On Top Of The World- Hiking Cooper Spur
This Sunday morning dawned pretty gray, but true Oregonians get out and hike no matter what the weather may throw at us. So after an extra cup of coffee, off we went.
As we headed to our Mt. Hood destination, it began misting but we lived on the promised forecast that the rest of the day would be sunny. Oftentimes in Western Oregon, summer mornings have a cool marine layer of clouds that burn off by the afternoon (which keeps our temperatures moderate and pleasant for the most part).
We drove out I-84 from Portland and took Hwy 35 south at Hood River. Our hike for the day: Cooper Spur on Mount Hood. I had never been on this hike but had wanted to for years, and boy, we were in for a treat! Our hiking book recommended tackling this trek in late summer after the snow had melted. This was the prime time, as it was the end of July.
Not for the faint of heart, this hike climbs close to 3,000 feet and is about 8.3 miles long, but the views are unparalleled. The best part: you are almost within an arm’s length of Elliot Glacier on the eastern flanks of Mt. Hood.
We turned right onto the paved Cooper Spur road at milepost 73/74 and continued for about 3 miles before taking a left towards Cloud Cap. (The road becomes gravel at this point and has some ruts in it, but is definitely passable by passenger car with a few rough spots.)
This part of the trip was gorgeous as we climbed up into pristine woods and bountiful wildflowers, ending up at the Cloud Cap campground trail head. Shouldering our daypacks, we set off. The trail immediately forked, and we followed the Timberline Trail route, #600. Shortly after signing in at the wilderness boundary, the trail forks again and you’ll want to stay to the left. Following gullies formed by glacial snowmelt, the trail is fairly comfortable with about 3″ of volcanic sand padding your footfalls. (it was almost a guilty pleasure – it felt kinda comfy, actually!)
As we continued upwards, the treeline was still above us, but not for long as the trail wound its way along a small stream dotted by wildflowers and kept going up. While the climb was steady, it was almost imperceptible once we cleared the trees and entered into the open alpine meadows. We were greeted with jaw-dropping views of the entire Hood River Valley, the arid plains of Eastern Oregon and the peaks of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainer jutting above the terrain. It was incredible! We had to take a break and spend some time admiring this view, knowing it was only going to get better the higher we went.
The path itself was a tad rocky at times but that was overshadowed by the massive boulders littered across the slope. Most likely, they were either coughed up in a pyroclastic flow from Mt. Hood the last time it erupted (sometime right before the explorers Lewis and Clark passed by in 1805) or were the result of being carried down slope from extreme glacial forces. At any rate, many of the boulders stood like silent sentinels across the landscape and were about the size of a small car or a large couch.
We passed a small shelter composed of stone and capped by a sturdy metal roof about .1 mile after the turn off of the Timberline Trail to the Cooper Spur trail. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, this stalwart shelter undoubtedly has provided comfort to iterant snowshoers or hikers caught in the mountain’s unpredictable weather. It’s well worth the quick side trip off of the trail to take a peek inside, and a good place to stop and contemplate the ever-growing expansive view.
As we hiked, the skies were clearing. Fortunately, one cloud hung over our part of the mountain and shaded us as we climbed up this now-exposed area. Being far above the tree line left us to the mercy of the sun and we slathered on the sunscreen. The cloud provided cooling relief as we continued toward our final destination – a viewpoint overlooking Elliot Glacier.
We finally reached this spot, and were directly above part of the snowfield. Great time to take a break and bring out the cameras! At that moment, as if on cue, Mount Hood emerged from the clouds in all of its glory. I’d never been this close to the top of the mountain before. It was dazzling! The light reflecting off of the rock and snow was almost blinding and I was grateful for my sunglasses and ball cap to shield my eyes from the sheer glow.
At this point, we were close to 8,000 feet in elevation, and the mountaintop towered above us another 3,000 feet. Distant creaks and muffled groans reminded me that the nearby glacier was still a living thing as it crept ever downward. Far above, we saw climbers making their way down off of the top of the glacier from their ascent to the summit. The incline seemed impossibly steep but that’s why the end of this particular trail is called “Tie In Rock” which means climbers rope up and put on their technical gear to make their summit assault.
We sat up there for the better part of an hour, reveling in the views and just drinking in the moment. Everywhere, there was an incredible view that warranted its own consideration. I wanted to venture upwards toward the ridgeline and climbers, but the trek back down already meant at least a couple of hours. Considering that we were getting into the late part of the afternoon, we elected to start the return journey home.
When we finally arrived back at the truck at the trailhead, I was still shaking my head. Seeing the greater beauty of the world and of Oregon was humbling. Going on this hike made me extremely grateful for living in a place that has such magnificence to experience within a short drive. It’s why I live here and keep living the Oregon dream.
Editor’s Note: Dawn Tryon is the Director of Education and Community Relations at the Oregon Restaurant Education Foundation and the state director of the Oregon ProStart Hospitality Program. Tune in for Dawn’s monthly hiking adventures!
For more information on hiking Oregon’s wondrous trails, visit our Outdoor Recreation section.
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