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The first lower elevation (around 4,000 feet) snow of the season around Mount Hood started to fall this week. I wasn't able to find anyone to go snow camping with me, so Katie and I decided on a day hike to Mirror Lake and then on to Tom Dick and Harry Mountain (above Mt Hood Skibowl ski resort). We were hoping for enough snow to snowshoe and for me to test out my 5th Element LK Pro Ski Boards.
The Mirror Lake trailhead is on Hwy 26 about 0.5 miles West of Mt Hood Skibowl. The trail to the lake is 1.4 miles and junctions at the trail to Tom Dick and Harry Mountain. It's about 2.9 miles (one-way) to the first (West) summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain and 3.6 miles to the middle (tallest) summit. Hitting all three summits makes the round-trip about 7.8 miles. There is no official trail to the Middle and East summits. Total elevation gain is about 1,600 feet.
Knowing the popularity of Mirror Lake and its notoriously small trailhead parking strip along Hwy 26, we decided to beat the crowds and arrived at the trailhead at 7:30 AM. It was a chilly 32°F, but skies were mostly clear and the sun was peeking out from the remaining cloud cover. Because it was still early, we were the only ones at the trailhead. We were excited to set off on this adventure without another soul in sight. Because there were no snow at the trailhead, we stowed our snowshoes on our packs and set off in our winter boots. After covering a few hundred feet of trail, we encountered our first dusting of snow along the path.
Our hopes for a thicker blanket of snow were soon realized when 1/2 mile later the trail became snow-covered. This well-traveled trail was easy to discern all the way to the lake despite a lack of trail markers. After a quick 1.4 miles, we arrived at Mirror Lake.
We spent a few minutes enjoying the pristine beauty of the lake's glassy surface. We still had not encountered another person. Though there is a trail that leads around the circumference of the lake, we decided to continue on in hopes of catching a glimpse of Mt Hood while the skies were clear.
Continuing our ascent to Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, we marveled at the stark contrast of the snowy slope and its nearby green hills. Soon the landscape will (hopefully) be completely snow covered. As if in reward for our early start, the skies remained mostly clear and we soon had a great view of Mt Hood. This was a real treat!.
Climbing yet higher on our ascent, the snow cover became deeper, with approximately 6 inches on the trail. As we rounded the corner and saw the large rock cairn many other hikers have noted, we spotted two grouse hiding near some bushes. They were content to remain still for a few pictures before we continued our hike. Before long, we arrive at a false summit of the West summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain. The sun was still shining and the summit of Mt Hood poked through the clouds. At this point, we forged our own trail, as there was no discernible trail or boot track to follow to the true West Summit.
Due to our chosen route to the West summit and the abundance of rock outcroppings, we had to scramble over a boulder field in order to make it to the West summit. This was not my favorite part of the trip, as the small accumulation of snow made it difficult to see how deep the voids between each boulder were. Later in the season I imagine that this will not be an issue, as snow will accumulate between and on top of the rocks. Continuing our adventure, we could see Mirror Lake and Government Camp in the distance below. We could also see the ridge between each summit. The West summit had much the same views as the false West summit, but visibility was poor due to a passing low cloud. Arriving at the Middle summit (the tallest of the three), we noticed a seismograph monitoring station.
The Middle summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain is fairly flat and open, offering nice views of Mt Hood on a clear day. We unfortunately only caught a glimpse of Hood's summit while on the Middle summit. After refueling with some snacks, Jason decided to try out his 5th Element LK Pro Ski Boards. Though we often glissade down the peaks we summit, Jason has been itching to try some ski boards. The terrain was a little too flat and rocky for any speed, but he whetted his appetite for future adventures. While on the Middle summit, we could see the Eastern summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain in the distance. This is the upper terrain of Mt Hood Skibowl. There was snow in the upper bowl, but much of the lower bowl was still bare, awaiting future snow storms. We decided to call it a day instead of continuing on to the Eastern summit.
After packing up and beginning our return trip, we noticed a long trail of untouched animal prints. They appeared to belong to a coyote, but luckily we didn't meet the prints' maker (much to Jason's dismay). As we descended, we met the first set of hikers on our trip. They too intended to summit the peaks of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain. As we continued, we ran across more hikers, though surely not as many as on a normal summer day. Arriving back at Mirror Lake, we noticed that it had begun to ice over in the absence of the bright sun. The ice provided a different scene on the lake, though still beautiful.
As we neared the parking lot, the snow began falling from the trees in large balls or ice chunks. Though it did not rain, we did see a few snow flurries. Our entire trip totaled 5 hours including stops. Jason and I thoroughly enjoyed our first snowy adventure of the season and look forward to many more in the coming months.