage of the 1975 Mooney plane crash for which the tarn is named.
From here a scramble up the boulders brings you to a stunning view looking down into the tarn, across Langille with the summit of Mt. Hood peeking up behind, and the Langille Crags bordering the area off to the left. Down at the north end of lake, the cleft through which the tarn drains lines up perfectly with Mt. Adams.
After spending some time enjoying the views at Mooney Tarn I headed up the scree covered field beyond, heading towards the ridge up above the Langille Crags.
On the ridge there is a small flattened area, a little bowl. I headed up the ridge to a view of the Eliot Glacier and the valley directly below between Langille Crags and Eliot West Moraine.
From here I crossed down along the rocky slope ahead of the prominent cliffs to scramble down on the large boulders of the moraines end. This was sketchy and introduced me to a good deal of exposure, definitely setting me on edge and fueling some adrenaline. I choose the route that looked safest, but at points it was an all points contact and scuttle.
Now I was back on territory familiar to me on the Eliot West Moraine. I followed the ridge of the moraine down, walking above the great slope down to the vast expanse of the Eliot. Across the way Copper Spur is prominently visible, and up ahead Cloud Cap Inn can be seen on the other side of the Eliot.
Ahead of where the edge of the Moraine becomes overrun with low growing pines I dropped down and traveled along the paths lined with lupines before returning up to the open ridge. Eventually the well worn path juts into the woods and through some burned areas before heading down the ridge and connecting with the Timberline Trail. 4 miles along the trail and I was back to Elk Cove, but I kept going past the junction I had arrived on and headed up and out of the Cove, staying on the Timberline.
Another mile of hiking through forest and area burned out by the Dollar Lake fire and I arrived at the Pinnacle Ridge Trail #630 and headed down. The area around the junction and the first bit of the trail was ripe with some immense Boletes.
After a half mile the trail reenters the Dollar Lake burn and I was happy to find the trail in overall great shape with little obstruction. A few parts are muddy and stomp around some lovely marsh bits.
The trail weaving down the ridge passes through miles of white standing dead burned out trees. The fire damage was pretty total through here and the area is dusty, with little undergrowth in places other than berries and wildflowers. At this point in the afternoon, it was starting to get hot and I was yearning for some shade that wasn’t available.
After about 3.25 miles and over 2000 feet of descent I arrived at the trail head which left another 1.75 miles along the gravel road to reach my vehicle parked down at the Elk Cove Trailhead. The odd figure eight of a route around the northeastern flanks of Mt. Hood ended up being 20.7 miles with 5187 feet of elevation gain in just over ten hours.
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.
Looking to take advantage of a sunny afternoon after work, we headed to Mt Hood for a short hike that would guarantee some sunset views. From the Timberline Lodge Trail-head we followed the Timberline Trail East behind the lodge for the 2.4 miles it takes to get to the Zigag Canyon overlook.
From there we left the trail, and headed up the sandy ridge-line, climbing steadily as the trees and vegetation became sparser. We continued climbing, heading east away from the ridge and found some great boulders to hang out on and enjoy the setting sun.
It took some continued climbing, crossing snowfields and exploring to find a spot above the beginnings of the Little Zigzag Canyon to cross east, heading toward the Silcox Hut. Once at the ski area we headed down on the road and arrived back at the lodge just as the stars were starting to pop in the clear sky. 5.75 miles and 1700 feet of elevation gained.
Mississippi Head is a prominent feature on Mt Hoods southwest face. It is the large, dark blocky band of sheer cliffs above Zig Zag Canyon, especially visible as you are approaching the mountain from Portland on Route 26. No trails access the area, but the tops of the cliffs can be explored as a hike.
If you choose to explore the area, be comfortable with off trail route finding and carry micro spikes and I’d recommend an ice axe, even late into the season for the snow fields. Its accessibility and risk will vary based on snow cover, which varies year to year. The route I took was over 11 miles and 3700 feet of elevation gain up to 8200 feet on the mountain, with about half of the miles off trail.
Starting from Timberline Lodge, the first 4.8 miles are the same as hiking to Paradise Park. From the junction where the Paradise Park Loop Trail #757 meets the Paradise Park Trail #778, I headed up the very well-defined user trail that climbs through the open flower covered slopes.
The path continues onto barren gravel covered rock slopes but becomes faint to non-existent before long. I kept trekking up the ridge, with the great expanse of the Zigzag Canyon opening up before me, and the cliffs of Mississippi head towering up ahead.
At around 7200 feet, past the cliffs and where the canyon has narrowed I came along a steep snowfield pouring down the side of the cliff and chose a place in the middle to cross. The snowfield was icy, so I put on micro-spikes and headed carefully up the slope, ice axe in hand.
I climbed around up to spot overlooking the tops of the cliffs where great piles of gravel sit, deposits left when the glacier retreated up the mountainside.
From there I continued up, sticking to fingers of snowfield that made for easier hiking than the uncovered soft sand and gravel. Just above 8200 feet I had a good view of the Palmer chairlift to the east and headed in that direction, crossing expansive snow fields on the slopes above the beginnings of the Little Zig Zag River.
Before the chairlift and skiing area on Palmer glacier I started heading down hill, and eventually crossed over to Silcox Hut, from which it’s just the road down to the Lodge.
If you’re looking to explore some of the highlights of the Zigzag Mountain Range just west of Mt Hood, this trail gets a lot out of the mileage. In 16.6 miles and 3160 feet of elevation gain you’ll visit two lakes and get great views of the mountain from the scenic ridge off East Zigzag Mountain.
I chose to start from the parking lot next to the restrooms at Riley Horse Camp, just over Lost Creek off Muddy Fork Road. Keep going down the campground loop road, and just around the bend look for the second horse trail heading off into the woods. Shortly you’ll come onto the Cast Creek Trail which crosses a road before heading into the forest and climbing through switchbacks onto the ridge. It’s a steeper uphill for almost two miles and 1400 feet before the trail follows the ridge, continuing to gain another 1200 feet over the next 2.75 miles to a junction.
A side trip to Cast Lake only adds 1.6 miles. Take the right and head down hill to another junction onto the Cast Lake Trail #796. Keep descending till the lake comes into view. Cast Lake is small but gorgeous and has some great spots to hang out and watch the swallows chase bugs around the surface. Enjoy the solitude and lack of crowds here, because that’s likely to change at the next lake. A trail loops around all of Cast Lake.
Head back to junction up on the ridge, and this time keep going what would have been straight, onto the Zig Zag Mountain Trail #775.
The trail climbs up to the rock summit of East Zig Zag, 4970 feet high. Continuing down off the mountain the ridgeline opens up for some great flowers on its slopes and the best, closest view to that takes in all of Mt Hoods western side.
Pass by the Burnt Lake trail when it heads to the right, south into the woods, and then 0.30 miles later exit onto its northern leg heading down towards Burnt Lake.
When you come to lake, follow the trail to the right along its southern shore to enjoy more scenic views of its shoreline. In the summer Burnt Lake is a popular spot for fishing and swimming and you’re sure to encounter crowds coming up the trail as you head down. The trail heads towards Lost Creek and then parallels the creek through the woods for a fairly gentle route down to the Burnt Lake Trailhead. Hike the road down, passing Lost Creek Campground to Muddy Creek Road.
Cross the road and enter the woods on the other side. Heading due north for just a tenth of a mile will land you on the Sandy River Trail. Head east on the piney, sandy trail, crossing the road, and at 1.3 miles you’ll be on the Riley Horse Campground, just around the corner from your ride.
The hike up Yocum Ridge on Mt Hood’s western flank is a long one but ends with some of the most stunning and expansive alpine views available on the mountain. It ends staring up toward the summit rising above Sandy Glacier and the wide valley at its terminus. On the other side of the valley is McNeil Point with Ho Rock and Co Rock further up the ridge. The hike is over 19 miles long with greater than 4000 feet of elevation gain, so it makes a longer day hike or a great overnight.
The first leg of the journey is the same route as the popular Ramona Falls Trail- starting at the Ramona Falls Trailhead on the Sandy River Trail #770, crossing the River and following the Pacific Crest Trail straight till the Timberline breaks off toward the Falls.
At the Falls, you cross the bridge and keep following the Timberline uphill for 0.7 miles till the trail comes up onto the ridge and the Yocum Ridge Trail #771 heads up. In 2.25 miles there is a little lake off to the left.
In another mile the trail emerges out of the woods, and up onto the edge of giant canyon wall with the Sandy River 800 feet below and the headwaters of the river rushing down from the Reid Glacier spilling down from the mountain.
The trail cuts back and heads up and around the cliffs you see from the overlook. On the other side of the Ridge the expansive valley opens up, the beginning of the Muddy Fork below. From here the path depends on snow cover.
Early in the season snowfields may be present and require spikes or an ice axe for safety, but later the snow may be melted and you can cross below the cliffs on the talus and then get back up on the ridge, which continues up towards the mountain. Don’t go further than you’re comfortable or prepared for. I stopped before the snowfield, happy and overwhelmed by the scenery I’d already encountered.
The way down will feel like a breeze after hiking uphill all day. For a bit of variety on the return, take the Ramona Falls trail from the Falls and then the PCT south back to the Sandy River Trail.
I love loop like hikes. I’ll often add extra distance, or hike along roads to turn an out and back trip into a circuit. Usually it works great and the pay off in extra scenery and new trail is worth it. Sometimes it doesn’t, and this was one of those. On the map the Polallie Ridge Trail parallels the Tilly Jane Ski Trail, so I figured it would be worth exploring as a route up to Copper Spur and then return on Tilly Jane.
I parked at the trailhead just after Cloud Cap Road leaves the pavement and headed the 0.7 miles up the Tilly Jane Trail #643 till the Polallie Ridge Trail splits off back to left, traveling around ski trails till it starts to ascend the ridge. Shortly the fun began, and by that I mean completely overgrown, intertwined, and often neck high salal.
The ridge burned in the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Wildfire, and the regrowth of salal was overwhelming. I started early and while it was a clear day, the morning dew collecting on the leaves had my lower half pretty well soaked through by the time I had scrambled, pushed, and harangued my way up the ridge.
Leave that trail for winter sports when there’s snow on top of it all. Especially when you can basically see the Tilly Jane trail one ridge over. Once you’re into the woods more, there are some really great (and steep) looks down into the canyon carved by Polallie creek.
After 2.25 miles and 1500 feet of elevation, you’ll reach the Tilly Jane A-frame and Guard Station area. For a shorter hike, take the Tilly Jane Ski Trail down the ridge now, but to head further up the mountain, follow the trail uphill. After another mile, just after crossing over the Timberline Trail you’ll come to Cooper Spur Shelter resting in the open with the mountain looming up behind it.
My favorite way to return is to follow a fainter trail to the right of the shelter (not the one that continues straight up Cooper Spur), leading up onto the Elliot east moraine for some incredible views of the Eliot Glacier. Follow the ridge of the moraine down for about 0.7 miles until the trail leaves the moraine, heading down to the right along some well-trodden (but unmarked) paths, which connect back to the Timberline Trail on the way to Cloud Cap Trailhead.
Keep an eye out for a junction and the Tilly Jane Ski trail heading off to the left. Return back to the campground and follow the trail down the ridge.
Compared to the slow and annoying ascent, the way down the wonderfully maintained and easy traveling Tilly Jane Trail was a breeze. It’s a great slope for a fast but controllable run, and I made up some time while taking in the trailside flowers covering the ridge which is recovering well from the fire. There’s a great pine on the way down that survived the fire and stands alone. This route ends at 8.75 miles, with almost 3000 feet of elevation gained.