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Mount Hood, OR

Updated: May 16, 2022

We planned 2+ days at Mt Hood to provide a buffer in case we ran into bad weather and had to delay our Cooper Spur hike. However, we had perfect weather - so with no delays, we were able to squeeze in a few extra Mt Hood activities.

We stopped at Trillium Lake for a quick visit. It provides an incredible backdrop with snowy Mount Hood towering 7,600 above the alpine lake. Unfortunately, it was too breezy to get one of those perfect mirror reflection in the lake, but it was still a beautiful spot.

Mt Hood is a stratovolcano in northwest Oregon located about fifty miles east of Portland and thirty-five miles south of the Columbia River. At 11,244 feet, it is the highest point in Oregon and the 4th highest peak in the Cascade Range. The mountain began to form during volcanic eruptions between 700,000 and 500,000 years ago. Over the ensuing millennia, further eruptions continued to shape and give rise to the mountain. At its highest, Mount Hood topped 12,000 feet, with ice and erosion reducing the peak to its current height.

Mt. Hood is the second most climbed mountain in the world, second only to Japan’s Mt. Fuji.

One of our side trips took us to the famous Timberline Lodge and we decided to add a short 5 mile hike to Zigzag Canyon Lookout at the last minute.

Constructed in 1937, Timberline Lodge stands on the south slope of Mt. Hood at an elevation of 6,000 feet. It is one of Oregon’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing nearly two million visitors every year. in its prime location. This magnificent building was used as the exterior location for the Overlook Hotel in the Stanley Kubrick film 'The Shining'.

The lodge contains a large collection of works by C.S. Price, who the state historical society has said "may be Oregon's most important and influential painter." He also happens to be the uncle of one of our friends from California.

From this photo, you would never know that we visited in July, but Timberline Ski Area is one of North America's only year-round operating ski facilities; closing for two weeks in September for maintenance activities. It definitely was strange seeing so many boarders and skiers carrying their equipment to the lift.

The winter season on the lower mountain typically runs from early to mid-November through Memorial Day. But it's the summer ski season that sets Mt Hood Timberline ski area apart. The Palmer Lift, ascending to 8,450 feet on the Palmer snowfield (red arrow), allows ski operation to continue through the summer months. So much snow falls on this snowfield that the lift is completely buried and doesn’t operate during the winter months.

During a bad low snow season, Mt Hood can receive in excess of 21 feet and in a high snow season like 2015-2016 over 38 feet of snow.

Unfortunately, skiing was not in our plans.

After enjoying our walk around the lodge, we headed out for a hike to Zigzag Canyon outlook.

Distance: 4.4 miles

The hike starts out at the Timberline Lodge on a paved service road before branching off to a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

It's fun to think that during the winter we occasionally hike the PCT in the Whitewater Preserve (photo below) located in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area in Southern California. Same trail, same incredible beauty just 800 miles separating these sections of the PCT.

Clear skies and excellent views to the south of Mt Jefferson. Reaching an elevation of 10,497 ft, Jefferson is the 2nd tallest mountain in Oregon after Mount Hood.

For about half a mile, the trail traverses the Mt Hood ski area following

a well-marked dirt path.

Dwarf mountain lupine lined the trail.

After a mile, we entered the Mt Hood Wilderness area. We stopped at the permit kiosk to obtain the free wilderness permit.

There was no shortage of mountain views along the trail.

We followed the trail to Little Zigzag Canyon, one of several canyons along the way to the outlook. We continued into the canyon where the Little Zigzag River drains meltwater from the Zigzag Glacier located near the summit. This canyon marks the halfway point.

As we crossed the river, we spotted what we believe to be cougar prints in snow along the water’s edge. According to the Office of Fish & Wildlife, there are about 6,600 cougars in Oregon. They are the 2nd largest cat in North America. Despite their size and presence across much of the western part of the US, these cats are rarely seen by humans. Indeed, they are solitary creatures that spend the majority of their lives alone.

The trail entered more of a timbered area. There were still many downed tress from the windstorm of September 2020 when hundreds of acres sustained widespread blowdown.

Despite the state's efforts, with thousands of downed trees, it will take several years to repair the trail due to the extensive damage and difficult terrain.

Some Cat's-ear lily were growing along the trail. These flowers are native to the western United States from northern California to Montana.

After 2.3 miles, we approached Zigzag Canyon. During the hike we had seen or walked by several small canyons but nothing compared to the size of this massive scar on the mountain. Five hundred feet below us we could hear the Zigzag River sweeping through the valley floor. It's hard to imagine a time when this river was so swollen by glacier meltwater that it carved out this chasm. A trace of the river is barely visible in the lower left quadrant of this photo.

The overlook was covered in beargrass. This common wildflower found in subalpine meadows in the Pacific Northwest is actually not a grass and its not eaten by bears.

Beargrass can grow up to five feet in height with long and wiry, grass-like basal leaves at the base of the stalk and a cluster of small, dense white flowers at the top.

After enjoying the canyon views it was time to turn back and make a few more stops before leaving the Mt Hood Wilderness Area..

Our last stop of the day was at the pullout for the White River bridge on Highway 35. Originating on the southeast flank of Mount Hood the river flowed gently through the rock and gravel-filled river bed.

However, looking at the extensive rock and sediment buildup on the nearly 900-foot wide river bed, it was obvious this stream had experienced dramatically higher water levels and devastating ‘debris flows’.

Debris flows are fast-moving mixtures of unconsolidated sediment, rocks, organic debris, and water that form when steep-sided volcano/mountain slopes become saturated and fail. Small debris flows occur routinely and go unnoticed, but large storm-triggered debris flows wreak havoc on everything in their paths.

All the conditions necessary to trigger one of these devastating debris flow occurred in November 2006 on the south side of Mt Hood.

  • Heavy rain: Mt. Hood was hit with more than 13 inches of rain in a 6-day period. Due to abnormally warm temperature, the rain reached high elevations on the mountain causing increased glacial melting. The glacial meltwater combined with the heavy rains saturated the steep walls of the glacial trough.

  • Exposed unconsolidated sediment: Here are two of our photos taken along the Eliot Glacier that show the mountain really is just an enormous collection of unconsolidated and unstable glacial debris.

  • Steep mountain slopes and glaciers: The south face of Mt Hood is marked with steep slopes and the Eliot Glacier clinging to the summit.

For more pictures like this click here for the blog: Hiking Cooper Spur on Mount Hood.

During the November storm, a section of the Eliot Glacier moraine wall failed triggering a massive debris flow that roared over 5 miles down the Eliot Creek and into the valley. As the flow sped down the mountainside it dropped large and small debris everywhere along its path. Here are two photo taken of the White River bridge on Highway 35 after the debris flow (courtesy of Oregon Dept. of Transportation).

The river looked quite peaceful during our visit. Calm for the time being.

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Stefan Hacker
Stefan Hacker
Apr 20, 2022

38ft of snow is plenty, wow..!! Don't want to be hit by any of those massive boulders, though, when they are in motion. Mount Hood looks like a lot of fun as a holiday destination. I'd imagine I could spend a few happy days there.

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