Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Bus is Back!

One of my favorite winter activities is riding the midweek ski bus.  Not only do I love the empty slopes, I've met and skied with some fantastic people.  When the bus program resumed for the season in mid-January, I happily reunited with my "men in red" ski posse.

To another great ski season!

Per tradition, Glen brought out his flask of cinnamon whiskey and we all had a toast before hitting the lifts.

Glen passes pat the flask to Pat

Pat, our power-skier eager to rack up the runs, was already on the slopes and missed our toast.  So when we finally caught up, Glen made sure he was included.

Chairlift selfie attempt

The running joke is you have to wear a red jacket if you want to ski with me.  (I really gotta work on my chairlift selfies.....)

What a motley crew!

And what's this?  Rounding a corner I discovered our ski area's legendary bra tree is back!  Not only was it adorned with new female undergarments, someone had added a pair of men's tighty whiteys. (Equal gender representation, right?)  My group may or may not have possessed knowledge of recent sacrifices made to said hallowed tree......(what happens on the bus, stays on the bus!)

The bra tree is back!

I've sure missed my midweek ski buddies.  We laugh, joke, share nips of adult beverages, and rip down snowy slopes.  I'm so glad ski bus Thursdays are back for the season.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Might As Well Ski Anyway....

So far this winter has been a huge disappointment.  Snow has been scarce in the Cascades.  For a die-hard skier like me, the drier-than-usual months of December and January have been nothing but bad news.

Blue sky and white snow

By mid-January, Mt Hood Meadows, my local ski hill, was reporting a scant 36" base.  Usually logging at least 8-10 ski days by then, my season pass had only been used twice.  It's hard to get pumped for skiing when you know it's gonna be an icy, rock-dodging experience.

Sunglasses weather!

However my friends Kim and Hollie wanted to check things out one mid-January Sunday, so I decided to join them.  The weather was supposed to be a sunny and warm, so at least we wouldn't be freezing our butts off.  What the heck, I thought, might as well go skiing.

The mountain is busy

I spent the first part of the day on the bunny slope, getting Hollie's confidence back.  Hollie only started skiing two years ago, and although she's doing great, it's hard for her to leave the security of the beginner area.  But today Kim and I decided it was time to try a more difficult run.  Sometimes folks just need a little push. 

Distant Cascade peaks

So we took Hollie up to the top of the Vista chairlift.  Although the trails here are also green (beginner) runs, they're all much longer than anything on the bunny hill. 

Kim giving Hollie instruction

Thus began a long, slow descent back to the lodge.  We made frequent stops so Hollie could rest.  Since Hollie is still a slow skier, Kim and I followed close behind, trying to thwart any fast snow-rider that might get too close (kind of like bodyguards!).  While resting on the side of a slope, we did witness one collision between a man and woman.  Although scary, luckily neither person was hurt.

Hollie is a trooper!

Hollie was a trooper!  Even when she fell (which wasn't often) she calmly picked herself up - no tears or swearing.  She was making some great turns, and staying in control.  The final slope to the lodge was a slightly steeper pitch.  Kim and I were worried about Hollie making it in one piece, but she pointed her skis straight downhill and went for it!  And didn't fall once.  Yahoo!

Traverse to Outer Limits (see all the rocks?)

After the long trip down from Vista, Hollie was tuckered out.  She and Kim went inside for lunch.  But I wasn't ready for a break yet.  Bright morning sunlight had softened the snow to a wonderful consistency.  Time to rip it up!

Smilin' ski buddies

And that's exactly what I did.  Cascade, the highest lift on the mountain, was turning and I made endless laps down it's wide-open slopes.  When finished with her lunch, Kim joined me in the fun.

Kim in action

We traveled all over the resort - finding lots of lovely soft snow stashes.  Even the moguls were fun to slide over.  I had such a good time, I nearly forgot about the skimpy snowpack (that is, until I accidentally slid over a few hidden rocks.....good thing I had my "rock skis")

Cool cloud over Mt Hood

It turned out to be a great day of skiing after all.  I'd lowered my expectations so much that it was a happy surprise to encounter sunny, blue skies and totally carveable snow.

The moral of my story?  Even if the snow is less than stellar, you might as well ski anyway.  After all, a bad day skiing is still better than the best day at work!  :)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hiking Hardy Ridge in - Gasp! - January

Winters in the Pacific NW are so unpredictable.  Last year we endured an endless series of snow, ice storms, and unseasonably cold weather.  However, this year I think winter forgot to show up.

Sunlight filters through the forest

Precipitation has been miserly, showering the mountains with token amounts of snow - only to be washed away by rain a day later.  December temperatures hovered well above normal, assuring that whatever snow survived wouldn't stick around long.  So far this un-winter has wreaked havoc on the local snowpack.  With minimal amounts of the white stuff, skiing hasn't been great.

That's why when the forecast one mid-January Saturday predicted warm temps and more dry skies, I opted to skip the slopes for a hike in the Gorge.

A slight sign alteration...

I sent out email invites to both Catherine and Young, thinking one of the two would accept.  But - surprise, surprise - both of them replied yes.  Not only my two girlfriend hiking buddies, by the time Catherine and I met Young at the trailhead, we found she'd also invited her hubby John, and friends Steve and Joel.  Yahoo - the Dog Mountain Group was back together again!  And, to round out our merry band, Steve and Joel brought along their long-time friend and neighbor Don.

Modeling my new backpack

Santa had left a fat REI gift card in my stocking.  I cashed it in for a brand-new backpack, and today would be it's maiden voyage (or hike).  My companions oohed and aahed in admiration - except for John who jokingly said my pristine backpack needed some dirt rubbed onto it (and offered to do the honors).

A quick break

With the Oregon Gorge hiking trails still closed, I again looked to our northern neighboring state.  Hardy Ridge, on the Washington side, became the day's destination.   A wonderful scenic ridge run, I'd hiked it plenty of times in the spring and fall.  But today would be my first wintertime visit.

Made it to the sign!

Our group started out on an old abandoned road, climbing a gradual uphill.  Lovely bright sunlight filtered through the trees, warming the air.  Thinking we'd encounter cold temperatures, I'd dressed in my warm ski clothes (this was January after all).  It didn't take long before our entire crew took it's first "clothing break" to strip off a layer.

The views begin....

We continued to the first trail junction, where a snack and second clothing break were in order.  I always take photos of the trail signs and while focusing on the one marking our junction, noticed a slight alteration.  Someone had painted over part of the "w" in "lower loop" so it now read "lover loop."  (Tee-hee!)

Admiring the fabulous sights

Up another road our happy hiker group climbed, through more beautiful forest.  Although the deciduous trees were stark and leafless, numerous conifers provided plenty of green.  Plus the forest floor was full of ferns, and bright green moss covered adjacent rocks and branches.

Wind-blown trees

Finally leaving the road for good, we hit the steep uphill portion of our hike.  This trail rocketed upward, through multiple switchbacks.  If we weren't hot already, this climb did the trick.  I stripped down to my long sleeve base layer, chiding myself for not slipping a short sleeve t-shirt underneath.  And wearing my insulated hiking pants was also not the best decision.  (Who would've thought we'd get such warm temperatures on a hike - in January?)

The men walking through a bare, mossy patch

After quite a bit of elevation gain (and lots of sweat) my friends and I reached the beginning of the ridgetop, and our first viewpoint.  And it was a grand one!  The Columbia River, shining like a blue ribbon was far below, nestled in the green cliffs of the Gorge.  The day's relatively clear skies meant views stretched far east and west.  It was Catherine's first time on Hardy Ridge, and by the huge smile on her face, I could tell she was enjoying herself.

The Columbia River far below

But we weren't done yet.  My group followed a unofficial scramble trail that roller-coastered across Hardy Ridge, dipping down and clambering back up a few small forested knolls. 

One last ridge to climb

Breaking out of the forest for the final time, the last half mile of our hike was across a wide open ridge, showcasing the adjacent scenery.  More grand Gorge views, plus Table Mountain and the tip of Mt Adams.  But the best was yet to come.....

Up we go!

Our final climb was a steep slog up a talus slope, with a few remaining snow patches to navigate.  So weird to see this area nearly snow-free - in January!

More views to admire

But once we reached the top, it was an easy trek across the ridge to Phlox Point, our lunch spot.

Lunch spot

Sunny skies, warm temps, no wind, and fantastic views of the Gorge and Columbia River.  And no rain!  (Or snow)  Phlox Point remains one of my favorite places for an outdoor picnic.

Enjoying clear skies and warm temps

Can you believe this is January?  It felt more like a day in late spring.

The Gorge and river

While the gang was refueling, I prowled along the ridge, snapping a few images of the fantastic panorama below.

View to the west

Still lots of green out there for winter - even the moss was vibrant!

Walking the ridge

After a relaxing break, it was time for my favorite part of the hike - the return trip.  White-capped Mt Hood stood front and center, framing our view as we marched back across the ridge.

Wonderful Mt Hood views

Some of my favorite photos of the day came from this portion of the hike.

Heading back down

Slowly we wound back down, lingering at some of the more impressive viewpoints.  It's a rare day to get clear skies and no wind on Hardy Ridge - especially in winter.

One last glimpse of Hood

For the return trip, my group opted to take a different trail that zig-zagged down through a dense forest.   Not much to take photos of, so my camera remained stashed in its bag.  That is, until we passed by the famous "boot rock."  I pointed out this local hiking landmark to Catherine, who eagerly agreed to be my photo model.

Catherine found "Boot Rock"

The only downside to this hike is the final road walk seems endless (I swear it's the work of the "trail stretchers").  By now everyone was hot, tired, and more than ready for our traditional post-hike beer.

Hiking through sunshine

But the sunshine and warm weather were a welcome surprise on this winter's day.  How often does one get to hike in their shirt sleeves - in January?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

New Years Day Neighborhood Stroll

Yeah, I know.  It's nearly the end of January and I'm posting about New Years Day.  Yup - that's my MO - terminally behind on blog posts (I'm sure you'll all be shocked if I ever catch up!)

Partially frozen pond

New Years Day dawned in my neighborhood, sunny but cold.  I have a tradition of spending NYD on the ski slopes, but this year opted to stay home.  (Thin snowpack and the fact I'd just returned from Montana and didn't relish another drive on slippery roads were deciding factors.)

Red berries

I thought about driving somewhere for a quick hike, but it was too soon after my trip.  I wasn't ready to sit in the car for an hour or two.

Artsy fence

Not wanting to waste this wonderful sunny winters day (a rarity in western Oregon!) I decided to grab my camera for an impromptu stroll around the neighborhood.  Since we no longer have a dog, and I haven't been running, I realized how much I missed my daily trips around the block.  Time to reacquaint myself with the 'hood!

Bare trees

I feel fortunate to live where I do.  A mere half mile from home sits a wonderful recreation complex.  This large facility boasts numerous soccer and baseball fields, a huge gym, an Olympic size pool, and - best of all - a wonderful network of walking trails.

Wonderful light streaming through the woods

The local park district has left small pockets of wooded areas intact, and walking trails run right through them.

Moss adds color

Sunlight filtering through the trees created lovely patterns on bare branches.  It also lit up a patch of fuzzy green moss brilliantly.

Loved the sunshine

A few hardy blackberry leaves still clung to their vines, backlit by the bright sunshine.

Backlit leaf

A tiny duck pond sits near the soccer fields.  The previous night's chilly temperatures had created a thin skin of ice across it's surface. 

More pond pics

The partially frozen water created many interesting patterns.


I especially liked the above image.  Fuzzy reflections in the icy surface make for a wonderfully abstract photograph.

Everything is brown and dry

Even dried, brown weeds gone to seed were photogenic (at least I thought so!)

Except these bright blackberry leaves

No, it wasn't an epic hike to some jaw-dropping location.  But my home turf provided a good hour's ramble and enough interesting photo subjects to keep my shutter finger busy.

Who knew on this cold January day I'd find such beauty in my own neighborhood?