backpack: Wahtum Lake & Chinidere Mountain

May 28-30, 2016
mileage for all three days: 16. 5 miles with 3,150 ft. elevation gain

Wahtum Lake is located west of Hood River, between Mount Hood and the Columbia River.  There are many trails that cross through this area, including Eagle Creek, Herman Creek and the PCT. Five friends and I backpacked here for two nights over Memorial Day weekend and explored the surrounding area with day hikes.

Day 1

hike in from Wahtum Lake trailhead
2.3 miles with 180 ft. elevation gain

day hike to Chinidere Mountain
2.8 miles with 960 ft. elevation gain

Wahtum Lake



sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Getting to the campsite required crossing the East Fork of Eagle Creek where it flowed out of Wahtum Lake. A large log jam is located there, with two logs placed side-by-side for easy crossing. It looks like the logs are all on the ground, but they are floating on top of the water. This was my first time crossing a creek on logs, and with a fully loaded backpack, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. This turned out to be the best area to access water for filtering, so we came back here from camp several times for water.


This campsite is located a bit farther off the trail and has more space than others. Someone built a half circle of chairs out of rock slabs surrounding the fire pit. The fire pit turned out to not be the best though. It was built up too high with too much wet ash in it and needed to be cleaned out. The second night, we built a fire at the campsite next to ours. There are a couple of additional campsites located right next to this one, and every one of them was occupied the first night we were there.

the mini-Temple of Doom campsite

At camp, we setup our tents, had a quick lunch and then went for a hike up to Chinidere Mountain. The trail is fairly steep, and is a shortcut used by people doing the PCT to reach Wahtum Lake.


Just before heading up the Chinidere trail, stay on the PCT for about 100 yards to a view of the Eagle Creek Canyon and Mount Hood. Wildflowers were blooming in a small meadow area.


view of the Eagle Creek Canyon from the PCT

Heading up Chinidere, the trail switchbacks a couple of times, then crosses a small rockslide before reaching the summit. The top is wide, rocky and exposed, with only a few small trees and several small stacked rock windblocks. On the first day we were there, most of the mountains were not visible. We could see the base of Mount Hood, and occasionally, the top would peak out of the clouds.


going up Chinidere Mountain

view of Wahtum Lake from the top of Chinidere

on top of Chinidere

Tomlike Mountain as seen from Chinidere

View of Tomlike Mountain from Chinidere


Our first night, most of our group worked hard to build a fire, but it never did burn well. Luckily, we were here on the last weekend for campfires. Starting on June 1, campfires are not allowed due to fire dangers.

We were here during a high pollen time… it rained pollen the entire time were there, and it covered everything in camp, including our tents. In the lake, yellow pools of pollen were along the edges of the water. Several of us had sinus issues due to it.



Day 2

day hike to Tomlike Mountain
7 miles with 800 ft elevation gain

On the second day, we decided to do a longer day hike to Tomlike Mountain. We went up the same steep route towards Chinidere, then took the Herman Creek trail to the north.  The weather wasn’t great, with fog, wind and occasional sprinkles. It was hard to tell what the conditions were going to turn out to be during our hike.

foggy forest

About half-way, we encountered a fair amount snow on the trail, but it was easy to go around the snow patches and  stay on trail.

snow on the Herman Creek trail

trail junction


At the junction with the Anthill trail, we ran into friends of ours that were doing a much longer backpacking loop, starting at Herman Creek at the Columbia River. They camped at Cedar Swamp the first night, and when we saw them, they were headed to Benson Plateau.

A short distance ahead, the Herman Creek trail turns sharply to the south, and there’s an unmarked trail heading into the woods to the north. This is the trail to Tomlike Mountain. The trail forks and we took the wrong one, descending into the forest. Realizing our mistake at a place where the trail disappeared, we turned around and took the other fork, which at first just looked like a side trail to a viewpoint.

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This trail winds around large rocky sections along the side of the ridge and has open views into the canyons to the east and south. Continuing on the ridge for a short distance, we decided to stop at a large open area with views of Mud Lake and the Herman Creek Canyon to have lunch.

Tomlike Mountain

Two people in our group decided to go to the summit of Tomlike while the rest of us stayed at the lunch spot. After this, we went back to camp, taking a different trail back to the lake that wasn’t as steep, and went around the north and east sides of the lake, requiring crossing the logs over the creek again.

Tomlike Mountain

Day 3

day hike to Chinidere Mountain
2.8 miles with 960 ft. elevation gain

hike out to Wahtum Lake trailhead
1.5 miles with 250 ft. elevation gain

On our last day, the weather was clearer, so we decided to go up to Chinidere again. This time, the views included many of the high Cascades, with Mount Hood looming large to the south, and Mount Jefferson and possibly North Sister to the west of Hood. Views to the north include Mount St. Helens, Silver Star Mountain, Mount Rainier, Goat Rocks and Mount Adams. The winds occasionally picked up, and we could see a large cloud of pollen near our campsite area at the lake.

heading up Chinidere Mountain

Chinidere on a clear day

view of Mount Hood from Chinidere on a clear day

views of Mount St. Helens, Silver Star Mountain, Mount Rainier, Goat Rocks and Mount Adams from Chinidere Mountain

views of Mount St. Helens, Silver Star Mountain, Mount Rainier, Goat Rocks and Mount Adams from Chinidere Mountain

Overnight, the temps were in the 38-40 degree range. The second night was colder than the first, but my Mountain Hardwear Phantasia 0 degree sleeping bag kept me toasty warm both nights. Most of us made use of hand warmers in our sleeping bags to stay warm.

I plan to go back to Wahtum Lake again next year, probably at around the same time if the weather cooperates. Having a campfire was a nice treat, even if it meant putting up with the pollen. There are many more trails to explore here, and next time, I’d like to try going up Tomlike Mountain.