McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

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McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by wnshall » August 27th, 2018, 7:52 pm

A week ago Sunday I headed up to McNeil Point to enjoy one of my favorite places on Mt. Hood. Fri or Sat would have been cooler and less hazy, but I couldn’t get out then.


You all know McNeil Point, so I’m not going to tell you details of the hike. I will say that it was crowded. When I arrived at the Top Spur parking area at 10:30 there were about 50-60 cars, jammed into the proper parking lot and lined up and down on the side of the road. If you account for turnover during the day, there may have been 70-90 cars there, which corresponds to what? 140-150 people? That’s a lot of people. I can hear you now: why in the world would you hike McNeil on a Sunday in Aug?

First, I have to say, despite the number of people up on the mtn today, it didn’t ever feel that crowded. It wasn’t like we were part of a mule train headed up the mtn. (I’m looking at you South Sister.) I encountered people on the trail regularly, but I also went stretches without seeing anyone. When I reached the shelter at McNeil Pt at 12:15, I was all alone. I was most surprised at the number of people who were up on the ridge above the shelter. I counted 19 people on my way up. Usually the distance and the elevation gain dissuades the casual hiker and leaves those upper reaches reasonably empty of people. Overall, you knew there were other people on the trails with you, but it wasn't like a trip to Walmart.


But it wasn’t solitude. And a lot of us value solitude on our hikes above nearly all else. Many of us would avoid a place like McNeil on a weekend. We might even speak with a little disdain for the hordes of people jamming the trails. But I want to speak in defense of the crowds, and urge an open mind to the pleasures of meeting our fellow hikers out on the trails.

I understand the urge for solitude. I often seek out lesser known trails to guarantee I won’t see another soul during my hike. Particularly after a long week at work, I value the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts. Hiking alone in the wilderness helps me to center myself. I come away feeling recharged and renewed. There’s something about being out in nature that helps give you perspective. It helps you see your own worries and difficulties in a new light, And there’s something mystical about connecting with the larger outdoors. Standing in view of Mt Hood gives me an amazing feeling of awe and sense of purpose. So, I get it. I too value opportunities to be alone in the woods.


But I was reminded today that there’s something to be said for sharing the amazing outdoors with others. Now I’m not talking about the first half-mile of a Gorge hike, where you have all manner of unprepared tourists walking to see the sights. But out on a trail like McNeil Pt, you’ve got a lot of like-minded folks, outdoors enthusiasts who are probably in this place for many of the same reasons I am. What better people to interact with, even if it’s just a nod hello?

The people I met on the trail today reminded me of some of the great reasons we get out hiking, and even in brief, casual conversations we shared a sense of community.

I saw the family gently encouraging their young children up the steep trail. They were practicing for an upcoming backpack trip. Seeing them brought fond memories of outings with my own children. In fact, I saw several Father-daughter pairs out on the trail. It’s so nice to see parents passing on their love of the outdoors. These children are the future of our hiking trails.

I met a pair of women who when I asked where they were headed, said they might head down to Muddy Creek. I never would have thought of that as a destination from Top Spur, and it started my mind whirring with some new trip ideas.


I met the dedicated guy who lugged his skies all the way up the ridge above McNeil Pt, who got about 8 turns in on one of the remaining patches of snow. Kudos!

I enjoyed asking the backpackers headed out where they stayed and how it was. it’s fun hearing where people camped, and I noticed that everyone had a smile on their face.

By the end of my day as I headed down the Timberline Trail I encountered lots of backpackers headed up to Cairn Basin, Elk Cove, or beyond. One group included a German who was a former exchange student, back for a return visit. How exciting that he returned to Mt Hood!

These simple exchanges are a glimpse of our common humanity. We discover in each other a common interest, and forge, however briefly, bonds that tie. This sense of common interest and goodwill was every bit as uplifting as the solitude I sometimes seek.

I came away with a resolution: to not fear the crowds. To enjoy my fellow hikers, to connect and find our common interest in experiencing the outdoors. I encourage you to do the same. You may find it uplifts your heart.


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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by Chip Down » August 27th, 2018, 8:49 pm

Yeah, I remember that Sunday. Wouldn't have been my first choice either. Many years ago, I headed up that trail about 6pm on a hot June day. Sucked, but oh well, as I got higher and the sun got lower, it got better.

But getting on to the the topic at hand: Yes, I firmly believe that there are people who seek out crowds because they want the communal experience. I think it's weird, but whatever, they're not substantially hurting anybody.

I'm grateful that I've never, not once, experienced a conga-line hike. Hogsback, Monitor Ridge, Eagle Creek, Dog Mt, you name it. Partly luck, partly my obsessive early starts (I rarely start a hike in the light), partly my willingness to endure sub-optimal weather. If I were to ever find myself on a crowded route, I would consider aborting, either to return another day, or to find another route (e.g. it amazes me more people don't get off Monitor Ridge to travel the easier snow to the sides, but I guess they shouldn't if they're not comfortable with that).

I'm kinda rambling here. I'll close by saying it's interesting the way you melded a TR with philosophical musing.

PS: I know the following will be a bit of a bummer, but the truth is I'm a bit reticent these days because I'm increasingly aware that some people don't feel at ease around people like me: middle-aged white males who exhibit an aggressive adventurous stance. I realize in some people's eyes I exude privilege, I'm toxic. And I've come to realize that my most innocent remark can be construed as douchebaggery.

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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by Arturo » August 28th, 2018, 6:30 am

I visited Top Spur for the first time 3 weeks ago.
That first glimpse of Hood around the bend is amazing.
Did McNeil Point that day (missed the cutoff scramble to the hut somehow and ended up going the main route, but I'd go back to do it).
Wnshall is right about it not being as overrun as S.Sister. I thought the number of people was totally tolerable, and the hikers were definitely not the flip flop crowd.
Certainly didn't deter me from going back the next week and doing the Ramona Falls/Muddy Fork loop taking the PCT down from Top Spur.
It's a great trailhead.

Chip... you gotta get over that complex man. You do you... when and where you want.
Chip Down is a helluva hiker and I think people that run into you would find you interesting rather than judge.
Unless you look like your avatar. Then yeah, there'd be some confused looks.

Anyway, I agree with the OP. Sharing a trail means you've found some commonality. That's something that is important right now. And underrated.

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retired jerry
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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by retired jerry » August 28th, 2018, 6:32 am

I agree, I like solitude but sometimes hearing other people's story is interesting too, thanks for the post.

I have definitely been to McNeil when there were huge crowds.

It's nice that many people can experience the wilderness. For those people that like a communal experience, that's good too.

Usually I'm more like Chip, will do a less crowded route. Not so much into cross country adventures though, the wife doesn't really appreciate it. I would want SAR to find my body so people can get closure which is less likely the further off trail I go. Love your reports.

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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by Water » August 28th, 2018, 11:25 am

great post and comments from all! In total agreement with everyone.

I did my first bigger 'solo' hike with my 16 month old son on my back in a newly acquired osprey child carrier about 3 or so weeks ago, going to McNeil Point. I didn't feel comfortable doing the cut-off scramble and boy does that 'new' trail sure take freaking forrrrever to get up there.

Anyways I hadn't done Top Spur/McNeil in a few years at least, maybe longer to Mcneil Point proper. 11:30AM (yes, I know, late!) arrival on a Sunday and I have to say I was kind of overwhelmed with the amount of cars. We parked a long way from the TH, relatively speaking.

All that said we had nearly an hour alone at the shelter around 3:30-4:30 iirc. A few people were leaving when we got there and a few showed up when we were leaving. I encountered a fair number of people on the trail but it was never conga style and I wasn't eating anyone's dust.

The only 'rude' behavior was a guy hollywooding out on a phone call, pacing around, talking loud, and gesticulating at one of those pause points on the ridge that opens up with some boulders, before you get to the mountain proper. It was irritating cause I was taking a break there and showing my kiddo the whiskey jacks will land on your hand (he loves birds). But even that couple was pretty nice when the guy got off the phone. And could have been avoided if I just kept hiking. And at the end of the day that guy gives me a funny story.. didn't damper my day at all!

We had a great time!
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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by Guy » August 28th, 2018, 3:04 pm

I Agree too, I have no problem with the "crowds" at the Top Spur trailhead. That trailhead services a huge area of the Mt. It's possible to do days hikes everywhere from Ramona Falls, Cairn Basin, to the Top of Barret Spur from that trail head. 150 people over that area is not a lot. Just this past Sunday we hiked down to Ramona then around the Muddy Fork for a 12 mile loop from Top Spur.

I pretty much hike every Sunday and it's still possible to do places like McNeil on Sunday's with solitude for half your trip you just need to start earlier in the day. It's not reasonable to expect solitude on such a trail there are plenty of other trails where it's easy to find if desired.
hiking log & photos.
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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by Parkdale Hiker » August 28th, 2018, 7:10 pm

Your post is beautiful! Gives me hope. Thank you.

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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by walrus » August 28th, 2018, 7:29 pm

Chiming in on the thanks.

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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by McChaix » August 29th, 2018, 8:53 pm

Nice essay! These days you know if you go to McNeil, Paradise, or Tamanawas or (gulp) Mirror Lake its going to be social, but dang it, those places are just so good and sometimes its a fun change of pace.

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Re: McNeil Point, 8/19/18, or A Defense of Hiking in Crowds

Post by Jesse » August 30th, 2018, 10:17 pm

Something is killing off an awful lot of trees on the ridge between Bald Mtn and McNeil point. You can see it in the first pic.

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