Every wilderness has a story.
Mt. Hood. Photo: Jurgen Hess
This story is told from many perspectives: those of the rocks and their movement within the earth, of trees’ rebirth and growth, animals, human use, and ancient legends.
Native legend tells of Wyest, Klickitat and Loo-wit. Two brothers: one, Chief of the Multnomah, the other, Chief of the Klickitat people, quarreled over a beautiful woman. The Great Spirit, angered with the fighting brothers and tribes, turned the brothers and the beautiful maiden into mountains.
Wyeast now looks over the land and people from his snow capped peak. He is known as Mt. Hood. The powerful volcano stands as the pinnacle of the Mount Hood Wilderness.
Life of the Volcano
Legend says the two brothers hurled rocks, spewed fire and continued to fight long after their punishment. The volcano waits dormant–for now. Wyeast’s last eruption occurred around the time of Lewis and Clark.
Mt. Hood has had three major eruptive periods over the last 2000 years. These eruptions buried trees in ash causing some to become fossilized. Luckily, erosion has uncovered some of these forests. Wyeast’s rage can be traced through these prehistoric buried forests throughout the Mount Hood Wilderness. Prehistoric buried forests help explain the past and show the far-reaching effects of volcanic activity.
The buried forests can be seen at six locations:
- Illumination Ridge’s south side, north of Paradise Park, also known as the Stadter Buried Forest.
- On the Zigzag River near Twin Bridges campground, two forests are found here.
- White River canyon near Timberline Lodge.
- Along the Sandy River from Old Maid Flat to Brightwood.
- In the bed of the Zigzag river near Tollgate Wayside
- Along the lower Sandy River, downstream of Marmot Dam.
Revival of the Forest
While vegetation was all but destroyed during Mt. Hood’s eruption, rich soil deposits left after the volcanic upheaval created a prime environment for new plant life.
The new rich soil combined with moisture and time made for robust and prolific plant life. Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine, along with mountain hemlock and spruce grow tall. Lush coverage of Oregon grape, huckleberry , wild Oregon strawberries, twinflower, vanilla leaf, kinnikinnick and a range of other plant species, make up the forest today.
One key wilderness values is to provide untouched areas for animals and plants. A recovering population of wolves, the red fox and rare western honey bee, are just a few endangered species protected in the wilderness area around Mt. Hood. Frogs, salamander, loon, duck, eagles, hawks, butterflies, beetles, shrews, bats, foxes, bear, elk, bobcat and more make the bounty of Wyeast’s wrath their home.
Visiting the Wilderness
Mt. Hood. Photo by George Wuerthner, Wilderness.net
Congress created the Mount Hood Wilderness in 1964. Since then, it has been a popular location for outdoor enthusiasts and weekend adventurers looking to enjoy its 63,177 acres.
In 2009, President Obama expanded the Mt. Hood Wilderness by adding lands around Mount Hood and in the Columbia River Gorge. Several areas including Boulder Lake and Salmon River were promoted as inclusions in the expansion by conservationists, but did not receive protection in this amendment.
Popular activities like hiking, mountain climbing and snow sports bring visitors eager to enjoy the wilderness. Mt. Hood holds 12 glaciers. The rough terrain left from glacial movement can make for a technical and dangerous climbs. The mountain has claimed the lives of over 100 people, yet it remains one of the most visited peaks in America. Mount Hood also hosts the largest glacier cave system in the contiguous United States.
Just outside the wilderness Timberline lodge, Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt Hood Skibowl and a handful of X-County skiing and snowshoeing trails make for a range of winter time recreation.
Lewis’ monkey flower. Photo: Jurgen Hess
Summer means hiking parts of the Pacific Crest Trail or the popular Timberline trail which encircles the mountain. With over 30 main trail systems, hikers have a ranges of options: forests, glacial stream beds. to cliffs and rocky mountain trails.
If you are more into relaxing and enjoying the scenery, fly fishing for trout in one of the many stocked lakes is a must. While you are at it, make it a night and camp out underneath the stars.
A wilderness permit is required to enter the wilderness area from May 15 through October 15. Permits are free and are self issued at trailheads and wilderness boundaries. Climbers must have a permit year round when on the south side of the climbing route. Climbing permits are available at Wyeast Timberline Day Lodge
For more information visit Wilderness.net