High elevation and up close personal views of Mt Hood, reason enough to do Cooper Spur. The other reason is that this hike is great for training purposes when you are planning on climbing a mountain. Not only it gives you the steep, exposed experience but also gives you the high elevation one as it starts at 6000 feet and goes to about 9000 feet. Since Val and I had our aims set on climbing Mt Adams towards the end of the month or beginning of August Cooper Spur was a perfect choice. We were also super lucky with the weather as we got a crystal clear day that gave us some incredible views. As we did last time, instead of taking the normal trail, we took a user trail that is becoming more official as time goes by. This trail climbs quickly to the ridge line just south of the Elliot Glacier run off. This route opens up views of the mountain and an incredible canyon as well as a clear view of the route to follow. From the ridge we noticed that some of the switchbacks on the face of the mountain were still covered in snow so some of the climb was straight up instead of the normal switchbacks. Still, we kept our steady pace until we connected with the actual trail and continued pretty much straight up to the signed rock which, seemed we reached much faster than expected. Last time we hiked this route we got to the first wind shelter and then turned around. This time, we less snow on the ridge, we continued up and were able to reach the upper wind shelter were we stopped for lunch while admiring the views of the crevices on Eliot Glacier that were almost at arm’s length. After the necessary rest and just before the wind started cooling us beyond what was comfortable, we started our hike down following the normal route passing by the shelter and then entering the forest to finish back at the trailhead. So we got our training and the rewards that come with it.
Wanting to go for a harder hike, Val and I picked the Rudolph Spur in the Gorge. On one side it had been quite some time since we did it last and on the other, I had been mentioning the last month or so. Also, we wanted something closer so we wouldn’t have to wake up super early and rush out the door. So we drove to Bridge of the Gods and had to do a couple of turns to find a parking spot. As it has become the norm, parking areas are now full so you need to be creative and sometimes park in places where you’re not sure if you’ll get a ticket or not. So with our fingers crossed, we crossed the street and got on the PCT. The first part, as you gain elevation in a couple of gentle switchbacks is a good warmup until you reach the power lines and then head east towards Dry Creek Falls. Right before the spur trail we found our turn and from there we could see lots of people heading to the fall. Trying to be inconspicuous, we made a quick turn and quickly tried to disappear thru the bushes. Right there we noticed that there seems to be less traffic on Rudolph spur. The trail has always been kind of hidden but has clear marks of adventurous hikers that take this route. We also started seeing newer fallen trees that were not there the last time we did this hike. The going was hard as we had to negotiate branches and rocks. We lost the trail a couple of times and were able to find it again. AS you gain elevation, there’s a known area where the hill gets very steep on the side and towards the end, the trail seems to disappear. At that point an old fallen tree serves as a handrail to climb and continue a bit higher but here’s where things got different. The tree, after many years of rain and sun, is finally decaying so grabbing onto it is not a good idea. The other thing we found is that the foot path that used to be there at the top is no longer there. There’s signs of a small washout that seems took the path down, We found an alternate path around a tree that was very sketchy but were able to negotiate and get to a fairly decent viewpoint before the path made a turn and headed back into the forest. From there, the ridge was easy to find and follow for the most part. The hard part was multiple new downs trees crisscrossing the trail. The progress was slow and at some point we lost the trail again. I noticed quickly enough and corrected just a couple hundred feet below a big clearing that serves as a great lunch spot with great views of the Columbia. In the past we have found groups of people here enjoying the views before continuing on. To our surprise, the area is now almost uninviting. Three trees feel across blocking pretty much the entire area where we used to sit and enjoy the view. Now, the only way to see anything is climbing around a knob of rocks and standing there. Otherwise, you see branches. Unfortunately, this is a trail that is marked as not maintained, so the likelihood of having a work party go up there with tools to clean it up is almost none existent. After a short break, we continued up negotiating even more downed trees as we gained more elevation until we reached Benson Plateau. I remember a faint trail that was somewhat easy to follow to get back on the Ruckel Creek trail. Either we missed it or buried under fallen trees and branches. Finding your way up there is always a challenge, the added branches and trunks, made it eerie.
It felt like being in a haunted forest for a while. Navigating our way around, we finally found our trail for the return path. At first we started going down fast as the trail is pretty steep and sometimes is just easier to let yourself fly down. But after a while the pounding took its toll. Both Val and I started feeling our knees as we pounded our way on a rocky trail all the way back down to trail 400. Normally the hike down is the easy part, not this time. It was as hard as the climbing so when we got down we had just enough energy left to hike back to the car. It was a bit sad to see the trail disappearing, but I guess that’s what happens when the trail is not maintained, the forest just takes it back.
It was a rainy and overcast day so I didn’t plan anything with the group, but I still wanted to hit the trail. Since I hadn’t made plans, I had to pick a route I already knew so I started looking at some obvious choices in Mt Hood. Then I realized that it has been a long time I haven’t hike from Barlow Pass in a long time. This mostly because we use that railhead when there’s snow. It’s rare when we go in the summer. One option was to do the off trail to Ghost Ridge but I knew there were going to be no views from up there so instead, I opted to hike the PCT down to Lower Twin Lakes and then make my way around massing by Upper Twin Lakes and Palmateer Point. I got to an empty trailhead where I only saw another car. Once on the trail, under a faint mist I hiked in complete solitude and silence. I couldn’t hear birds, wind or water. It was quite peaceful. The ground was humid and had that recognizable wet smell. AS expected, I didn’t get any views to I just hiked on until I found the junction to the Lower Twin Lakes. When I got there, I had the choice to just check it out and continue on but instead, decided to walk around the lake, just for the fun of it. The views all around were the same. A very opaque and muted green surface and grey skies. I noticed the water level much lower than what it should be and a lot of erosion in different areas. One particular place that was completely flattened out was near the junction with the rog Lake trail. In that area, a rope was hanging from the tree and the clear marks of many people swinging on it to land on the lake. Can’t imagine how that would have looked on a busy weekend. After that, I continued on the trail towards Upper Twin Lakes, o that section I saw the only person I saw the entire day, another solitary hiker. I got to the second lake and though about going around. Instead I stopped, grabbed something to it and then continued around until I got to the Palmateer cutoff. One advantage of hiking this in the summer is that you can actually see the trail and don’t have to guess as you navigate on snow. The trail to Palmateer Point was easy to follow just until the point you get to the bare top. There are several foot paths going up thee so it’s difficult to see which one is the official one. Trying to to leave a mark, I picked the rockiest one and made certain to step only on hard surfaces. There were a lot of marks of less carful hikers though. At the top I didn’t get the welcoming view of Mt Hood, but I knew where it was. I didn’t stay there long so then I found my way down taking a connector trail to the PCY and back to the trailhead.
Long weekends are almost certainly a backpacking weekend and the 4th of July weekend, marking the “official” beginning of the summer is a sure one. We looked at three or four options that, after doing research we found that they were not doable. Either roads were closed or trails were not maintained. Looking further south, we picked the Diamond Peak wilderness which had been in the to-do list for quite some time. From the ranger station we learned that there was a possibility to find some downed trees in some of the trails but that they were hard at work trying to get the trails clear for the weekend. What they failed to inform us was about the other issue, snow. Read on.
Day 1: Diamond Peak North trailhead to Marie Lake
As we normally do, we drove Friday night after dropping the cats off to the trailhead. Being a long drive, we got there in the middle of the night and notice that the rest of the group were already there and probably sleeping. On Saturday we woke up early in the morning and as soon as we got out of the car we started swatting mosquitoes. With the other hand we managed to get dressed, have breakfast and get ready to hit the trail. The first part of the trail was a quick climb thru the forest with quite a bit of underbrush and downed trees. We started doubting the reports we got about the trails being clean very quickly. We passed the junction where we would come out on our return and headed south skirting the mountain. Along the way we passed several trail junctions to the many lakes you can access from this trail or from the road. Near the junction with Corrigan Lake was when we got our first grand view. In the distance we could see multiple ridges and Mount Thielsen in the distance.
At that point the trip started to get real promising. Further on the trail we crossed Emigrant Creek that comes out of Marie Lake, our intended destination and finally got to the junction with the Rockpile trail. A bit more elevation gain took us by the Diamond Rockpile where we got another amazing view that now included a big mass of water that we think was Summit Lake. The trail ended up at a T junction that gives access to Rockpile lake to one side and Marie Lake to the other. Completely unexpected to us, there was some snow patches on the ground. Following our plan, we found our way to Marie Lake navigating over small snow patches that covered the trail. Then, finally, thru the trees we saw our destination and even better, as soon as we got to the lake we saw nobody else and a big campsite on the eastern edge of the lake. We dropped our packs and walked around just enough to confirm this spot was it. Being mid afternoon, we set up camp and then relaxed, some of us wetting our feet in the cold water of a creek that feeds the lake while others getting in the lake itself which was pretty shallow.
Later that day, and trying to stay away from the mosquitoes I went for a walk around the lake. That ok me over a ridge on the North side that gave some glimpses of Diamond Peak. I found a meadow that almost looked like you could get here on a 4x4. I got some nice water colors from the north side of the lake and was able to see a lot of snow patches. On the western end of the lake I found another large campsite. It was god but far less breezy that where we stayed so the mosquitoes where even worse (if there’s such a thing). Finally, I made my way back to camp to relax, eat and go to sleep.
Day 2: Marie Lake to a meadow plus Diamond Peak Summit attempt
We woke to a spectacular day even though we didn’t get the morning sun until later. After eating breakfast and packing, again with one hand as the other was busy swatting mosquitoes, we took off going back to the T junction. After the junction, we passed a meadow with a shallow pond we thought was Rockpile lake, but then, looking at a map, we realized it was just snow melt. We had to take a small detour to avoid having to walk thru the water and shortly after that, we found the junction with the PCT which would be our route for most of the day. We thought that would make travelling easier as it is the PCT after all, right? Well, not quite, but we’ll get to that. The PCT took as higher on the south flank of Diamond Peak and at a certain point we made a hairpin turn and got to a rocky outcrop with probably the views you can get from this trail.
From this viewpoint We could see Summit lake, Mount Thielsen and several other peaks further south that I can’t identify. We spent several minutes taking pictures there before continuing on. After that turn though, it was time to start looking for any mark that would indicate or lead to the access route to climb Diamond Peak. We found it pretty easy marked with two small cairns on either side. At this point, some of us dropped our packs and headed up while others decided to stay on the trail, take it slow and relax. There’s no actual trail that goes to the summit but it’s pretty clear what path you need to take. Most of the route is rocky screw so you can only go so fast. The other thing about this climb, that is quite distracting, is the views. Each step you take makes the views better. The valley below increases, the lake becomes larger and more features appear in the distance. As it happens with most mountain climbs you think you are getting to the top and then you realize there’s a false summit. This was no different, but, we were welcomed with a huge snowfield with an edge that looked like a wave.
From that point we could see that the entire eastern flank of the mountain was white while the western side was not. We should have taken that as a clue of what we would find later along the PCT…. From the false summit, we could see the real summit not too far away along a ridge. We negotiated the ridge as far as we were able to but found a point that would have been really sketchy to pass. There was a big chasm on the side you needed to descend to and the traverse the side of the snow field to get back on the ridge. We contemplated the idea for a couple of minutes and then decided to head back down.
That adventure took as a lot longer than what we had estimated for the distance and elevation gain, but, considering the long day hours, we were not worried about the rest of the day to get to our next destination. So we ate something, got our packs and continued on the PCT. If you look at the map of the area, you’ll notice that the PCT skirts the eastern flank of the mountain right above the tree line. Remember I said that from the false summit we could see it was white? Well, it didn’t take long for us to find sections of the trail under snow.
Without traction devices, the going got slow. Not only we had to navigate and find our way, we had to negotiate slippery slopes, trees, pot holes and mosquitoes. Needless to say the going was slow and arduous and nobody had happy faces. It was a totally unexpected situation, but we pushed. At around quarter to 6 we made a stop to eat and replenish fluids. Legs were sore and spirit was low. From the map, it looked like we still had a long way to go, more that we had done so far (not counting the climb to Diamond Peak). We continued on trying to keep a steady pace. We all took chances at falling down, hitting a body part with a tree or landing in a pot hole. It didn’t get any easier and by 7 PM we knew there was no way we would be able to continue to our next destination or even navigate the snow safely, so at that point we started to look for a place to camp. Luckily for us, we pass a small snow melt creek and a bit further found a small meadow. It wasn’t perfect but flat enough to set up camp. As we did, the wind picked up and it got colder pretty quick. Almost in silence we all had dinner and hit the sack. The only thing we decided before that, was to wake up early in the morning and hit the trail no later than 8AM as we had to make up the last section of the PCT and then hike out.
Day 3: Meadow to Diamond Peak North trailhead.
We started with good energy and the hope that we would be out of the snow quickly. With the cold temperatures overnight, the snow had solidified so it helped to move a bit faster on the morning even though it was a bit more slippery. Finding the trail was also a bit easier as we were rested and with clear minds. Within an hour or so, the snow started thinning out as we passed by several snow melt ponds. The trail was also getting back in to the forest which would help a bit. AS we continued we found snow only on the uncovered areas of the trail. Anything that was under the canopy, was mostly free of snow and easy to walk on. Then, finally, we got o the junction with the Mount Yoran trail that would take us to the western side of the mountain and probably out of the snow, and it did. As we started descending towards Divide Lake (the intended destination for our second night) we passed a couple of shallow snow fields and lost the trail a couple of times but got down to the lake pretty quick.
Looking at the time, we realized it took two hours from where we stayed to the lake, something we could have not make the day before. The other relief was that we knew how long was the route from there to the trailhead and that most of it was downhill. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean easier as we found a lot of blow down on the way, but the going went better. It was a pity we didn’t get to spend the night at Divide Lake as planned. The lake itself and Mount Yoran right next to it offer some really amazing scenery. It looked like we were in a complete different place as we didn’t have those valley views or distant peaks. The we marched on, half of the way staying on a ridge line that had several unfrosted areas with views of Diamond Peak. At the end of the ridge, we passed a knob and then started descending quite rapidly to the valley. As we did, it got hotter and the mosquitoes even worse. It was hard to hike with poles while swatting mosquitoes. We had already used most of the Deet and jungle juice we had (not that it was helping). After a while hiking in the forest we came out to deep blue lake that market the bottom of the Yoran Mountain trail. Notch Lake is really beautiful although, being at lower elevation, had muddy shores and more mosquitoes.
We continued around a small section of the lake before leaving it behind as we approached the tie trail that would take us back to the Diamond Peak trail and then down to our trailhead. WE passed a couple of pond on the way that we didn’t stop to admire as by that point we were done with mosquitoes and branches on the ground. It was again a bit grueling but we were in better spirits as we were closing the loop. The tie trail ended up being easy to navigate although even less used that the other trails. Eventually we got to our junction, turned right and headed down to our cars. Despite the hard work navigating thru snow and having to stay on that meadow, this was a spectacular trip with some really amazing views.
I believe I’ve done this hike a couple of times in the past. The first time, if memory serves me well, we got to the junction with the unofficial path to the viewpoint but didn’t go there. Then, back in December of 2014 we hiked up there with our fried Erin on a very cloudy, misty day – it was December after all. We did get all the way to the view point but with all the clouds and rain, we didn’t get many views. Not saying it was not a spectacular hike that time though. Watching the clouds as the crawl up the mountain side over the trees is always a nice site. From the viewpoint, things were a bit different as there was only a grey void. It looked like this.
This time, Val and I did the hike on a warm, sunny day without a single cloud on the sky. I didn’t take a lot of pictures because most of the hike is very forested and steep so you’re huffing and puffing your way up the mountain. There are only a couple of spots where you can see the Columbia River and Mt Adams on the other side. Then we took the trail that goes to the view point and started getting hints of the reward we would get. I remember a section where the trail descends on a saddle to go over a second know before descending a bit to the viewpoint. Back in December of 2014, with the clouds, the knob looked like a mysterious island in the sky. This time the view might not have been as magical but still cool.
Then we hiked down on a very narrow user path to the very end of the ridge where a very stop drop off would make very bad news. The difference is that this time we finally, finally! Got the spectacular views and the reward for the almost 3500’ of elevation gain. Yes, the hike is long and has a lot of elevation gain but oh man is it worth it.