Mount Hood part 2: Paradise Park Loop
A couple of days after doing the Mountaineer trail, I returned to take on a section of the Timberline Trail which encircles Mount Hood. Part of the Pacific Crest Trail also follows this route. My destination was an alpine area known as Paradise Park, beginning as before at Timberline Lodge. This time I had put together my lunch in Portland and prepared with close to four litres of water for another extremely hot day and a hike of about 25 kilometres, probably my longest hiking day of the year.
This hike goes northwest from the lodge and actually drops somewhat in elevation through subalpine forest until crossing Little Zigzag Canyon. Not long after the Mountaineer trail junction there is a kiosk where, unlike in the Mount Baker forest where you just have to sign a book, you have to fill out a tag and attach a copy to your pack.
Little Zigzag Creek is easily crossed, but it’s when you get to Zigzag Canyon itself that the hike gets really interesting. The canyon is defined by steep and knife sharp lateral moraines on either side, and many people get to the Zigzag Overlook on the south rim and decide that’s enough for a good half day trip.
This is the “yer outta yer rockpickin mind whaddya mean we have to go there” moment. From the overlook it’s straight down over 200 metres and then back up again the other side.
It’s not that bad. The trail drops through woods lower down the moraine and eventually reaches the creek at the bottom of the canyon. The creek is unbridged and you have to carefully pick your way across the rocks or wade through. In the morning it wasn’t much trouble.
My boots stayed dry and I started winding back up the trail, around a couple of spurs and through some lovely meadows. The trail gradually gets above the north rim and gains some elevation but never gets very much above the starting elevation at Timberline.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen bear grass in the Cascade Mountains. It’s of course common in the Rockies in Waterton, Akamina and Glacier, and I’ve seen it from the roadside in the west Kootenays.
Another lovely creek to cross, filled with Mimulus, valerian, arrow leaved groundsel and other colourful water-loving flowers. Here I ran into a large group of hikers who I shall just say were loud and let that suffice. I gave a bit of time for them to finish their photo taking and depart the creek before I did my own shooting.
On the upper portion of the loop trail, the main destination and lunch spot for most day hikers is a higher and drier meadow punctuated by the Split Rock, a large glacial erratic. By this point I’d caught up with the loud hikers so I chose to work my way further up the meadows into a dry gravelly and sandy area more like the area on the Mountaineer trail.
From here the loop would just take me back down into the trees for much of the hike back, so I decided to cut off the last couple of kilometres and just to go back the way I’d come to pick up the main trail.
From the north rim of Zigzag Canyon, it needs a bit of psyching yourself up to prepare for the creek crossing and the steepest ascent back up to the south rim in the hottest part of the day. The creek was higher than in the morning but I still managed to get across with mostly dry boots (of course, in this heat getting your feet a bit wet just helps to cool off, right?). Just after I finished crossing, the loud hikers arrived, cutting short my rest stop and encouraging me to move on up the last big climb.
This part, thankfully, actually goes through a nice mature forest and has a steady but gentle grade. One last rest stop and look back before dragging myself the last four kilometres uphill to the lodge, thankful that I’d budgeted my water well since there was no snow on this trail and the creek water would have been too silty to drink.
I’d been looking forward to a beer on the patio back at the lodge but it was closed off for a wedding so I stopped in the Ram’s Head Pub. No views there as it’s a bit of a cave but it was actually nice to be out of the sun.