5 miles round trip to rock pile | 2,200 feet elevation gain
To all of you exercise freaks and masochists out there: have I got a hike for you! The same goes for all of you either trying to get in shape or lose weight. Hunchback Mountain is STEEP... and according to my guidebooks it isn't even the steepest in the area! Granted, I am not in pinnacle shape. Far from it. At present, I am really only able to hike once a week, on Saturdays; and my weekdays see minimal-moderate exercise. So maybe this hike wouldn't have seemed quite so steep to a much more fit and athletic black watch sasquatch, but man!, this hike was no joke...
The good thing however is this: you're hiking to a ridge. The hike is only painfully steep during the climb up to the ridge. Once you reach the ridge, you'll find yourself on a much more level playing field comparably.
The first leg of the hike (the first half of the climb up to the ridge) is not bad at all. You're definitely ascending, but the climb is gradual enough that you really aren't going to be slowed down or winded too terribly. And it is, of course, beautiful down here. At the trailhead you'll pass by what appears to be an old abandoned Hobbit house (see below). To be honest, I'm not certain what this little structure used to be, but whatever it is, it looks cool. From here you start to climb gradually. I would encourage you not to look up. Just when you think you might soon be reaching the top, you realize you aren't even close yet.
In fact, rather than looking up, try instead to keep an eye downward and watch your step. This trail is home to large banana slugs (see below) that seem to thrive on danger- that danger being the boots of hikers. I had to side step a few of them, and I relocated a few more out of harm's way.
Here are some photos from that first leg of the hike- what I have dubbed "the calm before the storm":
|When a tree falls and blocks the trail, you have to use your imagination a little in finding a way around it|
About half way through your climb up to the ridge the going gets really tough. Just as you start to notice the burn in your legs, the steepness of the hike seems to double. This is the first hike I've taken since the inception of this blog where I had to periodically stop and take breaks. Physically, it was kicking my ass. I admittedly let out a few f-bombs to myself alone in the woods... (if the black watch sasquatch says the f-word in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?)
I started to daydream about the flatter, more enjoyable hikes of my past: hikes like the peaceful and easy Salmon River trail, just a stones throw away from this one. I never once wanted to give up and turn around, but if I had had a good reason to, I would have perhaps given in. I had never hiked so slowly in my life. 100 yards felt like a mile with the trail being this steep. At times the steepness forced me to walk on the tips of my toes for long distances, my heels rarely touching the ground. I was fatigued and growing more so with every switchback. I admit to myself that, no matter how much I loved hiking and the great outdoors, I was not enjoying myself during this portion of the trail. I wasn't having fun, per se. The beauty of the forest didn't matter because all I could think about was getting off this grade and to flatter ground high above. Like any burning work out, I was glad that I was doing it but impatiently eager to get it over with.
Now, it is difficult to capture the steepness of a mountain trail with a camera, think about it. But, photographing the switchbacks was the best means by which I could try to show you, the viewer, just how steep this trail was during this "second leg" of the trail. Here are my attempts below:
|Bird Condominium Tower|
Finally, just when you hit that point where you don't know if your legs could take another 10 more yards of torturous incline, you reach the rocky lookout on the top of the ridge. For goodness sake, hiker, sit down and rest for a moment. The view from the ridge is magnificent, stretching out across the Salmon River valley below. Watch your footing up here, it is nearly a straight drop-off from the ridge, and your legs are more than likely going to be wobbly. I sat down next to a charred spot on the ridge where hikers must have built a campfire recently. For about 40 minutes I just lounged there looking out over the ridge and down into the heavily forested Salmon River valley below. I did not see a single other person on the hike on the way up; and now, at the top, I was still totally alone. I had the ridge all to myself. It was so peaceful and quiet.
Here are some photos taken from that first ridge:
Once my legs were restored to questionable and mediocre health I decided to push on an extra mile to a rock pile with a view of Mt. Hood. The climb from the ridge up to the rock pile was far less painful than the initial climb up to the ridge itself, but it was still a climb to be felt in your already tired legs. The forest floor up here is very open, allowing you to see for long distances. At times it is almost hard to tell where the actual trail is given its likeness to the rest of the forest floor. You'll happen upon a bent and abused sign nailed to a tree that points you in the direction of the rock pile, just a short distance off the main trail (see below).
It was at the rock pile that something finally dawned on me: I was the only person on this trail. In William L. Sullivan's guidebook entry on this hike, he mentioned how the traffic noise from Hwy 26 will slowly grow quieter and quieter the higher up you go. Now, standing on top of the rock pile, I experienced utter silence except for a wind gust growing in strength. To my knowledge I was the only person on the trail. I had been the only car in the parking lot at the trailhead too. That feeling of being miles away from another human being, complete (or, seemingly complete) solitude deep in a wilderness- it is both calming and thrilling.
Here are photos from that third leg of the trail- from the ridge to the rock pile:
|Steep path up to the rock pile|
|Rock pile at Hunchback Mountain (those rocks are more like boulders- much bigger than they look)|
|View of Mt. Hood from the rock pile at Hunchback Mountain|
And even though I have been very eager to try other roadhouse-type restaurants in the Zigzag / Rhododendron area, I couldn't help but be drawn back to the Zigzag Inn for a personal pizza and an ice cold Ice Axe IPA brewed just right up the highway in Government Camp. I had roughly the same meal at the end of my hike of Salmon River Trail back in December 2011, which was the first hike I blogged about as Black Watch Sasquatch (and which I shot with a cheap point-n-click camera). A bit of nostalgia came over me. Due to winter and spring snow levels, Mt. Hood had largely been off limits to me, so I set my sights on the Columbia Gorge instead. Now, with summer finally here, the Mt. Hood National Forest has reopened itself to me, and I am very eager to tackle some of the mountain's greatest hikes over the coming months. But being that the Zigzag Inn treated me so well after my first hike as a blogger, I wanted to return, order the same thing, and slip into a tired but joyful state of revelry.
I ordered an Oregon Shrimp and Pineapple Pizza and a pint of Ice Axe. I destroyed that pizza in just a few minutes time.