Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ladies Backcountry Ski Day

After hiking up the Tilly Jane Ski trail one hot day last summer, I was itching for a colder, snowier revisit.  Clear skies were forecast MLK weekend so I rounded up my adventure buddies Young and Catherine for a ladies ski day.

My partners in crime!

Although Young and I are long time backcountry ski buddies, this would be a totally new experience for Catherine.  The short 3-mile trek to Tilly Jane cabin provided a perfect first-timer introduction to the world of backcountry skiing.

Sliding uphill

Arriving at the parking area, it took several minutes for the three of us to don appropriate clothing, buckle up boots, locate skis and poles, and make sure our backpacks contained the essentials.  But finally, gear together, my friends and I approached the forested lower trail.

Lovely snowy forest

The first half mile of the Tilly Jane Trail wound through a fir forest.  An earlier snowstorm had dumped a foot of fluffy white.  Drooping tree branches, thickly laden with snow, made the woods look positively magical.  My friends and I oohed and aahed as we slid along, with me opting for several  photo breaks.

Catherine admires the scenery

Sporting true backcountry skis with climbing skins, Young and I slid uphill with ease.  Catherine, however, had only cross country skis with patterned bottoms and no skins.  Steep climbs were much more challenging, but Catherine managed to successfully side-step up the first few little hills.

Catherine did great despite not having climbing skins

We came upon the first trail junction, with it's multiple signs, each showing different distances, degrees of difficulty, and spellings of "Tilley" Jane.

Many signs, different distances

From this junction, the uphill path became much steeper, and the packed snow track more slippery.  Deciding enough was enough, Catherine removed her skis and strapped them to her backpack.  She'd hoof it on foot from here.

Time to carry the skis!

With packed snow providing a firm base, Catherine trotted quickly ahead of Young and I (jokingly teasing as we labored uphill). 

Gliding through the burn zone

But the forest quickly cleared, and we entered the burn zone from the 2008 Gnarl Ridge fire.  Although the forests of bleak, gray trees were sobering, the bright side was this fire opened up fantastic view corridors, giving hikers glimpses of the adjacent foothills and mountain peaks. Best of all, the fire's aftermath left front-row, in-your-face views of Mt Hood the entire way.

Mt Hood makes an appearance

It was a brisk climb, alternating from moderately to super-steep.  Climbing each rise, Young and I would proclaim this hill to be the one where the Tilly Jane cabin was located.  But we'd reach the summit, only to find more snowy forest stretching ahead.  (Are we there yet?)

Spectacular scenery!

The Tilly Jane cabin is available for overnight group rentals.  As my friends and I trudged uphill, we met a group of Boy Scouts heading down, who'd spent the previous night at the cabin.  A couple of the boys were sliding down the trail in plastic sleds.  The group looked like they'd all had a great time.  What fun memories for these young men!

Clouds hugging the adjacent hills

The clear, sunny weather was nearly perfect for our hike/ski.  A strong wind higher up had us donning our jackets again, but uphill movement kept my friends and I toasty warm.  Now if only we could find that darned cabin.....

Catherine taking it in

Nearing lunchtime, everyone was getting tired and hangry.  Just when I thought we'd never see the Tilly Jane cabin, we topped the final hill, and there it was!

Finally the cabin!

Yahoo!  A sight for sore eyes!  After posing for a couple of group victory photos (achieved by setting my camera's timer and balancing it on my backpack), it was time for some rest and nourishment.

Victory photo at Tilly Jane cabin

Catherine showed us a cool way to rest your back while sitting in the snow.  Just cross your skis and plant the ends in the snow!  She really knows how to relax in style.

Catherine relaxes in style

We chose a spot in the sun, donned warm layers, and enjoyed our lunch break.  Sandwiches, hot tea, and ginger cookies were on the menu.

Panoramic break spot

With some incredible panoramic views from our lunch spot.

Our lunchtime view

The Tilly Jane Trail is a popular ski and snowshoe winter hike, and while we ate, my friends and I watched several people (and cute dogs) ascend this final hill to the cabin.

Watching the hikers and dogs approach

Then, with food in our tummies, it was time for the moment we'd all been waiting for.  The ski down!

Time to ski downhill!

All the way up I'd been longingly eyeing the fluffy new-fallen snow in the trees beside our trail.  Was it as light and powdery as it looked?  We were about to find out.

Catherine perfects her snowplow

Oh yeah!  The snow was divine.  Making tracks through the trees, Young, Catherine, and I whooped and hollered as we zipped down the first hill.

Young looking for untracked pow

Although Catherine was a bit tentative at first, she soon got into the rhythm of things and did great.  The only mishap was mine - after flying down a hill I hit a deep patch of fluff and promptly face-planted.  Luckily it was a soft landing, and there were no witnesses to my klutziness.  But getting back up necessitated taking off skis and backpack (I felt like a turtle, stuck on my back!).

Sunshine in the forest

Not only was the snow perfect for skiing, afternoon light illuminated the far hills, and the scenery was just as awesome as our trek up.  Conditions couldn't have been more perfect.

Scenery break

Reaching the last half mile back in the forest, our trail became a slippery tread of packed snow, forcing a prodigious use of edges and our best survival skiing skills.  Catherine, on cross country skis which are harder to control, cried uncle first, opting to continue on foot.  I finally did the same about a quarter mile from the trailhead.  Young was the only die-hard skier in our group to make it the entire way back on her boards.

Finding fresh tracks through the trees

Back at my car, poor Catherine was having a hard time releasing the buckles on her ski boots.  Brand new last year, she'd only used them a couple of times.  Young and I tried to help, but only succeeded in ratcheting them tighter.  Not wanting to shut off our friend's circulation, we abandoned our release efforts.  Catherine cheerfully joked she'd just have to wear her boots home.  Good thing I was driving!

More powder turns

On the drive home, once we had cell service, Catherine searched google for a video that would offer instructions about loosening her boots (a great idea I would've never thought of).  But the only video  she could find was in French.  Although it made for some entertaining moments, the video wasn't much help.  Then I suggested Catherine call the store where she bought her boots.  After a funny and somewhat embarrassing conversation (Catherine was such a good sport about it all) she got the needed advice, and freed her feet.  Hallelujah! 

Young zips past the signpost

A great day to be outside in the beautiful, snowy Mt Hood National Forest.  Lots of smiles and laughter with my friends.  Thanks Young and Catherine for such wonderful company!

Hike number 3 of 52 is in the books!  (Backcountry skiing counts too)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Hike Through the Burn Zone

Regular blog readers will remember my posts about the Eagle Creek Fire, which devastated the Columbia River Gorge in September of 2017.  (For more info see this Wikipedia Link).  Many of my favorite hiking trails in the fire's path sustained severe damage and had to be closed.  However, due to some hard work from Forest Service crews and many volunteer organizations, these trails have been slowly reopening.

Fire aftermath

One of the first trails to be opened to the public was the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Cascade Locks south.  Although it had been cleared and deemed safe for access since June 2018, I chose a rainy mid-January day to finally check things out.

PCT trailhead at Cascade Locks

Only a short distance from the start of the Eagle Creek fire, the small town of Cascade Locks was greatly impacted.  With the fire literally licking at it's outskirts, a large portion of of this sleepy burg was evacuated for weeks.  Although thankfully no homes or businesses burned, the forest surrounding Cascade Locks took a direct hit.

Lots of brown and black

I began my reconnaissance at the Cascade Locks PCT trailhead adjacent to the famous Bridge of the Gods.  After darting across the busy road leading to this bridge I followed the trail as it ducked under I-84 and climbed a local road to the trail's "official" beginning.

Glittering raindrops

The fire damage started almost immediately.  Blackened trunks lined the trail, with countless downed trees littering the forest floor.  Many homes bordered this wooded area, and I was stunned to see how close the fire had come to their back doors.

A few spots of green

Lucky for me, the rain let up soon after I started my journey.  But the damp weather created a thick fog that hung in the forest.  With a backdrop of black, ghostly trees it created a downright spooky environment.

Foggy, ghostly forest

After winding through grove after grove of dead, black tree trunks, I started seeing small patches of white on the forest floor.  Snow!  Remnants of the last bout of freezing precip it created a tiny bit of beauty in an otherwise dismal scene.

A bit of snow

Despite the charred forest, I managed to find a bit of beauty in the raindrop-spangled branches drooping over my trail.

Raindrops sparkle from bare brances

And I was happy to find a few moss-covered trees that were somehow spared from the flames.

Not all the moss got burned

The untouched portions of this forest were wearing their best mossy winter green.

Snow and moss

Loved this tree's mossy branches

However as I approached the turn off to Dry Creek Falls I came upon a section of forest totally destroyed by the fire.  Truly heartbreaking to see!

Utter devastation

The PCT intersected with a wide road.  A quarter mile romp up this road led hikers to Dry Creek Falls.

Dry Creek Falls

This lovely cascade plunges 74 feet from an impressive basalt cliff into the creek below.  With the Columbia River Gorge boasting so many beautiful waterfalls, Dry Creek Falls often gets overlooked.

Proof I was there

I was lucky that day and had the area to myself for nearly an entire half hour.  Enough time to take lots of photos (and a couple selfies to prove I was there). 

Dry Creek near the PCT

When another party showed up, I took this as my cue to move on.  Since it's only two miles to Dry Creek Falls from Cascade Locks, I decided to continue southward on the PCT.  The Pinnacles, an unusual rock formation, was another two-ish miles away.

More blackened forest

Returning to the PCT from Dry Creek Falls side trail, I crossed the creek on a nice wooden bridge (which was somehow spared from the fire).  However, it didn't take long before I was back in the burn zone, trekking through more forests of blackened tree trunks.

Toasted tree roots

One poor tree had it's roots totally exposed and burned.

Lone tree with a black base

Many trees only had their bases burned.  Not sure if they'll survive or not.

Finally the Pinnacles!

Having hiked to the Pinnacles once before, I thought they were only a short distance away.  But the "short distance" seemed to take forever to reach.  About the time I was seriously considering turning around, I spotted their rocky peaks between the trees.

Green trail

These tall moss-covered rock formations are a unique landmark.  I was happy to see healthy, green forest surrounding the area.

The Pinnacles close up

After a quick snack break, I headed back, retracing my steps through the forest (or what was left of it).  I found a few dented PCT trail markers that had survived the inferno. 

Surviving PCT marker

Rain was threatening again, so I made haste back to the trailhead.  Not many photo breaks on the return trip, but I'd pretty well documented things with my first pass.

PCT bridge over Dry Creek

It was a great day to be out in the woods!  Although the fire damage was sobering, I saw signs of recovery, from ferns poking up through the underbrush to moss beginning to re-coat tree trunks.

Hike no 2 done!  Nine miles through the always scenic Columbia River Gorge.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ski Bus Daze

One of the best things about winter is the return of my midweek ski bus.  In the months of January and February I play hooky from work every Thursday and join my friends for a day of fun and revelry on our local ski hill.

The gang's all  here!

Sadly, due to declining ridership, this year my bus only got scheduled for 6 weeks instead of 8.  Work and other commitments took up two of those remaining 6 days.  BUT....I had four great Thursdays to ski, and ski I did!

Men in red - almost!

For several years now I've skied with my "men in red" buddies from the Vancouver bus.  However, this year the tradition was broken when Brian showed up with a new jacket, and it wasn't red.  (Oh no!  How was I gonna locate my friends on the slopes now??)  I gave Brian a hard time for not clearing his outwear purchase with me first.

"There's the mountain!"

Ski bus day one we arrived to wonderful, snowy slopes.  Although skies began overcast, by afternoon Mt Hood decided to emerge from the clouds and show off her latest coat of white.

Hood looking quite lovely

I never tire of this mountain view.

Sunshine and fog

Although the afternoon was getting late, we all agreed to try one final run from the Vista chair.  We
hadn't skied there all day, and wanted to at least check it out once (our group's motto:  "How bad could it be?")

Clear skies on Vista

We arrived to crystal clear skies and phenomenal mountain views.  Wow!  No one wanted to quit.

Icy trees

But...our buses were waiting.  So my friends and I made one final long slow run to the lodge, savoring every minute.  A great way to end the first day!

Smiles on top of Stadium

Week two, another beautiful blue-sky day.  My buddies and I noticed that the Stadium run was nicely groomed.  Usually this trail is closed for ski racing, especially on weekends.  But today it was wide open.  Of course we had to take advantage of the perfect corduroy!


And, oh my was it ever nice!  My friends and I must've made at least a half dozen runs.

Soaking in the sun

Remembering the last week's fantastic views, it was agreed we had to return to the trails off  Vista chair.

Glen rates the day

Nothing had changed, and that was A-ok.

"Where to?"

Vista being one of the resort's higher chairlifts, boasted some of the best views.  I couldn't pass up the photo ops.

Glen skiing by Hood

Since I'm usually too busy skiing, most of my photos are of my friends standing around.  So today I resolved to grab a few images of my buddies in motion.  Gotta prove that, yes, we actually do ski!

There goes Brian!

My little pocket point-and-shoot camera isn't very fast on the shutter, but I did manage to get an action photo of Brian that I really liked.

Avalanche doggie

I even captured a ski patroller coming down the hill with one of the resort's avalanche dogs.

Not sure what the "Vista Experience" is supposed to be

Glen noticed all of the trail signs up here had a yellow "Vista Experience" tag on the bottom.  None of us had a clue what that was supposed to mean.  Made for some funny conversations, though!

Goofy good times!

Sadly, ski bus season goes way too fast, and it's already come and gone.  But I've got a bunch of photos and lots of good memories from sunny days on the snow with my friends. 

Hey, guys it was a lot of fun - let's do it again next year!  (And Brian, get yourself a new red coat!)