Tag Archives: Mountain views

A Thanksgiving adventure – Hiking Elk Meadows

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A Thanksgiving adventure – Hiking Elk Meadows

Thanksgiving is going to be different this year. This is my first year being single in half a decade, and thanks to the COVID Pandemic it’s also the first year that I can’t travel, and don’t have any friends still in town. I’m flying solo, have a ton of vacation to burn, and am feeling energetic...


Saturday, 21-Nov-2020


My first adventure of the week was low-key, just a quick hike in the snow up to Elk meadows, on the flanks of Mt. Hood. Somehow, Elk Meadows has become my go-to hike this year… it’s straightforward, a medium-length drive, not too difficult. Something about it just speaks to me, and I’ve embraced this unexpected friendship.

Today’s hike was an out-and-back, not staying overnight and not packing too much gear. It also wasn’t particularly rushed… which is to say, I didn’t leave the house until somewhere around noon thirty or one o’clock. Which… could have been a problem, when the sun sets around four-thirty. But it wasn’t any concern – this is a relaxed week, not a time to stress out. If then sun sets on me as I hike out… so what? I’ve got warm gear, I’ve got headlamps, and I’ve got crampons for when the trail ices over.

It’s all good.

If the sun sets while I’m up, that just means that I’ll get pretty sunset pictures.


By the time I parked at the snowy trailhead, I was pretty confident that I’d be getting those sunset pictures. Parking itself was interesting, but not particularly challenging thankfully. The road in was snow-covered, but the Mustang performed just as well as I knew it would, easily getting me parked nice and close to the trailhead itself.

The hike in?

Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

The trail was heavily snowed in, of course, but had been nicely packed down by the days traffic, so I was able to make quite good time, only post-holing a couple of times. I appreciated those instances though, since they served to remind me just how deep the snow was – hiking, it’d be easy to make the mistake of thinking that the snow was only four or five inches deep… but that was just the difference between the trail and the top layer. Below the packed trail was a solid two or threw feet of snow before you actually made it to ground level.

That snow-cover gave the whole forest a beautiful feeling. “Winter Wonderland” comes closest to describing it, and I enjoyed every minute of the hike up to the Meadow. And when I got to the meadow itself? Wonderland overload.

Seriously – Elk Meadows in the winter is amazing.

The snow was untouched, except for a faint trail etched through the snow heading off into the distance toward Mt. Hood. Mt Hood itself stood proud in the afternoon light like a sentinel, and the trees slowly swayed in their winter coats. It was beautiful, and I’d timed it perfectly to see the first rays of the sunset start hitting the mountain.

I spent quite a while just enjoying the sights and sounds. I had the meadow compleely to myself, as seems to be the norm these days, and I took the time to appreciate the solitude and rustle of the wind before heading out into the meadow itself.

I love walking in the snow – it’s not easy, of course, and breaking trail absolutely builds up a sweat surprisingly quickly… but I still love the feeling of forging into the wilderness. There’s something about it that makes me feel like an intrepid explorer, breaking trail and forging onward to unseen glories.


I forged onward, explored the meadow, and enjoyed the crisp air as the sun dipped down below the horizon. My headlamp came out, snacks were snacked upon, and I was careful to keep sipping water so that my camelback wouldn’t freeze.

In short? Perfect. Simply, absolutely, perfect.

Getting back to the car was no problem at all, and thankfully nor was pulling out from the snow-covered trailhead. The Mustang once again proved its worth… or at least the combination of car & driver proved their worth, and soon enough I was cruising through the mountain roads back toward home. Slowly and carefully, thanks to the slowly icing conditions… but consistently just the same.

That would be the theme to the week – and a good one, to be sure. Slowly but consistently, moving forward and onward.

Backpacking in to Elk Meadows – 30-Oct-2020

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Friday and Saturday, 30 & 31-October-2020

It’s been a while since I’ve gone backpacking… it feels like the Fall has flashed by, with the leaves suddenly going from green to bright red and the air becoming cool and crisp out of nowhere.

This year’s been interesting, and I think the constant barrage of calamities, news, and changes has really kept it moving quickly… but at the same time, last year feels like a lifetime ago.

I got away from it all, escaping to the Eastern flank of Mt. Hood.

Last weekend’s hike up to McNeil reminded me just how much I love Autumn and winter hiking… it’s not something I could ever forget, of course, but hiking up and into the frosted forest just brought that love vividly back to mind. Vividly enough that there was no way I was spending another weekend in town.

Friday morning, I didn’t rush. I don’t like rushing in the morning, if I can help it, and since the weather forecast called for rain until the early afternoon… I figured it’d save me some wet gear if I took my time, made a nice breakfast, and then trundled out into the woods after I’d taken my time to wake up.

The plan worked perfectly, and when I parked at the trailhead I was one of only two cars parked there.

The other team, it turns out, was just on the trail as a day hike – I ran into them pretty quickly, interestingly, as they were on their way out… which meant that I was left completely alone on the flanks of the mountain, on a perfectly beautiful late Autumn day.

Not anything I could ever complain about, and not anything that I could have dared hope for.

I headed in, set up camp, made a nice dinner, and rested… It was a beautiful night, exactly my favorite hiking weather. Cold, almost bitingly cold, but still warm enough that I was comfortable in my layers of jackets and gloves.

There was a full moon, which fully illuminated the entire meadow around me… I’ve been making effort to be more present and less distractable, and this was a perfect moment to just… be.

I don’t know how long I stood in the meadow, just watching the moonlight carve its way across the grass toward Mt. Hood. It was lovely, but soon enough I was heading back to the tent, to curl up into the sleeping bag and drift off.

At like 8:30 at night, because it gets dark crazy early now.

Saturday dawned bright, cloudless, and crisp.

Frost was covering the meadow, though there wasn’t any snow to speak of yet, and the temperature had realistically passed “crisp” pretty significantly, diving fully into “cold” as the night had worn on.

Thankfully, I had a nice puffy jacket, and a hot breakfast to cook up to keep me warm – and I even had a bird-friend to hang out with!

I really miss Ollie, on these hikes, but I do appreciate getting to see more wildlife than I really ever did before. I miss the excitement and running energy that she’d bring to the hike, but at the same time the quiet is definitely appreciated, and the calm is a nice change of pace. I’m sure I’ll get used to the difference over time… but for now, it’s something I notice every time I’m out hiking alone.

After eating, I set out for a quick walk… I hadn’t made any real plans for the day, but I figured that I’d circumnavigate the meadow, and see where that brought me.

Where it brought me was the Blue Grass Ridge trail – a spur trail off to the East of the meadows that I’d never been to before. It was a rough trail, pushing through a huge forest of standing dead trees… from a wildfire years back, it seemed like. Those empty trees gave for some amazing views though, and very interesting scrambling, which kept the blood pumping and my mind focused.

It was great, and I enjoyed the challenge of finding paths around and through the fallen trees, trying to scope out the best place to get views of the Northern and Southern volcanoes.

I hadn’t expected any mountain views aside from Hood, so seeing everything from St. Helens to The Sisters was a huge and welcome surprise.

After exploring the ridgeline for a while, I headed back down toward the meadows… it was starting to get toward mid-day, and I was getting a bit restless. I had some extra food, so I theoretically could have stayed an extra night… but I was feeling like getting a move on.

After finishing my circumnavigation of the meadow, I packed up, headed out, and started down the road back toward home… A little happier, a little more tired, and quite a lot energized for the rest of the long weekend.

Hiking McNeil Point – 24-Oct-2020

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Saturday, 24-Oct-2020

Mt. Hood is beautiful, year round.

Sun, rain, clouds or fog… it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter what sort of coat Hood is wearing, the views are always breathtaking.

Today was a good example of that: the forecast called for rain, changing into snow as the elevation increased. The trailhead would be a light mist, and McNeil point itself would be cleanly into the sub-freezing temperatures.

Did that stop us?

Heck no! That just meant that the trailhead would be empty!

The hike was glorious – I clocked a total of 11 miles and ~2,800ft elevation gain… though the official count is supposed to be 10.4 miles & 2,200ft gain. Meh, I’ve been working out more, and thankfully it wasn’t too bad of a hike. Made easier by a, frankly silly-large, breakfast order from Starbucks…a Danish, egg bites, and a burrito… on top of a pumpkin-spice latte. Yup. I’m cool.

I went with my friend Bri – McNeil point is her happy place, and I was really thankful to go with someone who knows the trail as well as she does. We walked, gasped at the views, and took breaks to chat, eat snacks, and enjoy the perfectly crisp air.

I love hiking up into the mountains in the fall – as the miles vanished beneath our boots, the trees got more and more snow-covered, and the trail crunched just a little bit more under each footfall. I never had to put on crampons, and we didn’t really see any true snow on the ground, but the thin layer of frost and ice that covered everything added that perfectly mystical quality to the whole world.

We had two lunches – various snacks that we’d brought, along with my standard French sandwich (apple, brie, and prosciutto on a baguette) – one at a beautiful rock about 3 miles in, and then the second lunch at McNeil point itself beside the shelter. We took a few other breaks too… but mostly just pressed onward slowly but steadily.

When we did get to McNeil point itself, we were greeted with the bluest skies of the day – The clouds didn’t fully clear, of course, but they did open up just enough for us to see the summit of Hood peaking out through the mist!

We took a shortcut on the way up, a steeper side trail that Bri knew about, but on the way down we took the longer / more scenic route – just in time to be greeted by our second clearing of the clouds for Sunset!

See, that’s another advantage to cloudy days; the sunsets are especially vibrant, and we caught a beautiful spot where we could see one layer of clouds above us, and one layer below of scraping over the mountains in the distance, being lit up a vibrant red as the sun dipped below the horizon.

We watched the sun dip below the horizon.

Well, we’d brought headlamps, since hiking out in the dark was always a very real possibility. Daniel would have been proud too – after one of the headlamps died, and is USB-charge only so I couldn’t just replace the batteries, we pulled out our phones and used the extra battery there as a flashlight… Not that we really needed it, thanks to the light of the moon… but still. Better to have headlamps.

Back to the car, then down from the trailhead and into town for dinner.

Where we learned a second lesson – dive bars don’t always have pub-food.

Sometimes, they have some of the best fried chicken and grilled cheese sandwiches that I’ve ever eaten. Also, the spiciest cajun fries.

Yeah. It was a very good day.