XL loop around Mississippi Head via the real Zigzag Canyon

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Chip Down
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XL loop around Mississippi Head via the real Zigzag Canyon

Post by Chip Down » July 15th, 2018, 12:14 pm

When hikers loop around Mississippi Head, I suspect the standard route is clockwise: PCT/Timberline Trail from the lodge, over to Zigzag Canyon, up through Paradise Park (via any number of routes, all of which converge at a point west of Mississippi Head). In addition to that route, I've accessed Mississippi Head directly from ZZ canyon, going both left and right at the prow. This time I wanted to go to the far end of Paradise Park and drop into a canyon that carries the drainage from ZZ glacier, and follow it up as it skirts Mississippi. I wonder what we should call that canyon. Oh, hey, I know, how about Zigzag Canyon? :D

When I gazed into that canyon from the edge of lower Paradise Park, I realized it's much more rugged than the canyon we call Zigzag. At 6100' I found a sensible safe spot to drop in, but I wasn't aiming for the bottom, as I suspected it would be impossible to follow the creek up. Instead, my plan was to get to the crest of a prominent crisp ridge that runs up the canyon. It curves a bit, so I wasn't sure where it would take me. If it was a dead end, I didn't think I'd have to retreat all the way down, as I saw what looked like good opportunities to abort and find an alternate route if necessary. I didn't check the elevation at the bottom of the ridge, but I discovered it essentially ended at 6500', just 400' above where I dropped into the canyon. Fortunately, it didn't leave me stranded; it broadened and steepened, and took me up towards what I assumed was the same canyon edge I was on earlier, at the edge of Paradise. From there, I assumed I would continue up the canyon rim towards Mississippi. Instead, when I climbed out of the canyon, I found myself on a high point overlooking Paradise, much closer to Mississippi than I expected.

From there I continued briefly towards the base of Mississippi on the standard route used by hikers who approach from the far side of Paradise, and I soon found that the canyon was much shallower, and its walls much less treacherous, so I dropped back into the canyon and continued to a two-tiered waterfall (high enough that it's certainly noticed by most Mississippi travelers). I followed the creek up into a big shallow basin near Illumination Rock, up easy snowfields to the ridge above Mississippi Glacier, and glissaded until I ran out of snow, perhaps 5-10 minutes above the trail, finishing with a short walk back to the lodge. Looking at the map when planning the trip, I thought I would probably top out around 8000 where the contours get nice and straight. My prediction was pretty close: 7800 was my high point.

Trail notes, if you're interested in that part of the hike: Encountered a little snow on the trail, which I didn't expect (nothing to worry about, negligible). Arrived at ZZ overlook sooner than expected. With my head down, following sand by headlamp, I nearly plunged right into the canyon! Well, that's one way to get down fast. And actually, I had been fighting the temptation to drop into the canyon and hike straight up the other side as a shortcut, but I wanted to follow the trail instead this time. So kinda glad it was still dark, so I wasn't even tempted at that point. Noticed Portland is visible from the ZZ overlook. I wonder if I just wasn't observant before, or if it's always been cloudy, or maybe I have noticed but forgot. I was slightly nervous about the creek crossing, but even by headlamp it was easy. Took maybe half a minute to decide on a strategy, and about that long to execute. I had been dreading the climb back out, but it's not that steep, and I was able to maintain a good pace without getting exhausted (in fact, I noticed the far end of the PP loop is the same elevation as the Zigzag overlook; it's the CCW hikers who have to contend with a steep series of switchbacks out of the canyon). I took the lower trail because my last trip through here was in deep snow on a day when I failed because I underestimated the difficulty. I wanted to see what it was like bare (I've hiked this trail bare before, but so long ago that I didn't remember much). It was actually more scenic that I expected: lots of flowers, views, flowing water (turns out I left the lodge with more than I needed). I arrived at the far end of the PP loop and nearly walked right past the junction, the trail and the sign both obscured by brush. Encountered a runner coming down out of PP. One of the highlights of the hike was seeing Rushingwater Canyon bare. Interesting that there's no creek to speak of. Falls tumble out of Paradise, but it all percolates underground very soon. Vegetation at the bottom of the canyon suggests the water isn't very deep, and/or a trickle remains on the surface. From the overlook where the trail drops into the canyon, I started by going the other direction, downstream but uphill to a high point where I hoped for a better view downstream into the canyon. No such luck (too much vegetation) but it did afford a nice view towards the mountain, including a surprise view of much of Paradise.

weather: Hottest weekend of the year so far, but I was comfortable. Started at 3:20. Breezy, felt good. Worst part was when the sun finally hit me and I was slogging my way up a sandy slope in the canyon to my ridgecrest, and then the last 1/4 mile of trail to the lodge. The heat kept me from exploring as much as I wanted, but that's okay, there will be other weekends. It never got as windy as expected, but some parts of my hike were pretty dusty, so that was probably a good thing, and by the time I got up into the snow zone, it was cool enough without a breeze.
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From my Rushingwater viewpoint.
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OKay, that's as far down as I'm going. It's ugly in there! (and I don't just mean aesthetics)
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There's no particular feature here that I find particularly interesting, but I like how much is going on in this pic, great variety of terrain. Climbers will appreciate this unusual straight-on view up Leuthold Couloir.
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Where my ridge flattened and disappeared. I curved right and followed the remnant of the ridge out of the canyon. Notice the waterfall at lower left, and two-tiered falls up the canyon.
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Looking back down my ridge.
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Awful panorama from where I exited the canyon. Good overview, but wish I'd also grabbed two conventional pics. Anyway, Mississippi at right, my falls left of center, and a faint path in the sandy slopes inbetween. Notice the slagheap just left of the upper falls. I followed the creek behind it and then ascended to top.
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Top o' the falls.
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You can see my footprints where I curved around the rubble heap, when the creek turned to snow. Notice a little tributary at bottom of frame. Fantastic spot, spent some time here. Above here it was all easy snowfields, no more anxieties.
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No particular reason for this, just like how it looks. (I was half tempted to write some elaborate explanation for how this particular snowfield fit into my itinerary).
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It's gotta be Tuesday somewhere, right?
Last edited by Chip Down on July 15th, 2018, 1:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chip Down
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Re: XL loop around Mississippi Head via the real Zigzag Canyon

Post by Chip Down » July 15th, 2018, 1:31 pm

I forgot to mention a couple things:

Snow on nearly-vertical rock up high. How can that be? Hasn't it been warm and sunny for at least a week?

Butterfly migration! Last year they were swarming thick, and that's not supposed to be an every-year event, but they're back.
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retired jerry
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Re: XL loop around Mississippi Head via the real Zigzag Canyon

Post by retired jerry » July 15th, 2018, 1:44 pm

nice report, thanks

are those yellow butterflies? California or something? I saw those all over on Three Sisters

I went by split rock several weeks ago, up to about the last snowfield to get to Mississippi Head. Nice area up there. You are more adventurous than me though :)

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Chip Down
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Re: XL loop around Mississippi Head via the real Zigzag Canyon

Post by Chip Down » July 15th, 2018, 3:07 pm

retired jerry wrote:
July 15th, 2018, 1:44 pm
are those yellow butterflies? California or something? I saw those all over on Three Sisters
If memory serves, Adam knows something about them. Seems Adam knows a lot about a lot.
retired jerry wrote:
July 15th, 2018, 1:44 pm
I went by split rock several weeks ago, up to about the last snowfield to get to Mississippi Head. Nice area up there.
Truth is, I kinda thought I might stay along the fringe of PP, taking the longest standard loop over MH. Wasn't quite sure when I started out. Also considered going CCW, which means I'd drop into the canyon as far as possible. I'm generally pretty happy with how things worked out, good route. Especially glad I did the waterfall variation.
retired jerry wrote:
July 15th, 2018, 1:44 pm
You are more adventurous than me though :)
Yeah, and more crazy, stupid, obsessed, etc. :lol: But I know you've done some pretty cool off-route hikes on Hood as well. Speaking of that, when I'm in an area like that I can't help but be impressed with the folks who do high-elevation ski circums on Hood and other Cascade volcanoes. That really requires some damn good routefinding skill.

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retired jerry
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Re: XL loop around Mississippi Head via the real Zigzag Canyon

Post by retired jerry » July 15th, 2018, 3:38 pm

When you're on top of Paradise Park even with Mississippi Head, can you see a way over to Yocum Ridge?

Maybe earlier in the year when there's more snow. Covering steep loose rock slopes.

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