Monday, August 23, 2010

Hikes Past: McNeil Point, August 3rd, 2010

Mt. Hood and the Sandy Glacier from the ridge below McNeil Point

McNeil Point is my favorite hike on Mt. Hood. A half-mile from the trailhead, the path curves through wildflower meadows on the south side of Bald Mountain, with a huge view of Mt. Hood sitting high above the deep Muddy Fork valley. From there, the trail climbs steadily through a forest of Noble fir before entering more meadows, with McNeil Point high up on the ridge. Wildflowers line the trail and fill the meadows all the way up: paintbrush, lupine, wild carrot, valerian, mustard, tiger lily, Mt. Hood lily, avalanche lily, bistort, western pasqueflower. After passing a steep spur-trail that shortcuts to the top, you cross several cascading streams and arrive at a series of small tarns reflecting the mountain. Just afterwards, the trail climbs out of the forest in the sub-alpine zone, where snowfields linger late into summer, surrounded by meadows of white and pink heather and more wildflowers, bordered by stands of scrappy fir and rocky slopes filled with scree. After a breath-taking mile, you arrive at McNeil Point, a loft perch occupied by a 1930’s era Civilian Conservation Corps shelter overlooking miles of wilderness all the way past Lost Lake, Bull Run Reservoir, and the Columbia River Gorge to the snowy peaks of Rainier, St. Helens, and Adams. Your route lies beneath you, and above, a trail climbs through higher meadows to a knife-edge ridge between the Glisan and Sandy glaciers. There’s nowhere else to go, no sound but wind and water and the cracking of glacial ice, no sign of life but the bleached and gnarled limbs of whitebark pine groping for the sky, and penstemons rooted in deep cracks in the dark volcanic rock. Mt. Hood fills half the sky, the arete a spine of rock continuing up to bergschrunds and the litter of rockfall above blue crevasses. Yokum Ridge and Barret Spur bookend this tumbled country of moraines and ice, and the Cascades fall away into deep valleys and green and blue ridges disappearing at the horizon.

It’s an epic place that challenges as much as it liberates. I watched a large buck effortlessly flow across the meadows below me, and listened to the glaciers flow. I filled up on ice, sun, and stone, then returned to the long walk back through wildflowers and butterflies, hiking down past the snow and frog-filled ponds and into the forest, where finally I reached my truck and the long drive home. “This is magnificent country,” I wrote in my journal, and “it is peaceful here.”

Distance: 9.6 miles roundtrip (est)
Elevation Gain: 2900ft (est)

Region: Mt. Hood Wilderness
Information:; 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland, 3rd ed., by Paul Gerald

Distance from Portland: 58 miles (1.5 hours)
Directions from Portland: Take Highway 26 to Zigzag and turn left onto Lolo Pass Road. Drive 10.6 miles to the pass and take the first right on paved Road 1828 (the sign might only say road 18). Drive 3.1 miles and make a sharp left at Road 118. The trailhead is 1.2 miles up this gravel road.

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