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Mt. Hood: Cooper Spur


This is definitely one of my most favorite hikes on Mt. Hood. I think my latest journey up Cooper Spur was my 4th. The views of the mountain are awesome. All along the Spur you can look right into the crevasses on Elliot Glassier. Off to the north you can see Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. Once atop Cooper Spur, looking to the south you can see Mt. Jefferson, and The Three Sisters.

As you all know (if you hike in the Northwest), we had a long winter so it took a while for trails to open. Though we were still surprised when we were driving up the dirt road to Cloud Cap that at the T where the road splits (one going to Tilly Jane, the other to Cloud Cap) there was snow blocking the road. We parked there and walked the rest of the way to the trail head.

Oh yes... a note about the road. For the first year the forest service has charged us to park at Cloud Cap (either $3 a day or you can get a $25 yearly pass for most areas in Oregon and Washington). If you're going to charge me to hike there, please, at least maintain the road! I have never seen it this bad. This road is suppose to be gravel, but in many stretches the gravel is completely washed away, revealing dirt underneath. Dirt isn't too bad, right? Well.. there are also huge pot holes (if things so large can even be called pot holes), many over 6 inches deep, all along the road. If you're driving in some macho SUV you probably won't have a problem. However, if you're in a Toyota Supra as we were, it gets horrible. In fact, I bet it's those stupid macho SUV owners that made the road this way, tearing up there at 40mph. Anyway... unless you drive something with two feet of ground clearance, I'd watch it on this road...

So, on with the hike! It starts out very briefly in a forest, but you quickly get out of that and onto the bare ridge. There is actually a trail that switch backs up the side of the ridge, but I much rather walk straight up the ridge, as I'm sure everyone else does. Of course the switch backs won't be as steep as the top of the ridge, but they will also probably turn this 6.5 mile hike into a 9 mile hike.

The whole way up the Spur the mountain was completely covered in clouds above 9,000 feet. There were a few times when the clouds would break for a moment revealing a brief view of the mountain. During one of these times I took this "insurance" shot on the left. This was the first time I had been up there when it was cloudy.

Again, if you really want to enjoy hikes on Hood, you really should bring a nice pair of binoculars. Looking into the crevasses on Elliot Glacier is just incredible. Some of them, like the ones to the right, are almost 100 feet deep! The picture is deceiving; they don't look that large, but they truly are massive. Here's the trick... look at the large version of the picture to the right... see those two oblong dots in the upper right hand corner, on the snow dome? Those are two hikers. You wouldn't want to fall in one of those crevasses.

As I continued up the ridge I kept on looking back into these crevasses. When I was parallel to one of them, I took the picture at the left. You can still see the clouds directly above the crevasses. Once we got to about the 7,700 foot mark we had entered the clouds and we really couldn't see the mountain. Since I couldn't see anything anyway, I took off to see how fast I could get to 8,500 feet. Huffing and puffing away, I got up there in 25 minutes. 800 feet in 25 minutes at 8,000 feet... not bad.

Every other time I've been up Cooper Spur I've stopped at the 8,500 foot mark, where the Spur levels out. I'm not really sure why though... that's always been my destination so I've never second guessed it. This time though, I figured I mine as well keep on going, so I went all the way up until I hit snow, right below 9,000 feet. It's amazing how much of a difference 500 feet makes when you're that high! Standing at this point seems so much higher than standing at the 8,500 point of the Spur. The top of the mountain is only about a mile away... though 2,300 feet up...

I said you could see Mt. Jefferson from up here, and here's the proof of it. Well... you can't really see it in the small version, so click on the image to see. Just to the left of Jefferson you can see hints of The Three Sisters. They were so hazy I didn't even notice them at the time, and as a result they were cropped out of my view finder. That large set of crevasses sticking out on the right side of the picture are on the Newton Clark Glacier. One of the times I climbed up Cooper Spur we shot down the side of the Spur from 8,500 feet, down onto the Newton Clark Glacier, and glissaded down it until we hit the Timberline Trail, and took that back to Cloud Cap. If you're comfortable sliding down gravel this can be a fun alternative to coming back the way you came.

Finally, after standing at 9,000 feet for about 20 minutes, the mountain began to clear off. It didn't completely clear off until we were a ways back down the Spur, but most of the mountain was clear. Unfortunately by this time the sun was behind the mountain, leaving most of it in a shadow. The sun star still makes this image nice though. I took about 8 similar pictures while up top here, but I think this was the only one where there were no clouds directly in front of the mountain. Unfortunately, it is also the only one I shot at f22, and is the only one where there is any hint of flare... and here it's quite a bit more than a hint. Oh well, try and ignore the flare.

One of the things I always look forward to doing on this hike is glissading down the snow field, as outlined on the map. If you're going to do this, you should probably have on some Gortex pants or you're going to totally freeze. Also, an ice axe is a MUST. It's your only safety line in case you get going too fast. You can always perform a self arrest. Also, the ice axe is what you use to steer with, and slow down. It's a lot of fun. This year though, the snow field was rougher than normal, with more ups and downs, so it was hard to get going fast. Once I got down to about 7,000 feet, I cut across to the Spur and went back the way I came up.

This is a great hike; as I said, one of my favorite, if not my very favorite, hike on Mt. Hood. It also gives you good high elevation training, in case you want to take on something more formidable, like South Sister (which I plan on doing in September). If you can handle a 3,000 foot climb in 3 miles at high elevation, definitely go here.

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David Paris
Last modified: Thu Jul 29 23:12:43 PDT 1999