Hood River Mountain

This is why they called it Double Mountain.

I’m staring south at a Mt. Hood view that is almost overwhelming in its perfect alpine glory, and when I wheel to the north for a little relief —  BAM! — the looming bulk of the even larger Mt. Adams dazzles me a second time. I’m utterly alone in a flower-filled meadow on a clear-sky day, sandwiched between the awesome majesties of two photogenically framed Cascade peaks, and I’m thinking about — beer.
The hills are aliveBecause sure, you can
see both Mt Hood and Mt Adams from several places in Hood River, Oregon. But there is no better place to feel these two presences than the open summit of Hood River Mountain. In my head-canon, the folks who started Hood River’s Double Mountain Brewery were just out for a hike together one day, and then they stumbled on this ridiculous view, and they knew what they would call their labor of love.

This is the effect this view has on you: it’s immediate, it’s close, and it’s personal. It’s also a bit of a surprise, every time. Hike the trail up to it just once, hike it a dozen times, and it sticks with you. Coming out of a long, upsloping tunnel of brush, you turn off the path slightly and just fall into it. The mountains are right there. You’ve hiked up maybe 600 feet, and you’re on the set of The Sound of Music.

It’s a surpassingly fine place for a picnic. (Or to just sit down on one of the convenient flatish rocks and stare – which is generally how I behave in the presence of such generous grandeur.) But I’ve been up here in every season, on weekdays and weekends, and I have never yet shared the summit with another soul I didn’t bring along. I always pass a few people – looking a little shell-shocked if they recently left the Meadow of Amazing Views – but I just don’t see hordes of hikers here.

So far I’ve made Hood River Mountain sound as if its only attraction is two other mountains, but allow me to elaborate. The place itself – a little hard to find, and not widely celebrated – is wild and beautiful and well worth your time for its own sake.
Here be dragons

That tunnel of brush I mentioned is wonderful for two reasons. One: it’s full of wildlife. Squirrels and chipmunks and birds of all stripes flit and flutter in the close hush of the young forest. As you gain elevation, bright-eyed cornflowers peep from the few open edges, and blooming shrubs invade the path at eye level: ceanothus with its soapy blue clusters, the creamy spires of oceanspray.

Two: it’s the first stage of enjoyment: the anticipation that comes before the payoff. You push uphill for a mile or so, at a grade that’s just steep enough to make your heart beat faster, through a forest so close and quiet it feels mythical. You’re on a quest for the rewards at the top of this trail, and you know it.

When you can leave the astonishing view behind, the trail gets – is this possible? – even better. It meanders along a ridgeline for a little over half a mile, offering sweeping views of the Hood River Valley, rippling meadows, flowers if you time it right. I walked it once in June when Mt. Adams refused to show, and only the knees of Hood could be glimpsed beneath the gray. The ridgewalking was still the finest around, and the flower show, up in the meadows and through that first forested section, was incredible.

Roll on, Columbia

In January of this year, I started off with my visiting mother on a clear Portland day, ending up in thick fog by Hood River. I thought we might climb out of it as we drove and then walked up the mountain. Watchfully silent on the mist-wrapped hillside, we began to hear, as we neared the top, an odd, muffled clicking. A cautious quarter-mile later, we realized at last that the fog had frozen on the conifers, and the wind was playing with her icy new toys.

Out on the ridge, viewless, we walked a misty track between boulder-strewn open hillside and a dwarf oak forest, bare of leaves but lush with lichen. Some of the crusted branches dripped also with ice, and the small withered seed heads crouched in the brown winter meadows wore a coat of it. We felt quite alone, and in a mixture of high spirits and wilderness anxiety, we sang snatches of our favorite songs together. Who could be out there on such a day to hear us? But we did see a few other walkers – all purposeful and solitary – emerging out of the mist and as suddenly vanishing within.

I break the spell of the mountain afterward with – you’re not surprised, are you? – beer, which is one of several good reasons in itself to visit Hood River. Indeed, most visitors to this spectacularly located town are, quite rightly, after some form of more immediate pleasure: good food, excellent libations, fresh fruit from a roadside stand, easy mountain views snapped quickly from Panorama Point. But if you have a couple of hours, and a walking stick and a spirit of adventure, get off the path and find your way to Hood River Mountain. The view on a clear day is unbeatable, but truly, the weather doesn’t matter. This place is magic, always.

Adams: Also named after a dead white guy

Update 10/2015: Hood River Mountain’s magic is no more, at least for many years. The SDS Lumber Company closed the trail earlier this year – and then clear-cut a swath of the mountain. The summit meadow has been bulldozed, and it’s unclear whether hiking is again permitted on what’s left of the old trail. Information on the current status is difficult to find, so if you know something, please comment. Here’s the most comprehensive update I’ve found so far, with pictures. 

The Hood River Mountain trailhead is on privately held land. At the sufferance of the lumber company that owns it, parking is free, though limited. From Hood River, drive south on Highway 35. Turn left on Eastside Road, and left again on Old Dalles. The climb from here is gravelly and bumpy; your car can do it, but take it slow. There is no sign at the trailhead, but there’s a set of powerlines and an obvious, if undeveloped, parking area. It’s 2 miles to the viewpoint and back, or just over 3 miles to make it a loop. The hike is on the moderate end of easy.