Cooper Spur the hard way, spring edition

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Chip Down
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Cooper Spur the hard way, spring edition

Post by Chip Down » May 24th, 2019, 7:19 pm

I've poked around Cooper Spur countless times in summer and through the early snowfalls of autumn, but never in the spring before the gate opens. Finally decided it was time.

This is a long TR, so I'm adding paragraph headers, allowing you to skip parts that don't interest you.

FROM CAR TO TREELINE
Drove up Cloud Cap Road to the gate. What now? There's a trail that shortcuts all the switchbacks, so taking the road isn't as crazy as it might seem. At the gate I noticed a Tilly Jane trail. That was tempting. But I decided to go to Cooper Spur ski area, climb the slope to the top of the lift, and hook up with the ridge that ascends parallel to Polallie Creek. I see it's marked 643A, and (informally) signed Polallie Ridge. Although it was initially a pleasant enough stroll, the trail was soon overgrown, ugly, boring. I vowed not to return this way, especially when I saw what appeared to be a much nicer ridge to my right. Finally the brushy overgrown stretch reached a high point (on the map it appears to be at 5500') and descended slightly into a broad slope ravaged by fire, poorly maintained, hard to follow. I was relieved when I finally got into snow, and I could start walking at my own pace, unencumbered by downed trees. Although I saw signs of trail or footprints on occasion, I was mostly following the lip of Polallie Canyon at this point. The map showed the canyon to be well defined at its head, and it was. Looking at the map now, I'm amazed to see how close I was to Eliot Moraine and the Cooper Spur Shelter. I turned south/left and passed above the head of Polallie Canyon.

TO GNARL RIDGE AND BIG-ASS BOULDER BASIN
I started my long slog to Gnarl Ridge, mostly below the Timberline Trail, but eventually above. It was beautiful, but featureless, and the monotony was getting to me. I started to worry about the weather forecast: chance of snow. I know this area well, and there's no chance of getting lost if you can just find the Eliot Moraine and then CloudCap. Still, I didn't want an epic adventure, just a little fun, so I knew I'd better hustle. My first goal was big-ass boulder basin, a flat-bottomed bowl maybe about the size of a football field, on the fringe of Newton Clark Glacier. It was a little hard to find, because everything was white, known landmarks were less distinctive. I actually missed it, and found myself peering across Newton Canyon to the Newton Clark Prow and NC Moraine. Looked around, saw the top half of the boulder poking through the snow, laughed at myself.

TO THE TOP OF COOPER SPUR
What next? I wanted to get up Cooper Spur, at least to Tie In Rock, maybe all the way to the top of the ridge, at the bottom of the snowfield. It's a bit cliffy on the Newton Clark side of Cooper Spur, so my ascent options were somewhat limited. Essentially I could go to the top of a seasonal waterfall that spills over the cliffs in summer, and then up to nearby Tie In Rock. Or I could angle up to the end of Cooper Spur. I could see the wind was fierce up there. Snow was flying off the crest. Even down in my bowl, it was brisk. So I settled for the waterfall/tie-in option. But at the top o the cliffs I threw caution to the wind and headed up to the end of Cooper Spur. I knew it would be brutal up there, but I also knew my descent would be fast and easy. I was just slightly nervous about crevasses, but I didn't recall seeing any on previous hikes up here. On the way I paused at what look like the sole opportunity to rest, but it turned out to be an illusion. What had looked like a few flat-topped rocks were actually glacier-polished and tilted, not at all suitable for a break. So I continued, climbing a steepish slope, through a broad easy gap in the cliffs, and a final gentle slope to the saddle between Cooper Spur and the snowfield that starts the climbing route.

DESCENT TO THE SHELTER
A couple surprises: the clouds, which had been intermittent all morning, were taking a break, and I had perfect visibility. Surprise two was that Cooper Spur was capped with wind-sculpted snow, and it wasn't going to be the fast easy descent I imagined. From observations on my ascent, I knew there was no more than a whisper of a cornice, so I was grateful for that. I picked my way down to Tie In Rock, slowly and carefully. It was never scary, but it required a bit of caution. Exposure was slight, but an uncontrolled slide would end with a tumble over cliffs. I never understood why it was called Tie In Rock, as there's nothing above that would require a rope, but now I'm thinking in the worst conditions seen on Cooper Spur I would want protection. At the Y, just below Tie In, I opted to go right. I once took a wrong turn here in the dark, and now I know why. It really is the natural direction to go, unless you're deliberately aiming for Eliot and Cloud Cap. Just for fun, this time I wanted to follow it down a ways, before veering towards the shelter (which I tried to find with binoculars, but failed). Hiking towards Eliot and shelter, I was struck at how hard it was to identify my morning route. I would be worried, except that I knew I could go looking for my footprints if necessary, or go to Cloud Cap and orient from there. Finally found the shelter, lower than expected, almost in trees. Surprised it had so much snow it it. Doesn't the USFS or Crag Rats keep it shoveled out?

CLOUD CAP
Thought it would be fun to see Cloud Cap all snowy, so headed down that way. It was fast and easy, good snow conditions and open forest. I got sucked into the Tilly Jane Creek drainage. Knew things didn't look right, so headed west towards Eliot. Figured I'd reach the moraine or the trail or Cloud Cap or the road. Finally stumbled into CC campground, then up to the cabins, where I lingered and enjoyed the solitude. Weather was sublime, but I couldn't stay long.

TILLY JANE AND THE HIKE DOWN
Went looking for the trail to Tilly Jane. Never been. With blue diamonds and sawcut maintenance, it wasn't too hard to follow. Eventually hit footprints, which means a group must have been hiking towards Cloud Cap but gave up. At Tilly Jane I poked around a bit, discovered much more development than expected, tried to parse the trail network, found the A-Frame, decided to take the Tilly Jane trail down to my car, went looking for it in the snow, finally realized it passes right by the other side of the A-Frame where I took my beer break. Wasted time/effort, but I didn't care, it was fun. What a stark contrast to my parallel ascent "trail". Tilly Jane Trail is scenic, maintained, well traveled, easy to follow. Absolutely recommended. I almost didn't notice the views of Hood through the burn zone, as it was at my back.

THE DRIVE HOME
I had been anxious about snow, but by the time I headed down Cooper Spur I knew I was out of danger. Clouds were increasing, but I knew I could get to Cloud Cap before things got ugly. Even coming down the trail, weather was great. But on hwy 35, it was torrential. Cats and dogs. Snowing up high? I suppose the footprints I left up to 9000' are filled in again, a fresh canvass for the next explorer.

SNOW CONDITIONS: Although there were a few posthole stretches, I never wished for snowshoes. Also, although I encountered some places where there was a slight glaze on the snow, it was never too much to punch through. If I didn't have axe and crampons, I would have altered my route, but it still would have been a rewarding day. As for coverage, above Tilly Jane and Cloudcap there has been little traffic. For routefinding, you're mostly on your own.
Attachments
1.jpg
Looking across the head of Polallie Canyon, about to head XC.
2.jpg
I knew the clear sky wouldn't last, and this featureless landscape made me wonder how I'd get back if snow started early.
3.jpg
Yeah, much of my day looked like this.
4.jpg
The eponymous big-ass boulder. Cooper Spur above to the right. Newton Clark Glacier above left.
5.jpg
Approaching the saddle between Cooper Spur ridge(moraine) and the Cooper Spur snowfield. Behind: Newton Clark. Straight ahead through the gap: Eliot.
6.jpg
Looking up from the saddle.
7.jpg
Looking the other way, away from the summit, "down" Cooper Spur.
8.jpg
Tie In Rock on the crest of Cooper Spur.
9.jpg
The Tilly trail which I used to get back to the gated Cloud Cap Road.

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Chip Down
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Joined: November 8th, 2014, 8:41 pm

Re: Cooper Spur the hard way, spring edition

Post by Chip Down » May 24th, 2019, 7:24 pm

pics of manmade stuff
Attachments
mm1.jpg
one of the trail markers on Timberline Trail.
mm2.jpg
My hiking companions Pink and Fl'o.
mm3.jpg
At Tilly Jane guard station.
mm4.jpg
At Tilly Jane A-Frame.
mm5.jpg
On a snowy hike, it's a pleasure to find a flat clean dry surface.
mm6.jpg
Bonus beer, found lying in the dirt at Cloud Cap.

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drm
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Re: Cooper Spur the hard way, spring edition

Post by drm » May 25th, 2019, 6:37 am

Funny thing is that for backcountry skiers, that Polallie Ridge is much preferred to the Tilly Jane tail, which has nasty sidehilling and turns to concrete. The ridge route has plenty of opportunities for nice turns, and of course the logs are covered and there is no brush then.

johnspeth
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Re: Cooper Spur the hard way, spring edition

Post by johnspeth » May 25th, 2019, 8:02 am

That's a fun outing. There are so many ways up. I'm disappointed to learn about the condition of 643A. It always "looked good" from across the burn from the Tilly Jane trail but I've always had my doubts that it was passable without having to climb over trees. Since the trail is overgrown after so many years since the burn, I doubt the trail has a future.

The problem with climbing above tree line on Cooper Spur is the expansiveness makes it seem like you never move. Eventually you make it but you're snow blinded and sun cooked, even with all the normal mitigation measures.

Regarding Tie-in Rock naming: I heard it was named as the common place at which climbing teams would finally rope together to continue up Cooper Spur.

How about those flamingos? Do you inflate at each picture point or do those fellas piggyback on their way up?

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Chip Down
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Re: Cooper Spur the hard way, spring edition

Post by Chip Down » May 25th, 2019, 2:56 pm

drm wrote:
May 25th, 2019, 6:37 am
Funny thing is that for backcountry skiers, that Polallie Ridge is much preferred to the Tilly Jane tail, which has nasty sidehilling and turns to concrete. The ridge route has plenty of opportunities for nice turns, and of course the logs are covered and there is no brush then.
Funny, as a non-skier I thought it looked like a pretty awful ski route too. Shows what I know.
johnspeth wrote:
May 25th, 2019, 8:02 am
The problem with climbing above tree line on Cooper Spur is the expansiveness makes it seem like you never move. Eventually you make it but you're snow blinded and sun cooked, even with all the normal mitigation measures.
Yeah, it's like being on a conveyor belt walking against the flow. Nice thing was there were no tripping hazards so I could enjoy the views, but I wonder if I would have had a better time doing this as a CCW loop (start by ascending Cooper Spur and then drop in on the Newton Clark side).

johnspeth wrote:
May 25th, 2019, 8:02 am
How about those flamingos? Do you inflate at each picture point or do those fellas piggyback on their way up?
I wanted to inflate earlier, but wind made that impractical. I inflated at Cloud Cap, and then they rode piggyback the rest of the way down.

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