Wednesday, July 25, 2012
In this first installment of a new series, titled “Get Out,” the adventure gets up-close and personal with Mount Hood, high up on its north face on the Cooper Spur Trail.
Hiking alongside glaciers with the summit of Hood towering above, this trail yields by far one of the best views of the Northwest (other than the view from the summit, of course).
The trail starts at Cloud Cap Inn at about 6,500 feet and ends at 8,514 feet overlooking Eliot and Newton/Clark glaciers, mounts Adams, Rainer and St. Helens to the north, the Oregon desert to the east and Mount Jefferson, the Three Sisters and Broken Top to the south.
The hike itself is a strenuous 3.4-mile climb up the loose rocky moonscape of the Cooper Spur. In early summer, snow fields cover much of the trail, while wildflowers bloom where snow has melted off, making for a unique mix of flowery, snowy, rocky terrain going up and the possibility of a fun and speedy glissade on the way down.
The trail is used by true adventurers as a route up difficult north side summit routes, which can be seen from below as tiny tick marks leading up ridiculously steep sections of the peak.
It also serves as an access point for Eliot Glacier escapades, where people with the right gear and experience can get up-close views of deep crevasses and ice fields that, sadly, have been dramatically shrinking over recent decades.
The trail links up with the Timberline Trail, which circumnavigates the mountain. The round-the-mountain route has been out of commission since 2006 when a landslide at the base of Eliot Glacier washed out a section of trail.
Determined hikers have created their own reroute of the missing link, but the section entails a steep climb up dangerously loose rock.
The trailhead is located at the top of Cooper Spur Road, at Cloud Cap Campground, a couple-hundred yards from the historic Cloud Cap Inn. From the trailhead, hikers can choose a couple of different routes up the mountain.
The Timberline Trail is marked and easy to follow (although it may disappear under snow). Not far from the wilderness area kiosk, a trail leads up to the right, which is an unmaintained trail along the Eliot Glacier moraine. This trail is used to access the glacier and is not the recommended way to the top of the spur.
The weather can change dramatically, very quickly on the mountain, so anyone embarking on this adventure needs to pack accordingly, check weather forecasts and exercise common sense. The trail is also considered very dangerous when thunderstorms are in the area.