Breakfast with Paul Gerald


If you’re a hiker, you’ve probably seen (or own) one of Paul Gerald’s guides: 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Portland, Day Hikes & Sections: Oregon PCT and The Best Tent Camping in Oregon. If you’re a breakfast adventurer, then you’ve surely seen (or own) his instant classic Breakfast in Bridgetown, now in its second edition.

Paul is in the process of publishing new editions of his Breakfast in Bridgetown and 60 Hikes books, and this time he’s trying something a bit different: instead of the usual publishing house, he’s trying out a crowdfunding campaign.

Why does this matter to WyEast Blog readers? Well, partly because it’s important to support local authors who write about our favorite places with a level of knowledge and attention to detail that only we locals can really appreciate. But more importantly, crowdfunding has the potential to unlock a lot more in the way of local publishing, so it’s something that hopeless field guide junkies (like the author!) and casual hikers should get behind in a big way.

You can learn more about Paul’s campaign from this short video — and please consider supporting the campaign before it ends on April 4!

…more about the campaign at the end of this article. First, let’s meet Paul Gerald!

About Paul Gerald

Paul is a freelance writer, author, and publisher. He’s written for The Oregonian and Willamette Week while in Oregon, and for the Memphis Flyer before he migrated to the Great Northwest.

Paul has written hiking and camping guidebooks for Menasha Ridge Press and the Wilderness Press, and with his Breakfast in Bridgetown book, entered the world of self-publishing (also known as “the future of publishing!”) as the owner et al of Bacon and Eggs Press, an assumed business name of Second Cup Productions LLC.

Paul also leads hikes for the Mazamas (including trips to Italy!) and works for Embark Adventures when he’s not researching trails for his own guides. He has also been a supporter of the Portland Hikers community from the very beginning. In Paul’s words, his goal as an author is to “go to interesting places, do interesting things, meet interesting people, and then tell the story.”

The following is a recent WyEast Blog interview with Paul Gerald about his dual passions of hiking and eating breakfast:

WyEast: Hello Paul! You’ve authored guidebooks to hiking trails and breakfast spots – do you generally start off a hiking day with a big breakfast?

Paul Gerald: Not generally a big one, but if I’m hiking I’ll at least scramble up some eggs at home, get a muffin and coffee on the way, then bring a banana for a little trailhead ritual. After that it’s all about bars and a nice sandwich, then Kettle chips for after. I’m something of a creature of habit. Oh, and I’m carrying about 20 extra pounds these days.

WyEast: Doesn’t that sort of slow you down on the trail?

Paul Gerald: It does, which is part of the reason I don’t do it often. But there is something really nice and Portland-y to go have a nice brunch in town, then drive out to the hills and walk it off. It’s also nice to not have to carry food on the hike. And to really do the Full Portland, I’ll stop at Edgefield on the way back and get a burger and basket of fries. Did I mention the extra 20 pounds?

WyEast: Tell us about your new restaurant guide: does the geography “Bridgetown” cover some of the small burgs that are along the way to favorite trailheads?

Paul Gerald: Breakfast in Bridgetown is what I call “the definitive guide to Portland’s favorite meal.” It’s not a book of reviews and ratings, but rather a series of sketches telling you what a place is like, what they serve, who eats there, and maybe a few funny stories thrown in for your entertainment. I’m not a food critic, I’m a travel writer at heart.

The new (third) edition will cover 120 restaurants, 17 food carts, 11 downtown hotels, and – yes – a lot of places out-of-town.

It also has helpful lists like outdoor seating, early morning and late night breakfasts, vegan/vegetarian options, and this time a whole section on gluten-free breakfasts.

WyEast: What are a couple of your favorites, say, for a hike in the Gorge or up on Mount Hood?

Paul Gerald: I love (and describe in the book) the Otis Cafe (for Cascade Head), Joe’s Donuts and the Huckleberry Inn (for Mount Hood), Camp 18 (for Saddle Mountain), and Skamania Lodge (for the Gorge). I should say, though, that the best way to approach Camp 18 and Skamania would be to hit the buffet after your hike.

Paul exploring the PCT in the Three Sisters Wilderness

Paul exploring the PCT in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness

WyEast: Okay, I’ll definitely try that! So, tell us about your new edition of “60 Hikes….” – what are some new hikes that we can look forward to?

Paul Gerald: The biggest change, other than just getting things up to date, is that the maps and elevation profiles have been upgraded. They have more detail, more helpful information, and they just look better. There is also now a really helpful chart in the beginning of the book, showing which hikes are good for kids, backpacking, seeing waterfalls, wheelchair access, swimming (that’s a new category), great views, the best time to go, etc. It replaces the lists in the front of the current edition, and adds more info, as well.

As for new hikes, I am bringing back two old favorites, both of which had to miss a couple editions because of access issues. One is the Salmonberry River, where you walk down the abandoned railroad through a beautiful Coast Range canyon. They are looking at this as a “rail to trail” project, and I hope to get people out there to see it in its “wild” condition.

I’m also bringing back one of my all-time favorites, which I call South Fork Toutle River. Some folks call it the Sheep Canyon hike, but it’s a section of the Loowit Trail on the west side of Mount Saint Helens. You start in a huge mudslide, walk through ancient forest, then climb into alpine splendor and wind up on the very edge of the 1980 blast zone.

I’m also adding the Cape Horn Trail (I was waiting for all the trails to get worked out) and bringing back the Willamette River Greenway in the middle of Portland.

Mostly, though, it’s about expanding and improving the book. For example, now that the trails in the Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek areas and getting sorted out and signed, I am offering a lot more detail there. I just try to keep making the book better and better.

WyEast: You probably have to focus on covering new trails as a field guide author – but are there any trails that you just go back to over and over because they’re your favorites?

Paul Gerald: Absolutely, and in fact, in the Foreword to the book I describe my personal hiking calendar. For me, “favorite” is all about the time of year. In a nutshell, it’s Eagle Creek in March, eastern Gorge flower hikes in April (especially the “big loop” from Coyote to Catherine and back), Dog Mountain in May, Salmon River and Saddle Mountain in June, all the Hood stuff in July/August (McNeil, Vista Ridge, Timberline), then the old-growth forests in fall, especially Opal Creek and Trapper Creek.

WyEast: What’s the most overlooked gem in your guide? And why is that, exactly?

Paul Gerald: I think I’d have to say Ape Canyon here. Every time I lead that hike for the Mazamas or some friends, people are just blown away. It’s a paved access road, gentle grade, amazing forest and views, fascinating geology, and it winds up at the foot of Mount Saint Helens on this incredible moon-like plateau of rocks and flowers and open space. And all of this in about 11 miles without a steep hill in it!

WyEast: I’ll end with a tough question to put you on the spot: in recent years, hikers have noticed little blue bags of dog poop along hiking trails, apparently left by hikers (hopefully) for picking up on their return trip, but often forgotten and left to annoy other hikers. What’s your stance on bagging dog poop out in the forest? Isn’t it okay to simply kick your dog’s offerings off the trail, especially given the number of plastic bags left behind?

Paul Gerald: Well, even though I suspect this is a “loaded” question, I’ll tell you what I’ve done when I took dogs hiking (I don’t have one myself): I kick it off the trail! My theory is that millions of animals poop in the woods, so why not a dog? Maybe there’s something about dog poop that isn’t good for the environment, and I always make sure to kick it in an area where people aren’t going to picnic or whatever, but that’s my policy.

I’m okay with the bag option, but only if people actually pick them up on the way out. Maybe somebody could start a business making bio-degradable poop bags?

WyEast: So, have you ever carried out someone else’s dog’s poop…? In a bag, of course!

Paul Gerald: I have not. Maybe I will now — if it’s close to the trailhead, of course!

You can find more information on Paul’s crowdfunding campaign here – and remember, the campaign ends on Friday, April 4!

Breakfast in Bridgetown Campaign

And you can find his previously published books at local bookstores or online at Paul’s website:

Thanks for the great guides, Paul!

Ticks! Ticks! (10 Common Myths)


Spring has arrived in the Columbia River Gorge, and as we explore among the unfurling fern fronds and explosion of wildflowers, we will also be keeping a wary eye out for a pair of nemeses who also make the Gorge their home: poison oak and ticks! Sure, there are other natural hazards out there, but poison oak wins the prize for quiet ubiquity while ticks are actually OUT TO GET YOU!

Naturally, a lot of mythology exists on both fronts, and I’ve previously debunked poison oak myths. In this article, I’ll tackle the kitchen remedies and common folklore that abound for ticks. The Centers for Disease Control is my primary source for information on the subject, and their tick resource pages are worth a visit for anyone who spends time in tick country. I’ve also relied on the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) for the best advice on managing ticks on our pets.

The one to watch for: Western Black-Legged Tick (Source: Public Health Image Library)

The one to watch for: Western Black-Legged Tick (Source: Public Health Image Library)

While poison oak can trigger a miserable rash, it’s rarely a serious health risk. Ticks are different. While their bites aren’t usually painful, these tiny members of the arachnid family (they’ve got eight legs – count ‘em!) can also transmit several blood-borne diseases, most notably the bacterium that can cause Lyme disease in humans and animals.

Western Black-Legged Ticks (from left) in nymph stage, adult male and adult female  (Source: California Health Dept.)

Western Black-Legged Ticks (from left) in nymph stage, adult male and adult female (Source: California Health Dept.)

While the potential for Lyme disease exists in just two tick species, all ticks have the potential to carry disease, and should be treated with equal caution. So, with that creepy-crawly introduction, here are ten common tick myths, debunked:

Myth 1: Ticks only occur in the Eastern Gorge

False. While it’s true that ticks are VERY common in oak and pine savannah of the Eastern Gorge, they have been reported throughout the Gorge, though in decreasing numbers as you head west. Based on my own experience, the tick population grows steadily as you head east of Bonneville.

The CAPC forecast for tick exposure in 2013, with hot spots Hood River and Clackamas counties and Southern Oregon (Source: CAPC)

The CAPC forecast for tick exposure in 2013, with hot spots Hood River and Clackamas counties and Southern Oregon (Source: CAPC)

Ticks are found throughout much of Oregon, as it turns out, but generally not in the prolific numbers as we find the Gorge. The CAPC map (above) shows the 2013 tick exposure forecast by Oregon county, with Hood River and Clackamas counties as a expected hot spots in northern Oregon and Jackson and Josephine counties showing higher risk in southern Oregon.

So, while you may have hiked in the “safer” areas of Gorge, it’s always good idea to do a tick check when you get home, no matter where you hiked. But if you’re hiking east of Bonneville, then it’s a good idea to expect ticks and take some precautions.

Myth 2: Ticks die in winter

False. Though tick populations generally decline in winter, in mild winters (such as the past one) ticks in the Gorge can continue to grow and thrive in the outdoors. When the temperature drops below freezing, ticks simply become inactive and burrow into leaf litter, emerging when conditions improve.

Year-round tick country: the Columbia River from the terraced slopes above Rowena Crest

Year-round tick country: the Columbia River from the terraced slopes above Rowena Crest

Tick research in the Northeast suggests a threshold temperature of 38º F and above for ticks to become active, though no research is available for the Pacific Northwest. But it’s safe to assume that you can encounter active ticks year-round in the Gorge in all but the coldest weather.

Myth 3: Ticks should be removed using a lit match

“Just light a match, blow it out, and put the hot tip on the tick to make it angry, and it will back right out!”

“I just used WD40 on a cotton swab to remove a tick from my 3 lb Chihauhau.”

(advice from the internet)

..or… paint thinner, dish soap, kerosene, nail polish remover and Vaseline. All of these folklore solutions have spread far and wide in the age of the internet, along with cult-like followings to defend them!


The idea that Vaseline or WD-40 will suffocate the tick and nail polish will kill it with toxins or cause it to detach on its own is sketchy, at best. Worse, these folk remedies could cause the tick to disgorge its contents into your bloodstream — exactly what you’re trying to avoid!

Instead, ticks should be gently pulled from the skin with tweezers or a custom tool for removing ticks (more on that later).

Myth 4: If parts of the tick break off when removing it, you have to dig them out to prevent Lyme Disease

Advice on this one varies: some sources recommend removing all parts of the tick to prevent a secondary infection, while others argue that you’ll do yourself more harm trying to dig them from your skin. But if you remove the living tick within 24 hours, you’ve likely removed any risk of infection with a tick-borne disease, even if you didn’t get the entire tick.

The safest bet is to check with your doctor if you find yourself in this situation. Even better, be sure to remove the tick properly, and you will be much less likely to break off any tick parts (again, more on that later).

Myth 5: Ticks can re-grow their bodies if the head is still intact

Headless is dead… even for the mighty tick!

Headless is dead… even for the mighty tick!

False. This bit of folklore probably comes the (admittedly creepy) fact that the abdomen of a tick that has become engorged after several days of being attached to a host can become alarmingly large. Or maybe that some snakes and lizards can re-grow their tail? But a beheaded tick is just that, and can’t survive.

Myth 6: A hot, soapy shower will remove any ticks

Partly true. Ticks can survive a shower – or even a bath — and happily stay attached to your skin, but a shower can wash away ticks that haven’t attached yet. If you’ve done a visual tick check before jumping in the shower, it’s not a bad idea to do another fingertip check with the aid of soap and water, feeling for small bumps along the skin.

A fingertip check is especially helpful in finding small, immature ticks in the nymph stage, when they are about the size of the head of a pin. They often go unnoticed until fully engorged, and are therefore responsible for nearly all of human Lyme disease cases, according to the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

Myth 7: Ticks in Oregon don’t carry Lyme disease

Partly true. While not common in Oregon (yet), Lyme disease is here, with Oregon falling in the “moderate” range for disease risk in 2013, according to the CAPC (see map, below). However, in the Western states, Lyme disease is only transmitted through the Western Black-Legged Tick, just one of several tick species found here.

The 2013 Lyme Disease forecast by the Companion Animal Parasite Council puts Northwest Oregon in the moderate risk range (Source: CAPC)

The 2013 Lyme Disease forecast by the Companion Animal Parasite Council puts Northwest Oregon in the moderate risk range (Source: CAPC)

Though small, Oregon’s Lyme-carrying ticks are noticeably larger than the only other species known to the disease (found in eastern states), so they are easier to spot and remove. Small comfort, to be sure, but it does make coping with ticks a bit less troublesome in this part of the country.

A caveat to that size difference is that our Lyme-carrying ticks in the immature phase — known as a “nymph” are still very small, so warrant extra care during the spring and early summer and nymphs are most common. Nymphs spend most of their time on the ground, and generally feed on small animals as a result, but it’s still a good idea to look closely for nymphs when you check for ticks.

Myth 8: Only people can get Lyme disease

False. Lyme disease was first identified as a tick-borne illness for humans in 1978, and the actual cause (a bacterium) of the illness wasn’t discovered until 1981. By 1984, Lyme disease had been discovered in dogs, and soon after, in other domestic animals, including horses and cats.

In the Northeast, dogs with Lyme disease have become commonplace, to the point that some states have stopped tracking the infectious because of the flood of reports to veterinary clinics.

Oh, the injustice! The sleepy villages of Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut have the unfortunate distinction of having a tick-borne disease named for them..!

Oh, the injustice! The sleepy villages of Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut have the unfortunate distinction of having a tick-borne disease named for them..!

The test for Lyme disease in dogs takes just a few minutes, and dogs testing positive are generally treated with a 30-day regiment of antibiotics. For most dogs, visible symptoms of the disease are the same as for humans: swollen joints, lethargy, and in a small percentage, kidney failure. Veterinary clinics in the Northeast are now offering a Lyme disease vaccination for dogs in response to the increased rate of infection.

Myth 9: Lyme disease is always marked by a bullseye rash

False. While Lyme disease in humans typically causes a red rash to expand from the site of the tick bite, creating a “bullseye”, this distinctive rash only occurs in 70-80 percent of cases, according to CDC.

The classic Lyme disease bullseye (Wikimedia)

The classic Lyme disease bullseye (Wikimedia)

Usually, a tick must remain attached for a minimum of 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease, so if you remove a tick promptly, it’s soon enough to avoid an infection risk. If you’re not sure, or know that a tick was been embedded for more than 24 (even without the bullseye rash), it’s probably a good idea to check with a doctor about starting antibiotics as a precaution.

Myth 10: Every tick bite carries the possibility of Lyme disease

False. Most tick species do not carry Lyme disease. Only ticks in the genus Ixodes carry the bacteria B. burgdorferi which causes the disease. This includes the Deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the Northeastern states and the Western Black-Legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) in the West.

In Oregon, the adult Black-Legged tick measures about two-thirds the size of the more common Wood (or “dog”) tick (Dermacentor variabilis), which frequent similar habitat. However, while the Wood tick doesn’t transmit the Lyme bacteria, it does carry other diseases (including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever), so the same care in managing ticks applies, no matter the species.

Black-Legged tick (left) compared to common Wood tick (right)

Black-Legged tick (left) compared to common Wood tick (right)

The risk of Lyme infection from a tick bite is estimated at 1-3 percent, so very low — but still cause for caution. Why? Because left untreated, Lyme disease symptoms may progressively affect joint, heart and central nervous system health. In most cases, the infection and symptoms are eliminated with prompt use of antibiotics. Delayed diagnosis and treatment can make the disease more difficult to treat and risk lasting disability, so it’s a serious concern.

When you’re in tick country…

Ticks are found where they can reliably attach to deer, livestock, other mammals, ground-dwelling birds and even lizards. Some of the most productive tick habitats in the Columbia Gorge are oak woodlands and areas of vegetation at the edge of forests, along forest hiking trails and game trails and in grassy meadows. They are also common in power line corridors that cut through forests, around campgrounds and in tall grass along roadways.

While ticks are definitely stalking YOU, it’s not an active pursuit. Instead, they wait on vegetation for passing hosts to come along. Ticks can detect hosts by sensing carbon dioxide, scents and vibrations from movement of their hosts. They can sometimes be seen at the tips of grass blades or plant leaves “questing.” This is a behavior in which the tick extends waving front legs ahead of an approaching host, looking to catch a ride!

Sure, it looks funny! But it’s a proven practice for tick prevention

Sure, it looks funny! But it’s a proven practice for tick prevention

When you’re in tick country, wear light colored long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck pant legs into socks (see photo, above) and shirts into pants to close off points easy of entry at tick-level. This not only makes it harder for a tick to make its way to your skin, it also allows you to better spot ticks on your clothing, and simply brush them off.

Walk in the center of trails, and avoid brushing against tall grass or undergrowth along the trail. If you stop, sit on rocks or logs, not in grassy areas, and periodically brush your legs and sleeps to feel for ticks on your clothing. These simply practices not only help prevent ticks from going for a ride, they also help you avoid poison oak, so you get a twofer for these prevention basics!

Materials treated with DEET or permethrin are proven to repel and eventually kill ticks. Of the two, permethrin is the most effective and long lasting. This pesticide can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective through several washings. It is toxic to cats, however — even from contact with recently treated clothing — so must be used with care!

DEET (left) is easier to use but Permethrin (right) is more effective for ticks

DEET (left) is easier to use but Permethrin (right) is more effective for ticks

DEET products are also widely available, and can be applied to both your skin and clothes (with some fabric limitations). Deet might be a good option if you’re hiking in warm weather and less inclined to cover up with clothing.

After your hike…

After you’ve been hiking in tick country, here’s an easy checklist to follow:

1. Check clothing for ticks when you return to the trailhead. Ticks may be carried home and into the house on clothing, so check before you get into the car. When you get home, be sure to immediately put clothing in the wash, then the dryer to take care of any stowaways you might have missed. Clothing that can’t be washed can go directly into the dryer, where an hour on high heat will kill any ticks.

2. Do a full body check. Before you get in the shower, use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body including your scalp, behind your ears and… gulp… around your privates! A thorough check should take about 30-45 seconds. Kids should be checked by parents!

3. Shower right away. Showering washes away un-attached ticks that you might not have spotted, and has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease as a result. It also gives you an opportunity for a thorough fingertip tick check with soapy fingers.

4. Do another full body check. After a shower, repeat the full body check with a mirror.

You should continue to watch for ticks for a couple days after spending time in tick country, to ensure that you haven’t missed a tick.

What to Do if You Find an Attached Tick


Remove an attached tick as soon as you notice it with tweezers or a special tick removal tool. Grasp a tick as close to your skin as possible, pulling it straight out — and don’t “unscrew” the tick, as suggested in many folk remedies, as you’ll likely pull the head off the tick!

The tick remover kit shown below is one of the best available, and far superior to tweezers, as it involves no squeezing when pulling a tick — thus lessening the chance of infection or breaking off the head. This kit consists of a simple, forked spoon for lifting the tick out and a tiny magnifier for use in the field. I carry this kit in every one of my packs — it’s inexpensive, and easily found in outdoor stores or online.

The excellent Pro-Tick Remedy system makes pulling ticks a breeze!

The excellent Pro-Tick Remedy system makes pulling ticks a breeze!

Once a tick is out, wash the wound with soap or alcohol and monitor it for a day or two for signs of infection. Most tick wounds will heal up quickly, with no sign of the bite after a couple days.

It’s always safe to watch for any signs of tick-borne illness after you’ve been bitten, such as rash or fever in the days and weeks following the bite. If you suspect you have symptoms, see your doctor.

Ticks and your dog…

Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and diseases, and of course, hikers love to take their dogs into the Gorge. While vaccines protect dogs from some tick borne diseases, they don’t keep your dog from bringing ticks into your home.

There are several things you can do to protect your dog from ticks. Most obvious is to simply leave your dog home when venturing into areas known for ticks — and that includes areas in the Eastern Gorge. But if you do take your dog into tick country, there are some preventative steps that will greatly reduce the chance of a tick attaching to Rover.

The most common (and simplest) solution for preventing ticks on your dog is a once-per month, non-prescription insecticide treatments available from most veterinarians, online or from pet stores. The best-known options are Frontline Plus™ and Advantix™.

Frontline Plus comes in doses adjusted for the weight of your dog, and is applied from a hard-to-open, somewhat awkward-to-use dropper that can spill onto your hands

Frontline Plus comes in doses adjusted for the weight of your dog, and is applied from a hard-to-open, somewhat awkward-to-use dropper that can spill onto your hands

The key ingredient that makes both Frontline Plus™ and Advantix™ effective on ticks is premethrin, the same common, widely-used pesticide used to treat clothing for ticks. Be very careful if you have cats in your home, however, as premethrin can be fatal to cats, whether inadvertently administered or even by exposure to a recently treated family dog. Both treatments are applied along the spine, beginning at the back of the neck and moving toward the tail, and are effective for up to one month.

These products should prevent ticks from attaching to your dog — and even if one does, the premethrin ingredient would likely kill the tick, eventually. But these products don’t prevent ticks from going for a ride in your dog’s fur, so it’s always a good idea to inspect your dog at the trailhead, using a brush, before loading up and driving home.

Advantix has the same premethrin ingredient as Frontline Plus, but is easier to administer with well-designed tubes that keep the product off your hands

Advantix has the same premethrin ingredient as Frontline Plus, but is easier to administer with well-designed tubes that keep the product off your hands

Tick bites on dogs can be hard to detect, as tick borne disease symptoms may not appear for up to three weeks after a tick bite. Call your veterinarian if you notice changes in behavior or appetite in you think your dog might have been bitten by a tick.

Tick! Tick! (…but don’t panic…)

Okay, so this article might have you nervously scratching your legs on your next hike and seeing every black speck on your boots as a TICK! But don’t let these little blood suckers get you down! Sure, they’re annoying… and kind of creepy. But the basic precautions outlined above are easy to build into your hiking routine, and more than enough to give you peace of mind when you’re out on the trail.


If you DO find a tick that has managed to attach to you, and you’re creeped out by the thought of pulling it — or can’t reach the tick yourself — simply head for the doctor’s office. They will take care of it for you, and the chances of any complications are extremely small. Even if you have pulled the tick, and are feeling sort of queasy about it, go to the doctor (with the tick). It will be worth the peace of mind.

For a lot more information on ticks (if you aren’t adequately freaked out by now), check out the Centers for Disease Control tick resources.

Then, by all means, get back out on the trail, ticks (and poison oak) be damned!

Let’s Fix the Cooper Spur Trail

The first hiking trails on Mount Hood were built in the late 1890s, radiating from the newly constructed Cloud Cap Inn on the mountain’s north side. The steep hike up the south Eliot Glacier moraine to Cooper Spur was perhaps the first trail, as it was part of the still-popular Cooper Spur route to the summit. The original climber’s trail is still used, though a much gentler route built in the 1960s now ascends the spur in a series of well-graded switchbacks.

The new, graded trail carries thousands of hikers to the top of Cooper Spur each summer. It is among the most spectacular alpine hikes in the country, with jaw-dropping views of the sheer north face of Mount Hood and a close-up look at the massive jumble of flowing ice that makes up the Eliot Glacier.

The snowfields in question on Cooper Spur are permanent enough to be mapped.

It’s hard to know exactly why the newer, graded trail was routed over a set of mostly permanent snowfields when it was built, but this design flaw continues to be a problem for this otherwise exceptional trail. The newer trail initially follows the climber’s route fairly closely, sticking to the rim of the Eliot Glacier where the snow melts early and reliably each summer.

But near the crest of Cooper Spur, the newer route suddenly crosses the face of the spur, traversing to the south shoulder and overlooking the Newton Clark Glacier. It is in this section where the route crosses a set of persistent snowfields that are nearly permanent in all but the driest years.

The snowfields clearly show up in this 1890s view of Mount Hood in late summer.

This flaw in the newer route is confusing and potentially dangerous to the many hikers who venture to the top of the spur each summer. At 8,514 feet, the summit of Cooper Spur is truly alpine, so one of the benefits of the modern trail is to provide a relatively manageable hike to the top of the spur for the average visitor, despite the high elevation.

But when the trail disappears into the snow in this final pitch, hikers often resort to climbing directly up the snowfield — a dangerous choice — or scrambling up the steep climber’s trail, with its loose rock and cinders creating a potentially dangerous option for many hikers.

The snowfields as viewed from Cloud Cap Inn in the late 1890s.

The design flaw in the newer route may also have environmental impacts: the climber’s trail isn’t really a “trail”, but rather, a braided confusion of boot paths made less stable and more extensive each year as the popularity of the Cooper Spur hike continues to grow.

Early 1900s maps don’t show the snowfields, but they do show the climber’s trail on Cooper Spur.

While the ecological impact might seem inconsequential at this elevation, where few plants can even survive, the physical scars left on the rocky slopes are real and warrant better management of recreation travel in the area.

The high tundra landscape on the slopes of Mount Hood represents one of the most unusual and sensitive in the region, and a stray boot print can last for years. The ever-increasing variations on the climber’s trail that form each summer can take years to recover, even if given the chance.

The USGS 7.5 minute maps of the 1960s were the first to map the snowfields as permanent features. This 1962 map pre-dates the modern Cooper Spur Trail.

This article makes the case for addressing this problem in a couple of steps:

1. Realign the upper portion of the Cooper Spur Trail with a series of designed, graded switchbacks that roughly follow the climber’s trail, along the Eliot Glacier rim.

2. Decommission the problem sections that are usually snow-covered.

This proposal would not only corral the hiking hordes onto a more manageable, new path near the climber’s route, it would also leaves the bulk of the east slope of Cooper Spur untouched by hikers by decommissioning the old trail. This could greatly reduce the impact of the trail on the alpine ecosystem that exists on the slopes of Cooper Spur.

[Click here for a larger version of this map]

One of the most attractive aspects of this proposal is that it would be so easy to build. Building trails at this elevation, with the absence of soils and vegetation, is straightforward and very simple. The new route would simply need to be designed and surveyed, with construction done by volunteers or youth crews like the Northwest Youth Corps.

Looking up the climber’s trail to Cooper Spur and Mount Hood.

Trail construction would consists of rolling loose boulders and rocks to form a trail bench, and smoothing the surface of the new bench into a hiking tread with the abundant volcanic ash and glacial till that makes up most of the terrain at this elevation. This work is relatively easy, and surprisingly fast (I know this firsthand because I’ve adopted a couple of nearby trails in the area, and regularly rebuild worn trail segments in this high-elevation environment of rock and ice).

How to Help

If you’ve experienced the same frustration coping with the trail to Cooper Spur, your comments to the U.S. Forest Service can have an impact. This proposal represents a fairly simple effort, and there’s a good chance the Forest Service will respond if enough hikers weigh in on the hazards of the current trail alignment.

The best way to be heard is to go to the Mount Hood National Forest contact page and speak your mind — it’s easy, and you might just help get this trail fixed for generations to come!