Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April Flowers

I'm sure everyone is getting tired of seeing my endless posts of white (especially those of you in the eastern US and Canada who are still getting snow).  So to brighten your day, here's a glimpse of what's blooming right now in Northwestern Oregon.

First rhodie bloom!

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a bright pink rhododendron flower bursting out of it's bud.  Time to get the camera!

Blossoms from neighbor's tree

One of the trees across the street was abloom in frilly pink blossoms.

More pinkness

Not sure exactly what these are (I told you I'm not a botanist) but I know what I like to photograph.

Our cherry trees are blooming

We have two tiny cherry trees in our backyard that give about a handful of cherries every summer.  But in the spring they sure produce a bumper crop of blossoms.

View over my backyard fence

This is by far my favorite springtime view.  It's over my backyard fence at our neighbor's flowering pink tree (sorry - again I have no clue the species).  The white blossoms are from our Asian pear tree.  The combination of white blossoms and pink flowers is simply gorgeous.  This sight never lasts long enough, so I try to enjoy it while I can.

Asian pear blossoms

And here's some of the white flowers from our Asian pear tree.

Tulip time!

Another great thing about spring is when the tulips bloom.  I love, love, love tulips!  South of Portland there's a huge tulip farm that is very popular to visit this time of year.  But I've been so busy with other outdoor activities I've yet to go.

More tulips

Luckily, we have a few pretty red tulips in our front flower bed that return every year.  So I get my tulip fix satisfied.

My rhodie bush in full bloom

But my most favorite spring flowers by far are the rhododendrons.  They grow in abundance here in the PNW, and by mid-April most of them in town are starting to bloom.

These are my faves

Two weeks after the first photo in this post was taken, our little rhodie bush erupted in lovely pink flowers.  Isn't it gorgeous?

So those of you who are still suffering under winter's icy grip, enjoy some colorful spring scenes on me.  And hang in there - spring is on it's way.  Really! 

Sharing with:  52 Photos Project.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Summiting St. Helens

I leaned over my ski poles, gasping for air.  I'd just crested what I thought was the final summit ridge, only to discover yet another 200 feet of climbing.  Disappointment washed over me.  After skiing uphill for the past seven hours, my legs quivered with exhaustion.  I was sore, tired, hungry, and mourning the loss of my eyeglasses, now lying in a gully somewhere far below.  At this point I didn't care if I reached the top of Mt. St. Helens.  Was all this pain and effort really worth it?

Fresh and ready to go!

Last May, I attempted to summit Mt. St. Helens on skis (you can read about it here).  Unfortunately, due to very poor snow conditions, my group had to abort a couple thousand feet short of our goal.  Since then, I nursed a burning desire to finish what I'd started.  Thus, one of my winter 2014 bucket list items became reaching the summit of MSH.

Climbing through the first steep hill

One Sunday in late March, I got my wish.  The weatherman promised clear and sunny weather.  Seeing the forecast, my friends John and Young emailed a climbing invitation.  They didn't have to ask twice. 

Leaving Portland in the dark morning hours, my friends and I arrived at the Marble Mountain snow-park shortly after sunrise.  Our plan was to ascend the mountain's south side via the Swift Creek route.  Starting at an elevation of 2700 feet, this trail climbs a grand total of 5 miles and 5600 feet to the mountain's 8300 foot summit.  As I'd never before racked up so much elevation gain in one day, this would be a true challenge.

Hiking through a rocky ridge (photo by Young)

The climber's route began in a thick forest.  Discovering more dirt than snow on the trail, we ended up strapping skis on backpacks and spending the first two miles of our climb on foot.  The additional weight of skis on my backpack made for a heavy load.  My shoulders ached as I huffed and puffed uphill.

This part was no fun

As we climbed higher, the trail became less brown and more white.  Back and shoulders aching, I kept hoping we'd start skiing soon.  I was more than ready to shed my skis and put them on my feet.  Finally, John deemed the snowpack deep enough.  Gratefully, I strapped on my skis and climbing skins.  Young and I followed John up the snowy trail. 

Killer view of Mt. Adams

It was great to be on skis, even if I was slowly shuffling uphill.  Our path emerged from the forest into a huge gully.  In the summer, water from melting glaciers fueled a waterfall here named Chocolate Falls.  We had to take skis off and clamber up the steep gully wall.  But once on top, I was treated to my first grand view of our goal for today - MSH's summit.

The trees disappeared, and the landscape opened up to become a series of open ridges and deep gullies, punctuated by occasional bands of boulders.  The higher we ascended, the better the views became, both looking back down towards the forest, and up towards our goal.  A gorgeous, white-capped Mt. Adams emerged to the east.

Putting the skis back on

John and Young had climbed MSH previously, and knew it would take a large amount of time and effort to reach the top.  John set our turn-around time between 3 and 4 o'clock, and said we'd need to climb at a rate of 750 vertical feet per hour to reach our goal.  This meant limiting our breaks to one per hour, and keeping the photo stops to a minimum.  Although there were lots of interesting things to photograph, I didn't want to slow down the group.  So my camera stayed put in the backpack much of the first couple hours.

And yet more climbing....

The route took my party through an open plain.  Rocks littered an exposed ridge, with deep gullies on each side.  Approaching the ridge, John deemed the quickest path was walking up through it.  That meant another hike with heavy skis on our backs.  Ugh!  I wasn't super-thrilled about more hiking, but wanted to reach the summit.  So onto the backpack went my skis, and I followed Young and John through the rocky maze.

Lone man resting and taking in the view

This part was tough.  My shoulders protested under the heavy load.  The sun beat down, and I sweated buckets.  Progress was slow.  Not only did we pick our way through the rocks, we sometimes had to use both hands to pull ourselves over some the larger boulders.  Our ski boots occasionally slid on the rock's slippery surfaces.  I was never so happy when John finally pointed to an open slope and said that was where we'd put our skis back on.

The summit is in sight

Then it was a lot of uphill shuffling.  Slopes alternated from moderate to very steep.  But climbing skins are amazing devices.  They allow skiers to traverse some fairly extreme pitches.  However, when the hills got too steep, we ended up traversing the slope in a zig-zag pattern to keep from sliding backwards.  This took much more time and effort.

A sunny spring day brings out the mountain climbers to MSH, and we were by no means alone.   My party was passed by a couple dozen uphill skiers, all much faster than poor Young and I.  As the summit grew nearer, we began to see climbers and snowriders on their descent.  Plodding along on tired legs, I became envious of their effortless downhill turns.

We made it!

John kept calling out elevations from his gps.  First, we had 4000 feet to go, then 3000, 2000......the numbers slowly became smaller.  About a thousand feet from the summit, the wind kicked up, and the snow began to change.  What was smooth soft snow suddenly became rough, hard, and icy.  Young was having a difficult time getting any traction, and my hands and body became chilled from the wind.

Fabulous view into the crater (click to enlarge)

John decided to take a quick break so Young could put on some ski crampons.  I took the opportunity to throw on another layer, and find some warmer gloves.  While rooting around in my backpack for gloves, a hard-sided case containing my primary pair of eyeglasses popped out.  Before I could grab it, the case slid out of reach.  The icy snow caused it to accelerate, gaining speed as it traveled downhill.  John quickly trained his eyes on the case, hoping to pinpoint the final resting place for retrieval on our way down.  But unfortunately the case rocketed into a narrow gully, and sped out of sight.

Losing those glasses took the wind out of my sails.  Knowing things would get tough, that morning I prepared myself mentally to keep a positive attitude.  I'd been doing well keeping spirits up, but when that case slid away, all positivity went down the drain.  After watching my glasses disappear, all I wanted to do was turn around and ski back down. 

MSH rim

But John talked me off the ledge.  After promising to try and look for my glasses on the way down, and reminding me that we were really close to reaching the summit, my funk began to lift.  Reaffirming myself of the day's ultimate goal, I pulled on my big girl panties and continued to climb.

Lava dome, Spirit Lake and Mt. Rainier

The last thousand feet was brutal.  The snow was slick and icy, necessitating more effort digging in my ski edges to keep from sliding.  We'd been moving nearly nonstop since early morning, and by mid-afternoon my body was feeling the effects.  Although I'd taken in food and water on every break, my stomach grumbled for a proper lunch.  And the altitude was slowing me down.  The stops to catch my breath became more and more frequent.

Then up ahead, I saw the top of a ridge.  A couple of people were sitting there.  That must be the summit!  Excitedly, I shuffled my skis as quickly as my tired body would allow.  Yahoo!  Almost to the top!  Finally!

Don't get too close to that edge

Except that it wasn't the summit.....  I arrived on top of this ridge, only see another steep pitch looming before me.  This was only the false summit.  I still had another 200 feet of climbing to go.

I was so tired I wanted to quit right then and there.  Crouching over my skis, breathing hard, I didn't think I had the strength to climb that final distance.  My bad mood began to return.  But John came sliding up, and excitedly told me I was almost there.  He pointed to the jagged ridgetop and said that was the summit.  If it wasn't for his encouragement, I would have stopped short of my goal - foiled again.  Taking a deep breath, I willed my legs to complete this final stage of the journey.

True summit is 8300 feet - close enough!

Slide, slide, stop.....breathe.   Slide, turn, slide, stop.....gasp.  I don't think I've ever moved so slowly on skis in my life.  The final pitch was a very steep slope, necessitating more zig-zag traversing.  That ridge seemed to never get any closer.  One foot in front of the other.....But slowly, I could see progress was being made.  John whisked by me.  And then, I could see the sky was very close.  Another couple of turns and more sliding, and I pulled up even with John, who was now removing his skis.  "Hey, Linda." he smiled "You made it!" 

Skiing down the first steep pitch

At first, I was too tired to even comprehend what I'd just accomplished.  All I wanted to do was sit down and have lunch.  After downing part of a PB & J and drinking some of Young's tea (a hot beverage was so welcome!) I began to feel more like myself again.  A couple other skiers were standing on the summit, peering over crater's edge.  Hearing them marveling at the view, I grabbed my camera and trudged over to investigate.

Photo op with Mt. Adams

Oh my - the view into the crater took my breath away!  I could see the volcano's steaming lava dome, cloaked in creamy white snow and encircled by the steep crater walls.  Looking to the north, past the collapsed crater, were killer views of Spirit Lake, the Mt. Margaret Wilderness, and Mt. Rainier.  Jaw dropping!  All my hard work, the sore muscles, the suffering, the lost glasses, was forgotten.  It was all was totally worth it to witness this magnificent scene.

John leads the way

Our time of arrival on top was 3:30 pm.  John was very pleased with Young and I.  Not only did we get ourselves to the summit, we did so within the limits of our designated turn-around time.  After spending a good 45 minutes resting, eating, and taking copious photos, John reminded us that we still had a long ski back down.  Not wanting to return in the dark, we needed to begin our descent very soon.

Scouting our route

Now came the part I'd been looking forward to all day.  Time to remove those climbing skins and let gravity carry us back.  The top 1000 feet of descent was tough.  The first pitch was steep, through chunky, icy snow.  It took lots of effort from tired legs to control my skis.

But after braving the mountain's upper reaches, we descended to lower, sun-warmed snow that was soft as velvet.  An absolute dream to ski through!  Oh yeah - this was what we'd worked so hard for.

A tired, but happy skier (photo by Young)

The great thing about backcountry skiing on MSH is that it's slopes are never super-steep.  There are no crevasses to worry about.  On a sunny spring day, it's the most wonderful consistent long slope you could ever hope for.  John would ski ahead, scouting out the terrain, and then motion Young and I to follow.  As we traveled lower, he discovered a couple steeper pitches with very soft unstable snow.  After setting off a small avalanche on one such slope, John quickly directed us ladies down a safer path.  But that was the only mishap.  Otherwise, the ski down was sublime.  Late evening sun bathed the mountain in a lovely light.  The snow was terrific.  I was so happy, even the loss of my glasses didn't bother me anymore.

We earned these beers!

My friends and I were able to ski to within a mile of the parking lot.  Then, we hefted skis on our backs for one final trek.  Tromping through the woods as daylight waned, my heart was happy.  Success!  I'd accomplished my goal of skiing up to Mt. St. Helens summit.

It took us a grand total of 7 1/2 hours to climb, and two hours to descend.  We reached John's truck at 6:15 pm, not long before sunset.

Our journey ended with microbrews and kettle chips in the parking lot.  Young and I were so famished we nearly chowed down the entire bag.  Having only my prescription sunglasses to see with, I had to keep them on for the entire ride back to Young and John's house, and then drive home in the darkness wearing my shades.  (But luckily, I had an old pair of glasses at home that will do until a replacement is ordered)

Summit victory shot (Photo by Young)

The day before my MSH climb, I came across a great quote on Facebook.  So very inspirational, I repeated it often as I was struggling up the mountain. 

"You are stronger than you think you are.  Dream big and never stop trying."

Although the difficulty of this experience ranked right up there with running my three marathons, I'm thankful I pushed hard and stuck it out.  I hope this post inspires you to follow your dreams, however big or small.

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tilly Jane

It was the weekend, all my friends were busy, and I was hankerin' to ski up a forested trail.  But skiing outside of the resorts is normally not something done alone.  Hmmmm........How's a girl supposed to get her backcountry fix?

Have skis, will travel

Luckily, around the Mt. Hood area, ski trails abound - some of them well-used and located in areas relatively safe from avalanches.  One of these such routes is none other than the historic Tilly Jane Ski Trail.

Little snowman in the woods

I'd skied this trail a couple years before, with a Mazamas ski mountaineering class.  I remembered it passed through a ridge, once the site of a massive forest fire.  The old burned out trees opened up for some nice views.  Tilly Jane was also a very popular trail, so chances were good I wouldn't be alone.  Time for a revisit!

Skimpy snow in some places

Driving to the trailhead that morning, I was dismayed by the lack of snow along the roadside.  Once at the parking area, the first thing I did was check out conditions.  The trail was covered - just barely.  A narrow ribbon of icy snow clung to the tread.  Although things didn't look real promising, I strapped on my skis and headed up anyway, hoping coverage would improve higher up.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs.....

The first half mile was a challenge.  I dodged rocks, fallen trees, and even crossed a couple of swampy creeks.  I had to take my skis off and walk a small distance through a couple patches of bare trail.  Finally, I reached the first big trail junction.  Signs were posted on several different trees, some fairly new, and others old and weather-beaten.  Several paths met here, but I was only interested in one - the route to Tilly Jane A-frame cabin.

Burned out forest

From here, the climbing began in earnest.  Snow coverage increased, and finally my trail was totally encased in white.  It was a relief to no longer dodge rocks and bushes.  A short distance later, I reached the edge of the Gnarl Ridge fire limits.

First Mt. Hood sighting

In the fall of 2008, a massive forest fire charred the woods in this area, threatened homes, and a nearby ski area.  Also in peril were the historic Tilly Jane A-frame cabin and the Cloud Cap Inn. Through hard work from brave firefighters, all these structures were spared from destruction.

Skiing selfie

The burned-out forest, although stark and ghostly, was actually quite scenic.  The charred stumps and bleached gray trunks lined an open ridge.  Lack of vegetation here provided some mighty fine views of the adjacent forested hills.

Rear view

I passed a large rock that was just begging me to set my camera on it.  Perfect prop for a few action selfies.

Follow the blue diamonds

Thanks to a well-trod track through the snow, the trail was easy to follow.  But occasional blue diamonds nailed into the trees helped with navigation.

Hood guides me on

The sun began to intermittently peep out of it's cloud cover.  When the woods brightened up, I'd quickly dig out my camera, trying to capture some of the stark gray trees against blue sky.  Cloud-cloaked Mt. Hood appeared above the skyline, guiding my path.

The sun breaks out

Although temps were beginning to warm, the snow remained quite icy.  Sliding along, I began to worry that the ski back down would be treacherous.  I'm not a fan of skiing on ice, especially in a treed slope.

Dead tree peek-a-boo

From the parking area, it's three miles and about 2000 vertical feet of climbing to reach the Tilly Jane cabin.  Well into late morning, I kept climbing short hills, thinking I'd see it at the crest.  But each time I reached the top, there was no cabin in sight. 

My friend the sunburst

I kept leapfrogging a snowshoeing couple with a large dog.  I'd get ahead and then stop to take photos, and they'd pass me by.  Finally I came upon them resting in a large treewell.  The man asked if I knew how far the cabin was.  I told him I thought we were close, but having only been up here once before, I wasn't exactly sure.  The man thanked me and said their dog was tired, so they were heading back down.

Mountain views in the distance

Upon parting with the snowshoers, I began climbing up another big hill.  Huffing and puffing, I decided if I didn't see that darn cabin soon, I was going to stop for lunch anyway.  Then I crested the hill, and up ahead in the woods was the peaked roofline of the Tilly Jane A-frame cabin.  It wasn't a quarter mile from where the other party had turned around.  They were so close!

Tilly Jane A-frame cabin

The Tilly Jane cabin was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).  This group also built the nearby historic Guard Station, and the ski trail I'd followed today.  The cabin is managed by the Oregon Nordic Club, and reservations are required to spend the night.

Although I'd reached the cabin over the noon hour, I found it deserted.  There were backpacks and sleeping bags inside, indicating it was occupied for the weekend.  I assumed the group staying here was probably out enjoying the fine day.

Skiing back through the woods

I ate my lunch at a nice sturdy table, enjoying the heat from a small fire smoldering in the wood stove.  Nice to have a warm shelter and dry place to sit.

Cool wispy clouds

I spent about 45 minutes at the cabin, eating, taking photos, and getting my skis ready for the downhill trip.  In that short time, the sun's mighty rays worked their magic on the snowy trail.  When I was ready to ski down, I found much to my delight, that the snow had been transformed from a stiff, icy crust to lovely soft corn.

Oh it was a fun trip downhill!  The sun was warm, the snow perfect.  I whooped and hollered as I zipped through the trees.  What took nearly three hours to climb, was covered in about 15 minutes of descent. 

Ending on one of Cooper Spur's ski runs

The last mile of trail, with it's skimpy snowpack, was just too bare to properly ski on.  I didn't want to scratch and ding my ski bases, so I loaded them onto my backpack and hiked the rest of the way out.  Upon reaching the big junction, I decided to take a different trail back.  I hiked over to the now-closed Cooper Spur Ski area.  Coming out on top of a ski run, I put my boards back on for one final downhill slide.

It was great to get outside on such a lovely winter's day and revisit a scenic and historic part of Mt. Hood.  And it was a great confidence builder for me to complete a solo backcountry ski tour.

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.