On a clear day in the Willamette Valley there’s no mistaking the majestic, snowy peak of Mount Hood. No mere mountain, Mount Hood is a volcano that stands at approximately 11,250 feet tall. Throughout history it has been an imposing figure on both the landscape and the legend of Washougal and Camas.
Hundreds of years ago the Multnomah tribe called it Wy’East. They believed that the Great Spirit Sahale formed it in an act of vengeance after his sons Wy’East and Klickitat destroyed a village in a fight over a beautiful young woman, Loowit. The legend is that Sahale struck down all three and created Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens in their place. British naval officer Lt. William Broughton bestowed its current name in 1792 when he spied it from his canoe on the Columbia River. He declared it Mount Hood after Lord Samuel Hood, a respected admiral of the British Royal Navy.
Geological records tell us that Mount Hood is over 500,000 years old. It’s the highest point in Oregon and the fourth highest peak in the Cascade Mountain range. The edifice we see today has evolved from many small volcanic eruptions. About 1500 years ago an eruption from the upper southwest flank sent a lahar, or fast moving mudslide, into the Zigzag and Sandy River valleys. Another eruption happened in the 1790s just a few years before Lewis and Clark’s historic trek. Clark discovered the sandy soil deposits when he tried to walk across the water but quickly sank up to his waist. Over time most of the sand has washed away, but the name Sandy River remains.
Mount Hood rests in the middle of the 1.2 million acre Mount Hood National Forest. The mountain itself has 12 ice glaciers, 11 at the peak and one at the summit and several crystal clear alpine lakes. It boosts six ski areas that span over 4600 acres and it’s home to a National Historic Landmark, the Timberline Lodge, which is one of the only year-round skiing sites in the world. The peak also attracts climbers of all skill levels. In fact, Mount Hood is the second most climbed mountain in the world, second only to Japan’s Mount Fujiyama.
Today Mount Hood is considered a dormant, or sleeping, volcano. Yet, if you look carefully you can occasionally see bits of steam escaping from its vents. These are signs that Mount Hood is still a powerful force to be taken seriously. Beneath the surface lies a volatile combination of hot and cold magma, which can combine to create an eruption at any time.
Centuries after the legend of Wy’East, this ancient volcano still has the power to captivate natives and visitors alike with its magnificent beauty and stunning history.
For more information about Mt. Hood volcano, please visit Oregon State University.