Posted tagged ‘Mount Hood’

Discovering Bald Mountain

April 13, 2011

The country is filled with “Bald Mountains”, but for sheer scenic spectacle, few can compare to the Bald Mountain that rises just four miles away from the towering west face of Mount Hood. At one time, a fire lookout stood atop this Bald Mountain, and the view from the tower must have been the envy of fire lookouts around the Northwest.

Today, Bald Mountain isn’t entirely bald, having grown a dense forest of noble fir along the crest and northern slopes over the past half-century. Yet, it was in the 1970s, when the Timberline Trail was rerouted to lead hikers across the steep, open meadows on the south slope of the mountain, that hikers became familiar with Bald Mountain. Today, this spectacular traverse continues to provide one of the most popular, exhilarating sections along the classic loop hike.

Though most visitors to Bald Mountain keep to the Timberline Trail, you can still follow the historic old path that leads to the former lookout site, with its magnificent, close-up views of Mount Hood. Thanks to the quiet efforts of a few anonymous volunteers over the decades, the trail remains open and lightly maintained, with only an occasional log to step over along the way.

As the old path climbs toward the summit, hikers find themselves in a dense, young forest, and have to use their imagination to picture the open slopes of beargrass — with no forests — that existed when the first lookout was built on “Bald” Mountain more than a century ago.

Along the old trail, hikers will also spot blazes on the few trees that stood at the time of the former lookout tower. These blazes mark most historic trails (see this recent article on blazes) in the Mount Hood area, and confirm that the present alignment of the summit path to Bald Mountain dates back to at least the World War II era, and likely before.

A look at the 1911 USGS map of Mount Hood (below) shows that a “lookout” stood on Bald Mountain long before roads crossed Lolo Pass, and decades before the Timberline Trail was built. The early lookout structure was likely no more than a wood platform, later replaced with a conventional lookout tower. Interestingly, the Beaver Lakes shown on the map have since faded away, too, filled in with forest:

The 1946 USGS map of the Mount Hood area (below) is the last to show a lookout on Bald Mountain (and the Beaver Lakes), but in the intervening years from the 1911 map, the Timberline Trail and Skyline Trail had been completed, with both routes passing just below the lookout.

In fact, it’s likely that the section of Skyline Trail from Lolo Pass to Bald Mountain was originally built for lookout access, since the trail over Lolo Pass was among the earliest built in the area, and in fact, followed an ancient Indian route connecting the Sandy and Hood River valleys.

The alternating ticks shown along the dashed trail segments on the 1946 map indicate a telephone line along the route. Today, these routes often have ceramic insulators still attached to trees, and on this route further suggest that this section of trail was originally built with the lookout in mind. The route is now part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which replaced the old Skyline Trail, and remains one of the best approaches for hiking to Bald Mountain.

What did the old tower look like?

Fire lookouts in the Pacific Northwest followed a few standard designs beginning in the 1930s, after much improvisation in the early lookout designs that were built through the 1920s. The Bald Mountain lookout probably followed this evolution, with some sort of simple platform beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, and later, a more substantial structure built to Forest Service standards.

We have a much more exact picture after June 1944, when archived Forest Service documents show a new lookout was designed, apparently to replace an existing structure on Bald Mountain. The following are samples from the 1944 architectural plans for Bald Mountain. There are no clear records of when this lookout was removed, but it was likely in the late 1950s or 1960s, when hundreds of lookouts were viewed as outmoded by the Forest Service and destroyed.

The cab — or cabin — in the 1944 designs for Bald Mountain is a 14×14 foot structure (above) that would closely resemble the surviving cab on the Devils Peak lookout, just to the southwest of Mount Hood in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. This simple design featured five windows per side and a low, pitched roof.

Inside the cab (below), the living space was organized around a Osborne fire finder, located in the center of the floor, surrounded by a wood stove, table, kitchen, storage cabinets, shelves and bunk. A catwalk wrapped around the outside of the cab, allowing lookouts to maintain the windows, raise and lower shutters and haul firewood and supplies up from below with pulleys.

The 14×14 foot cab rested atop a 43-foot wood-frame tower (below), complete with a spiraling stairway that ascended within the tower uprights. Though the tower was anchored directly to the ground, the main stabilization came from guy wires anchoring the tower to concrete footings in four directions.

The most remarkable aspect of this tower (and many others) is the fact that most of the materials were carried to the site over trails using livestock. That included the cut lumber, concrete, construction hardware, fixtures and windows — an amazing feat when you consider this was repeated dozens of times at lookout sites around the region.

The lookout plans for Bald Mountain also contain one “standard” element that wasn’t so standard, at least compared to other lookouts in the vicinity: a garage and storage shed built around the base of the tower. In this view, the stairway to the tower can be seen on the right, with the dashed lines above the garage marking the location of the tower uprights:

As this design detail from the 1944 plans suggests, there were a number of concrete footings used in the construction of the Bald Mountain lookout tower. Today, these seem to be the only remaining traces of the structure. Three footings are loose, and have been moved around and used by campers over the years. Other footings remain in the ground, mostly reclaimed by the undergrowth. This footing is located along the spur trail leading to the east viewpoint from the lookout site:

Visiting Bald Mountain

There is some irony in the historic Bald Mountain trail being “lost”, as the mountain is now almost completely circled by the Timberline Trail, and thousands of hikers make their way along this route every year. Almost all of these visitors walk right past the unmarked summit path leading to Bald Mountain.

But for those seeking the route less traveled, the hike to the summit is easy, provided you successfully navigate the maze of popular trails in the area. The key is knowing how to spot the unmarked junction with the Timberline Trail. Take a close look at this photo to help you recognize the spot if you choose to visit the old trail — this view is how the trail appears from either of the approaches described below:

From Lolo Pass: The Classic Approach

The classic hike begins at Lolo Pass, and follows the Pacific Crest Trail through handsome forests for three miles to the base of the Bald Mountain summit path. The total mileage on this option is 6.6 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet. The following is a map of the Lolo Pass approach that accompanies the hike description I wrote for the Portland Hikers Field Guide:

Click here for a larger map

For a detailed description of the Lolo Pass approach, visit the Portland Hikers Field Guide page:

Lolo Pass to Bald Mountain Hike

The Field Guide description also includes driving instructions to the trailhead. This is a dry hike, so carry water — and in early summer, plan on the usual bugs that plaque hikers just after snow melt. My favorite time to hike this trail is on a clear day after the first autumn snow dusts the mountain in late September or October. This is when the area is free of bugs AND crowds.

From Top Spur: The Family Route

For a shorter hike that works well for families with kids (or for adults looking for a short afternoon or evening activity) you can also approach Bald Mountain from the Top Spur trailhead. Be forewarned that this is one of the most popular trailheads in the Mount Hood region, and mobbed on summer weekends.

But even on busy weekends, you can smile to yourself as you leave the crowds behind, and head up the quiet, old lookout path for some solitude — hidden in plain sight! From the summit viewpoint, you can literally look down on hikers passing hundreds of feet below on the Timberline Trail, oblivious to your presence.

Click here for a larger map

The Top Spur option is just two miles long, round-trip, with an elevation gain of 550 feet. Though short, portions of both the Top Spur and Bald Mountain trails are steep, so you will notice the elevation gain! The tradeoff for kids is the feeling of climbing a real mountain. Bring a pair of binoculars for kids to explore the details of Mount Hood or watch hawks float across the Muddy Fork Valley, below.

For a detailed description of the Top Spur approach, including travel instructions, visit the Portland Hikers Field Guide page:

Top Spur to Bald Mountain Hike

One of the most magical times to visit Bald Mountain is evening, when you can watch the awesome west face of Mount Hood light up at sunset, but still have enough light to hike back to the Top Spur trailhead.

Both hikes are usually open from mid-June through mid-November, and both require a Northwest Forest Pass to park. Both trailheads usually have portable toilets, but no water — be sure to carry your own.

Close Call at White River Falls

March 29, 2011

The magnificent desert falls on the White River survived a close brush with disaster this month, when a throwback proposal by Wasco County to divert the river as part of a new hydropower project was scrapped.

Like so many hydro projects of decades passed, this one would have had “little impact”, according to proponents. Yet, as we take in the summertime view of the 90-foot plunge pictured above, it’s obvious that diverting the river would have an immediate impact on the natural beauty of the area. Would half the falls be diverted? Two-thirds? All of it?

(click here for a PDF of Dalles Chronicle article)

Though the Wasco County proposal was ultimately dropped because of concerns voiced by the Oregon State Parks Commission, it wasn’t for lack of “goodies” offered up in exchange for the diversion. The County promised trail improvements for recreation, and interpretive facilities for the structures left behind from the last hydro project here.

White River Falls with the rocky gulch of Devils Halfacre in the background

The old plant was shut down in 1960, and the land subsequently transferred to the state, first as the “Tygh Valley State Wayside”, then today’s “White River Falls State Park.”

The falls and adjacent White River Gorge are truly a forgotten gem in Oregon, save for a few fishermen in spring and fall, and a lot of teenagers in summer, seeking out the swimming holes below the falls. Yet, the area is only two hours from Portland, and offers some of the most accessible desert scenery in the state.

In recent years, hikers have begun to explore the area, following boot paths and game trails downstream toward the confluence with the Deschutes River, just over two miles below the falls.

White River Gorge from the falls overlook

What most visitors don’t know is that much of the rugged backdrop for the falls is private land. Most surprisingly, these private holdings include the most of the White River gorge, all the way to the Deschutes confluence, and this beautiful area has somehow escaped development over the years.

Concept: White River Gorge Recreation Area

With Wasco County politicians dreaming up hydro projects for the White River, this article is intended as a more forward-looking counterpoint that actually embraces the scenic and recreational values in the area.

As a starting point, the National Recreation Lands boundary that encompasses the larger Deschutes Canyon could be expanded to include White River Falls, White River Gorge and the adjacent Winter Ridge and Devils Halfacre areas. This could provide the direction needed for state and federal land agencies to begin acquiring private land and planning for recreation.

It’s unclear what the “National Recreation Lands” boundary actually means, however. It seems to mirror the Wild and Scenic River designation for the Deschutes Canyon on USGS maps, but may be an orphan from old federal plans and policies no longer in force. Current federal planning documents for the lower Deschutes Canyon are also badly out of date, so a better legal mechanism likely exists for recognizing the potential for recreation in the White River Gorge area. In the end, some sort of designation is needed to identify the extent of the new recreation area.

The following map outlines the concept, with the proposed new White River Gorge recreation area bounded in dashed red, existing White River Falls State park in green and federal land holdings (BLM) in yellow:

(Click here for a much larger, more readable map)

The proposal: a network of new desert trails

The main focus of the concept is to build new trails in the White River Gorge, proper, and on the adjacent highlands that I’ve called Winter Ridge for the purpose of this article. The gorge is mostly private land outside the present state park boundaries, so like all of the trail proposals called for in this article, a new White River Gorge trail implies public ownership or easement.

The dashed red lines on the map show the new trail extending through the canyon from the falls to the confluence with the Deschutes, along with a short viewpoint loop within the current state park boundaries. This would become a premier hiking trail in the region, providing a unique riverside hiking experience in a roadless desert canyon.

The first portion of this new trail would simply follow the existing route down to the old power plant, with a new loop climbing back to the trailhead, via a canyon viewpoint above the falls. This part of the proposal could be built now, as it falls entirely within the current state park boundary.

Remains from the former power station in White River Gorge

The canyon trail would offer a unique interpretive opportunity where relics of the old power plant still exist. The Wasco County hydro proposal recognized the historic importance of these structures, and called for interpretive improvements along this existing trail, at the penstock and in the old power plant. These historic structures have been badly vandalized over time, and could greatly benefit from some modest renovation and protection.

In addition to the White River Gorge trail, the proposal calls for a network of hike and bike trails over the broad slopes of Winter Ridge. This area rises steeply above the confluence of the Deschutes and White rivers, with views nearly 800 feet down into the gorge from the open crest. The west slopes drop gently to the trailhead at White River Falls, with sweeping views of Devils Halfacre, Tygh Ridge, Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson.

The proposed trails shown on Winter Ridge (in green on the map) are almost entirely along existing paths and roads, and would require little beyond signage to improve them for hikers and mountain bikers.

Desert mounds along Winter Ridge (the black dot is a juniper tree, for scale)

Though a portion of Winter Ridge is farmed with winter wheat, much of the terrain is in a native state. The upper slopes of the ridge feature an odd landform unique to the Lower Deschutes River country: countless mounds of soil and rock, often organized in rows. They span 10-20 feet in width, and stand a few feet in height.

These odd “desert mounds” appear on shallow slopes and hilltops throughout the Tygh Ridge area, and this would be one of the few areas where visitors could examine these mysterious formations, up close, and learn some of the many theories about their origin.

Thinking Big: an expansive trail network at Devils Halfacre

It is impossible to stand at White River Falls and not notice the rugged, picturesque rim rock cliffs and massive bluffs that rise to the south of the White River Gorge. This rocky maze is the Devils Halfacre, and though in private holdings now, it offers an especially interesting potential for recreation.

Black basalt cliffs and talus slopes of Tuskan Ridge rise above the White River Gorge

The area falls into two general units: the rocky gulch of Devils Halfacre, proper, and the huge mesa forming the east wall of the gulch, which I’ve called Tuskan Ridge for the purpose of this proposal (see map). A network of trails and dirt tracks already exists here, and could easily be adapted to become an exceptional hike and bike trail network. These trails would lead hikers, bikers or possibly equestrians past rugged rock formations to spectacular, cliff-top viewpoints.

The Devils Halfacre area has excellent potential for trailhead access from both Highway 216 and Oak Springs Road. The terrain here rivals popular destinations in the eastern Columbia River Gorge, and would offer a unique chance to bring sustainable recreation tourism to the local economy.

Looking Forward

The concept presented here is just one way in which recreation and landscape restoration could be combined to preserve the White River Gorge area.

The intense demand for mountain biking opportunities also offers the potential to transform the local economy, especially since the area is just far enough from the Portland metropolitan area to draw overnight and weekend visitors who could support local businesses.

Mount Hood, rising across Tygh Valley from Winter Ridge

At a minimum, now is the time for Wasco County to aim for a more sustainable vision for White River Falls and its surroundings, instead of rehashing old, exploitive ideas that would degrade the area, and that have already failed here, before.

The Oregon State Parks Commission was right to challenge the County’s attempt to turn back the clock at White River Falls. Now would be the perfect time for the County to partner with the Parks Commission and federal agencies to forge a new vision that does justice to the remarkable landscape that exists here.

Return of the Mountain Goat

March 21, 2011

Rocky Mountain Goats by Albert Bierstadt

Along their return trip across the continent, on April 10, 1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition visited a small Indian village on what is now Bradford Island, in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. Here, they traded for a beautiful white hide from what we now know as a Rocky Mountain Goat. Meriwether Lewis described it unmistakably in his journal as a “sheep”, white in color with black, pointed horns. The Bradford Island villagers told the expedition the hide had come from goat herds on the high cliffs to the south of what is now Bonneville, on the Oregon side.

Two days later, the expedition encountered another group of Indians, this time near present-day Skamania, on the Washington side of the river. A young Indian woman in the group was dressed in another stunning white hide, and this group also told of “great numbers of these animals” found in “large flocks among the steep rocks” on the Oregon side.

Rocky Mountain Goats by John Woodhouse Audubon

A century later, New York attorney Madison Grant produced the first comprehensive study of the Rocky Mountain Goat for the New York Zoological Society, in 1905. Grant described the historical range of the species extending from British Columbia south along the Cascade Crest to Mount Jefferson. At the time of his research, he reported that mountain goats had “long since vanished from Mt. Hood and from other peaks in the western part of the State, where they once abounded”.

Coincidentally, Grant’s report was published just a few years after the Mazamas mountaineering club formed on the summit of Mount Hood, selecting the Rocky Mountain Goat as their namesake and mascot — apparently, decades after the species had been hunted out in the Mount Hood region.

Early 1900s linen postcard from Glacier National Park

Another century later, on July 27, 2010, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs made history by releasing 45 Rocky Mountain Goats in the remote backcountry of Whitewater Canyon, on the east slopes of Mount Jefferson, just inside the Warm Springs Reservation.

The Mt. Jefferson release marked a symbolic and spiritual milestone for both conservationists and the Warm Springs Tribe, alike, restoring goats to their native range after nearly two centuries. The release also marked the first step in a major goat reintroduction effort, as envisioned in the landmark 2003 plan developed by ODFW to return goats to their former ranges throughout Oregon.

2010 release near Mt. Jefferson (Photo by Jim Yuskavitch/ODFW)

When the 2003 ODFW plan was developed, about 400 goats were established in the Wallowa and Elkhorn ranges, a few dozen in Hells Canyon, and a few scattered goats had dispersed just beyond these concentrations. The plan calls for moving goats from these established populations to historic ranges in the Oregon Cascades, including in the Columbia River Gorge. The proposed Gorge introduction sites include the rugged Herman Creek headwaters, the open slopes and ridges surrounding Tanner Butte and the sheer gorge face below Nesmith Point. The plan also calls for reintroducing goats at Three Fingered Jack and the Three Sisters in the Central Oregon Cascades.

Members of the Confederated Tribes holding goat kids at 2010 release (Photo by Jim Yuskavitch/ODFW)

The new effort to bring goats back to the Oregon Cascades is not without controversy. Conservation groups have taken the U.S. Forest Service and ODFW to court over lack of adequate environmental review of the plan to bring goats to the Gorge, and the agencies are now completing this work. The legal actions that have slowed the Gorge reintroductions helped move the Warm Springs effort forward, and are likely to move sites near Three Fingered Jack and the Three Sisters ahead of the Gorge, as well.

The 2003 reintroduction plan is also based on selling raffle-based hunting tags that fund the reintroduction program. This strategy is surprising to some, given the small number of animals surviving in Oregon. However, with the raffle for a single tag in 2010 raising nearly $25,000 for the program, it’s clear that selling hunting rights will help guarantee funding the reintroduction effort at a time when state budgets are especially tight.

Mountain Goats on Mount Hood?

The renewed interest in bringing mountain goats back to the Cascades, and the notable omission of Mount Hood from the ODFW plan as a release site, raises an obvious question: why not? The plan doesn’t provide details, but the likely arguments are lack of available habitat and the overwhelming presence of humans on Mount Hood.

The ODFW plan prioritizes sites that can support at least 50 goats, including space for adult males to roam separately from herds of females and juveniles. Without knowing a specific acreage requirement for individual animals, the following comparison of Mount Hood to the Goat Rocks area helps provide perspective — with an estimated 300 mountain goats thriving at Goat Rocks. These images are at identical scale, showing comparative amounts of alpine terrain:

The Goat Rocks (above) clearly has more prime habitat terrain at the margins of timberline, thanks to the maze of ridges that make up the range. But in total alpine area, the Goat Rocks are not much larger than Mount Hood (below), so it appears that Mount Hood has the space and habitat for at least 50 goats.

The human presence at Mount Hood is a more compelling argument against reintroducing goats. The south side of the mountain is busy year-round, thanks to three ski resorts, with lifts reaching high above timberline into what would otherwise be prime goat habitat. Snowshoers and Nordic skiers fill the less developed areas along the loop highway, making the south side one of the busiest winter sports areas in the region.

However, on the east, north and west sides of the mountain, human presence is mostly seasonal, limited to hikers in summer and fall along the Timberline Trail. These faces of the mountain have also been spared from development by the Mount Hood Wilderness, and thus offer long-term protection as relatively undisturbed habitat. This view of the mountain from the north gives a good sense of the many rugged alpine canyons and ridges that are rarely visited, and could offer high-quality goat habitat:

Since we know goats once thrived on Mount Hood, and adequate habitat seems to exist for goats to survive today, the real hurdle might simply be perception — that wildlife managers cannot imagine wild goats coexisting with the human presence that exists on some parts of the mountain. If so, we may miss a valuable opportunity to reintroduce goats where a large number visitors could view and appreciate these animals.

To help remedy this apparent blind spot, the following are a couple of digital renderings of what once was — and perhaps would could be — on Mount Hood. The first view is from Gnarl Ridge, on the east side of the mountain. Here, goats would find plenty of habitat in the high ramparts bordering the Newton Clark Glacier. This area is among the most remote on Mount Hood, so ideal for goats seeking a little privacy from human visitors:

The most obvious Mount Hood habitat is on the north side, on the remote, rocky slopes that border the Eliot, Coe and Ladd glaciers. This part of the mountain is only lightly visited above the Timberline Trail, and rarely visited in winter. It’s easy to picture goats making a home here, on the slopes of Cooper Spur:

(click here for a larger view)

Wildlife managers probably have good reason for skepticism about bringing goats back to Mount Hood. After all, the risks are clearly greater here than at less developed sites.

But let’s reverse these arguments: what if mountain goats were viewed as an end goal in restoring Mount Hood? What if this challenge were reframed as “what would it take for mountain goats to thrive here?” What if successful restoration of Mount Hood’s ecosystems were simply defined by the ability to support an iconic native species like the mountain goat, once again?
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To read an Oregonian article (PDF) on the 2010 Mt. Jefferson goat release, click here.

Proposal: Elk Cove to Pinnacle Ridge Connector

January 23, 2011

This proposal calls for a new trail connector linking the historic Elk Cove Trail (No. 631) and little-used Pinnacle Ridge Trail (No. 630) on Mount Hood’s rugged north side. This new connector would create a new 9.3 mile hiking loop that could serve as a strenuous day trip for experienced hikers, or an easy overnighter for casual hikers and families.

The new trail would also allow for eventual decommissioning of at least nine miles of deteriorating logging roads (shown in yellow on the maps that follow), as the new connector would provide access to both trails from the lower Elk Cove trailhead at Pinnacle Creek, on Forest Road 2840. In this way, the proposal not only provides an ecological net benefit in restoring the area from its logging heyday, but also pays for itself in reduced life-cycle costs for forest infrastructure.

About half the nine miles of logging roads already fall within the newly expanded Mount Hood Wilderness, so will probably be abandoned without formal decommissioning by the Forest Service.

However, a substantial portion of the old road system falls outside the wilderness boundary, within the Pinnacle Creek drainage. Without the wilderness restrictions, this portion could be decommissioned using traditional machinery, thus providing a significant ecological benefit for the watershed. This would be important in any watershed, but is especially important here, where Pinnacle Creek forms a critical spawning ground for Clear Branch Bull Trout, a local species whose status the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife described in 2006 as “highly precarious”.

Clear Branch Bull Trout (ODFW)

Part of the old logging network also includes the first mile of “trail” that currently leads to Elk Cove. In the late 1990s, the Forest Service relocated the Elk Cove Trailhead to the current location when Pinnacle Creek washed out the road where it crossed the stream. Since then, a footbridge has replaced the old road over the creek, and the “trail” has been an increasingly brushy, mile-long walk up the truncated road on the opposite side.

This messy section of “trail” is a reminder that road-to-trail conversions may seem an attractive bargain in the short run, but are often substandard for the outdoor experience they provide. Worse, over the long-term they can become brushy thickets of alder and willow, making them more costly to maintain than a traditional trail built under established forest canopy.

Overgrown “trail” to Elk Cove is actually a road

This proposal also responds to a road closure project floated by the Forest Service in early 2010 to “provide public access to the Pinnacle Ridge and Elk Cove trails after Road 2840 is decommissioned near Kinnikinnick campground.” The Forest Service project would close Road 2840, converting much of it to trail, and thus adding another mile of road walking to the Elk Cove Trail in the process. Worse, a full 3.5 miles of road walking would be required to reach the current Pinnacle Ridge Trailhead.

In both cases, this amount of road walking is an unacceptable way to provide a quality wilderness experience on two important gateways into the Mount Hood Wilderness. The proposal in this article was submitted to the Forest Service as an alternative, however, the Forest Service project has since been withdrawn, according to their website. Hopefully, this will provide more time to make the case for a better trail solution, since their own watershed management plans call for eventual closure of most logging roads in the area (more about that, later).

What Would it Look Like?

The proposed new trail would begin at the existing Elk Cove Trailhead, along the banks of Pinnacle Creek (see map, below). Though the trailhead, itself, is not in need of significant improvements, the informal campground at the trailhead would be formalized as a tent camping area under the proposal. This would allow for weekend or overnight visitors from Portland or points beyond to arrive late, spend the night at the trailhead, and begin day or backpack trips early the next day.

(click here for larger map)

Where the existing Elk Cove Trail currently heads east, up the truncated Road 650, the proposed new Pinnacle Creek Trail would instead follow rushing Pinnacle Creek southwest for 0.9 miles to a new junction, where a pair of new connections would climb east to the Elk Cove Trail, and west to Pinnacle Ridge Trail. (shown in red on the map, above). The new Pinnacle Ridge Trail would need to sidestep old clearcuts on both sides of the creek, but would easily fit within the intact forest of the riparian corridor, providing a quality, streamside hike.

The second map (below) shows how the new connector trails would create a 9.3 mile Elk Cove to Pinnacle Ridge loop for day hikes and overnight trips, with campsites at Elk Cove, Dollar Lake and WyEast Basin. The new loop opportunity would not only make better use of the lightly used Elk Cove and Pinnacle Ridge trails, but also provide a north side access alternative to the very heavily used trailheads at Vista Ridge and Cloud Cap.

(click here for larger map)

For accessibility, the Elk Cove trailhead has the added advantage of being reached mostly on paved roads, with only the final mile on an unpaved road. This represents a substantial improvement over the long, rough ride required to reach both Cloud Cap and Vista Ridge.

The new connector trails would also provide an important aesthetic improvement to the logging road trudge along the first mile of the Elk Cove Trail — a disheartening way to begin (and end) what is otherwise a premier alpine hike.

Mount Hood from the dramatic Coe Overlook

These new trails would also provide a higher quality day hike to the little-known Coe Overlook for less experienced hikers, with a 2.3 mile, 1,500 foot climb from the trailhead to the viewpoint. This moderate hike would feature a mile of streamside hiking, virgin subalpine forests and the spectacular view of the north face that the viewpoint offers.

What Would it Take?

This new trail proposal could be largely designed and built by volunteers. Access to the work site is easy, and open from late April through early November, providing an extended season for volunteer workers. The added benefit of linking the trail project to road decommissioning would make this an excellent candidate for groups like Trailkepers of Oregon to consider.

Logistically, the lower Pinnacle Creek valley is located outside the Mount Hood Wilderness, allowing volunteers to use power equipment for trail construction, where needed, with few limitations on trail structures (such as bridges).

Elk Cove Trail at Pinnacle Creek

At this time, it is unclear why the Forest Service has withdrawn their proposal to close and convert Road 2840 to a trail, since the project was driven by a watershed restoration mandate. But if the project is reactivated, we can all have an impact on the reconfigured trail system by weighing in — and simply forwarding this alternative proposal is a way to achieve much better results.

In the meantime, both trails are well worth the extra effort needed to reach the trailheads if you are looking for a different approach to Mount Hood’s north side. Both are described in the Portland Hikers Field Guide:

Elk Cove Hike

Pinnacle Ridge to Elk Cove Hike

Depending on how the snowpack shapes up this year, both trails should be open by mid-July, and provide a great way to visit the mountain! Meanwhile, watch this blog for further Forest Service developments in the Pinnacle Creek area, and opportunities to weigh in.

Campaign Goes International!

December 11, 2010

Today I received this wonderful street scene from Peder Bisbjerg, traveling in Quy Nhon, Vietnam (located about halfway between Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City).

Wait a minute… something looks familiar…

There it is! Mount Hood meets the beaches of Vietnam! Not a lot of volcanoes in Vietnam, proper, but they are just across the South China Sea from a batch of really impressive volcanoes in The Philippines and Malaysia, so the Vietnamese are no strangers to big, solitary peaks that erupt periodically.

According to Peder, he was “eating a delicious eel rice gruel” — and that’s the shop owner smiling in the background. His eel breakfast cost 65 cents.

Thanks for the international publicity, Peder!

(Photos courtesy Peder Bisbjerg)

Building the Timberline Trail

November 24, 2010

The McNeil Point Shelter.

For decades, hikers and backpackers have taken Mount Hood’s famous Timberline Trail for granted — and why not? It was one of the earliest alpine hiking trails in the American West, and seems to have evolved with the mountain itself.

But the story of the trail is one of an original vision that has been realized in fits and starts, and the story is still unfolding.

The first recreational trail on Mount Hood followed the South Eliot Moraine from Cloud Cap Inn to Cooper Spur, as shown on this 1911 map.

The first modern trail on Mount Hood was established in 1885, beginning at David Rose Cooper’s tent camp hotel, located near the present-day Cloud Cap Inn. The route followed the south Eliot Moraine to his namesake Cooper Spur. Soon thereafter, the Langille family would lead hikes and climbs on this route from the new Cloud Cap Inn, completed in 1889.

The Langilles also established a route from Cloud Cap to Elk Cove for their visitors, completing another section of what would someday become the Timberline Trail.

Hikers climbing toward Cooper Spur along one of the original sections of the Timberline Trail.

The route remains a popular trail, today, though it has never been formally adopted or maintained by the Forest Service. The first leg of this trail briefly functioned as a segment of the Timberline Trail, thanks to a temporary re-routing in the mid-2000s (more about that, later).

The significance of the original Cooper Spur trail is that it was built entirely for recreational purposes, the first such route on the mountain.

Camp Blossom was built some fifty years before Timberline Lodge was opened in 1938, but established the same network of trails that have since served the lodge.

Other hiking routes soon followed on the south side of the mountain, connecting the former Camp Blossom to nearby Paradise Park and the White River canyon. Camp Blossom was built by a “Judge Blossom” in 1888 to cater to tourists. The camp was at the end of a new wagon road from Government Camp, and located near present-day Timberline Lodge. It was eventually replaced by the Timberline Cabin (1916), and later, Timberline Lodge (1938).

The informal network of alpine trails radiating from Camp Blossom in the late 1800s still forms the framework of trails we use today. This is especially true for the nearly 7 miles of trail from White River to Paradise Park, which largely defined the Timberline Trail alignment in this section.

By the 1920s, the Langille family had developed trails from their Cloud Cap Inn to nearby Elk Cove (1924 USGS map).

By the 1920s, the Mazamas and other local outdoor clubs were pushing for more recreation facilities around the mountain, and public interest in a round-the-mountain trail was growing.

By this time, new Forest Service trails had been built on the north side of the mountain from the Clear Branch valley to Elk Cove and along Vista Ridge to WyEast Basin. These trails were connected at timberline (with a spur to Dollar Lake), creating another segment of what was to become the Timberline Trail. Combined with the route from Cloud Cap to Elk Cove, nearly 8 miles of the future Timberline Trail had been built on the north side of the mountain by the 1920s.

By the 1920s, the Vista Ridge and Elk Cove trails were established, extending the emerging Timberline Trail from Cloud Cap to Eden Park (1924 USGS map).

The Timberline Trail is Born

The concept of a complete loop around the mountain finally came together in the 1930s, during the depths of the Great Depression, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal recovery program, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), brought the needed manpower and financial resources to the project.

The CCC completed the new 37.6 mile Timberline Trail in 1934, stitching together the existing north side and south side trails, and covering completely new terrain on the remote west and east sides of the mountain.

The venerable Cooper Spur shelter still stands on the slopes above Cloud Cap, maintained by volunteers.

The Corps built a generous tread for the time in anticipation of heavy recreation use. The new trail was built 4 feet wide in forested areas, 2 feet wide in open terrain, and gently graded for easy hiking.

The trail was marked by square cedar posts placed at rectangular intervals over open country and by blazes in forested areas. Many of the distinctive trail posts survive between Cloud Cap and Gnarl Ridge, mounted in huge cairns.

Shelters were built along the trail by the CCC crews as a place for hikers to camp and rest, and as protection against sudden storms. Most are of the same stone design, with a small fireplace and chimney. They were built with steel rafters instead of wood so that the structures, themselves, would not be used as firewood in the treeless high country, and also to withstand heavy winter snows. Of the six original stone structures, only those at McNeil Point, Cairn Basin and Cooper Spur survive (see large version of map, below).

Map of the completed Timberline Trail and CCC era shelters.

(Click here for a large map)

Three wood structures were also built along lower sections of trail, at Ramona Falls, Bald Mountain and Elk Meadows. Of the three, only the rapidly deteriorating structure at Elk Meadows survives.

The completed trail featured a couple of oddities: the McNeil Point shelter had been constructed on a high bluff above the Muddy Fork that was eventually left off the final trail alignment, due to concerns about maintaining the trail at this elevation. Today, thousands of hikers nevertheless use the partially completed trail each year to reach the historic shelter and spectacular viewpoint.

Curiously, the shelter at Elk Meadows was also built off the main loop, perhaps because at the time, the meadows were seen as much a place to graze packhorses as for their scenic value. Like McNeil Point, this “forgotten” shelter continues to be a very popular stop for hikers, today.

This 1921 map shows the Oregon Skyline Trail terminating at Mount Hood, before construction of the Timberline Trail. Note the early Bull Run Reserve encompassing the entire west side of the mountain.

By the late 1930s, much of the new Timberline Trail had also been designated as an extension of the Oregon Skyline Trail — according to maps from the time (above), the Skyline had previously terminated on the slopes of Mount Hood, above Government Camp.

The expanded Skyline Trail arrived at the Timberline Trail from the south, near Timberline Lodge, turned east and traced the new Timberline Trail counter-clockwise around the mountain before descending to Lolo Pass, then headed north to Lost Lake and the Columbia Gorge.

1970s Trail Renaissance

A third major era of trail construction on the mountain came in the 1960s and 1970s, when several major re-routes of the Timberline Trail were built.

By the early 1960s, the Oregon Skyline Trail had been relocated to the west side of the mountain, following the Timberline Trail from Timberline Lodge north to the Bald Mountain Shelter, then on to Lolo Pass.

By the time the Pacific Crest Trail was established in the 1968 National Trails Act, absorbing the old Skyline Trail, a new route across the Muddy Fork canyon was in the works for the Timberline Trail.

The Cairn Basin stone shelter is the best-preserved of the CCC-era structures, thanks to more protection from the elements than most of the original buildings.

By the early 1970s, this new section rounded Yocum Ridge from Ramona Falls, crossed both branches of the Muddy Fork, then ascended to the steep meadows of Bald Mountain, one of the most popular Timberline Trail destinations today.

The new Muddy Fork segment is now part of the Timberline Trail loop, with the Pacific Crest Trail following the old Timberline Trail/Oregon Skyline Trail alignment. Though less scenic, the old route is more direct and reliable for through hikers and horses.

In contrast, the scenic new route for the Timberline Trail has been a challenge for the Forest Service to keep open, with the Muddy Fork regularly changing channels, and avalanche chutes on the valley walls taking out sections of trail, as well.

Going, going… this view from the slowly collapsing Elk Meadows shelter will soon be a memory. This is the only remaining wood shelter of three that were built by the CCC.

In the 1970s, a section of trail descending the east wall of Zigzag Canyon was also relocated, presumably as part of meeting Pacific Crest Trail design standards. While the old route traversed open, loose slopes of sand and boulders, the new trail ducks below the tree line, descending through forest in gentle switchbacks to the Zigzag River crossing of today.

At Paradise Park, a “low route” was built below the main meadow complex, and the headwater cliffs of Rushing Water Creek. Like the Zigzag Canyon reroute, the Paradise Park bypass was presumably built to PCT standards, which among other requirements, are intended to accommodate horses.

The north side of the mountain also saw major changes in the early 1970s. The original Timberline Trail had descended from Cathedral Ridge to Eden Park, before climbing around Vista Ridge and up to WyEast Basin. The new route skips Eden Park, traveling through Cairn Basin, instead, and climbing high over the crest of Vista Ridge before dropping to WyEast Basin.

Beautiful meadow views line the “new” Vista Ridge trail section completed in the early 1970s.

Finally, a section of trail near Dollar Lake was moved upslope, shortening the hike to the lake by a few hundred yards, and creating the sweeping views to the north that hikers now enjoy from open talus slopes east of Dollar Lake. Just beyond Dollar Lake junction, the descent into Elk Cove was also rebuilt, with today’s long, single switchback replacing a total of six on the old trail which descended more sharply into the cove.

In each case, the new trail segments from the early 1970s are notable for their well-graded design and longer, gentler switchbacks. While the main intent of the trail designers was an improved Timberline Trail, the new segments also created a numerous new routes for day hikers who could follow new and old trail segments to form hiking loops. These loops are among the most popular hikes on the mountain today.

The Future?

The retreat of Mount Hood’s glaciers in recent years has destabilized the outwash canyons, and in the past two decades, massive debris flows have buried highways and scoured out streambeds. One of the oldest segments of the Timberline Trail, near Cloud Cap, has been disrupted by washouts for nearly a decade, and is now completely closed, thanks to a huge washout on the Eliot Branch in 2007.

Sign from the first re-route, posted in 2001. Now the trail is completely closed at the Eliot Branch.

The Forest Service has since struggled to find funding to reconnect the trail at the Eliot Branch. The first washout moved the stream crossing uphill, taking advantage of the original Cooper Spur path established in the 1880s, then crossing to a parallel climbers path on the north moraine of the Eliot Glacier.

This temporary crossing lasted a for a few years in the early 2000s before the massive washout in 2007 permanently erased this section of trail. This portion of the loop as since been completely closed, though hundreds of hikers each summer continue to cross this extremely unstable, very dangerous terrain.

Site of the Eliot Branch washout and closure -- and the risky route hikers are taking, anyway.

The growing volatility of the glacial streams will ultimately claim other sections of trail, creating an ongoing challenge for the Forest Service to keep the Timberline Trail open each summer.

If repairing the washouts along the trail were as costly as those along the nearby Mount Hood Loop Highway, then there might be some question of whether it makes sense to keep the trail open. After all, millions of dollars are being spent this year to rebuild the Mount Hood Highway bridge over White River, yet again, in an area that has had repeated washouts.

Hikers crossing the Eliot Branch before the 2007 washout.

By comparison, a wilderness trail is exceptionally cheap to build, and much less constrained by topographical or environmental concerns than a road. It really just comes down to money and priorities, and the Forest Service simply doesn’t have the funding to keep pace with the growing needs of the Timberline Trail. With even a modest increase in funding, the trail can be rebuilt and adapted to periodic washouts, or other natural disturbances.

Speaking Up

One way to have an impact on the funding situation for the Timberline Trail is to weigh in with your Congressman and Senators. While the current political climate says that earmarks are dead, history tells us otherwise: ask for an earmark for the Timberline Trail. After all, the trail is historic and an international draw that brings tourists from around the world to help boost local economies.

If you’re not an earmark fan, then you can argue for an across-the-board funding boost for forest trails as a job-producing priority in the federal budget. A ten-fold increase over current levels would be lost in rounding areas in the context of the massive federal budget.

Yet another angle are the health benefits that trails provide, particularly given the federal government’s newly expanded interest in public health. This is emerging as the best reason to begin investing in trails, once again.

Hikers negotiating the Muddy Fork crossing after the 2002 debris flow swept through the canyon.

Of particular interest is the fact that Oregon Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden actually hiked the loop, just before the 2007 Eliot Branch washout. One is a Democrat, the other Republican, so you can cover your bipartisan bases with an e-mail both! They share the mountain, with the congressional district boundary running right down the middle, so both have an interest in the Timberline Trail.

Finally, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden championed expanded wilderness for the Mount Hood area for years, and President Obama finally signed the bill into law earlier this year. So, another angle is to argue for the needed funding to support trail maintenance in these new wilderness areas, especially since they will require more costly, manual maintenance now.

It really makes a difference to weigh in, plus it feels good to advocate for trails with your Congressional delegation. Here’s a handy resource page for contacting these representatives, and the rest of the Oregon delegation:

Here’s how to send an e-mail to Congress

Thanks in advance for making your voice heard!

Sunshine Rock

November 13, 2010

Located in a deep canyon near Lost Lake, Sunshine Rock is a 700-foot monolith that would rival famous Beacon Rock in the Columbia Gorge, were you to set them side-by-side. The two rocks might even look a bit like twins: both feature walls of distinctive columnar basalt, and rise to a broad, fluted crest.

Despite its impressive size, Sunshine Rock is nearly hidden from view in the Lake Branch canyon, a few miles upstream from the West Fork Hood River. The rock briefly comes into view traveling down Lake Branch Road from Lost Lake, but only for a moment. With a little exploration, though, better views of this massive rock can be had from less-traveled routes in the area.

Sunshine Rock from Lake Branch Road

Sunshine Rock is a classic basalt plug — the solidified lava throat of an ancient volcano that was once a mountain. Geologic maps of the area identify the rock as andesitic basalt, dating back to the Miocene period of more than 7 million years ago.

This means that Sunshine Rock was formed as part of the “Old Cascades”, the range or deeply eroded peaks and ridges that pre-date today’s relatively young big volcanoes, like Mount Hood, by millions of years.

View across the Lake Branch valley to Sunshine Rock

Over the millennia, the Old Cascades have been carved by erosion and folded by fault lines, with countless new volcanoes emerging to cover older peaks in successive layers. Like most of the rock from the Miocene area, Sunshine Rock was buried by huge shield volcanoes of the Pliocene era, which dates back 2-5 million years.

Shield volcanoes are broad, gently sloped peaks that we now know as the mostly forested summits surrounding Mount Hood, including Larch Mountain, Lost Lake Butte, Mountain Defiance and several other volcanoes in the area. In the case of Sunshine Rock, nearby Indian Mountain is the overlying shield volcano that covers the older Miocene geology.

Giant firs give scale to one of the lower ramparts on Sunshine Rock

In more recent geologic times, the U-shaped valley of the Lake Branch was excavated by 7-mile long glacier that stretched from near present-day Lost Lake to the West Fork valley. There, it joined an enormous, 1,000-foot thick mega-glacier that extended 17 miles from Mount Hood to what are now the apple orchards of Dee Flat, along the Lost Lake Road.

The glacial period covers the Pleistocene era, which spans the most recent 2-million years, and numerous ice ages. The most recent ice advance peaked just 15,000 years ago, and was responsible for the most recent extent of the prehistoric Lake Branch glacier that exposed Sunshine Rock, along the flanks of the valley.

Recent History

Sunshine Rock seems to first appear in the modern record in early lookout tower survey photos. These photos were taken in the 1930s from new lookout sites, and include views from nearby Buck Peak, Raker Point and Lost Lake Butte. The view (below) from Raker Point in 1933 shows the rock most prominently, along with Indian Mountain in the background (another early lookout site).

The venerable Oregon Geographic Names doesn’t list Sunshine Rock among its thousands of entries, so short of historical files kept by the U.S. Forest Service, the inspiration behind the name may be lost to history. The name doesn’t appear on maps until the 1950s, suggesting that it came into being after the logging era was well under way, in the post-war period.

While the exact origin of the name is unknown, the thinking behind it seems evident: the position of the rock on a southeast facing valley wall allows it to catch morning sunlight, and thus would have been a bright beacon for nearby lookouts or loggers in the area.

Visiting Sunshine Rock

Forest Road 13 to Lost Lake forms a large loop, with Sunshine Rock located on the northern leg, along the Lake Branch Road segment of the loop. The best way to spot the rock is to approach from Lost Lake, winding down the Lake Branch valley, and watching for it through the trees.

You can also get a close-up view from Road 1330, which intersects Forest Road 13 near the rock, and leads to an abandoned quarry directly opposite the rock. For more adventurous explorers, Road 1320 climbs nearly to the top of the rock, with old logging spurs leading to the base of its cliffs.

Proposal: Baldwin Memorial Wayside

October 25, 2010

Few in the Hood River Valley would ever recognize the name “Gilhouley Road”, much less anyone from beyond the area. And yet, at the intersection of this obscure dirt road and the Mount Hood Loop Highway lies an imposing scene that is treasured by locals and tourists, alike: the first big look at Mount Hood as you descend into the Upper Hood River Valley.

On a clear day, you’re guaranteed to see tourists pulled to the highway shoulder, snapping pictures of the mountain rising above bucolic pastures, even as semi-trucks roar past on the downgrade. The scene is irresistible.

Illegal dumping on the proposed wayside site

Earlier this year, a friend and national parks advocate from New England was visiting, and took the opportunity to drive the Mount Hood loop, and see “Oregon’s next national park”. Despite all of the mistreatment Mount Hood has seen, his sharpest critique was the shabby way in which we treat our visitors. He was amazed at the utter lack of traveler information — and confusing information, when it was provided. So, this article is inspired by his comments.

Rediscovering Waysides and Viewpoints

In the early days of auto touring, the Columbia River Gorge had the “King of Roads”, and among the great features of Samuel Lancaster’s magnificent scenic highway were the waysides and viewpoints that dotted the route. A family could load into their 1917 Packard Twin Six, and make a day of it, pulling off at each viewpoint, snapping photos with the family Brownie camera, and often following the short trails that led to still more views, or perhaps a waterfall.

Crown Point is the king of the waysides on the “King of Roads”

Times haven’t changed all that much, since, but the way we design our roads has. Tourists are now discouraged from stopping in many spots, and often take their life in their hands, if they do. Today’s highway engineers are much more concerned about keeping cars moving, at all costs.

The Hood River valley has just one “official” roadside viewpoint, located on county-owned land at Panorama Point in the lower valley. The scene is well-known, but also well removed from the Mount Hood loop highway by a couple miles. This proposal is for a companion overlook to Panorama Point, located in the upper valley, where the mountain first comes into full view for highway travelers, at the obscure junction with Gilhouley Road.

Click here for a larger map

In researching the possibilities for a new wayside at this spot, I first did a site inspection of the hillside above the highway: the area is recently logged, but with a fair number of mature trees left standing. The inevitable illegal dumping is present, of course — the scourge of public lands in highway corridors. But the view is breathtaking, with Mount Hood even more dramatically framed by hills, forests and fields than from the highway grade.

According to public lands data, the land is mostly public, and owned by Hood River County. The map (above) shows a perfect rectangle of public property that extents east along Gilhouley Road from nearby Middle Mountain, largely encompassing the wayside site. One triangle of land (indicated with a question mark) may be a private parcel, but isn’t essential to the wayside concept.

The approach to the site from Highway 35 is ideal: the intersection is located on a long, straight segment of road that would make for safe exit and entry from either direction. The presence of Gilhouley Road means that access is legally assured, with little possibility of an extended battle with ODOT for the right to build a wayside.

Looking south at the wayside site from Highway 35

The larger question is whether ODOT and Oregon State Parks would step up to make this a joint venture with local governments. It seems plausible, at least, given the lack of waysides along this portion of the loop highway, and the obviously heavy tourist traffic.

What would the wayside look like?

The site inspection revealed a surprising expanse of public land available at this site, so I’ve sketched a full-blown day use park as the proposed “Baldwin Memorial Wayside”.

As the schematic (below) shows, there could be a viewing structure, picnic areas, a nature trail and restrooms. This degree of development puts the concept into the major investment category, but certainly not beyond reach, especially since there are no other state parks or waysides in the Hood River Valley.

Click here for a larger map

Because the site has recently been logged, the wayside proposal could be equal parts park development and habitat restoration. While the main feature would be a developed overlook for highway travelers, this proposal also takes advantage of the open hillside rising above the highway. A scattering of ponderosa pine spared from logging provides an excellent opportunity for an interpretive trail built around habitat restoration.

One interesting possibility could be a restored balsamroot and lupine meadow beneath the pines. These spectacular blooming species are native to the area, are already present on the site and could become a popular draw for spring visitors to the area, just as similar wildflower spots in the Gorge are now.

What would it take?

Could a project like this really happen? Some stars are already aligned: Hood River County already owns the land and access rights to the highway at Gilhouley Road. Together, these are an invaluable step forward, since the road guarantees highway access and the land can be used as a grant match for state and federal funds. The site also benefits from access to utilities and proximity to existing emergency services. These are all core considerations when creating a new public park.

Most of all, it would take local leadership in the Hood River Valley area to secure state or federal funding through grants or other sources. Even in times of tight public budgets, this sort of project is achievable, especially if it helps reinforce the local economy and has an ecological purpose.

About the Name

Lastly, what would this new wayside be called? Well, “Baldwin Memorial Wayside” is simply borrowed from nearby Baldwin Creek, which in turn, memorializes Stephen M. Baldwin, who settled a claim along the stream in 1878. This would have made Baldwin one of the earliest settlers in the area.

The Cloud Cap Inn circa 1900

But this is where the connection to the Mount Hood view comes in: Stephen Baldwin’s son Mason “Mace” Baldwin became a well-known figure in Hood River County history in the early 1900s. Most notably, he was one of the founders of the legendary Crag Rats mountain rescue group in 1926, formed after the dramatic rescue he led that summer of an 11-year-old boy lost on Mount Hood.

Mace Baldwin not only gave the Crag Rats their name, he was also elected to be the group’s first “Big Squeak” (president), and went on to take part in many mountain rescues over the years. The Crag Rats were the first mountain rescue organization to be formed in the American West. In 1954, the Crag Rats adopted the venerable Cloud Cap Inn, on the north shoulder of the mountain, and have since been the careful stewards under special arrangement with the Forest Service.

The Crag Rats continue to be active today, and given the connection of this site to one of their founders, perhaps the “Baldwin Memorial Wayside” could include a tribute to these mountain heroes? It would certainly be a fitting memorial, and a fine way for visitors to enjoy the mountain view and learn a bit more about it’s rich human history.

Proposal: Cooper Springs Trail

September 19, 2010

Cairns with cedar posts mark the way on the slopes below Cooper Spur.

One of the memorable highlights along the Timberline Trail is the starkly beautiful section between Gnarl Ridge and Cloud Cap, high on the broad east shoulder of the mountain. Here, the trail crests its highest point, at 7,335 feet, as it traverses the tundra slopes of Cooper Spur more than a thousand feet above the tree line.

However, the spectacular elevation of the Cooper Spur section is also its Achilles heel, since hikers attempting the Timberline Trail must cross a series of steep snowfields here. In most years this entire section is snowed in through late July, and some sections of trail appear to be permanently snow-covered.

Looking north along the Timberline Trail along the slopes of Cooper Spur

The trail builders constructed a series of huge cairns to mark the way through this rugged landscape, yet the snowfield crossings continue to present both a risk and route-finding obstacle to most hikers, especially in early summer. The Timberline Trail continues to draw hikers from around the world in ever-growing numbers, so an alternative route seems in order to ensure that the around-the-mountain experience continues to be world class for all visitors.

The Proposal

To provide a more reliable alternative for this segment, a new, parallel trail is proposed as part of the Mount Hood National Park Campaign. The new route would be about a mile to the east, at roughly the 6,200’ level, just below the tree line. For early season hikers, or simply those not up to the rugged combination of elevation, rock and snow on the existing trail, this new route would provide a more manageable alternative.

This new 3.5-mile route would still connect Cloud Cap to Lamberson Butte, but at a lower elevation. As shown on the map below, the proposed Cooper Springs Trail (in red) would depart from the current Timberline Trail (in green) at the current Cooper Spur junction on the north, and rejoin the Timberline Trail just below Lamberson Butte, to the south.

Click here for a large map

This option would add about a half-mile to the around-the-mountain trip, but would also save about 800’ of elevation gain, as measured in the traditional clockwise direction on the Timberline Trail. In fact, the new Cooper Springs Trail would actually drop 200’ in elevation from Cooper Spur Junction to Lamberson Spur.

This new trail wouldn’t be a formal segment of the Timberline Trail, but simply a hiking option, just as other parallel routes to the Timberline Trail already allow at Umbrella Falls, Paradise Park, Muddy Fork and Eden Park.

Today, these complementary routes along other sections of the Timberline Trail not only allow for interesting loops and less crowded conditions for hikers, they also provide detour options when trail closures occur — as happened recently along the Muddy Fork, where hikers were able to use a parallel route to avoid washouts on the main trail.

What Hikers Would See

The northern segment of the new Cooper Springs Trail would make a gradual descent from the existing 4-way junction of the Cooper Spur, Tilly Jane and Timberline trails to the tree line, curving through a series of small headwater canyons that eventually feed into Polallie Canyon. This section would cross the first of several small streams along the new route.

The northern section of the new trail from above the Timberline Trail, as viewed from the slopes of Cooper Spur.

Click here for a large map

Soon the new route would cross a sharp ridge, where under this proposal it would intersect with an extension of the Lamberson Spur Trail. This trail is an odd anomaly: the route is marked and maintained where it leaves the Cold Spring Creek Trail, but mysteriously dies out on a ridge about a mile below the tree line. A few adventurous hikers continue cross-country from this abrupt terminus to the Timberline Trail each year, but under this proposal, the Lamberson Spur Trail would be formally connected to the new Cooper Springs Trail. This new segment is shown in yellow on photo schematic, above.

Extending the Lamberson Spur route to the new Cooper Springs Trail would entail about a mile of new trail, but would be an important piece in linking the new Cooper Springs route to the existing network of trails along Cold Spring Creek and Bluegrass Ridge, to the east. Together, this network of trails could provide an important, less crowded overnight or backpacking experience than is possible on the more heavily visited sides of the mountain.

Beyond the proposed Lamberson Spur junction, the middle section of the new Cooper Springs Trail would pass through an especially interesting landscape. Here, a series of dramatic cliff-edged bluffs and talus slopes frame the view of Mount Hood and Cooper Spur, looming above, while the trail would cross through groves of ancient mountain hemlock.

The middle section of the new trail would traverse a series of little known canyons and cliff-topped bluffs below Cooper Spur.

Click here for a large map

This section of the new trail would also provide a close-up look at the aftermath of the Gnarl Fire, which burned a large swath of forest along the eastern base of the mountain in the summer of 2008.

At one point, the fire made headlines when it threatened to destroy historic structures in the area, narrowly missing the venerable Cloud Cap Inn. Though the trail would traverse above the burn, it would allow hikers to watch the recovery phase of the fire cycle unfold on the slopes, below.

Finally, in the southern section the proposed Cooper Springs Trail would traverse through dozens of rolling lupine meadows, gnarled stands of whitebark pine and mountain hemlock and unique views of the massive east face of Mount Hood and the surrounding wilderness.

The southern section of the new trail would weave through a series of little-known alpine meadows, near Lamberson Butte.

Click here for a large map

In this section, the proposed trail would traverse the slopes of Cooper Spur at the point where a series of tributaries to Cold Spring Creek emerge and flow eastward through a maze of steep canyons. The springs are continuously fed by several permanent ice fields on Cooper Spur, and thus would be a reliable water source for hikers — and are also the namesake for the proposed trail.

The new route would then rejoin the Timberline Trail just below Lamberson Butte.

What it Would Take

The proposed Cooper Springs Trail (and Lamberson Spur extension) would be entirely within the Mount Hood Wilderness, and thus must be built without the add of motorized equipment.

Normally, this presents a major obstacle to trail construction, since a typical trail requires the removal of trees and vegetation down to mineral soil — a formidable task in the rainforests of the western Cascades, even with the aid of chainsaws and power tools. However, the slopes of Cooper Spur consist mostly of soft, sandy soils, loose rock, scattered trees and open meadows, so construction of the 3.5 mile trail would be much less cumbersome with hand tools here than in other parts of the forest.

One of the Northwest Youth Corps crews that worked the Timberline Trail in 2009.

There are a number of organizations that might be interested in helping build the trail, but perhaps the most promising would be the Northwest Youth Corps, an organization that has sent crews of young people to restore wilderness trails around Mount Hood for many years.

Finally, it would take a renewed commitment from the Forest Service to expand the trail network around the mountain, and this is the largest obstacle. The agency has been doing just the opposite for many years, allowing trails to fade into oblivion for lack of basic maintenance.

But this is also where you can help: the Forest Service has the funding to provide more trails, yet needs strong public support to make trails a priority in agency budgets. Buying a forest pass simply isn’t enough, unfortunately.

Make your opinion known, and don’t accept the “lack of funding” explanation. Instead, take a look at this comparison of funding for Mount Hood and a couple of well-known national parks, and simply ask that YOUR forest to be managed with trail recreation at the top of the priority list.

How can you contact them? Just click here to send them an e-mail!

20:1 Odds

August 31, 2010

As part of their August 2010 feature on National Parks, Sunset Magazine gave a nod (of sorts) to the Mount Hood National Park Campaign! The surprise article explained a mysterious round of phone tag that I played with a Sunset writer in late July (though I never actually connected with her). As part of the cover story, Sunset gave odds on “Our Next National Park?” Here’s what they had to say:

3:2 – Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico – in a bill for full park status

4:1 – San Gabriel Mountains, California – under study by the National Park Service

7:1 – Pinnacles National Monument, California – another monument proposed for promotion to full park status

8:1 – Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington – also under study, in this case by a citizens committee that may recommend bumping it from failed USFS management to National Park Service protection

20:1 – Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon – “A labor of love by a Portland city planner, this campaign faces a couple of roadblocks, the main one being it’s similar to what’s already in the NPS portfolio (hello, Mt. Rainier!)

100:1 – “Ancient Forest”, Northern California/Southern Oregon – “Another quixotic cause from a lone visionary, this 3.8 million-acres swatch would link ecosystems to help preserve species… but it’s a long shot.”

Twenty-to-one? I like those odds! The article also included a link to the campaign website, so kudos to Sunset for the free publicity, skeptical as they may be!

Of interest to me in this bit of lighthearted journalism is the old “parks as museum samples” canard that comes through — we’ve already got Mount Rainer, and it’s interchangeable with any other volcano in the Cascades. Next!

Well, that mindset actually dates back to Gifford Pinchot, and a few other early conservationists, who had no way of knowing that by the end of the 1900s most of the forests of the Pacific Northwest would be laid low, or that 10 million people would live within a few hours drive of the big Cascade peaks, looking for recreation, drinking water and a piece of what once was in America’s rainforest region.

Fortunately, the new national parks movement is redefining why we need more parks, and helping move beyond a museum collection mindset and toward a more holistic vision of ecosystem protection and restoration for all sites of national significance. With a little luck, Sunset Magazine will be featuring a new Mount Hood National Park on its cover in a few years, too.

It’s Just Another 12.6 Acres

August 15, 2010

By mid-afternoon on a busy January weekend, the main Meadows parking lot has already begun to empty.

Mount Hood’s ski resorts continue their slow-motion assault on the mountain this summer with yet another parking lot expansion at the Meadows Resort. The Forest Service has not yet released the details beyond this “proposal” statement:

“Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort Twilight Parking Lot.

Developing a new parking area and bus maintenance facility just behind ODOT’s Bennett Pass sand shed. This would create a new 12.6 acre opening in the forest and permanent removal of vegetation. The parking is needed to deal with existing demand.”

Without more specifics, it’s hard to know just HOW bad this idea is, except that “permanent removal of vegetation” in a “new 12.6 acre opening in the forest” might qualify for some kind of award for obtuse new euphemisms within the federal bureaucracy. Yes, it’s another parking lot.

Where is the new parking lot “behind the sand shed” proposed? We don’t know yet.

We also know that ODOT, the Mount Hood National Forest (MHNF) and the ski resorts really aren’t very interested in managing peak resort demand to minimize the need for more parking and wider highways. Beyond an anemic fleet of ski buses, there is no plan. So, this looks like more of the same, and another patch of subalpine forest will soon be erased from the slopes of Mount Hood.

The sprawling Hood River Meadows lot is mostly empty nine months of the year -- this panoramic view is on a beautiful March weekend with a 12-foot snowpack on the ground, but when most skiers are busy doing other things.

Here’s the real tragedy: like the highway widening projects proposed along Highway 26 west of Government Camp, the string of parking lots at Meadows are really only used a few days each year — a few busy weekends in December, January and February, when the Meadows resort is briefly crowded to capacity. But a look at the Hood River Meadows lot on a sunny March weekend (above) tells the real story. These parking lots mostly sit empty for nine months each year, and only fill on weekends during the 3-month “busy” period each winter.

There is a better way. The Mount Hood National Forest and ODOT could tear a page from the Deschutes National Forest playbook, and take a serious look at managing weekend crowds with a Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in the Parks and Public Lands Grant. What the is that? Well, it’s how the Deschutes NF will partner with nearby Central Oregon communities to examine the possibilities for a different transportation solution for the few winter peaks that stress the transportation system than simply putting down more asphalt. Here’s the news release (PDF).

Putting a Face on 12.6 Acres

In the meantime, this is a good opportunity to think about the magnitude of 12.6 acres. While it might seem small enough to be disposable to an agency responsible for over one million acres of public land, the proposal is “permanent”, after all. In the spirit of not taking one acre of public land for granted, here are some comparable spots in Portland that cover approximately the same acreage that provide a sense of scale for this proposal:

Portland’s South Park Blocks

The South Park Blocks in Portland stretch 12 blocks, and cover just nine acres in area. All twelve blocks would fit inside the proposed Meadows parking expansion, yet manage to include one of Portland’s largest forests of century-old elms, along with numerous fountains, monuments, plazas and walkways. Of course, in many cities, it would just be 12 more blocks of surface parking.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Looking rather brown in this post-Rose Festival restoration view, Tom McCall Waterfront Park is also about 12 blocks long, and covers about 13 acres. This park also manages to incorporate a number of fountains and monuments, pathways, the sea wall, plus the entire Rose Festival midway every June, as well as dozens of other festivals and concerts over the course of the year.

In the case of McCall Park, 13 acres covers a lot of terrain, but it also has a surprising history: this stretch of land was once Harbor Drive, a 4-lane highway, that city leaders tore out and replaced with a park.

The Oregon Zoo

The Oregon Zoo covers 64 acres, but the Great Northwest Exhibit only covers about a 12 acres, and is comparable to the Meadows parking proposal. Like the forests around Mount Hood, the Northwest Exhibit is home to cougars, bald eagles, black bears and salmon — plus mountain goats, river otters, sea lions and sea otters.

Holladay Park and the Lloyd Cinemas in Portland

Holladay Park, the Lloyd Cinemas and the very large cinema parking lot in between fit into a space of about ten acres in Portland’s Lloyd District. By comparison to the 12-acre Meadows proposal, the four acres that fall within the cinema parking lot provides 550 parking spaces — therefore, a similarly designed lot on the acreage Meadows proposes to develop on Mount Hood would translate to 1,650 spaces! Is this possible?

The Oregon Convention Center

The Oregon Convention Center also fits neatly on about 14 acres, providing 1 million square feet of convention space, plus numerous plazas and walkways, a light rail station and truck loading bays. Unlike Meadows, the Convention Center didn’t have the luxury of simply paving over a nearby forest for overflow parking, and thus the underground structure with space for 800 vehicles.

Laurelhurst Park

Finally, Laurelhurst Park is about twice the acreage of the proposed Meadows parking lot, at 26 acres. But it gives a good visual of what the ski resort proposes to pave over with their lot. Simply imagine “permanently removal” of the vegetation on one half of Laurelhurst park, above, replaced by a parking lot.

On its 26 acres, Laurelhurst provides a concert stage, numerous monuments and art displays, tennis court, volleyball court, basketball court, soccer field, horseshoe pit, play area, picnic sites, off-leash pet area, restrooms, network of paved and soft walking paths and an interpretative historical sites — which half should be paved over for overflow ski resort parking?

What’s Next?

What will be the fate of the latest Meadows proposal to build parking on Mount Hood? Hopefully, the Forest Service will act as protective stewards of our public lands, and see more value to a 12.6 acre piece of forested land than just a bunch of trees that should be “permanently removed” to make room for skiers during a few winter weekends. We’ll see.

As details about the latest Meadows parking lot expansion are revealed, updates will be posted here, including opportunities to weigh in on the plan. After all, every acre counts, and all 12.6 acres belong to you and me, our children and their children, not the Meadows resort development.

Hiroshima Rock Centennial (1910-2010)

July 17, 2010

Hiroshima Rock and Mount Hood

Today marks the centennial of a Japanese climbing expedition to the summit of Mount Hood on July 17, 1910. The achievement would probably be forgotten by now, except for the visitors carving a record of their ascent into a glacier-polished andesite boulder at the crest of Cooper Spur.

The boulder is now informally known as “Hiroshima Rock”, and a familiar feature to generations of hikers and climbers who have since passed this spot.

Detail of Hiroshima Rock

Little is recorded about the expedition, even in the gold standard of Mount Hood history — Jack Grauer’s Complete History of Mount Hood — though the arrival of a Japanese climbing expedition surely must have been reported in the local press of the time. Lacking that written history, what follows is my own speculation on the climb.

The inscription contains both English and Japanese text, and supposedly the Japanese portion identifies the expedition as originating from Hiroshima. It is not surprising that a Japanese expedition would seek out Mount Hood. Mountain climbing had blossomed as a sport in Japan in the late 1800s, just as it had in Europe and the United States.

But the Japanese interest in climbing mountains had deeper roots, dating back centuries to the earliest spiritual pilgrimages to mountain peaks — most notably, Fujiyama.

“The Pilgrimage” captures the long Japanese tradition of mountain climbing for spiritual purposes

It is therefore not surprising that a group who had likely climbed Mount Fuji numerous times was drawn to Mount Hood, on the opposite side of the Pacific. Both peaks are part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, and share a common volcanic origin. Yet, Mount Hood would have been a more technical climb, with its steep, deeply eroded slopes and tumbling glaciers.

It is also likely that the Japanese party stayed at Cloud Cap Inn, or at least stopped there, since the inn was still operating in 1910, under the management of Horace Mecklem, and would have likely been snow free in mid-July. At the time, the Cooper Spur route was the most popular ascent, since Cloud Cap Inn provided the best access to the mountain.

Traditional Japanese spiritual quest to Fujiyama

Given the very active climbing schedule of the Mazamas in the early 1900s, it is also likely that the Mazamas were involved in the Japanese expedition, or at least aware that a group from Japan was on the mountain.

The Japanese expedition likely used similar climbing tools to what Europeans and Americans employed at the time: layered clothes, knapsacks and alpenstocks. The photos below are LIFE archival images from the late 1940s that capture the look and feel of Japanese climbs just after the war. These images probably give a fair sense of what the 1910 climbers must have looked like.

Japanese climbing expedition on Fujiyama in 1948

Japanese climber on Fujiyama with Lake Kawajuchi in background in 1948

The second image from the LIFE series is interesting in that it shows the climber wearing traditional Japanese tabi, or toe shoes (see detailed view, below). Modern tabi are still widely worn today in Japan, and as anyone who hikes knows, modern toe shoes are a popular new trend in the U.S., too.

Detail showing a Japanese climber wearing tabi, or toe shoes

So, why did the expedition carve their record into the rock on Cooper Spur? The most obvious explanation is simply posterity, since it was common in that era to carve your legacy into rocks or trees in a way that we would find unacceptable today.

But a more intriguing possibility might be that that expedition was holed up on Cooper Spur, perhaps stalled by bad weather, or simply setting up a base for the final ascent. This might explain the time it would have taken to chisel the Hiroshima Rock message into a very hard chunk of andesite — an effort that would likely take hours to complete.

For now, the details appear to be lost in time. But the legacy of the inscription is an elegant reminder that attraction of Mount Hood drawn visitors from around the world from the very beginning, and still does.

Postscript

Chiyoko & friends celebrating at Cooper Spur (Photo Courtesy Guy Meacham)

Just after posting this article, I learned that Guy and Chiyoko Meacham led a group up to Hiroshima Rock on July 18, 2010 to celebrate the centennial (plus one day) and Chiyoko’s birthday (to the day). After cake and champagne, Chiyoko translated the Kanji inscriptions to read:

Left side: Mie Ken Jin – Ito (Person from Mie State, [Mr.] Ito)

Right side: Hiroshima Ken Jin (Person from Hiroshima State)

English portion:

July 17th 1910
Monument
[Mr.] S. Takahashi

You can read the entire trip report and see their beautiful photos over at the Portland Hikers site: click here

Illuminating Mount Hood

July 7, 2010

A lenticular cloud hovers over Illumination Rock on a warm August evening

Visitors to Timberline Lodge cannot help but notice the huge monolith on the southwestern shoulder of Mount Hood parting the Reid and Zigzag glaciers. This 9,543 foot spire is Illumination Rock, and a signature feature on the mountain.

What few visitors know is that the rock gained its name in the early days of mountaineering on Mount Hood, when a series of expeditions were made to illuminate the mountain so that it might be seen from Portland.

Several of the early lighting schemes focused on the steep saddle above Illumination Rock, though other spots were attempted over the years, including the crater and even the summit of the mountain.

Illumination Rock and saddle, above the Zigzag Glacier

In modern times, such a scheme would involve riding a snow-cat loaded with fireworks from Timberline Lodge to the edge of the Zigzag Glacier, then using skis or sleds to reach Illumination Rock. But in the late 1800s, this effort was much more daunting.

The trip began with a day-long wagon (or horseback) ride from Portland to Government Camp on the old Barlow Road. From there, the expeditions spent the next two days hauling their explosives up the 6,000 feet and six miles to Illumination Rock – there was no convenient road to timberline, and no lodge there, yet.

Some of the expeditions used horses to pull heavy sleds, while others relied on human power to carry the fireworks to the top of the mountain. In the 1800s, the Zigzag Glacier also presented a more dangerous barrier than exists in modern times. The glacier was much larger, and the illumination teams were very much in danger of falling into crevasses.

Illustration from the 1887 expedition

The early adventurers also lacked communication that we take for granted today. A modern illumination effort would almost surely rely on cell phones for coordination and safety, while the early efforts relied on pre-arranged times to communicate with signal flares and mirrors.

The first recorded illumination occurred in 1870, when Perry Vickers climbed to the summit and set off several magnesium flares to celebrate July 4. The displays were seen from below on the mountain, but not from Portland.

Vickers campaigned for a larger display with potential financial backers in Portland, and staged a second display of flares in 1873. Attempts by other groups in 1877 failed due to the extreme conditions on top of the mountain. So far, no display had been seen from Portland.

The 1887 Expedition

On July 1, 1887, a blue ribbon expedition departed for Mount Hood with 100 lbs of flammable “red fire” powder and a plan to illuminate the mountain on the evening of July 4. The expedition was led by William Gladstone Steel, the legendary “Father of Crater Lake National Park” and irrepressible force of nature in his time.

1887 photo essay

Steel’s group reached Government Camp on July 2, and established a base camp high on the mountain the next day, after a difficult and sometimes harrowing trip up the mountain. The weather was bitterly cold on July 4 when the party made the final ascent to Illumination Rock, crossing the treacherous Zigzag Glacier.

Steel and Dr. J.M. Keene set up a high camp near the rock, where the illumination would occur. The rest of the party descended back to the base camp below timberline to watch and wait for dark to fall, and the scheduled lighting of the mountain. Steel and Keene finally lit the red fire powder at 11:30 PM, and the display on the mountain was easily seen from Portland, Salem and many other communities around the mountain.

The adventure for Steel and Keene did not end there, however. Upon their nighttime descent from the rock to the base camp, the pair slipped partway into a crevasse while crossing the Zigzag Glacier. After this narrow miss, they became disoriented, and missed the base camp by a mile, spending most of the night in an improvised camp below timberline before the searchers from the rest of the expedition found them.

New York Times account of the July 4, 1887 illumination

The story of the first successful lighting of Mount Hood on July 4, 1887 was a local sensation, and was recounted in newspapers around the country (see New York Times accounts, above and below). The success of the 1887 effort led to a repeat climb in 1888, also led by Will Steel, and several subsequent efforts over the years that followed.

New York Times account of the July 4, 1887 illumination

1969 Mazama project

The last formal illumination effort came in 1969, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Mazamas. Compared to the earliest attempts, this lighting extravaganza was modern in every way, but the William Gladstone Steel connection persisted: Steel was a founder and elected the first president of the Mazamas when the club formed on the summit of Mount Hood in 1894.

The 1969 expedition carried boxes of flares, mortars and rockets to the 9,000 foot level of the mountain in a snow-cat, then teams of Mazamas went to work carrying the fireworks to designated spots around the crater and along the summit ridge. Dozens of rockets and hundreds of flares were positioned for the display.

William Gladstone Steel and the first Mazama board in 1895

On the evening of July 19, interviews with climb leaders were broadcast live on a Portland radio station. Later, Governor Tom McCall dedicated the lighting ceremony by telephone, paying tribute to the fact that, on that day, the Apollo 11 astronauts had just landed on the moon, which shone full on Mount Hood that night.

The Mazama lighting was the most spectacular in the history of the illumination efforts, lasting nearly ninety minutes, and lighting the mountain for miles in all directions. Consistent with the modern times and their stewardship mission, the Mazamas volunteers spent the next day carefully retrieving mortars and spent flares from the slopes of Mount Hood, removing all traces of the lighting from the mountain.

The Legacy

Given the expanded wilderness protections that now encompass much of the mountain, it is unlikely that we will ever see another illumination of Mount Hood. Instead, we are left with news accounts, sketches and photographs of a bygone era — though Mount Hood may someday emerge from dormancy, and provide some lighting of her own!

William Gladstone Steel in the late 1800s

According to Oregon Geographic Names, it was the first successful illumination of the mountain in 1887 that gave Illumination Rock its name, though many illumination efforts took place near the rock over the years.

For his part, William Gladstone Steel was honored by the naming of Steel Cliff, the wall of rock that frames the east side of the crater, and that was lit up by many of the illumination displays. Steel is also honored for his relentless 17-year effort to create a national park at Crater Lake by the naming of Steel Bay, along the north shore of the lake.

With these names on our modern-day maps, we are forever reminded of the unique spirit and imagination of the early mountain explorers.

Stop Salting the Palmer Glacier!

May 25, 2010

The plowed surface of the Palmer Glacier shows up on summer evening view of Mount Hood’s south face

A recent article in Willamette Week by Adrienne So goes where The Oregonian and other media have not dared in the nearly 30 years since the controversial Palmer Lift opened the Palmer Glacier to year-round skiing. In her article, So asks the obvious question: is it really such a good idea to pour nearly a million pounds of salt on the glacier each summer to melt the ice for skiers?

But So also asks the more maddening question: how can it be that the Forest Service and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are fine with this practice? The sad answer lies in the cozy relationship the Forest Service maintains with the ski resorts and the ironic fact that the DEQ can only regulate the salting when damage finally shows up downstream. In other words, when it’s too late.

The Palmer Glacier is not the smallest on Mount Hood, but surely the most fragile thanks to its low elevation and southern exposure

What lies downstream from the Palmer Glacier? Initially, a steep maze of alpine canyons carries melt water from the glacier to the tree line. Soon, these mountain streams combine to become the Salmon River. The river flows just a few miles before reaching Red Top Meadows. A short distance beyond, the river enters wilderness and the broad expanse of Salmon River Meadows, by far the largest wetland complex on Mount Hood.

From the meadows, the rapidly growing river turns west, then drops into one of the wildest, deepest canyons in Oregon, thundering over a string of tall waterfalls that are so remote as to have only been discovered in the 1960s. The Salmon River National Recreation Trail follows the canyon section, and is among the most popular hikes in the Pacific Northwest, year-round.

Beyond the steep gorge section, the river slows and broadens, rambling through ancient forests where it is recognized as one of the state’s premier salmon and steelhead habitats. Here, it is strictly managed for its fisheries with special seasons and limits. Trails follow the river in this section, too, leading to shady forest camps and fishing holes. The giant cedar groves along the lower river are the most accessible ancient forest in the region, just 45 minutes from Portland.

For their part, the Timberline operators make a point of never calling the Palmer Glacier by its true name. Instead, they use the term “Palmer Snowfield” in their marketing, apparently to downplay the fact that their summertime skiing is putting one of Mount Hood’s most vulnerable glaciers at risk.

Since the construction of the Palmer Lift, Timberline ski resort operators have plowed the Palmer Glacier like an icy farm field, with the benefit of salt to soften the surface

The motivations of the Timberline resort are easy enough to understand: it’s a commercial venture (albeit on public land and in a public structure), and they are not in the business of protecting the Salmon River ecosystem for the public at large. The salting makes money for the Timberline resort, after all, or they wouldn’t do it.

But to wrap your head around the Forest Service policy of allowing the salting is to believe that dumping just under 500 tons of salt (that’s about 500 pickup loads) on Palmer Glacier each year won’t have an environmental impact. That the impacts could extend from the headwaters of this river complex to the pristine meadows, forests, waterfalls and fisheries that lie below makes the policy that much more appalling.

As destructive and shortsighted as this policy seem, there’s really nothing you and I can do about it – at least not until the salt starts showing up downstream in concentrations that constitute “pollution”. If that seems like a Catch-22, well, that’s because it is.

In the meantime, the only available alternative is awareness. You can start by reading So’s excellent article, over here (PDF):

Salt and a Wound: Summertime and salting is easy on Palmer Glacier

Next, share what you learn with those who love Mount Hood – and especially those who ski at the Timberline resort. It’s likely they don’t even know about this obviously reckless practice, and Timberline hasn’t been particularly up-front about it.

Next, print this bumper (or rear-window) sticker to kick off your own awareness campaign:

Click here for a bumper-sized version to print

There’s a worn adage that when you find yourself at the bottom of a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. Until more is understood about the impacts of the salting practice on the Palmer Glacier and the sensitive environments that lie downstream, it’s time to stop the salting. Now.

The Mount Hood Quarter

March 12, 2010

Beginning this year, the new America the Beautiful Quarters program will release the first of 56 new United States quarter coins. The new coins feature national parks and other national sites in each state, the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories. Notably, Mount Hood is one of just two “national sites” in the new set that is not protected by the National Park Service (the other is the White Mountains in New Hampshire).

Still more significant is the timing: Mount Hood will join Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Hot Springs National Parks in being the first five coins featured in the inaugural year. This honor is yet another reminder of the mountain’s second-class status among the nation’s natural shrines, but is also more inspiration to correct that oversight. Mount Hood stands in hallowed company in this initial rollout of the new coin series.

The process for selecting the design of the new Mount Hood quarter is nearly complete. The design has already been narrowed to four options, with one option jointly nominated by a pair of blue-ribbon advisory committee as the preferred design. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner will make the final decision on designs for the first five quarters, and the U.S. Mint will issue the quarters later this year.

The first design option for the Mount Hood quarter features the picturesque view of mountain from the fruit orchards of the upper Hood River Valley. Though it would make a fine choice, this was not the design forwarded by the advisory committees.

The second option is somewhat awkward, since it places the Portland skyline somewhere in the vicinity of Hood River. Thankfully, this option passed over by both advisory committees, and is unlikely to be selected. It’s somewhat baffling how such an iconic view could be botched like this, and we can only hope that the error would have been caught had the design been selected!

The third option is the familiar and classic view of the mountain from Lost Lake, as seen in a century of countless postcards and other tourist collectables over the decades. This design is the recommended choice of both advisory committees, and seems likely to be the final design.

The fourth option is a variation of the (so far) favored Lost Lake option, adding clusters of Pacific rhododendron blossoms to the foreground. This would have been my pick for the coin, but was passed over by the advisory committees as “too cluttered”.

Surprisingly, there were no Mount Hood quarter finalists featuring Timberline Lodge and the familiar south side of the mountain, arguably the best-known view of the mountain. This might be explained by the U.S. Postal Service issuance of a commemorative postcard in 1987 (below) that featured the lodge on its fiftieth anniversary.

All of this comes on the heels of what was a spirited discussion in 2004, when Mount Hood was one of four designs under consideration for the State Quarters series. This anatomically challenged, clumsy rendering of the mountain was released for public comment on the designs options (along with three other alternatives that featured an Oregon Trail theme, native salmon and Crater Lake):

Despite the less-than-inspiring design of the Mount Hood coin in this earlier competition, there was a last-minute flurry of interest in combining the Oregon Trail and Mount Hood themes. After much debate, Governor Ted Kulongoski eventually picked the Crater Lake design (below), and this has now become a favorite among coin collectors.

This earlier choice probably helped move the Mount Hood coin to the front of the line for the America the Beautiful series, though it wasn’t necessarly a given. California, for example, will feature Yosemite on its America the Beautiful quarter, despite having featured the park (and John Muir) on its state quarter. Likewise, Arizona will portray the Grand Canyon on the new quarter, but also featured it on the state quarter series.

So, we’re fortunate that Mount Hood is now getting its due, and will be profiled in such fine company, with more than fifty national parks, monuments and historic sites. It’s an honor well-deserved, and perhaps a foreshadowing of the company that Mount Hood will share in the future.

Addendum

For Mount Hood memorabilia collectors, the 2010 America the Beautiful proof set is here! The following are a couple of scans of the set I received this week. With the set, you will receive the Mount Hood quarter, along with the other four inaugural year quarter — Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Hot Springs — in this sealed enclosure:

The set comes in this collectable box, with an enclosed certificate of authenticity:

You can order the set direct from the United States Mint.


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