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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

I don't know how to pronounce Yocum Ridge

Is it pronounced Yoh-cum or Yak-um? Someone tell me.

First camp of the year! We had an extended plan this holiday weekend to finally get back out in the tent and camp again. After a few weeks of setbacks, we made it happen.

Backpack to Ramona Falls, hike to Yocum Ridge the next day, then back after we returned to camp.

Yocum Ridge is a remote ridge connected to Mount Hood's west flank. It is essentially the mountain itself on the higher reaches. As a day hike, it is close to 17 total miles and 3600 feet of elevation gain. Almost unobtainable for all but the heartiest of hikers. I've only accomplished a day that extreme once. However, as Yocum is connected to Ramona Falls, and Ramona Falls has campsites...there is a way to make it easier. If we could backpack out to Ramona the night before, we could do Yocum early morning as a day hike. It would shave off close to 1000 feet of elevation and at least 6 miles to the individual trip. We'd still have a tough day on our hands, especially since we'd then have to backpack out after we got back, but it would be feasible. out Friday evening, backpack to the falls, find a campsite, camp the night, get up early, hike the ridge, come back and rest at camp, backpack out.

We left around 3:30 for the trailhead. I was worried the place would be busy with 4th of July campers and we wouldn't find a spot. My worry was partially accurate, as the area was packed but it ended up being mostly day hikers and car campers. Ramona Falls had lots of open sites.

The backpack to Ramona was uneventful and easy. No hassle whatsoever and 3 miles/1000 feet gain isn't hard even with big packs on. We came to the falls, took a few pics, then wandered to find a spot. There are a lot of well-hidden camping spots near the falls uphill to the right. A couple were taken. A side trail by the horse corral led to a small site, then another small site, then uphill another 30 yards we found a completely secluded open area with a dozen sites. This was a big party meadow but we had it all to ourselves.

After exploring around a bit and eating some dinner, we settled in around 8:30. The light wouldn't go out for another hour, but it felt good to rest. None of us (dog included) got great sleep, but we could see the stars. 

at 5:30 it was light again and the dog decided it was awake time now. We got up, made breakfast, got what we needed from our packs (just water, snacks, and my camera) and set of for Yocum.

The Timberline trail cuts off uphill onto Yocum Ridge immediately after the bridge over Ramona Creek by the falls and the first mile was undoubtedly the hardest. It climbs northwest up the flank of the ridge through dense rhododendrons, and over a bridge in pretty rough shape. After a little less than a mile, the trail reaches the apex of the ridge and this is where the junction with the Yocum trail is.

The first two miles of the Yocum Ridge trail aren't very interesting. It's a steady but reasonable climb through the woods, going up the south flank. It eventually passes a boulder field with a slight view, then switchbacks, climbs to the north side of the ridge, meanders back to the south flank, switchbacks again after another boulder field with a slight view, and then finally you pass by a small swampy pond and the trail gets fun.

Beargrass closeup

The pond is gross stagnant glacier snowmelt water. Mosquitoes are almost certainly bad here. We still saw some people camped, without a tent, on the east side.

After the pond the trees open up a bit and the trail gets a bit flatter. We started seeing pockets of snow and a ton of avalanche lilies, as well as some beargrass. There are open sections of canopy where snow clearly gathers. The trail passed over a creek a few times and rose further up.

So many Avalanche Lilies
So many lilies

After 2 miles of that, the space began to really open. This is where we kind of got screwed in terms of weather. It was to be a cloudy day, and we couldn't see the obvious vast expanse beyond. We had a great misty atmosphere setting an incredible isolated scene but we definitely got shortchanged on distance views. It could have been worse though, we still got tantalizing hints through the mist.

Then we turned a corner and saw the mountain through the mist. We only would catch glimpses of it for the next hour when the clouds shifted favorably, but it was still something special. The trail ends at a grand overlook of the Sandy River valley, looking up at the mountain. With the mist obscuring the views in dramatic ways, it was truly special. Even though we didn't get the full picture it was still beyond outstanding. One of the more magical things I've experienced on a hike. The pictures will never do it justice.

The trail actually continues here, though in a rougher shape. It turns back and keeps going up. It apparently climbs to more views, but after our break the clouds were getting worse and we didn't think it was worth the effort to climb that far for no views. When we turned around, we saw a weird bird just strolling along. I wasn't able to get close enough for a better picture, but it was extremely random and neat. Internet research indicates it may have been a male Dusky Grouse. The neck plumage gave it away. Drove the dog nuts.

We sadly accepted our lack of views and headed back. It was 9am. We had been hiking since 6:30. We were 6 miles in. Time to go downhill.

A panorama of the valley viewpoint with the mist almost becomes a surrealist art piece

The trip down was obviously faster and we got back to camp, sore and tired, at 11am. 11 miles in. The tourist crowds had already descended upon Ramona and it was a shock after the remote solitude of Yocum Ridge. I've never hated tourist hikers more. Ramona has been lost to the masses. You can't even get a good picture without someone in the way or being obnoxious.

We rested at camp for a while, changed socks, and packed up. at 12pm, we set off with our packs for the final 3 miles of the day, all downhill. We were back at the car a little after 1.

All in all, a wonderful day in the woods.

Saturday was 14 miles and 2600 feet of elevation gain (3600 loss). My legs are beat. Yocum's difficulty definitely comes from distance. The climb itself is steady but not nearly as bad as a lot of tough gorge hikes. I wouldn't mind coming back one day when things are clear to see what I missed out on picture-wise. Overall though I have no regrets. Yocum was worth the effort and it would be worth the effort a second time.

I write this in bed Saturday night, legs feeling like bricks, with a deeply sleepy dog next to me.