Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain

Mount Hood and Mirror Lake from Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain
6 miles round trip, 1700 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: $5 Northwest Forest Pass required in summer; $4 Oregon Sno-Park Permit required in winter

Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain- or TDH for short- stands as one of the taller peaks to the south of Oregon's majestic Mount Hood. The rocky summit of TDH offers a fully enveloping panoramic view of the great Cascade volcanoes in Oregon and Washington and of the Willamette Valley. I did this hike as an overnight in late February during a mild winter, though this is an easily doable day hike that should only be hiked during the summer months in most years.

I drove down to Oregon from Seattle on a beautifully clear late February day, reaching Portland by noon in time for a lunch of Peruvian food. From Portland, I took US 26 east past Sandy and Rhododendron to the trailhead, which was on the right side of the road heading east just before the road reaches Government Camp. There was a large parking area for the Mirror Lake Trail on the right at the point where the road is making a wide turn to the left; I parked here and started my hike. Visitors who come in the winter may have to park at the Ski Bowl a little farther up the road as the trailhead lot is often used to hold shoveled snow in the winter; parking at the Ski Bowl in winter requires an Oregon Sno-Park Permit.

The trail started off on a bridge across a raging creek that ran alongside the highway. Once across, I entered the woods for a little while before soon reaching another bridge, this time across the creek flowing out from Mirror Lake. From here on the trail was fairly monotonous, making a steady climb through the forest with no views. After climbing up at steeper slope via a set of switchbacks, the trail arrived at the junction for the loop trail around Mirror Lake about a mile and a half from the trailhead. I headed right at the junction, soon coming to the lake itself. A few paths led down from the left side of the trail to the lakeshore; a few short spurs to the right of the trail led to campsites. I dropped my gear off at one of the campsites and set up camp before heading out to explore. The campsites are free and first-come first-served; while finding a spot wasn't a problem in the dead of winter (I was the only camper that night), visitors in the summer will want to come early and avoid weekends.

I headed out from my campsite and made a loop around the lake, enjoying the views of both TDH Mountain, which rose to the south, and Mount Hood, which rose to the north across the lake. The best views of Mount Hood were from areas near the boardwalk along the south side of the lake. The lake lived up to its name, providing pretty reflections of the snowcapped stratovolcano.

Mirror Lake
I made my way around the half-mile loop and collected water from the lake's outlet stream. After returning to the campsite to drop off water and pick up a headlamp, I started my way up Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain. The fork for the trail up the mountain came at the west end of the lake. I took the right fork towards the mountain. The trail meandered through the woods a bit before starting to tackle the slopes of TDH at a steady incline. Before long, I entered the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness and soon after came to an open talus slope with a view of forested Zigzag Mountain across the valley and of Mount Hood to the northeast.

Mount Hood from Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain Trail
After this point, I encountered snow on the trail. By the time I was three-quarters of a mile uphill from the campsite at a sharp switchback in the trail, the ground was fully covered in compact snow; I donned microspikes for the rest of the hike. The not-too-steep but constant incline continued all the way along the broad ridgeline of the mountain until I reached the base of the large talus slope that formed the summit. A final push brought me to the top, a pile of rocks with a 360-degree view.

Mount Hood dominated the view. From this angle, Hood was elegant, with a fairly conical form but enough asymmetry to make the mountain unique. The sun bathed the western face of the mountain in golden afternoon light, turning the snowcapped giant into a canvas for the many hues of late day rays. The Cascades themselves were here much tamer than in Washington state: most nearby ridges were forested and comparatively gentle. However, the lower relief of the surrounding peaks provided farther-reaching views and allowed me to see four other sleeping giants of the Cascade Volcanic Arc. To the north, the trinity of Washington's South Cascade peaks were all visible: St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams in a row.

Mount St. Helens
Mount Adams
Mount Jefferson rose to the south: from this angle, its summit pinnacle appeared remarkably dramatic. To the east, the town of Government Camp was nestled in a valley at the base of Hood. To the west, the ridges of the Cascades faded to the Willamette Valley, the Columbia River, and the distant ranges near the coast.

Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain has three separate summits- the one that the trail leads to is not the highest, but appeared to be the only one that allowed for wraparound views. One of the other summits served as a filming location for the movie Wild as the spot where Reese Witherspoon throws her hiking boots off a cliff. It seemed like at least a slightly odd choice for filming, as TDH is well off the Pacific Crest Trail itself.

I spent over an hour at the summit gazing out at the forested ridges and snowcapped volcanoes. At times, the wind made the summit a bit cold, forcing me to hide behind a few windbreaking rock shelters. I stayed until sunset and watched the dying rays paint a crimson alpenglow on Mount Hood's white snow before the purples and grays of dusk set.

Sunset over the Willamette Valley from TDH
Mount Jefferson
After watching the sun drop below the Coast Mountains on the horizon, I headed down into the woods and back towards my campsite. By the time I reached the switchback, it was nearly fully dark; I returned to Mirror Lake and camp in total darkness with just the light of my headlamp. After boiling some water to rehydrate a bag of lyophilized mashed potatoes and quickly eating the hot mush to keep it from succumbing to the temperatures of the ever-colder night, I tucked in for an early night and so that I could escape the 20 degree temperatures in the warmth of my sleeping bag.

I awoke in the middle of the night and walked over to the shores of Mirror Lake. Starlight was enough to cast a faint glow on Mount Hood. Night skiers left light trails zigzagging down snow slopes. Above, faint stars were splayed across the cold, infinite night sky like the first flakes of a dusting of snow.

Starry night at Mirror Lake
I woke a half hour earlier than the sun did that morning. The ground had gained a crunchy feel underfoot overnight as needle ice had formed; in fact, the bits of gravel on the ground outside my campsite had all been raised two inches or more by the thin hairs of ice. I broke a path through the crunchy ground to the lakeside and watched sun illuminate Mount Hood. The morning was unfortunately too windy to allow for reflections in Mirror Lake.

Morning needle ice
The shores of the lake had begun to freeze overnight. The morning was still cold. I returned to my camp to heat water and food and to delve temporarily back into the comfort of my sleeping bag.

After breakfast, I packed up my gear and hiked back to the trailhead. Within an hour of returning to the car, I was in Portland; within two hours, I was enjoying Thai food at Pok Pok. I ended up touring the Columbia Gorge and Multnomah Falls with two friends later that day before returning to Seattle that night, making my first visit to Oregon a fairly memorable one.

Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain and Mirror Lake
Even though I hiked TDH and Mirror Lake as an overnight trip, I would recommend that you do it instead as a day hike. The scenery is superb, but the campsites seem so excellent that I doubt you'd ever find them free in the summer. Either way, this is a superb hike for exploring the beautiful landscape around Oregon's Mount Hood and an easily doable day trip less than an hour out of Portland.

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