The other day, someone asked me to tell them which was my favorite hike near or on Mt. Hood. It took me a second but then it soon dawned on me that there is only only hike that towers over all the rest. This hike offers everything that you wold expect from a Volcanic mountain should. I immediately explained to them that it was the Elk Meadows hike. I then explained to them that you also need to hike past the Elk Meadows trail and head straight up towards Mt. Hood, which becomes the Gnarl Ridge trail. This epic hiking trail offers everything that a wilderness hiker would love. You hike among an ancient and pristine forest, cross over several creeks and rivers. You even have the chance to cross along a wooden bridge that spans over a recently melted glacier. You can walk along an alpine meadow with millions of flowers dotting the bogged grassland. Once you leave the Elk Meadow trail, you then get the chance to explore the Gnarl Ridge trail and it’s impressive. You will immediately notice the elevation gain within just seconds. The trail shoots straight up as you hike through the tall trees. Your ultimate goal is to get to the summit of Lamberson Butte. The photo that I provided was taken from the Lamberson Butte viewpoint. With it’s elevation at 6,500 feet, you will realize that you have hiked over 2,030 feet of elevation gain. Before you can get to the top of the butte, you may have to traverse along a very steep and difficult part of the butte if it’s still covered in snow. However, if there isn’t any snow, you won’t have to worry about anything. The trail is just below an overhang and below the trail it’s a pretty steep drop, so if there is still snow, the trail may be buried and you may have to slowly navigate your way around this sketchy part of the trail. Once you get to Lamberson Butte, you will find yourself with a pretty spectacular view. You can see Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters in the south and Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helen’s towards the north. Mt. Hood stares you straight in the face as you gaze due west. Alpine flowers grow in some of the most precarious spots along the volcanic covered earth. Huge boulders are spread out across the volcanic landscape and you can hear and see some of the boulders crashing down all around you. Gnarl Ridge is an unforgiving and massive cairn just below from where you will be sitting and the glaciers high above created the cairn that created Newton Creek. This is the creek that flows under the wooden bridge that you will be crossing during the early part of your hike. There are several glaciers on the eastern slopes and many mt. climbers start from the base of Lamberson Butte. It’s a very windy area but you can find some pretty descent cover and more flat stretches just north of the butte. This is a great spot to take a break and have lunch. The views are awesome and you can plan on spending several hours taking photos. Again, if you study the photo, you will notice the many areas that I’ve mentioned. If you want to continue up, you will be able to follow the trail until it disappears under the snow. The snow lingers well into August or September so you will want to plan on bringing your snow shoe poles and maybe even some grip soles or traction cleats for your shoes. You won’t necessarily need crampons since you will be going from snow to rock several times. I pretty much kept on hiking towards the summit until I began to cramp up and trust me, you will. If you look at the photo, you will see that you will be hiking on the right hand side of the summit. You can see that it’s mostly snow and bare rock and the elevation gain is pretty steep. You could pretty much hike until you get to the summit but you will soon find yourself exhausted and starting to realize just how difficult it would be. You could easily cover over 5,000 feet of elevation gain before you even realize it. I would recommend that you bring your dinner with you and plan on eating at your car as well as rest for a while before heading home since you will be very tired, hungry and dirty. There are two places where you can start your hike. They are only a few hundred feet apart and they are both off highway 35. The first parking spot is just a few yards from the Mt. Hood Nordic Center and the other is the Clark Creek Snow Park. Just remember to purchase your parking pass or your annual Northwest Forest Pass.
[/caption] One of my more grueling hikes that I’ve done so far this summer. In fact, this was one of my most difficult and longest hikes I’ve ever done. I’ve done this hike before but I stopped near Lamerson Butte which is at 6500′ and there wasn’t any snow covering the trail. This time I hiked to about 8500′ and had to use my poles since the last 3500′ were covered in snow with only some bare spots along the trail. Even the main trail disappeared at about 5500′. This made it more difficult when I was coming down since I had to find the trail through the spotty snow trails made from myself and some other hikers. The last 1500′ feet was especially tiresome since I had to go off the trail and blaze up the snow banks. However, I always enjoy hiking in the snow during the month of July. Especially when its 80 degrees at the start of the trail. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was pretty relentless. I could see several pockets of water growing from the many snow banks around the mountain. At least the snow was solid enough to make my hike much easier. The hike is pretty much straight up and then straight down, when returning to the bottom of the trail. I probably hiked between 12.5 and 13 miles total and ended with about 3500′ elevation gain. To make this hike, its best to start near the Mt. Hood nordic center parking area. The trail starts just before you get to the nordic center and there is a parking area right at the head of the trail. It’s best to follow the Elk Meadow trail and then veer left at a trail junction towards the Gnarl Ridge trail. You can actually hike all the way to Cloud Cap and Cooper Spur but that would make for a really long day hike. You hike across several creeks, which makes for some really good stations to cool down. There is plenty of shade for most of the hike and you have some spectacular views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier to the north as well as Mt. Jefferson and parts of the Three Sisters to the south. I was standing just up from Lamberson Butte when I took this shot. You can see where Newton Creek is born in this photo. You can also witness many of the boulders rumbling down Gnarl Ridge and then crashing down to the bottom. Usually it starts with an echoing sound and then you just have to look for the dust high in the distance. The best part is watching the boulders cascade at high speeds and then crashing to a halt. There are several wildflowers at the high elevations. Once you get above the tree line, the vegetation takes on a whole knew personality. Lichen grows on the rocks and all kinds of crazy but colorful plants and flowers grow in the volcanic soil. To get this shot I had to be especially wary of the glare since there were no clouds and the sun was high in the sky which caused a lot of sun glare. I was using my 12-24mm wide-angle lens in order to capture as much of the panoramic scene as possible. The focal length was at 15mm and the F stop was at 8. I set the ISO at 100 and the exposure compensation/white balance was at -1. the shutter speed was at 1/125 second. I had my CIR-PL, warming filter and UV filter attached. Since the field of view was so vast and there were no shadows, I knew that I wouldn’t be needing my tripod. Which is a good thing since I didn’t bring it with me. This hike is a must if you really want to test your stamina and leg strength. It’s a very grueling hike but you could go even further if you have the ability. Sometimes having to carry all of my camera equipment along with my supplies makes these types of hikes especially difficult. However, I will do it again next summer for sure.