This last weekend I hiked up to Cooper Spur on the eastern side of Mt. Hood. This was the most physically demanding hike I’ve ever undertaken, with an ascent of approximately 2800 feet in about four miles. As if the constant climb wasn’t hard enough, the last half mile to the peak was a trail-less scramble over volcanic rock and sand. Oh and for some real icing on the cake, we started at 6000 feet of elevation (thin air) and there was little or no shade for 80% of the hike. Yep, awesome.
We took this hike to prepare ourselves for a hike next month on Mt. St. Helens. The arid, volcanic conditions are similar, as is the altitude. It was about a two and a half hour trip to the trail head, with the final 45 minutes spent winding our way up an eight mile gravel road. Somehow, this grueling drive should have been an omen of the trail ahead. Alas, we pushed on, ignorant of the ordeal to come.
We were surprised by the number of people at the trail head, but there were camping facilities and a number of other trails in the area, so we shouldn’t have been too shocked. We started our hike with about a half mile of rolling terrain, before the trail turned up hill and left the treeline. Immediately we noticed the lack of switchbacks, as the incline increased. And so, our suffering began.
We hiked uphill and stopped a lot. One of my companions was having a pretty hard time with the thin air, and we were all nervous from the lack of shade. We took a lot of breaks and we kept hiking. We stopped and saw the cairn. We hiked some more and took more breaks.
After a while there were switchbacks. There were also ‘short cuts.’ We took one of those, and we remembered why switchbacks were our friend. Unfortunately these switchbacks were the kind of friend that sneaks out of the restaurant and leaves you holding the bill. The trail simply ended at a bank of snow and we had to scramble up the last half mile or so to the peak. This was a perilous ascent by our standards and I am quite thankful that no one was hurt.
At the top, we had a moment of determination to head even higher, followed by a dose of humility that made us decide to go back down while we could still walk. We ate our lunches and headed down.
Getting back to the trail head (and the car that would take us off the accursed mountain), was an ordeal in itself. I drank the last of my water and started to get parched. We kept hoping the trail would somehow get easier, but instead we trudged through our fatigue. Oh, and when we finally got back to the car, we still had a two and a half hour drive to get home.
All in all, this was a bit of a lame hike. Compared to McNeil Point, the payoff simply wasn’t worth the effort. The views were hazy. The scenery was sparse and desolate. The terrain was dry and the air was thin. I’m glad that I’ve had the experience, but I won’t be doing it again.