hikes

September 10, 2016

Backpacking at Cairn Basin on Mount Hood

Cairn Basin + McNeil Point

One night backpacking trip on Mount Hood: camping at Cairn Basin with a day hike to McNeil Point

During the second weekend of September, clear blue skies and temps in the 60s provided perfect weather for an overnight trip on Mount Hood. The forecast called for winds up to 33mph, and an overnight low of 44 degrees, so we planned to camp in a protected area in the trees.

Mount Hood backpacking

Top Spur trailhead

We started at the Top Spur trailhead and took the trail around Bald Mountain for early views of Mount Hood, then connected back to the Timberline Trail. The steepest section of the hike in is on Bald Mountain Ridge, just before the open meadows on the slopes of the ridge. Mount Hood is now looming large, and the steep slopes of the ridge reach all the way down to the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River. Yocum Ridge is directly across the wide canyon below. The trail enters the forest again and switchbacks several times before reaching an open meadow area with several tarns.

Mount Hood backpacking

Bald Mountain trail

Mount Hood backpacking

view from Bald Mountain

We were looking for campsites near the tarns below McNeil Point, but could only find one tent spot at the base of boulder field, so we headed to Cairn Basin. This put us closer to where we wanted to be for a day hike to McNeil Point anyway, plus there were plenty of campsites.

Mount Hood backpacking

Timberline Trail

Mount Hood backpacking

Mount St. Helens in the distance

McGee Creek water crossing

McGee Creek water crossing

Parts of Cairn Basin were significantly burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake wildfire, leaving  large sections of the forest with black and white snags. We chose a campsite near the Cairn Basin shelter, one of three remaining stone shelters on Mount Hood that were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. A large green meadow and a great view of Mount Hood were right behind our campsite.

heading into Cairn Basin

heading into Cairn Basin

burned trees in Cairn Basin

burned trees in Cairn Basin

Cairn Basin, misspelled on the new sign

Cairn Basin, misspelled on the new sign

Cairn Basin stone shelter

Cairn Basin stone shelter

campsite near the stone shelter

campsite near the stone shelter

view behind the campsite

view behind the campsite

view from my tent

view from my tent

After setting up camp, we did a day hike up to McNeil Point, with its own stone shelter sitting high above tree line. Views are wide open, and on a clear day include Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, with ridge after ridge of Cascade foothills in between. We found a spot that was out of the wind to sit for awhile to relax while enjoying the views.

day hike to McNeil Point

day hike to McNeil Point

McNeil Point trail

McNeil Point trail

almost to the top

almost to the top

McNeil Point stone shelter

McNeil Point stone shelter

Just up the ridge a short distance from the stone shelter are several single campsites, with curved rock walls to provide shelter from the wind. It would be fun to camp here sometime, but not on this windy night.

campsites on the ridge

campsites on the ridge

blue ridges

blue ridges

Mount Hood, with the openings to the ice caves in the lower right

Mount Hood, with the openings to the ice caves in the lower right

above McNeil Point

above McNeil Point

On the way back to camp, we stopped at a stream to filter all of the water we would need for the trip. It was a clear night with a half moon, and Mount Hood glowed pink at sunset.

hiking back to camp

hiking back to camp

ridge top trail

ridge top trail

McGee Creek and Mount Hood

McGee Creek and Mount Hood

McGee Creek

McGee Creek

Mount Hood

Mount Hood

Mount Adams in the distance

Mount Adams in the distance

sunset on Mount Hood

sunset on Mount Hood

In the morning, we hiked out after breakfast, returning on the Timberline Trail to the Top Spur trailhead.

hiking out along Bald Mountain Ridge

hiking out along Bald Mountain Ridge

Bald Mountain Ridge meadow

Bald Mountain Ridge meadow

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