McNeil Point

My sister and I did the McNeil Point hike in 2006 in terrible conditions. I was out of shape and recovering from a bad summer cold. The day was blisteringly hot (in the 90s) and the black flies were biting. I ended up not making it up to the point and waited on the trail for my sis as she hiked the last 1.5 miles up to the shelter.

Sooooo…. I had unfinished business with this hike and was looking forward to finishing what I had started six years ago. When Greg and I arrived at the trailhead just before 10:30 on Saturday we could not believe how many cars were there! I stopped counting at 30 because the cars parked along the road stretched around the corner out of sign. Crazy!

On our way in we stayed on the main trail and didn’t hike around the south side of Bald Mountain, planning instead to hike that part on the way back when the afternoon light on the mountain would be better for pictures. So we had to wait a few miles for our first view of the mountain. Good to see ya, Hood!

To the south we could see East Zigzag, where we hiked the day before. Behind the foreground ridge, I think it’s the first bump on the left.

We saw LOTS and LOTS of glacier lilies and false hellebore along the trail.

We reached the ponds, which are not yet melted. We had to cross snow at this point. This was not the first snow patch we had to cross and it would not be the last.

In fact, between the Timberline Trail and McNeil Point there were still LARGE sections of trail that were snow-covered. We were really surprised to see this since recent trip reports didn’t mention all this snow.


rossing the permanent snowfield that never melts.

Finally after a long ass-kicking hike we reached McNeil Point! More snow, and the shelter out there beyond. You can also see some tents just left of center.

We hung out on a point above the shelter for a short time before the crazy cold wind put a stop to that. Greg decided to climb up a little further to that “knob” you can see in the photo below.

I headed down to the shelter where it was less windy and enjoyed the views for the hour and a half it took Greg to climb up and get back down to me. I could see the western edge of the burned area from last year’s Dollar Lake Fire.

Lost Lake in the distance. I bet that place was a zoo this weekend.

The trail below, and Bald Mountain.

Nice views of Mt. Adams.

And Mt. Rainier:

Despite the still-melting snow there were plenty of wildflowers, including those awesome “muppet” flowers known as Western Pasque Flowers.

I think I shot the shelter from every angle possible during my wait.

Wildflowers and more views of Mt. Adams on the hike back down.

We stopped at the ponds on the way back down for a nice reflection shot.

And then after a long tiring trudge we finally reached Bald Mountain and the spectacular Mt. Hood views there. The evening light made it perfect.

Normally I would have loved to hang out there and enjoy the view a bit, but we were getting well into the dinner hour and I was very hungry. So we pushed on. Many of the cars at the trailhead were gone, and their dusty departures had left a fine film of road dust all over my car.

10.5 miles
2,200 feet elevation gain

A little side note: This was sort of an anniversary hike for me and Greg. We were a week short of the five year anniversary of our first hike together. Back in 2007, after a months-long e-mail correspondence, Greg asked if I’d like to go for a hike since we both enjoyed photography, hiking, and wildflowers. We hiked the Vista Ridge trail and visited Cairn Basin. Same area of the mountain almost five years later and we’re still hiking together!

Burnt Lake & East Zigzag

On Friday Greg and I arrived at the Burnt Lake trailhead at 1:00 and the morning clouds had thankfully started burning off. There were a dozen cars in the tiny parking area and we were the eighth Subaru there, which made me laugh!

After walking in the trees for several miles, it was nice to come out in the open a bit and get a glimpse of Mt. Hood behind us.

We reached the lake about 3:00 and made a beeline for day use area C, which has a great view of Mt. Hood. No reflections today, but the view is still fantastic.

We hung out for awhile eating snacks and enjoying the view. We heard crackling, smelled smoke, and heard a couple of guys laughing as campfire smoke billowed up from day use area D about 50 feet away. There are numerous signs telling you that this is not allowed, but I guess the rules don’t apply to these two. We wanted to go over and say something, but knew we’d only get a “f*** off” or a “mind your own business” for our troubles.

We pushed on to East Zigzag, which is another 1.5mi beyond Burnt Lake. The way up is mostly forested, until the last bit when you break out into the open and can see your goal ahead of you.

And off the right, the jaw-dropping view of lovely Mt. Hood, with Burnt Lake nestled in the forest below. This is now one of my new favorite views of the mountain. No burned trees, no clearcuts, no towns, no highways.

There were quite a few wildflowers on the slopes of the mountain as we climbed up.

The view at the top is a little obscured by trees, but you can still see Mt. Hood pretty well.

Distant clouds obscured the far-reaching views, but we could see the top of one snowy peak. I can’t tell if this is Mt. Adams or Mt. Rainier.

We could also see Bald Mountain, where we would be hiking the next day.

And McNeil Point.

With binoculars or the zoom lens we could just make out  the wheel houses for the top of the Magic Mile ski lift and the bottom of the Palmer ski lift.

The day was getting late and we had a long hike back to the car, so we reluctantly headed down.

We headed up to Government Camp and our favorite Mt. Hood eatery, the Ice Axe Grill, where we ate french fries, pizza, and good beer and watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics (with no sound). Yum!

Duffy Lake

On Saturday I headed up to Duffy Lake (map) in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. I got to the TH at 9:20 and there were a dozen cars there. They had morning dew on the windows and all looked to belong to backpackers.

The entire 3.3 miles to Duffy Lake is through forest. No views. But since it was a warm day the shade felt nice. I also saw quite a few huckleberry bushes along the trail. That’ll be yummy in August!

Many trees along the route had the old blazes on them.

The trail passes by the foot of two different rockslides, one of which is surrounded by vine maple, which must look awesome in fall.

Passed the junction with the Turpentine Trail, which heads north. It is named after nearby Turpentine Peak, I assume, and I’d love to know the story behind THAT name!

The trail roughly follows the North Santiam River, although there are only a few spots where you can see it. It flows out of nearby Santiam Lake, and of course it eventually ends up flowing into Detroit Lake many miles downstream. Up here it’s an absolutely gorgeous charming little stream. I fell in love with it!

Eventually the trail crosses it. It was no problem to cross now, but I imagine you can’t rock hop easily earlier in summer.

Backpackers who had spent the night at Duffy Lake passed me in a steady stream on their way out as I hiked in. One of them was a woman about my age who was covered head to toe. She had on a sweatshirt, long pants, and a stocking cap. It was pretty warm and I couldn’t imagine how she could stand having all that clothing on. Maybe it was mosquito protection, but still. She also had a bear bell. 🙄

I reached the lake at 11:15. The signage could use some improvement. This is at a somewhat confusing trail junction and if you’ve never been here before it’s not immediately clear which direction the lake is in. Turns out that the shortest way to get there is to go straight here, but turning left or right will also take you to other parts of the lake. Incidentally, it seems that many backpackers completely ignore the two rules on these signs. I saw campfires close to the lake and I saw MANY campsites that were nowhere near the designated campsite markers. I also saw trash piled in fire rings, of course. 😡

And here’s the lake, with Duffy Butte towering over it The water was so clear and gorgeous!

I knew that Three Fingered Jack was not far, so I worked my way around to the west end of the lake to see if I could see it. Voila!

The backpackers had all cleared out by this point so it was really peaceful here. I enjoyed the lake as long as I could before the mosquitoes forced me to keep moving. Since the day was young and the hike up to this point had been so tame, I decided to continue one more mile up the trail to Mowich Lake. Along the way I passed a pretty little meadow with a pond and hundreds of shooting stars.

I reached Mowich Lake and followed a use trail down to the shoreline at the southern tip of the lake. That’s Red Butte on the other side of the lake. As you can see, this area was burnt to a crisp in the 2003 B&B fire.

I hiked a little further and quickly left behind the intact forest and entered the burn area.

The trail climbs up and up away from the shoreline and I could see on the map that it wasn’t going to ever rejoin the lake, so I didn’t go very far. You can see the lake through the burnt trees.

Through the trees I could also see the backside of Duffy Butte, which I had seen earlier from Duffy Lake.

On my way back out the breeze had picked up enough that I was able to hang out by Duffy Lake for awhile and not get chomped on. Delightful!

The hike out was uneventful. I hadn’t seen any other day hikers, but finally started seeing some as I hiked out. Back to the car at 3:00, followed by pizza in Detroit. YUM.

This was not a hard hike, and in fact was a little easier than I was expecting. At least I got a lot of miles in. Duffy Lake is quite lovely and is probably a very nice place for backpacking. But mid-July would NOT be the best time for that because of the bugs, and a weekend outing would mean sharing the lake with lots of other campers.

9 miles
1,100 feet elevation gain.

Three Pyramids

Headed to the trailhead for Three Pyramids on Saturday, right at the spot where I turned on Road 560 from Road 2067, the road crossed a gorgeous little creek with a partial view west to where I was headed. The sign at the bridge said it was Parks Creek, but the topo map says it is Park Creek. I’m inclined to believe the topo. I’m not positive, but I think that’s Middle Pyramid you can see here. If not, it’s North Pyramid.

There were six other cars at the TH when I arrived at 11:15. I set off the trail and was surprised to see a sign stating that the distance to the lookout was 2.1 miles. The lookout has been gone for more than 40 years and yet this sign hasn’t crumbled or rotted away.

The trail started climbing immediately. A little creek near the trail provided nice background “music” for the climb. There’s even a small waterfall at one point.

The forest here is really nice. I don’t think it was ever logged because there are a good number of very large trees.

Here is a cross cut of one of the trees that fell across the trail some years back. My hiking pole gives some perspective. I didn’t count the rings, but there had to be several hundred!

The trail crossed the gurgling creek on a broken but still usable bridge.

And then the source of the little creek comes into view: a lovely lush green meadow in a bowl below South Pyramid and Middle Pyramid (neither of which you can see in this picture). This must also be the source for all the mosquitoes that I was fighting off.

And then it was more, more, more climbing. Up and up and up in the hot afternoon sun. Every time I stopped to catch my breath or take a picture the mosquitoes descended, so I tried to keep moving. Finally I reached the junction where the main trail continues on to North Pyramid and beyond, and a side trail goes up to the summit of Middle Pyramid, which was my destination.

As I approached the summit of Middle Pyramid I passed five different hikers on their way down, yet there were still a dozen people crowded onto the tiny summit. They created quite a cacophony. It seemed like everyone was talking and no one was listening. I waited them out, though, and eventually they all left and I had the place to myself and it was peaceful and wonderful. The views were AWESOME.

Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood. The two near mountains that flank the snowy peaks are Coffin Mountain and Bachelor Mountain, where Greg and I hiked last year. With binoculars I could just make out the lookout on top of Coffin.

Mt. Jefferson:

A side note: compare the photo above to the one below, which was taken from Bachelor Mountain on August 12 last year. The amount of snow is about the same, despite the three-week difference. Man, I’m SO glad we’re not having another late snowmelt year again!!!!

Three Fingered Jack:

Hoodoo Ski Area:

Mt. Washington:

The Three Sisters (and some peak south of there that I’m not sure about; anyone know?)

South Pyramid (and although you can’t see it in this picture, I could see the very tippy top of Diamond Peak in the distance):

The deep canyon of the Middle Santiam River, surrounded by the Middle Santiam Wilderness:

I could also see the meadow that I had seen earlier from below:

As you can see, the summit isn’t very big, yet they crammed a fire lookout up here in 1934.

Besides the metal equipment on the summit, the only other evidence of the long-gone lookout is a pile of wood just below the summit.

With the glorious weather, a gentle breeze to keep the bugs away, and views all around me, I stayed up on the summit for an hour and a half, just soaking it all in. At one point a butterfly kept me company.

Middle Pyramid has another rocky point, which you can see in the foreground of the photo below. The trail dumps you in a saddle between that point and the summit where I am, and it’s a little confusing about which direction you could go. Just before I packed up to head down, I saw a couple over on that rocky area trying to clamber up and not succeeding. Their voices carried easily over to where I was sitting. They finally looked south and saw me sitting on the summit and I heard the guy say to the woman “There’s someone over there.” She didn’t understand and he said, “See that guy over there?” Hey, who are you calling a guy? I almost burst out laughing. I suppose that with my hair under a bandana and a hat, my face in shadow and half covered by sunglasses, it would be hard to tell my gender. In any case, they reversed direction and found their way to the true summit just as I was leaving. They were quite relieved to finally get there, having made several wrong turns on their hike.

On the way back down I still had views for awhile before I got too low to see the mountains anymore.

Away from the breeze, I was once again eaten alive by mosquitoes as I made my way back to the car, which I reached at 3:30. I itch like crazy as I type this report. Damn bugs.

Saw quite a few wildflowers on this hike.

At 4 miles round trip and 1,800 feet elevation gain, this is a steep hike. But the views on a clear day are pretty damn awesome. And if you wait a few weeks you can do this one without getting chomped on.

Grassy Knoll & Big Huckleberry Mountain

Last weekend Greg and I headed up into the hills of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to do the hike to Grassy Knoll and Big Huckleberry Mountain. We had heard how bad the roads were. We encountered plenty of potholes, but frankly it wasn’t as bad as I expecting. I think the road to the north side of Silver Star is worse. There is a stretch, though, where there is only room for one vehicle to pass, so if you encountered someone coming from the other direction one of you would have to back up. (I’ve only ever had to do this on a forest road once and it was a little scary. Going in reverse along a narrow brushy road with another car staring you down really puts the pressure on. I was afraid I’d back over the edge of the cliff!)

The trail starts out in a meadow for about two minutes.

And then it’s in trees for awhile.

But after that you start getting east-facing views. Here is Hood River, with Hood River Mountain on the east side of the valley looking a little brown.

We came to a nice rock outcropping with sweet views.

Mt. Adams!

We could see our route ahead. I’m not sure if Big Huckleberry is one of those bumps ore not. Does this trail look like a bit of a roller coaster? It definitely is.

Soon Grassy Knoll came into view. We’d already been doing some up and down in the last two miles. Time for more up.

Mt. Hood came into view.

And there were wildflowers galore!

And then we were at the top. Here’s the view looking southwest.

We had views of Dog and Wind Mountains.

Not a stellar Mt. Adams view from here because Little Huckleberry Mountain is in the way.

In that previous photo, you can also see all that’s left of the old lookout tower. Here’s how it looked in 1949.

Sadly, we couldn’t linger to enjoy the views because it was VERY VERY windy, so we hastily headed into the trees to look for a more protected lunch spot, which we found a short ways down the trail. After that we continued on to a small grassy meadow that is called “Grassy Pass” in Bill Sullivan’s old book (this is now a back-of-the-book hike in newer editions). This area and the hill just beyond were really lovely.

And there’s Mt. Adams again.

Greg got a shot of me climbing the wildflower hill beyond Grassy Pass.

And then it’s a LONG roller coaster through the forest over to the PCT and the spur trail to Big Huckleberry. We passed through LOTS of huckleberry bushes on the way, so this is an appropriately-named mountain!

We passed Cold Springs Camp, where there is indeed a spring, although the flow is not “robust”, as Greg put it.

And then after more forest hiking and one last steep push, we were finally climbing up to the summit.

Sadly, the views here are nowhere near as nice as those we had over in the Grassy Knoll area since there are a lot of trees blocking the views. Here’s the cloudy southwest view.

We could see Mt. Adams through the trees, with some neato clouds overhead.

I scrambled around for awhile until I found a relatively unobstructed view of Mt. Hood.

As at Grassy Knoll, there was once a fire lookout here. The footings are gone and there are just some rusted pieces of twisted metal left now.

Looks like this is one of the lookouts that they burned, since there are melted pieces of glass all over.

All too soon we had to head back since we had 5.5 miles miles of up-and-down hiking to get back to the car. We paused to enjoy and photograph the wildflowers in that Grassy Pass area. Next time I do this hike I’m making this my turn-around point, since Big Huckleberry isn’t worth visiting again.

One last shot of Grassy Knoll and Mt. Hood.

We saw SO many wildflowers on this hike!

11 miles
2850 elevation gain
7 hours

One last thing: we saw a large herd of elk hanging out alongside the Wind River Highway, right at the junction with Bear Creek Road. They were unfazed by all the passing traffic, but as soon as we pulled over to take some pictures, they started melting into the woods. We could hear them bugling through the trees. COOL.