Saturday, January 10, 2009

Muddy Fork Outwash Plain

My camera broke its zoom mechanism and consequently there are two tours without any new pictures. One of these was a hike down to the upper edge of Old Maid Flats, just below McNeil Point. Here is a few photos from earlier trips to that area.

Buried Forest

Portions of the very steep south face of Bald Peak are indeed treeless. The view is dramatic with Mount Hood, the valley of the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River and its outwash plains, and across it cliff-strewn Yocum Ridge.

Outwash Plain on Old Maid Flats

This photo shows the ending of the 2003 debris flow. The bright green flats show the extent of an earlier, larger flow. The gray trees to the left of this area are smothered trees, mostly firs, buried in the 2003 flow. These trees are about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from the mountain.

The main fork of the Sandy River comes in at the upper left. Originating at Reid Glacier, it has its own contributions from the erosion of the mountain. Its been longer since this drainage has seen a substatial outwash event.

The trail heads around Bald Peak from the trail to McNeil Point. This is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The initial viewpoint features a drop down the fall line of 1200 feet (365 meters). The trail angles east heading up valley. The valley floor rises quickly, and by the time the trail reaches it in 2.5 miles (4 kilometers), there is only 200 feet (60 meters) elevation drop.

"Like Jackstraws"

Scattered Big Trees Along the Trail

On the way down the forest is of mixed firs including some big blue nobles. Many of the trees are two and three feet (up to a meter) thick. On nearing the bottom the trail follows the edge of the debris flow, where this tall forest was torn out or knocked akimbo. The trail here was just above the flow and a lot of damage is on display as you walk along. A tongue of the flow followed an old channel and removed the forest as it went. It stopped several hundred feet (meters) in.

Down by the Muddy Fork River

Downed Trees at the Edge of the Outwash Flow

As the trail met the debris flow, trees are felled with their length down the tread. Just enough wood has been removed to allow pasage onto the debris flow proper. There the trail was rubbed out. A temporary wandering track is there to follow.

The Valley Floor

Chaos in the Valley

Past the downed trees the gray chaotic jumble of rock stretches out 3/4 of a mile uphill, almost two miles downstream and close to 1800 feet across at its widest. Leaning, smothered trees mark the far edge of the flow; how much of the intervening land was tall forest I do not know.

Deep Channel

The main outwash channel cuts into old deposits from the Mountain

This shows the upstream view, with the deep erosional channel of the 2003 event. Cut into outwash material from previous events, It didn t reveal how deep the previous flows were.

In the right top of the foreground channel is a line of shrubs with yellow fall color. These are what was growing on the pre-event surface, showing the variable depth of deposition. The large boulder atop on the right edge of the photo is twelve feet high, too tall to climb. Weighing many tons, this rock is some indication of the force of the current during the flow. Of course there is the possibility that it floated on ice from the glacier high above.

The forest above the flow on the left of the picture abruptly changes from green well branched trees to ones showing just trunk for most of their height. The green trees are ones that have always grown at the edge of the forest, and so have retained branches to the ground; towards the left edge of the photo all these  guard trees have been removed by the 2003 event. Trees in the interior of the forest commonly lose their limbs except at the top. By this you can see where the flow began to enter and damage the forest.

Upper Chasm

This telephoto shot shows the falls and very steep canyon on the mountain proper. This makes clear what gave the flow the velocity to travel 2.5 miles past the base of the mountain. This also shows the transition from just erosion to extensive deposition as the terrain flattened. The bare trunks and brown smothered trees show how high the forest was impacted.

Falls and the switchover to deposition

All and all, McNeil Point and the Muddy Fork valley make for fascination hiking tours. See both tall forest and stunted alpine trees. Gaze down on glaciers from high ridges, then descend to the outwash plain made of rock torn from the mountain by the glacier. In season wildflowers carpet much of the area.

Tour Details:

Drive up Highway 26 east from the Portland area. Immediately before the Zigzag Ranger Station turn left onto Forest Service Road 18, the Lolo Pass Road. After 3 or 4 miles an obvious right just as the road steepens drops you onto Road 1825. The next left, really more of a straight ahead, puts you on Road 1828. Follow this for a few winding miles to the junction with Road 118 on your right. There should be a sign here, and there should be another locating Topspur Trailhead #784A about a mile and a half on. The road at this point has just turned heading Northwest and it broadens to allow head-in parking. There is a fine view here but there will be much better up the trail.

The Topspur Trail in .6 mile brings you to the Pacific Crest Trail, where you turn right. After a short distance there is a potentially confusing junction with three ways to go. The leftmost turn will take you directly towards McNeil Point along Trail 600, the Round the Mountain Trail. The rightmost quickly drops to the Ramona Falls area after 4.1 miles. On the center is the Bald Mountain Trail. This section of the Pacific Crest Trail skirts Bald Mountain and then drops gently into the Muddy Fork Valley. There is also a link trail back to the Round the Mountain Trail, allowing taking in the viewpoints and then going on to McNeil Point.

The Round the Mountain Trail follows Bald Mountain Ridge to the base of McNeil Point. There it veers North, and at a junction with the Cathedral Ridge Trail the 600 turns right. After .3 mile turn right again for the mile long trail to the shelter at McNeil Point. From there a climbers trail heads uphill through open tarrain another 900 feet gain to the glacier overlook. This is on the rocky top of the ridge. The trail becomes indistinct past that point, though some both adventurous and fit continue on.