Monday, August 26, 2019

Tillamook head, Four County Point, and Denny Creek

So this is a wrap up post of a few things this summer that I got to do, none of which particularly deserved their own individual post.

First up, Denny Creek!

Denny Creek is a trail up in Snoqualmie Pass, Washington. We were part of a large hiking crew organized as a party hike for my friend's wedding. As a large obnoxious group we did a relatively mild, medium length hike up to a waterfall on Denny Creek.

The area was beautiful, and the hike was mostly a slow upward climb along Denny Creek. We had to hop the creek at one point and I detoured upstream to grab some waterfall photos.

After climbing through a rocky landslide area, we hit our destination on top of a large waterfall, where a nice rocky cliff patio offered us plenty of room to spread out and explore. After heading back home, it ended up being roughly 5 miles.

Four County Point
Four County Point is a very short trail directly off US-26 westbound heading towards the coast. As part of a longer day I finally made a stop to check out this short trail. It is about a mile long trek into the woods to a plaque that is laid down at the exact spot where 4 counties meet, a much smaller scale version of 4 corners in the American southwest. The northwestern counties of Oregon meet at this point and you can stand in all 4 at once.

I wasn't expecting much out of the trail outside a cute detour to a neat spot and it managed to be even more disappointing than that. The trail immediately plunges towards coal creek and then follows along to the west. For the first half mile you can hear the highway loudly above you. You can also hear gunshots from the nearby redneck gun range, loudly blasting assault rifle sounds, because this country is gross.

The trail has occasional little diversions to the creek, which is cute enough. Finally, after 15 minutes of flat walking through the woods worrying I'd be hit by a stray bullet, I came across a laughably small clearing maybe big enough for a small tent, with a small log bench next to a little rectangular plaque on the ground indicating the spot. It's so honestly pathetic that such a neat little marker is just tucked into nowhere.

It was about 2 miles total walking and almost no elevation gain. You can skip this hike unless you have an hour to kill and are a completionist.

Tillamook Head
One of the first hikes I ever did on the coast was this little gem from Ecola State Park. From Ecola, through Indian Beach, you can climb up the trail to an old WWII bunker, campsite, and overlook towards the island lighthouse. It's an easy must-do if you end up in the park and want something fun.

There is also another way to reach the bunker/overlook, and that is the harder, longer way, coming from the north at Seaside.

From Seaside beach Tillamook Head looks very dramatic and perfectly frames the southern coast. If you take the coastal road all the way to the terminus right next to some rich people beach homes, there is a small parking lot and the northern entrance to the Tillamook Head trail.

The trail starts off easy enough, climbing gently through the woods to a neat overlook on an old log that juts over a cliff. After that, the second half of the first mile then proceeds into switchback hell, switchbacking 16 times to the top. Luckily the switchbacks are a reasonable grade and some of them are merely 10 yards apart. If you can make it up this hill, the rest is smooth sailing.

The trail actually gradually descends from this point, which I wasn't happy about since I'd have to climb back up. It mostly follows the top of the cliff and occasionally offers views into the wild blue yonder. I saw very few other hikers and there is something about being a thousand feet above the coastline, looking out into the vast void of the pacific that gives me real existential dread. It reminds you of how insignificant you are. The sheer scope of the ocean doesn't hit you from beach-level. When you are alone, looking out from high above? The reality is palpable. We are nothing.

Pictured: existential dread

Honestly, as much as it gives you an existential crisis, it's nice to break from the bubble of yourself once in a while and put everything into perspective. It's one of the reasons I enjoy being alone on the coast, and being alone in the woods in general. There's a certain freedom of self when you know you are meaningless.

The trail is pretty muddy even in late dry August, and has a lot of wooden steps built into it to make things easier. The trail is honestly a very nice walk once you are done with the climbing, and I had a very nice time. After a short but steep switchback descent down a hill, I arrived at the camp and the overlook. I took in the views and headed home.

Overall it was a bit less than 8 miles, and maybe 1700ft of elevation gain. Most of that comes in the first mile, and the rest is slow rolling hills and the gentle climb back. It wasn't that hard at all, and offered a very nice alternative to the crowded and busy Ecola version.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

McNeil Point, Finally

Out of every hike that has ever been on my to-do list, I think this one has been there the longest. This past Saturday I finally got out there and did it. It ended up being even better than I thought it would be. Top 10 hike for me. Easily the best views of Mt. Hood and the surrounding area I've ever gotten.

The McNeil Point shelter on McNeil Point. On the northwest side of Hood, along Bald Mtn ridge, there is a high jut just at the edge of the treeline on the mountain that has a stone shelter built on it. This is McNeil Point.

Get to Top Spur trailhead reasonably early, climb the trail, be happy.

We left the house at 8:20 and arrived a bit after 9:30. We also had my friend Scott join us for the hike. The trailhead was already obscenely crowded. The trailhead itself is maybe 10-15 cars wide, but past that people just parked along the side of the narrow gravel road for at least a quarter mile in both directions. I'm glad I didn't have to pass anyone finding a spot, there is not enough room next to the side of the road. I knew this trail was busy and it was a perfect weather day but this was still pretty rough.

The trail immediately leaves the road and starts uphill to gain the ridge. After a half mile or so of climbing, it finally reaches the PCT and you turn right. Almost 30 yards ahead is confusion junction. We obviously had to take the Bald Mtn. detour to start, and we got ourselves a glorious view within the first mile.

Mt Hood down Yocum Ridge from Bald Mtn

After getting some pics and popping back onto the trail, the real work began. Shortly past re-joining the Timberline trail we stayed right at the McGee Creek junction and started climbing the ridge in earnest.

The trail passes through some brushy areas and then follows the top of the forested ridge for the first mile. Thankfully the trail is really nice and doesn't climb too harshly. The light speckles through the trees once you gain the top of the ridge proper and occasionally tantalizes you with peeks of the mountain. After maybe a bit over a mile from Bald Mountain, the trail opens into a hanging meadow filled with flowers and a spectacular view of Mount Hood and across the Muddy Fork valley to Yocum Ridge.

the surprisingly huge and remote Yocum Ridge Falls

Maybe a half mile past that meadow, the ridge begins to lose a bit of elevation but opens into yet another meadow with more spectacular views.

The big cliff/ridge on frame left is McNeil Point, our destination

The trail then begins to veer northeast away from the ridge. A sharp eye might spot the scramble shortcut trail to McNeil Point from here, but I wasn't going to try it on my first visit with the dog in tow. The trail switchbacks a few times and climbs harder than it has been here and then takes a definite turn to the north. At this point the trail crosses over some small mountain streams, including one that is covered in beautiful mossy rocks. Then it briefly descends downhill again and passes through a small meadow with a view under McNeil Point. After another quick uphill, the trail arrives in a larger meadow next to several ponds full of frogs and a wonderful view back towards the mountain looming over the McNeil Point ridge.

McNeil Point looms, Mt Hood in the distance

The pond meadows

I would recommend the slight detour to the end of the pond meadows for this view

From the end of the first pond the trail appears to split with only a sign that says "No camping in meadows". The right trail goes uphill into the trees and the left path follows along more ponds and it quickly became clear that this was not the correct way to go. We turned back and took the right path and started switch-backing up to another ridge.

Eye lighting on the pup

Once we gained the ridge, the trees began to thin out. The views begin to open up more and we got our first glimpse of the other volcanoes in the distance. The trail passes over a view what I believe to be a southern fork of Ladd Creek and then climbs through a wide gully and regains the ridge. It is about a mile to the shelter from here, and this is when everything becomes truly worth it.

The views open up to all sides and every step increases the visual splendor. You get most views to the northwest and we could spot Lost Lake among the many ridges and mountains.

Bald mtn

Looking back while on the way up

Looking back on the muddy fork valley

The final mile is all views

Luna surveys her domain

The trail curves around over a snowbank, traverses a small jutting ridge, then begins the final climb up the alpine slopes to the shelter point. The trail is a bit sketchy here due to the lack of roots keeping it in place but navigation is easy. The shelter is low on the McNeil Point ridge and made a perfect break spot. It faces due west, and if the haze had been a bit clearer, we might have been able to see Portland. we could see the Willamette Valley expanse plus the faint hint of the coast range.

Proud summit pic

Bald mountain ridge, with the meadow in view. Our path up.

Lost lake

The dollar lake burn with two volcanoes in the distance

The ponds where we got lost

After chatting with some other hikers, including a guy we'd interacted with a few times on the way up, we set back off and began the long journey back to the car along the same route. We got back to an even worse parking situation, tired and happy.

Tuckered out pup

10 miles, 2500 feet of elevation gain.
This hike is listed in almost every hiking guidebook/site as a fairly important must-see for folks capable of doing it, and I can safely agree. The final mile was incredible and there was no shortage of amazing views leading to that point. Bald Mountain ensures that even the weakest of hikers can get something good for 2 miles of effort, and the views just improve from there. The road to the trailhead is long and occasionally a bit rough, but a passenger car can handle it. The climb is certainly an effort but the trail never gets too steep and it offers plenty of flatter sections to regain your strength.

Our hike