Alone on Zigzag

popping out of forest on to the ridge to...THIS

The temperature is supposed to hit 70° today. In March.

I originally wanted to hit up Catherine Creek today, but the warm temperatures make me leery. First, I’m not sure my still-not-quite-ready-for-summer self has accepted that winter just never arrived this year. I’m also hunting solitude, views, and something new. Seventy and sunny on a Friday afternoon does not equate solitude in one of the more beautiful hikes in the eastern gorge.

Tick season has also arrived, which means I’d be leaving Pepper at home if I hit up Catherine Creek; once the hiking gear comes out, it is really difficult to explain to the bouncing bundle of exuberance wrapped up in dog suit why I’m leaving her behind. (And I have no intention, Frontline or not, of ever taking my dogs back into tick territory again. Been there, done that. Disgusting.)

So, the hunt for solitude/views/something new leads to me heading to East Zigzag, which in all my time prowling Hood I’ve never done. Climbing the forest service road to the trailhead, however, has me gritting my teeth and using choice words as I navigate the Subaru around exposed road bed, huge potholes, and areas muddy enough that I actually find myself hoping I don’t get the car stuck. One of the more rattling five miles I’ve gotten the car through.

Solitude though? Check. Trailhead officially deserted.  

The Burnt Lake South trailhead (3300’) starts as a continuation of the old jeep road- two miles of which, in many ways, were better than the road I just drove up (irony here I’m sure). I wasn’t sure what conditions would be exactly, but over the course of the hike I experienced deep woods, open meadows, tiny forested lakes and one of the better viewpoints of Hood that I’ve seen.

After two miles, the path starts to open up- true trail now, it progresses through increasingly open meadows intermittently choked with slide alder. The flora is still hibernating, but the floor of the woods bears the skeletons of last year’s ferns and flowers, and I find myself making a mental note of this as a potential wildflower hike. 

slide alder skeletons

Up to Devil’s Meadow (4000’) the trail has been a well-graded, warm-up hike. About a half mile beyond the meadow, the trail stops screwing around and launches up the hillside thru dry, open woods, the grade eased by the courtesy of seven switchbacks. The climb is broken up by traverses around and scrambles over several blow down, the joys of early season hiking. Oh well, I was looking for exercise.

And then I pop out on to the ridge, to one of the best vistas of Mount Hood on a hike outside of the high alpine. I can see Paradise Park, Mississippi Head, Burnt Lake, McNeil Point and the giant, glacier stream carved valleys on the mountain’s western face. Another steep, 0.3 mile climb has me summiting East Zigzag, 4971’ and site of former lookout tower. There’s only a smattering of old snow on the summit. Sadness. We should still be buried right now. 

Burnt Lake from the climb to East Zigzag and Hood

East Zigzag summit 4971'

Thanks to a stiff wind and increasing clouds, I bundle layers on the summit and eat lunch, enjoying the silence of the world. I love and adore hiking with my husband and with friends, but I am finding myself increasingly enamored with solo hikes, almost to the point where I enjoy it more. I suppose it’s simply that there are different qualities to participating in activities with others vs. solo excursions, different appeals. But for me, there is a joy to the rhythm of solitude in the woods, where I simply only have to worry about me. 

70 degrees? Not here

For example, as I head down from the summit, I pass along a barren ridge with distant views of Rainier, Helens and Adams. It’s steep and slick, the ground underneath conducting a rock….then rooooooll symphony underfoot. It isn’t spectacular today, there are no wildflowers, it’s cool at the summit, increasingly overcast and it’s a decently tough hike. Alone though, I have only myself to answer to; the ridge is barren, but I see it as golden winter colors alive with the potential for summer. I’m sweating and winded but my body is thrilled with the exercise, with the wearing out of my brain chatter, leaving the work week behind. 

Weather moving in as I drop off the summit. It's gotten increasingly overcast & cool, but it's still beautiful

I don’t know why I love this, but I do.

After dropping down the ridge, I decide to visit Cast Lake, a tiny, hidden lake deep in the forest over on this side of Hood and some place I’ve never been. It’s quaint and not the sort of lake I would take this much time to get to normally, but it adds another 1.2 miles of exercise to my hike. Curiosity satisfied, I blaze the three miles back to the trailhead in about an hour before white-knuckling the drive out of the trailhead home.  

crawfish filled Cast Lake. Kinda meh.

Verdict? This wasn’t a particularly spectacular hike on this particular day. Although it was more wooded than I expected, I suspect the wildflower meadows in season are beautiful, and the Hood vista from Zigzag was top notch. I think the traditional Burnt Lake hike is overall lovelier, while this approach, via Burnt Lake South affords more solitude, courtesy of that nasty road. Overall a wonderful lovely and lonely day in the woods. Soul therapy.

9.2 miles, 1700 feet elevation gain
Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon


Linda W. said...

Isn't this weather crazy? I've hiked this trail when the flowers are blooming and it's fantastic! Be sure and come back in late June (or possibly earlier this year) The past few times I hiked here I came up the Burnt Lake trail just to avoid that crappy road.

Amanda said...

It really, really is. Where. Is. The. Snow???

And I was actually looking at your site after and saw all the flowers. The meadows on Zigzag look pretty incredible.

And damn, damn, damn that road suuuucked. I actually had to get out of my car a few times to scout the best access around certain obstacles. Probably being overly cautious, but since I was alone...ya know, AAA doesn't exactly pull you out of forest service roads. :)