Trip Report: Zigzag Mountain Trail
There are a lot of great places to go backpacking around northwest Oregon. From the coast to the gorge to the high Cascades - take your pick.
Usually at this time of year in the Spring, I'm aiming to hike the lower elevation trails to avoid the lingering mounds of snow that add time and difficulty to the hike. But this year's mountain snow has already melted away, and so I'm hitting the trails I usually save for July and August.
One of the most challenging trails on Mt. Hood National Forest is the Zigzag Mountain Trail, which starts along the old Barlow Road just a mile or so from the town of Zigzag.
The trail starts off switchbacking up the southwest face of Zigzag Mountain. Up and up and up. The switchbacks are actually well-graded, but though steady, the climb is unrelenting.
The good news is that the trail is so challenging that you are unlikely to encounter many other people along the trail. I started out hiking at 7pm at night, so I didn't see a soul.
Night hiking is its own experience, and finding a decent campsite can be difficult in the dark. There are several nice little bivy spots along the trail, especially once it reaches the saddle, but I was driven that night and made it all the way to the site of the old Zigzag West Lookout. The original cabin is gone, but there is a nice flat spot near the concrete foundations. The view is pretty spectacular, even at night, as the lights of Welches, Zigzag and Rhododendron light up the valley below you. And the sound of Highway 26 reaches you easily, so even though you are technically in the Mt. Hood Wilderness, it doesn't seem as wild as it could be.
When I awoke the next morning, I was looking out on a sea of clouds. The marine layer had crept in overnight, and filled the valley below. The higher peaks and ridges stuck out of the white mist like islands from the sea. Pretty spectacular to behold.
I had camped out under the stars, so it didn't take long to pack up and continue hiking east along the Zigzag Mtn Trail. The first three miles of trail climed over 3,000 feet, but once on top of the mountain, it was mostly rolling along the ridge top.
There were a few patches of snow across the trail here and there, but what was there won't last long. I followed some tracks in the snow awhile that were probably a large dog or coyote, but they looked big enough to be a wolf's.
My destination was Cast Lake. There are several other trails to take to reach Cast Lake, but they are all easier than the route I had chosen. I picked out a campsite and explored around the lake.
There were wildflowers blooming that I don't expect to see later in the summer at that high elevation:
Salmonberry, Skunk Cabbage, Phlox, Bearberry, and Paintbrush to mention a few. There were also butterflies who loved to land on my damp socks drying in the sun. They must have loved the moisture and salt.
I climbed to the summit of Zigzag East that afternoon. It is one of my favorite views of the Mt. Hood Wilderness.
The next day I hiked out the Cast Creek Trail down to Old Maid Flat and met my ride along Lolo Pass Road.
If you are interested in backpacking, or would like to learn more about how to make your backcountry adventures safer and more enjoyable, then check out some of what Next Adventure has to offer coming up. Learn in town or out on the trail:
Free Clinics and Presentations:
- Jun 16 - Ultra-Light backpacking clinic w/ Whitney LaRuffa
- Jul 14 - Map & Compass Clinic
- Jul 21 - Mountain Wildflower Presentation
- Aug 11 - Backpacking at Elevation clinic
- Aug 18 - 7 Wonders of Oregon Presentation w/ Lisa Holmes
Outdoor School Guided Hikes:
- Jun 28 - Wildflower Riverside Hike
- Jul 18-19 - Hawk Mtn 2-Day Backpack
- Jul 25-26 - 2-Day Coast Backpack
- Jul 29-31 - 3-Day Rho Ridge Backpack
- Aug 2-5 - Pacific Crest Trail 4-Day Backpack
Find out more at: http://nextadventure.net/calendar