Laurance Lake to The Pinnacle; or, It Is Not Spring at 5000 feet

I’m a bit behind in posting about it, but last Sunday I took a wonderful, sunny snowshoe trip on the North Side of Mt. Hood. We drove up from Parkdale to Laurance Lake to start — the road was plowed all the way to the dam — and followed a road up from Kinnickinick campground along Pinnacle Creek to start the hike. On the map below, you can see Laurance Lake in the upper right hand corner. It’s at about 3000 feet. Our destination was “The Pinnacle,” a rocky outcrop that tops out at about 5200 feet, which is the blue point on the map.

The conditions could hardly have been better for making the climb. There was a firm crust on the snow, which was topped by about a half inch of fresh powder, so we barely sank into the snow on our snowshoes. That was good, because there were two points at which the slope alone provided a decent challenge. After walking about a mile along Pinnacle Creek, the climb up to the top of Pinnacle Ridge was fairly steep for a short while, and then after another leisurely mile or so along the ridge, there was about a third of a mile of steep stuff, and then a very short push to the Pinnacle itself. (As you can see in the photograph, the Pinnacle is slightly less dramatic than its name — it’s that rocky bump in the center.)

The Pinnacle

The conditions were so good, in fact, that we made it all the way up in less than four hours, which was much better time than we anticipated. Once we got above about 4500 feet, though, and were no longer sheltered by the Western edge of the ridge from the West wind, it got pretty chilly.

It’s worth noting after my groundhog-like seasonal optimism down in Portland last week, that it is definitely not spring up here. Nothing springy about it. A snowshoeing companion mentioned that she lives at about 2000 ft., and thinks her seasons are about a month behind seal-level Portland. If we extrapolated from that, and said 2000 ft. up is as good as a month late, that would mean early spring should come to the Pinnacle in two and a half months (and maybe a little later, to allow time for the 4 feet of snow on the ground to melt.) Perhaps I’ll come back in mid-May to see what’s going on and test the theory.

We didn’t linger too long over our lunch with a view down the Hood River Valley to the Columbia, but took our time on the walk down. The area we traveled through was at the heart of the Dollar Lake fire, a big one that burned the North side of the mountain in the fall of 2011. (To read press releases about the fire, see some photos, and check out some cool maps, go to this site.) Walking through all those burnt trees in the snow is pretty neat.

Burnt Trees in Snow

The Work of WoodpeckersWe spent some time following a coyote trail, which was fun, but eventually the tracks plunged down a steeper slope than we were willing to follow them down. With such a recent burn, we expected there would be less available small plant matter, so fewer small animals, which would mean less food for predators like a coyote. There were pockets of unburned trees, though, and apparently enough going on to support the occasional mouse and hare, judging from tracks. Maybe that was enough for the coyote, or more likely he was just passing through — his trail was very consistent, like he had a place to go and wasn’t getting distracted. Or maybe there just wasn’t much to distract him.

I guess the amount of food in the burn would depend on what you were looking to eat —  we noticed a Hairy Woodpecker hard at work, and many a burnt tree that showed signs of its friends’ handywork. (If you can’t tell from the picture, the lighter spots on the otherwise blackened bark are where the birds have pecked through the outer layer looking for bugs.) Though as one of my friends pointed out, it’s hard to tell if there are so many holes because it was such a delicious bug filled tree, or because the poor bird had to keep digging because his holes were coming up dry.

It was still light for the drive home, too. And with daylight savings in the works, I can start to get even more used to bright evenings.

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