Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Monday trail blogging: Bald Mountain

Portland, Oregon, has the distinction of being the only city that has a last name, as Don DeLillo points out in his latest novel. But it's also surrounded by some of the finest hiking terrain on the continent, including the Oregon coast, Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade range.

Last weekend we took our adult daughter up to Bald Mountain ridge on the west side of Mt. Hood (11,239 ft / 3,426 m), the highest peak in Oregon. Though she's an avid and experienced hiker, for some reason we'd never taken her there before. Besides, it was a good way to celebrate a family birthday.

Saturday was a near-perfect day: the sky was clear just about everywhere except on Hood itself, and the temperature was about 70F / 11C. It was breezy on the ridge, but higher up the winds must have been fierce.

Orographic clouds formed on Hood through the day, especially in the lee of the summit ridge. Sometimes most of the mountain was obscured, but not for long. The clouds changed rapidly, adding to the drama of the mountain landscape. But hikers on high northerly ridges like McNeil Point, Barrett Spur and Cooper Spur were inside a cloud for much of the day.

This is one of my favorite places on the planet, but it's hardly a secret to Oregonians—as demonstrated by the three dozen cars at the trailhead. Not surprising for Labor Day weekend. But on most days, even in good weather, the trail population is sparse and there's a lot of wild terrain where hikers can disperse. (The area in the photograph is part of the designated Mt. Hood Wilderness.)

Stunning views of Hood's west face begin to open up after just a mile or so, and about 500 vertical feet, from the trailhead. The rewards for such a minimal effort are stupendous. The trail goes on for many miles, including the rough climber's route up to McNeil Point and the round-the-mountain Timberline Trail (now closed in some places due to washouts).

Prospective hikers should get a good trail map and description, since there are several junctions that can be confusing without them.

PHOTOS: Mt. Hood and the Sandy River headwaters from Bald Mountain Ridge trail. Reid Glacier on the right, below the spire of Illumination Rock. The second photo also shows the large Sandy Glacier in the center and the Little Sandy Glacier above it to the left. (M.J. O'Brien)

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