Monday, April 15, 2024

March Skiing at Mt. Bachelor

My final ski trip for the season was at a familiar place - Mt. Bachelor, up the road in Central Oregon.  The largest ski area in the state, I'd swooshed down its slopes many times over the span of 30 years.  As a matter of fact, Mt. Bachelor is my favorite place to ski in Oregon - and also is in the running for my favorite resort anywhere.

Beautiful view of Tumalo Mtn.

The multi-resort IKON passes my friend Kim and I purchased this season allowed for 5 days here.  We'd used one of the five in early January trying to ski on a miserable, rainy day.  After that experience, we decided to save our remaining days for March, when the snow, and the weather were more reliable.  (The Cascade Mountains usually get their highest amount of snowfall during the month of March.)

"The Cone" with all it's squiggly ski tracks

After skiing other resorts (and our home hill, Mt. Hood) in January and February, the chosen month for our Mt. Bachelor trip finally arrived.  The second Tuesday of March had Kim and I turning into its parking lot, eyeing the snowy, foggy conditions.  Snow was falling heavily, which was good.  However the swirling snow, combined with fog, made seeing where you were going mighty challenging.  (We skiers refer to this reduced visibility as "skiing by Braille.")

Gotta do a ski selfie!

No matter, we'd come to ski and ski we would!  So Kim and I rode up the lift and carefully picked our way downhill.  The newly-fallen snow was wonderful to swish through, and nearly made up for the lack of visibility.  We had a great morning, and after a coffee and granola bar break for lunch, went out for more.

Super-long line to Summit Lift

Although the second day began with more of the same weather as the first, it didn't take long for the snow to stop falling and skies to clear.  Hooray!  Sunshine and powder - my favorite!  And temperatures remained cold, which helped the snow stay soft and fluffy.

Lots of sunshine!

Conditions were good enough that Mt. Bachelor staff decided to run the Summit lift that afternoon.  The highest chairlift at the resort, it takes skiers to the very top of 9,068-foot Mt. Bachelor.  Due to its exposed location, the resort only opens it when there's low wind and high visibility.  Kim and I happened to go by the bottom of Summit right as it opened.  We considered taking a run from the top, but the humungous lift line changed our minds.  It snaked all the way up the adjacent slope!  There was plenty of other places to ski that weren't crowded, especially now that half of the people were in line for the summit.

Snow-flocked trees

Instead Kim and I enjoyed a delightful afternoon, enjoying the lack of crowds, sunshine, and fluffy, powder snow.  When skies are clear, skiers are treated to amazing views of the adjacent Cascade peaks surrounding Mt. Bachelor.  I soaked in the wonderful mountain panoramas and tried to snap images with my phone.  (For obvious reasons, I don't ski with any of my "big girl" cameras.)  When Kim grew tired, she decided to quit early and rest at the bar.  Having a bit more energy still, I opted to take a few more runs before also hanging it up for the day.  

Lovely scene under the Outback Lift

I headed over to the slopes underneath the Outback Lift, one of my favorite places to ski at Mt. Bachelor.  Located on the shadier, colder side of the mountain, snow was still firmly stuck to the trees here.  It looked like I was skiing through a bunch of flocked Christmas trees.  So pretty!  A great way to end another fun day.

Could almost see the adjacent mountains

The third day at Mt. Bachelor, Kim was feeling sore and needed to rest.  No problem - my brother Dale, who lives in the nearby town of Bend, decided to join me.

One day I skied with my brother

The forecast called for clear skies and temperatures still cold enough to preserve the snow.  Yeah!  I was excited for another day of good conditions.  But what I hadn't bargained on was the wind.  It was absolutely howling.

Interesting clouds

Although I had a great time skiing with my brother and catching up on his life, the strong wind definitely put a damper on things.  Riding the chairlift was a mighty cold experience.  (And during strong winds the resort runs the lifts slower than normal, so the uphill ride takes even longer!)

The Viking lifty was back!

Our fourth and final day at Mt. Bachelor dawned sunny and warm.  But that pesky wind was still blowing strongly.  Oh well, at least it wasn't as cold as the previous day.

Keeping those skiers in line

The warm sunshine, and the fact it was Friday, brought the skiers out in droves.  After enjoying short, and sometimes nonexistent lift lines for the past three days, it was kind of a shock to have to wait in fairly long lines.

"Front row!  C'mon out!"

But luckily our favorite lifty was back!  (For those who don't ski, "lifty" is what we skiers call the people who operate the chairlifts and manage the crowds trying to access them.)  There is one man who works at Mt. Bachelor that dresses up as a Viking on warmer days.  To our delight, Kim and I spotted the Viking that morning while in the lift line.

Someone drew the Mt. Bachelor logo in the snow under the lift

Not only was this guy dressed to the nines in full Viking attire, he also was so enthusiastic about his job, you couldn't help but smile along with him.  As skiers passed by, the man dished out high fives, and happily posed for photos.  I happened to notice his name tag even said "Viking."

Another fun thing to see - as Kim and I sat down on the chairlift and it began its uphill journey, we noticed someone had stomped out the Mt. Bachelor logo into the snow below us.  I tried to snap a photo of the good work, but in case you can't quite make it out, I posted a copy of the real Mt. Bachelor logo above for comparison.

Enjoying our ride

By afternoon, the temperatures had risen well above freezing.  In areas out of the wind, it was quite warm.  The snow began to soften up, destroying the nice fluffy powder I'd enjoyed the previous days.  Kim and I both agreed if not for the wind keeping things relatively cool, the snow would be too sticky to ski on.

Kim soaks up the sun

Tired from multiple days of skiing, Kim and I threw in the towel early the afternoon of our last day.  Enjoying a burger and beer in the lodge, we were entertained by a group of people doing a "shot ski."  This zany tradition is rumored to be practiced at most ski areas.  It's where multiple shot glasses are adhered to a ski and several people get together to tip the ski in unison and drink from these shot glasses.  I'd always heard of shot skis, but until today had never seen a group actually drink from one.


Shot ski later in the lodge

Having had a midweek season pass to Mt. Bachelor last year, which I used a record 17 times, five days this season was not nearly enough.  Kim and I both agreed that while it was fun to try out the IKON pass and visit some favorite resorts, we're going to skip the IKON pass next season and go back to buying a midweek season pass here at Bachelor.  It's one of our favorite resorts and we really missed coming here.

But at least we had a good time this week and made the most of the IKON pass days we had.  Until next season, Mt. Bachelor!  

Saturday, April 6, 2024

The Lewis River in Winter

The weather had been quite rainy and cold through the first half of February, which put my outdoor rambles on hold.  When I couldn't stand being indoors any longer, I texted my buddy Catherine and invited her to hike with me - rain or shine.

I decided to revisit a trail that followed SW Washington's lovely Lewis River.  I'd hiked here a couple of years ago, and remembered it was a great place to go during the winter months.

Pretty red house along the Lewis River

Enroute to the trailhead, we came upon a backup of idling cars.  Turns out a recent accident had caused a road closure just a few miles short of our destination.  We were so close - I didn't want to abandon our plans now!  Luckily, thanks to Google maps, I was able to plot an alternate route via nearby country backroads.  After a wild detour through a few super-narrow lanes, we arrived safe and sound at the Hantwick Trailhead.  

Although the forecast for our chosen day looked mostly dry, raindrops greeted our arrival.  Not a problem - we'd packed our raincoats and my camera was safe and dry in its bag.

Catherine enjoying a view of the bridge

Our hike began with a wide, paved path that transitioned into gravel after a short distance.  This path followed an old railroad grade that had been converted into a pedestrian trail.  Not far from the parking area, we entered Moulton Falls Regional Park.  Catherine and I passed a couple of old logging ponds, one with a strategically-placed picnic table (which due to vandalism had sadly seen better days.)

The rain was falling pretty steadily from parking lot on and we both commented about the weatherman's inaccurate prediction.  However, despite the unexpected precip, we were still both happy to be outside. 

The classic view at Moulton Falls Regional Park

Soon our path began to parallel the south bank of the Lewis River.  At first heavy forest hid the river from view, but as we hiked further, gaps offered some peek-a-boo glimpses of its green waters.  I noticed several houses on the river's north banks.  What a great place to live!  I felt a bit envious of the homeowners - imagine seeing this lovely river view everyday.  My favorite home was one painted a vibrant shade of red.  It made the best photo op!

Pedestrian bridge close-up

After a little over 2 miles in distance, we came upon the scenic wooden pedestrian bridge spanning the Lewis River's East Fork.  Fortunately for us, the rain seemed to let up about that same time.  Catherine and I lingered on the bridge, taking in the gorgeous river views in each direction.  Then we headed downhill towards the official parking lot and picnic area.  I pointed Catherine to a section of the riverbank that was lined by large, flat rocks.  It was here visitors got the best view of the pedestrian bridge, framed by the mossy cliffs and lovely green water.  A great spot for a lunch break, we did just that - and then dawdled around taking copious amounts of photographs.

Yacolt Falls

Although I'd hiked around Moulton Falls Regional Park before, I'd never crossed the adjacent roadway to check out another nearby waterfall, named Yacolt Falls.  I suggested to Catherine we should try to find this cascade, and she was all for it.  With a rough map printed off the internet to guide us, we attempted to navigate our way.

Another view of this lovely cascade

We followed a very narrow, sketchy trail along a side creek.  (Later I learned it was called "Big Tree Creek")  It took us past a dilapidated picnic area and then steeply up a rocky slope.  The path was so narrow and overgrown, we were unsure if this was the right track.  Catherine and I were just about ready to turn around when I reached the top of the slope and spotted a lovely waterfall gushing between the creek's rocky shorelines.  Yahoo!  We'd found Yacolt Falls!

Moulton Falls - just a ripple in the river

Although not very tall, (28 feet total drop) Yacolt Falls was mighty scenic, its waters spreading across several basalt layers like a bridal train.  Walking down to the base, we discovered a pedestrian bridge spanning the river below the cascade.  However, access was blocked by a locked gate.  I later read this bridge is only open in summer months, allowing access from the opposite bank.  Apparently there was a road not far away, because while we were there two people appeared on the other side.

Whitewater action

After satisfying our Yacolt Falls curiosity, Catherine and I retraced our steps back to the Moulton Falls parking lot.  Wishing to check out Moulton Falls itself, we followed a short path down the riverbank to another large rocky shoreline.  After marveling at the beauty of Yacolt Falls, Moulton Falls was a bit of a disappointment.  With only a tiny 10 foot drop, this cascade looked more like an area of rapids in the Lewis River than a proper waterfall.  But I still had fun trying to capture the whitewater action tumbling through the rocks.

Downstream of the falls

Downstream of Moulton Falls, I admired the unique green-blue hue of the Lewis River.  At that moment, a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds and lit the water up.  Such a beautiful sight, I clicked my camera shutter like a madwoman.

Old mossy cedar tree

Making our way back along the southern river bank, I paused to admire an old, mossy cedar tree.  It was lit up wonderfully from the passing sunshine and this scene was duly recorded on my camera's memory card.

Great to get outside!

Although our day started out with a closed road and unexpected rainfall, my friend and I made the best of things and ended up having a fabulous time roaming around an absolutely gorgeous place.  Always wonderful to get outside anytime of the year!

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Crystal Mountain

The third stop on this winter's "IKON pass ski tour" was Crystal Mountain Resort, in the neighboring state of Washington.  After flying to our destinations the previous two ski junkets, I was happy this trip didn't require air travel - the resort was a relatively short four-hour drive from home.

Enjoying adult beverages at the bar

It was round three of the "Adventures of Kim and Linda."  Leaving on Valentine's Day, we abandoned our hubbies for this ski trip.  Taking a leisurely drive up Interstate 5 and then eastward through a few Seattle suburbs, we arrived at our destination by mid-afternoon.  After checking in to our very small (and expensive!) base area hotel room, Kim and I wandered across a large parking lot to check out Crystal Mountain's day lodge.  At the bar, we celebrated our safe arrival with a round of adult beverages.

Cute, alpine-themed buildings

The wind had picked up during the last leg of our drive and by the time we arrived at Crystal Mountain it was absolutely howling.  I felt sorry for the folks who were still out skiing!  With that wind it had to be absolutely bone-chilling cold.  Not long after sitting down in the bar, we began to notice snowflakes swirling in the air.  By the time we walked back across the parking lot to find dinner, the skies were dumping snow.

There wasn't much for dining options at Crystal Mountain's base area.  Kim and I had the choice of an expensive German-themed restaurant or a deli.  Naturally, we chose the lower-priced deli, but it still wasn't cheap.  We shared a mediocre plate of nachos and washed them down with $12 beers. (Yes, each!)  

This is what 10 inches of overnight snow looks like

The next day dawned to a thick coating of fluffy powder snow.  I was pleased to see that a whopping 10 inches had fallen overnight.  It completely covered my car, parked along the road outside our hotel.  I was giddy.  Can you say powder day?  

Like many of the Pacific NW ski resorts this season, lower than normal snowfall had plagued Crystal Mountain.  As a matter of fact, upon reading a few dire conditions reports from their website, Kim and I almost pulled the plug on this trip.  But being within the "7-day no refund" window on our hotel by the time we thought about cancelling forced us to carry on.  Now I was glad we did!

It had snowed every day Kim and I had been in Utah, and we joked that now we'd also brought the snow to Crystal Mountain.  (Maybe they need to pay us to come here more often!)

Can you say powder day?

Crystal Mountain's parking lots were strung along their long entrance road.  A shuttle bus picked up skiers from each lot and ferried them to the lodge.  However, the lot closest to the lodge didn't offer any such transportation.  Unfortunately for us, that's where our hotel was situated.  Reaching the lifts would require a long trek across this icy parking lot in our ski boots.  I considered moving my car into the first lot to make a shorter walk, but a nearby resort worker told us this area was reserved for paid parking.  Apparently people pay $2,000 to park here for the season!

Kim and I were both miffed that our hotel didn't offer any kind of skier transport (especially for the price we paid!)  Although I opted to brave the walk in my ski boots, Kim wisely decided to carry her boots and change at the lodge.  (I've often joked that walking across an icy parking lot wearing ski boots and carrying your ski equipment should be an Olympic sport.)

Yes, the snow was great!

Fortunately we both made the trip across the parking lot with zero mishaps.  Kim went into the lodge to change into her boots and rent a locker to store her shoes.  I was practically salivating at all the fresh powder snow, so Kim told me to go ahead and take a couple runs and she'd catch up.

I jumped on Crystal's gondola and it whisked me to the very top of the mountain.  Having skied here twice in 2017 and '18 I remembered where to go upon disembarking.  Skies were cloudy and a bit foggy so the wonderful views this place was known for were practically nil.  But the snow amount and quality more than made up for that.  Although the early-bird skiers had tracked up most of the slopes already, I started down a run and had a great time swishing through the fluffy goodness.

Clouds parting at the summit

I did have one minor mishap - approaching the chairlift base, the slope began to flatten.  Being in fairly deep snow, I wasn't going fast enough to cut through it and something tripped me up (I blame a "snow snake!")  Before I knew what was happening, my skis stopped abruptly but my body continued forward and I skidded face-first into the snow.

Ugh - not a good way to start the day!  I picked myself up, dusted the snow off my goggles and helmet, and scooted uphill to retrieve my poles.  Luckily, nothing seemed to be hurt except my pride.

The nearby mountains were gorgeous

Kim rode up the gondola and we reunited at the top.  After a run here, we headed for the "Forest Queen" chairlift and spent most of the morning making laps down its powder-filled slopes.

Although the two areas we skied that day seemed to have adequate snowpack, I noticed the lower part of the mountain was a different story.  Grass and bushes poked up from a scant snow layer.  The lifts in the bottom third of the resort weren't running at all - despite the previous night's snowfall, there still wasn't enough coverage to safely ski.  Low snow amounts seemed to have affected the skier traffic coming to the resort.  Due to lack of skiers, we encountered scaled back services throughout - only one mid-mountain lodge was open, and the base area had just one dining establishment serving food and drink.

Cold temperatures kept the snow in good shape

Another thing Kim and I observed at Crystal Mountain - people were rude.  We were shuffling through the lift line when two young men on snowboards barged through, cutting in front of us so they could ride up with their buddies, without so much as an "excuse me."  And several times when Kim and I would stop at the side of a run to take a quick break (which is where you are supposed to stop instead of the middle of a run), skiers and boarders would fly by at high rates of speed, often missing us by inches.  The only ski patrol I saw the entire two days we skied at Crystal was a group working on someone who'd crashed and injured themselves.  Not sure if the resort cut back on ski patrol too?  Kim and I have skied at many different resorts, and we'd never witnessed such bad behavior as we did here.

Sunny skies the next day meant Mt. Rainier views

By midafternoon we both began to tire and the snow started to transform into bumpy moguls from all the skier traffic.  Moguls wear out already tired legs, so Kim and I decided to call it a day.  Following the designated run with adequate snow coverage all the way to the base got us safely back.  We ate a very early dinner in the day lodge and then spent the rest of the evening in our hotel room, watching the one channel we could get on our TV, and reading (me) or doing puzzles (Kim).  There wasn't much else to do unless you wanted to hang out in the dingy bar next to the deli (which we did not care to revisit.)

Another great mountain capture

The next morning dawned with clear skies.  Hooray - no visibility problems!  Kim and I traveled to the mountaintop once again because I wanted her to see the killer view of Mt. Rainier from the gondola's upper terminal.  And yes, it was a beautiful panorama of snowy peaks.  Mt. Rainier looked spectacular decked out in her finest white.  Unfortunately, the wind was absolutely howling across the ridge, blowing snow into our faces, so I stopped just long enough to snap two photos, before quickly descending to a lower, more wind-protected elevation.

The slopes were nicely groomed

Temperatures stayed cold enough overnight to preserve that the nice fluffy powder snow we'd enjoyed the day before.  Resort workers had transformed yesterday's bumpy surfaces into smooth groomed corduroy.  No moguls today!  It was easy skiing all morning, as we zipped effortlessly downhill.  The skies were bright blue, and the scenery spectacular.

Gotta get a ski selfie!

Today happened to be Friday.  Although we enjoyed short lift lines to begin with, it didn't last.  Word of new snow and people getting a jump on the weekend brought out the masses, and soon Kim and I found ourselves standing in long lines.  The slopes were also getting really crowded.  I don't care for lots of people flying by while I'm trying to ski.  I'm always afraid someone will plow into me.  Tired of fighting crowds, and knowing we had a long drive ahead, Kim and I decided to quit at noon and head home.

The weather was so nice, I didn't want to leave!

Crystal Mountain Resort got mixed reviews from both Kim and I.  Although it had lots of great - and very steep - terrain, a lot of the slopes weren't open due to lack of snow.  And a lot of the dining areas weren't open either.   It was like they'd already given up on the season.  The base area lodging didn't impress us at all.  Our room was old, worn, and extremely tiny - not worth the big bucks we spent.  It didn't even have a microwave oven, so we had to eat all our meals at the resort, which was expensive.  Breakfast options were extremely limited, and dinner wasn't much better.  We had to walk a far distance to get to the lifts, with no shuttle option.  And we found many of the people who recreate here rude, with no visible ski patrol presence to keep folks in line.

So, although we got to use our IKON passes again on a nearby Pacific NW resort, I doubt we'll return anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Blue Heron Day

Warning - if you're squeamish about photos of birds eating things or of snakes, you may want to skip over the first three images.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit a nearby nature preserve called Fernhill Wetlands.  Although this place is a wastewater facility for a nearby town, it has set aside several acres of wetlands for natural treatment.  These ponds and swamps attract lots of wildlife, especially birds.  It's a popular place for birders and wildlife photographers, like myself.

I've visited Fernhill for quite a few years, and my favorite time to visit is in the spring months, when migratory birds pass through and several other species hang around to rear their young.  

A great blue heron eating a snake

Upon my arrival, I'd no sooner started down the main path from the parking lot when I spotted a great blue heron (GBH) up ahead that had just caught a garter snake.  What a great start to my walk!  I got lots of good photo ops of the heron with the snake in his beak.  The GBH shook the poor reptile many times before finally gulping him down.

A little while later I came upon another snake-eating heron

After swallowing his lunch, the GBH flew away.  But I caught up with him a short time later on another path.  Again, he flew away.  Then I took a side trail to a pond overlook.  There, sitting in the water was another GBH (not sure if it was the same one) with a snake in his bill.  Another photography session ensued, until that snake went down the hatch.

Down the hatch!

I came out on one of the main paths, and there was another heron!  As he walked away, I watched him pick up another garter snake.  This one got quickly consumed, so I had to act fast.  But I managed to get a few shots of this guy too.  (I was beginning to think it was "Blue heron snake eating day.")

This GBH was just sitting in the water

The main path at Fernhill travels around a large lake.  As I was rounding the far side of this water body, another man traveling in the opposite direction struck up a conversation.  Seeing my camera with its large zoom lens always attracts attention, and often people will point out interesting wildlife sightings to me.  This man said he'd seen a GBH in the water just ahead that was acting strangely.  He told me to check it out.  Of course, I headed straight over to where he pointed.

Then he suddenly dived in

I came upon a GBH partially in the water.  Normally when these birds are hunting, they will stand stock still watching for prey with only their feet and legs are in the water.  This one had half his body submerged.  It appeared very odd.

And came back out

Then suddenly the bird dived head-first into the lake.  After a few seconds, the GBH popped back up in a huge spray of water.  It shook itself and fluffed its feathers.

Another dunking

At first, I though the GBH was hunting for fish.  But it kept diving and rising back up out of the water without anything in its bill.

I've never seen a GBH taking a bath before

After several iterations of this dive-and-resurface I realized the GBH was taking a bath.

Fluffing his feathers

I've seen lots of smaller birds splash around in puddles or birdbaths, but I'd never seen a GBH do anything like this.  It was really fun to watch this guy splash and fluff his feathers.  And the heron didn't seem to mind me taking photos.  Which was a good thing, as I clicked my shutter several dozen times.

A very soggy GBH

The GBH was backlit by the sun, so capturing these images was a bit tricky.  I had to overexpose the bird itself, and employ a quite bit of editing to get these photos.  But I really liked how they all turned out.  

I also caught this great egret in flight

To end the day, I was getting ready to leave when I spotted a white object at a nearby pond.  A great egret!  Hustling over, I arrived just in time to click a few shots of this lovely bird.  Then another man with a camera walked over and startled the bird.  But my camera was ready.  As the egret flew away I captured him in flight.  The man apologized for scaring the bird, but I told him it was okay because I'd gotten some great action shots.

Sorry I've gone so long between postings!  Life has been busy and blogging hasn't been high on the list lately.  But I'll get back to recapping a couple more ski trips and a hike or two.  Stay tuned!