Cooper Spur to Tie-in-Rock

November 4, 2007.

Timberline Tr to Cooper Spur Tr | 7.4 miles | 2800′ ele. gain | 5 hrs. ?

With the end of daylight savings time comes an extra hour of weekend enjoyment. We decided to celebrate this windfall of time by driving out to the Cloud Cap Campground for a hike of Cooper Spur, on the North side of Mt. Hood. This very popular route is crowded in the summer and at the end of a nasty gravel road, two reasons why I hadn’t attempted it yet. But on this beautiful fall morning, there were only three other cars in the lot. The recent stretch of warm weather melted much of the snowfall the mountain received just a couple of weeks ago, so the road was still drivable this late in the season. All was well, except I’d forgotten my camera so all the photos are from Brad.

In true Jess style, I made a wrong turn right from the start. We started up to the junction with the Timberline trail and, at a confusing hairpin turn, we went right instead of left. This brought us steeply uphill through the woods for about 30 minutes to the point where the trail was obliterated in the raging floods of fall 2006. Here we gazed upon a vast canyon with wildly unstable, pebbly walls. We’d both heard about people making their way across here but we decided this wasn’t a safe option and we turned to walk along the eastern edge of the canyon, looking ahead at the menacing, broken up Elliot Glacier. The weather was bright, sunny, and 50 degrees. Behind us, we could see Mt. St. Helens, Rainier and Adams towering over the dark lowlands.

The soft ash and pumice made for pleasant walking conditions as we continued up the ridge. Now realizing we were headed towards Cooper Spur, we veered left down into a small saddle and scrambled up some scree to the adjacent ridge. A hiker on his way down crossed paths with us here, one of 15 or so hikers we’d see today. Once atop Cooper Spur proper, we earned stunning views of the glacier and the north side of the mountain. Alternating between snowfields and rocky switchbacks, we slowly ambled along the ridge. I noticed 2 teams of 3 roped climbers ascending the Elliot Glacier just below the headwall. We curiously watched their progress, wondering what they were doing up there. It was awfully late in the day for a summit attempt and I doubted the route was in any condition to climb this time of year. I didn’t stop to longer too long here, since the winds had increased to about 30mph and they were whipping pretty steadily across the glacier.

The ridge offered no shelter from sun or wind. Its stark beauty was enough to justify being here, and the wind beating my face made the hike more exciting anyways. Now, winter’s on its way…

Destination in sight, we completed the final approach along a flattened snow path, with the Spur’s whitened sides dropping away to my left and right. We dropped our packs on the lee side of Tie-in-Rock and layered up. I voraciously tore into my lunch. Before eating his sandwich, Brad left an offering for the admirable mountain crow, chanting some choice, reflective words as he did so. Lunch was followed up with blueberry pie, which I’d carefully packed up the mountain. The rock only provided some cover from the wind, so it was time to start moving again. As the sun lowered gingerly in the sky, the route became swathed in shade. My raincoat and fleece kept me nice and toasty although the wind seemed a little more devious now, pushing me off balance here and there. Occasionally I’d look back to check out the climbers on the north side. When I last saw them, one guy was alone, unroped, in the middle of a snowfield, and all the others were up higher above a crevasse. They hadn’t gone very far in the time we’d been watching them. I assume they were doing some kind of training or skills practice, and if not…well I hope not to read about them on the news tomorrow.

Since we blazed our own trail on the way up, we’d missed the Cooper Spur shelter. To correct our mistake, we headed east in the direction of the actual trail in hopes of finding it. A couple of backpackers pointed us in the right direction and shortly we were examining the inside of the 60-year old stone cube. It had a chimney and a heavy rubber-like storm flap over the door. It provided excellent shelter from the wind, I imagine it would be a nice place to spend the night.

From there, Brad used his compass to bushwhack back to the car. Instead of heading back to ridge #1 where we started, we stayed in the boulder fields and sparsely treed forest to take in a different view. This also helped us to avoid other humans out enjoying the mountain today. It seemed like several groups got an awfully late start for this hike today. We got down in time to enjoy lovely sunset views in the Gorge on the drive back to Portland. This was a very worthy hike.

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