A few weeks back I hiked up the Paradise Park Trail to see how the snow was at Paradise Park. At that time much of the trails were snow-covered and all of Paradise Park was deep in snow. Now that the weather has warmed up, and there have been reports of fast melting, I decided it was a good opportunity to complete the Paradise Park Loop. The Paradise Park Loop leaves from Timberline Lodge, and follows the Timberline Trail clockwise down through Zigzag Canyon and then up towards Paradise Park. The loop itself leaves the Timberline Trail and loops up to Split Rock, and then descends to join the Timberline Trail again. In all this is about a 12-mile hike, so Hunter and I set off early in the morning before the weather got too hot.
We’ve done much of this trail many times before, and so a lot of it is familiar to us. However, it’s always great to get out and hike around Mt. Hood. During the stretches from Timberline Lodge to the top of Zigzag Canyon, there were still some patches of snow on the trail. However none of these were difficult to navigate, and overall it was a huge improvement from a couple of weeks ago. After about 2 miles, you reach the lookout point over zigzag Canyon. Far down below is the zigzag river. As you follow the river up towards Mt. Hood, it runs into the edge of the Zigzag Glacier. Towering above it are the cliffs of Mississippi head.
Descending towards the Zigzag river, the normal hiking challenges around Mt. Hood reappeared. Although there was no snow, there were a couple of difficult blowdowns to navigate around. The Zigzag river was relatively easy to cross. This early in the morning it was not flowing too fast and required only a small jump between two rocks. It was also no problem for Hunter to jump across.
Following a shorter ascent up the Western side of the canyon wall, the trail splits with the Paradise Park Loop Trail leaving to the right. This trail loops through some lush undergrowth, crosses some small streams, and drops in and out of a shallow canyon, before reaching Paradise Park. The same trail marker for the Paradise Park Trail, which three weeks ago was completely under snow, was now fully visible. Above it, the meadows were green, rather than covered in white.
We continue to follow the trail up towards Split Rock. I’ve always been curious about how this got here. Was it ejected from a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, or did it simply roll down the side of Mt. Hood? Either way, we rested here for a while and took in the morning views. On such a spectacular morning, Mount Jefferson, Mount Helens, and Mount Adams were all visible at different points in time, and of course, Mount Hood was always there.
There is absolutely something special about being able to sit and contemplate the beauty of nature, the vastness of the views, and the role that we should play in maintaining that for future generations. Having started out early, our time at Split Rock was undisturbed.
The return journey
We continued to follow the Paradise Park Loop Trail, which follows along at the same altitude for a short while, before starting to descend back towards the Timberline Trail. However, after Split Rock, the amount of snow on the trail increased. This included one area of slight exposure, where some folks had glissaded down rather than following the boot track. As it was still early in the day, and the snow was firm, I decided to use my spikes for this section. The additional traction definitely made me feel a little more comfortable. From here is the trail to send it back towards the timberline Trail the patches of snow increased. Indeed the return loop along the timberline Trail also had much more snow than previous sections. None of this was difficult to navigate.
Back at the intersection with the Paradise Park Loop Trail, the snow disappeared. The descent back into zigzag Canyon was warmer as the day heated up. Consequently, the Zigzag river was flowing faster. The small jump I had made on the outward leg now looked that little bit more difficult, particularly for Hunter. I looked up the river for other opportunities to cross. None looked particularly better, so I just donned my water shoes and waded through. This was certainly not a difficult crossing and the water was well below knee depth.
The hike back up the eastern wall of the Zigzag canyon was a little warmer in the afternoon sun, as well as the remaining 2 miles back to Timberline Lodge.