January at 4500 feet: White River

That cold, clear weather hit the road and left us under our usual blanket of gray, but I went up to Mt. Hood last weekend anyway. We went to White River, on the South side of the mountain. It’s about 5 miles Southeast and 1000 feet below Zigzag Canyon, the last Mt. Hood expedition I wrote about here.

White River is one of the biggest drainages coming off of Mt. Hood. It shoots straight down the South side of the mountain (off White River Glacier, appropriately) and at about 4500 ft, it flows under Highway 35, the major road on the east side of the mountain. About six years ago, it actually flowed over Highway 35 quite extensively during a big storm, and washed it out completely. Provisional construction was done that restored the road to a point of passability during a couple years of further construction, and now you can drive over the river on a very sturdy bridge.

You can see on this Google Map the path that the river cuts, and you can see where we parked, at the intersection of Highway 35 and Forest Road 48, just on the East side of the river. We headed out Southeast and then East from the parking lot, through an open area populated by some very scraggly Lodgepole Pines. The last place I saw this many Lodgepoles was in the summer, way over on the West side at about 1200 ft. A totally different place in some ways, but it was right by the Sandy River, in the wash-out zone (that’s not an official term, that I’m aware of). I seem to recall hearing that Lodgepoles do well in poor soil, and sandy areas often overtaken by floods seem to qualify, despite so many other things being different between those two places.

Lodgepoles by White River

The scenery was at its most open and bleak close to the river, and as we moved East, staying South of the road, the trees started to get taller and closer together, and we started to see some Mountain Hemlocks and an occasional Doug Fir mixed in. We were moving into an area that was more protected from downhill surges, but still low enough that it would get flooded at the highest waters. (You can even see this happen on the satellite map above if you zoom in on the beginning of the 48 Road next to the river – don’t zoom in on the A.)Denser Forest

This area was where we saw the most animal tracks. We’d been seeing the occasional snowshoe hare and squirrel tracks all day, but we saw a lot of them in here, and also picked up a coyote trail that we followed for a while. I can’t say for sure, but it makes sense to me that animals would like this area – enough cover that they aren’t totally out in the open, but open enough that it’s easy to move.

You can’t see North Fork Creek on that map, but you can see its drainage – it flows down throught the little valley in which Highway 35 and the 48 Road both make a U to the North. We walked up that drainage, crossing the creek on a big snowy log, and as soon as we were a little uphill from the creek, the forest changed again.

These trees were a lot bigger, because they had a much better place to grow – protected from frequent floods and washouts, in soil that wasn’t regularly depleted by those washouts, and on a South-facing slope, to boot, where they got lots of good sun. Now it was mostly Doug Firs, with Mountain Hemlocks, and a few other Firs mixed in that I couldn’t identify. Big trees.

We didn’t see quite as many tracks in here, but still saw tracks from that coyote, who seemed to be circling all over everywhere. Maybe he was looking for a hare to eat? It’s funny to see a week’s worth of activity written in the snow, because we know how many times the coyote crossed paths with its prey, but couldn’t tell if they were separated by minutes or days. The light snow that fell all day was collecting on top of the crust that must have formed during our dry, windy weather last week, which was covering a few feet of softer snow below.

After our jaunt through the woods, we headed back to the cars on the road. It’s not plowed, but has seen enough snowmobiles this winter to be pretty easy walking. We drove back over that nice White River bridge, and went home.

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