Thursday, January 19, 2017

McNeil Point And Then Some

Well hey there.  Long time no talk.  The only excuse is life is full of such awesome things.

In September Curt and I had a Date Day and we tackled the McNeil Point hike.  We've attempted it together twice before with the kids, but both trips had way too much whining and not enough fun (adults included).  Since this is one of my all time favorite hikes, we attempted it a third time and were successful.
Self timer at the top of the ridge in Really High Country
DIFFICULTY: According to our trusty hiking book (60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Portland by Paul Gerald) this 9.2 mile hike is rated "Easy" to Bald Mountain and "Strenuous" to McNeil Point.  We agree. The trail definitely shreds your quads and calves with the steep climbing and descents, but is worth every sweat-inducing step.  For detailed specifics about this hike, buy the book or google it.  My "directions" will be vague.

TRAIL ACCESS: This trailhead is remote, but not too rugged. You'll drive the typical narrow Forest Service road that is really one lane with steep drop offs on one side, but is supposedly wide enough for one car going each direction.  Thankfully all of it is paved save the last 1.2 miles and the potholes are minimal. The trail is under snow from October through June, so the window to go on this adventure is July through September.  Mark your calendar now and just do it!

The Bald Mountain viewpoint is only a mile from the trailhead and it is magnificent.  You hike through an old growth forest, go around a corner onto a ridge and BOOM!  There's Mt. Hood.  She takes your breath away.  The ridge the trail traverses is high in the air with a relatively steep drop off.  Don't bring dogs off a leash or kids that don't obey or they could roll off the edge to great peril. The ridge looks down into the valley of the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River.
Curt in the old growth forest before we came out onto the ridge.
Curt at the Bald Mountain Viewpoint.  McNeil Point is WAY up Mt. Hood on that ridge to the left.
The trail is narrow with some significant drop offs.  Be careful.
I love this viewpoint because it's a glimpse of where your final destination is. Squint and look way up on Mt. Hood.  Four more miles of hiking will take you WAY up the mountain to a "1930's era stone shelter" that marks McNeil Point.

Along the way, you'll finish traversing the ridge, hike back into old growth forest, ford a creek twice,  and pass wildflowers (if you're lucky enough to catch them in bloom). The mountain terrain changes the higher you hike with big boulder fields and mountain meadows with ponds.  Backpackers camp here and we saw several breaking camp on our way in.

We stopped at The Ponds for a snack, then continued the final stretch to the McNeil Point.  The narrow trail takes hikers across a "windswept ridge and eventually crosses a rockslide/snowfield."  This area is a little sketchy.  Go slow and be certain of each step you take.
The Ponds
Curt checking directions before we set out to finish our hike.
Getting closer to McNeil Point
Some of the Sketch Area.  The trail picks its way across these loose rocks that are often covered with snow.
It was in this area that Curt and I missed the right hand turn that leads down to McNeil Point.  We accidentally followed another trail to the left that meandered up the ridge instead of down.  When we reached the end of the ridge there was no where to go except into thin air.  It was amazing.  McNeil Point was below us by several hundred feet.  We set our lunch up on a rock and picnicked on top of the world.
Lunch Rock
That tiny turquoise speck directly in the lower middle of this image is a hiker.  The slightly bigger brown speck is the stone shelter.
The panoramic views were jaw-dropping.  Layers and layers upon layers of mountains and forest nestled together to form a backdrop for all the Cascade volcanoes.  Mt. Hood.  Mt. St. Helens. Mt. Rainer. Mt. Adams. They were all out to play and they were amazing.
Volcanoes in the distance.
The very steep, non-switchback trail up into Really High Country.
The trail we were on continued above us into "Really High Country.  It's not on any maps, but if you follow it you will soon run out of breath as you approach 7,000 feet in elevation with virtually no switchbacks and find yourself on a narrow, rocky ridge between the Sandy and Glisan Glaciers." You better believe we huffed and puffed our way to the top of that ridge.  It was slow going and H-A-R-D, but so worth it.

Hello Handsome.
I hiked all the way up to the point on that middle ridge, then came back.
We sat on a rock at the top of the ridge and listened to the glaciers pop and crack and slide down the mountainside.  It was an experience I would have paid a ton of money for, but it was free (minus the National Forest Pass required for parking our car).
We hiked down to the stone shelter on our way out.  It's pretty cool. 
#forreal #mightycreator #inoregonasitisinheaven
Our little side trip added 2.5 miles to an already long hike, giving us almost 12 miles of hiking by the time we made it back to our car. Since I hadn't run my mile yet for my run streak, I let Curt pack up the car and I ran down the mountain for two miles until he picked me up.  All exhaustion from the hike dissolved into the euphoria of running in the remote wilderness, fresh cool mountain air filling my lungs.  One day I will retire and live in the mountains.  They are my happy place.

So there you have it.  An overview of the McNeil Point hike.  And can I just add one thing?  If you're married, date your spouse.  The adventures Curt and I go on carry us through the mundane, nose-to-the-grindstone weeks and make us fall more in love.  Happy hiking.
Selfie game is strong.
#mcneilpoint #mthood #wiildnernessadventures #hikingadventures #dateyourspouse

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