McNeil Point Hike in Winter

After working in Redmond the past couple weeks, I got to come home Wednesday and had Thursday off. The weather forecast was not great, but I was eager to get out and do some hiking on my day off. The snow level was forecasted to finally come down to around 2,500 feet. I decided to go hiking in the snow to McNeil Point on the West side of Mt Hood. Normally this hike would have amazing views (so I hear), but not this trip due to the weather.

This hike starts at the Top Spur trailhead off spur road 118 off road 1828 (near Lolo Pass). The route follows Top Spur trail #785 to the Pacific Crest trail #2000 and then to the Timberline trail #600. Eventually it winds up and around, hitting McNeil Point from higher up the ridge making for a 5 mile one-way hike. My plan was to find a shortcut by heading directly up the North side of McNeil Point. I packed some climbing gear just in case.

McNeil Point Trail Elevation Profile

I got a late start and didn't arrive at the Top Spur trailhead until just before 9:30 AM Thursday morning. There was 2-3 inches of fresh snow on the road over the last 4-5 miles. I saw one other set of tire tracks until I turned right onto spur road 118 to the trailhead. It was snowing lightly with a temperature around 29°F.

Fresh Snow on Road to Trailhead     My Truck at the Top Spur Trailhead

I had the trail all to myself. It was easy to follow since only a couple inches of snow had penetrated through the dense forest canopy.

Mt Hood Wilderness Sign on Top Spur Trail #785     Pacific Crest Trail Junction

Once I was higher up the trail on Bald Mountain Ridge, I lost the protection of the forest canopy. The wind picked up and the snow became deeper. Above 5,000' elevation there was plenty of snow (approx. 1-3 feet+).

View from Bald Mountain Ridge     Jason on Timberline Trail to McNeil Point
Fresh Coyote Tracks in the Snow     Lots of Snow above 5,000' Elevation

After I crossed the South fork of McGee Creek, the Timberline trail all but disappeared. I am sure I could have approximately followed it, but my goal was to find a more adventurous shortcut up to McNeil Point. I turned right (East) off the trail about half way between the south and middle forks of McGee Creek. The terrain quickly steepened as I climbed along the edge of the talus slope along McNeil Point.

Icy Creek Crossing     Off-Trail Shortcut to McNeil Point

The slope steepened more and the snow turned to ice, so I put on crampons and traded one trekking pole for my ice axe. I saw several steep chutes leading up to McNeil Point that looked like possible routes. Some of them were mixed routes with some vertical rock covered in a very thin layer of ice. Not exactly the type of adventure I was looking for today. I chose to continue on farther, finding a wider, slightly less steep chute that didn't have any vertical rock. By this time visibility was becoming pretty poor, but I was determined to gain the ridge and find the McNeil Point stone shelter. As I climbed higher I picked out an easier route in the trees farther North to descend for my return trip.

Almost to the Ridge that Forms McNeil Point     Looking Back Down at the Nasty Weather

By the time I gained the ridge, the wind was really howling and blowing snow sideways. Visibility was a couple hundred feet, but my eyeglasses had fogged and iced over, so I could hardly see anything. I made my way down the ridge to the McNeil Point stone shelter.

McNeil Point Stone Shelter from Above     McNeil Point Stone Shelter

The shelter was partially filled with snow, but still provided a nice spot out of the weather to eat a snack and clear off my glasses. In my opinion, the McNeil Point shelter is a little nicer than the Cooper Spur shelter on the other side of Mt Hood. They are basically the same, but the fireplace at the McNeil Point shelter looks like a better design and even has a warming shelf above it. There is no door and I am sure the shelter will soon be full of snow as winter progresses.

Snow Inside McNeil Point Shelter     Fireplace in McNeil Point Shelter

I made my way down off the ridge, soon finding protection amongst a band of trees near the upper portion of McGee Creek. Looking back, I thought how fun it would be to come back on a nicer day later in the winter and try some of the other routes up to McNeil Point.

Looking Back up at my Route to McNeil Point     McNeil Point

I noticed about an inch of snow had fallen since I started my hike. The clouds and fog had also descended, obscuring any chance of a view. It was still beautiful with all the fresh snow.

More Fresh Snow on the Way Back     Sporting the MICROspikes

Back at the trailhead my truck was still the only vehicle, although I did notice another set of tire tracks. On my drive out I came across a couple other vehicles having fun in the snow and one group who had just cut a Christmas tree. I love this time of year.

Gear List

Osprey Variant 37 Pack
HighGear ATF8 Altimeter
Komperdell Powerlock Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe
Kahtoola MICROspikes®
Kahtoola K-10 Hiking Crampons
CamelBak Antidote 70 oz. w/Insulated Drinking Tube
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
La Sportiva Batura EVO Mountaineering Boots
Conform'able Pack Pro Set Battery Heated Insoles
Marmot Expedition Mitts
Marmot Big Mountain Gloves
Head Digital Sport Liner Gloves
Columbia Sportswear Men's Ultrachange Parka
Triple Star Packable Down Hooded Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket
REI Taku Pants
Seirus Ultra Clava
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
First Aid Kit
iPhone w/NeoTreksGPS
Suunto A-10 Compass


John Williams, Thu, 12/13/2012 - 17:35

Looks like an awesome hike! Do you know how far the McNeil Point shelter is from the junction with the PCT approximately?

jloomis, Thu, 12/13/2012 - 19:36

It's about 3.3 miles via my shortcut from the PCT or 4.3 miles via the standard route from the PCT.

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