Late April at 5500 feet: Timberline to Little Zigzag Canyon

Last fall, I went with some friends up to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and wandered West to Zigzag Canyon. More adventurous people might say “been there, done that,” but I was actually thrilled this weekend to have the chance to visit the same place again in a different season.

It was cloudy and almost snowing when we set out in the morning. The snow was a little ways from slushy, but headed in that direction. On the way up the mountain on Highway 26, it seemed that the level for solid snow was just below Government Camp. We followed essentially the same route we took last November, except that this time we were wearing snowshoes when we set off across the ski runs, there were skiers on them. Not too many, though, (perhaps because of the late ski-season conditions) so it was easy to cross the runs in between them, and we got to see some neat flips and tricks crossing near a ramp.

Timberline, Late April

No sooner had we passed the “Ski Area Boundary” sign, though, that a marten trail appeared. Martens are neat little predators that live at high elevations like these and eat small animals, large ones that are already dead, and berries in the summer. (Learn more, and check out some cute pictures at Wikipedia.)There aren’t too many of them around, and I was excited to find these tracks.

After finding those so quickly, I kept my eyes peeled for more. We did find some more marten activity, and even some marten scat, but nothing else that was quite clear enough to identify. Since it hadn’t snowed in a while, there were lots of shadows and impressions that couldn’t be identified. They may have been left by a ski pole, someone’s dog, snow falling out of a tree, or some interesting animal, but the evidence is no longer clear enough to draw any conclusions. These ghost tracks reminded of the faint tracks I could see in the grass at the Juniper Dunes a few weeks ago, but out there the size and shape were often clear enough to identify the animal.

The whole first part of the day had a generally ghost-like quality to it, actually, thanks to being in a cloud for most of it. When we got to Little Zigzag Canyon, we couldn’t see across it to find a good place to come up the other side, 200 feet away. We sat down for lunch for a bit and watched the visibility change, bringing parts of the other side into clear focus while completely obscuring others, then obscuring the whole view, then revealing more. On my camera, it all came up as white, but as when I watched the stages of sunrise, you’ll have to take my word for it that the slight variations were beautiful and amazing.

Looking through the cloud across Little Zigzag Canyon

I took this picture looking up the little canyon from the bottom on the way back, to give you more of an idea of what it really looks like.

Little Zigzag Canyon

We didn’t actually make it all the way to Zigzag Canyon — it was sort of slow going, and it started clearing up right at our elevation, which made the snow even soggier. On the way back, we had a clear view to the south all the way to the base of Mt. Jefferson, but the base of Mt. Hood was still lost in the clouds.

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