Thursday, April 8, 2021

Uphill from Timberline

To ski Mt Hood, it's all uphill from Timberline Lodge!

Amazing sunrise over Mt Hood

Well.....actually I'm not in good enough shape nor posses the skiing ability to summit 11,250 foot Mt Hood.  But I can ski up to the top lift at Timberline Ski Area, and that's a respectable 2,500 foot climb.

Sky color

The last Sunday in February I decided to do just that and invited my buddy Catherine to join me for the fun.  Catherine had recently purchased climbing skins for her cross country skis and wanted to try them out.

Hood peeping out of the clouds

Due to COVID, this year Timberline ski area limited crowds by closing their parking lots once they were full.  Rumor had it the lots filled fast on weekends, so I made Catherine get up extremely early and leave town at the ungodly hour of 5 am.  But the reward for our pre-dawn departure was witnessing an amazing sunrise over Mt Hood.

Illuminated cloud over Mt Hood

We arrived at Timberline so early we got a primo parking spot just steps from the day lodge.  Unfortunately, we also learned the hard way that the day lodge (where the bathrooms were located) didn't open until 7:30.  It was a long hour wait........

Timberline Lodge covered in snow

But Catherine and I busied ourselves with gear preparations (her) and second breakfast (me).  I also made a few treks over to the climber's parking lot, first to capture sunrise and then for some photos of the pretty post-dawn clouds over the mountain.

Ice-encased trees

But finally, gear prepped and bladders emptied, it was time to begin the day's journey!  I led Catherine to the beginning of Timberline's designated climber's route, beside majestic snow-covered Timberline Lodge.  After donning skis and backpacks I showed Catherine the finer points of shuffling uphill on climbing skins.

More white trees

For those who don't ski, uphill (aka backcountry) skiing has become wildly popular over the last few years.  Skiers attach pieces of heavy material to the underside of skis.  This material called "climbing skins" provides enough traction to enable uphill travel without sliding backwards.

Catherine trudging uphill

Most skiers use wide alpine-type skis for backcountry touring.  However, cross country skis also work.  Catherine had a pair of metal edged mountaineering Nordic skis and this was her first time using climbing skins.  Although her skis were much narrower she seemed to quickly get the hang of things.

Admiring the view

Today's weather was nothing short of spectacular.  The few sunrise clouds had drifted away leaving blue, sunny skies.  Snow had fallen the previous day combined with a bit of freezing rain, which left a sparkling winter wonderland.  Mt Hood gleamed in her white covering.  Nearby trees were coated with a thick layer of ice, their contorted shapes looking extremely artistic.  

Timberline Lodge seems sooo small now!

A few photos may have been taken by yours truly.......

Buddy photo 

I like to get creative with my selfies, and to get the above photo, I placed my camera on the ground, set the timer and then shuffled towards it.  I programmed my camera to take 5 shots, so it was fun to see the progressive images.

Lots of uphill skiers today

Unlike many ski resorts, Timberline allows uphill travel.  There are of course a few rules to follow, one being that uphill skiers need to stay off the groomed downhill ski trails.  Timberline has their snowcats plow a special road for climbers and uphill skiers.  The nice weather brought out many folks, most sliding uphill much faster than Catherine and I.

Step aside for the snowcat!

But we didn't mind in the least.  Catherine and I were having a grand time taking in the views.  Towards the south Mt Jefferson poked it's peak up above the clouds.  One of Timberline's snowcats came trucking up and then back down, forcing everyone to the side of the road.  You learn fast, the snowcat always has the right of way!

Catherine poses with Mt Jefferson

Although we'd originally planned to skin all the way up to the top of the Palmer, Timberline's highest lift, icy snow conditions made us reconsider.  That and Catherine was having traction problems.  Her narrow climbing skins didn't cover the entire ski bottom causing her to slip a bit.

Ice covered Silcox Hut

So our plans changed - we decided to turn around at the top of the Magic Mile lift, about one mile and 1000 feet up from Timberline Lodge.  I deemed this far enough for a first-timer.

Snowcat transporting people from the Silcox Hut

At the same elevation as the top of the Magic Mile is a small building called the Silcox Hut.  A rustic lodge built in 1939 by the WPA, this building originally housed the Magic Mile Chairlift's upper bullwheel.  This building was also intended as a warming hut and starting point for climbers.  After the Magic Mile chairlift was relocated in 1962, the lodge became abandoned and fell into disrepair.  Silcox Hut was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and an organization created to restore the lodge.  Present day it is rented out as an overnight facility to groups of up to 24 people and also used for day use activities such as weddings. 

Roof of Silcox Hut coated in ice

Catherine and I approached the ice-covered Silcox Hut.  Despite COVID, we were surprised to see a group of overnight guests exiting and boarding a waiting snowcat (access to this lodge is either by human power or snowcat).  

At 6,950 feet this wide open, above-treeline portion of Mt Hood sees lots of extreme weather.  It was evidenced by the thick coating of ice and wind-packed snow on the building.  Sure made for some cool photo ops!

Magic Mile and Palmer Lift houses

Our final leg of the day's journey took Catherine and I over to the top of the Magic Mile Lift and bottom of the Palmer Lift.  Both lift buildings stood silent, disabled by the previous day's snow and ice storm.  A thick layer of ice coated the lift towers and cables, which would take the ski area maintenance staff a couple of days to completely clear off.  

Ice encrusted Palmer ski lift

Now it was time to remove our climbing skins and ski back down!  

Catherine smiles as she removes her climbing skins

Since Timberline wasn't running the Magic Mile lift that day, the slopes hadn't been groomed.  So Catherine and I had to do our best "survival skiing" down a bumpy, icy snowcat track.  Although she had really skinny cross country skis, Catherine did great!  We both survived our very quick downhill trip.  (We spent about an hour and a half climbing up and a mere 20 minutes skiing back down.)

The ski down over a bumpy cat track

Yes, some folks will say that's a lot of work for only one downhill ski trip.  But I personally enjoy the uphill journey.  It's fun to take in the scenery at a slower pace.  I can have a good conversation and catch up with my friend.  Plus it's great exercise.

Another spectacular (uphill) day on Mt Hood!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Lucky Day at Mirror Lake

Of all the trails around Mt Hood, the hike to Mirror Lake is by far the busiest.  No matter the season, it's trailhead parking area is always full.  Online hiking forums commonly post multiple trip reports for this trail every week.

So why did in the world did I decide to snowshoe here one sunny Wednesday morning?

Snow covered bridge

Well, this trail is popular for a reason.  Easy access off the highway, a relatively short (2 mile one way) trek, and the reward of a lovely alpine lake with Mt Hood views are why the Mirror Lake trail gets so much love.  And that's precisely why I decided to make a visit.  

Little snowman on bridge also snow-covered

One Wednesday in late February the weather looked promising.  After overnight snowfall, sunny skies were predicted.  Perfect weather for a snowshoe trek to Mirror Lake!  Although I realized this forecast would bring out the masses, I decided to suck it up and go anyway.

Frosty forest

My rule for hiking on a busy trail - go early!  I did just that, arriving at the trailhead around 8 am.  Although not as early as I'd planned, I wasn't prepared for what awaited me at the parking lot.  I was the first vehicle - nobody else was there!  

First view of Mirror Lake

Stunned, I exited my car, looking around.  Did I miss something?  A sunny day with newfallen snow and I was the only person in the parking lot at 8 am?  Was there something wrong that I didn't know about?

My footprints were the only ones!

Not believing my good fortune, I quickly gathered my hiking stuff, strapped on my snowshoes, and headed for the trail.  Might as well get a jump on the other hikers, I reasoned.


A good 3 inches of snow had fallen the night before.  I got to make first tracks through an untouched canvas of new-fallen snow.  Although I worried that the trail would be hard to find with the snow cover, navigation turned out to be easy.  The snow underneath was packed down enough that I could make out a slight depression where the trail was located.  Also, I'd hiked this trail before, so the route was familiar.  And if all else failed, I had my trusty gps as backup.

Classic Mt Hood view from the lake

So off I went, through a forested winter wonderland.  The first mile of the trail wound through relatively flat woods, crossing a creek multiple times on sturdy wooden bridges.  The bridges were draped with a thick white blanket, snow piled high on the railings.  On one of the bridges someone had built a small snowman on the rail, which was now nearly unrecognizable under the previous night's accumulation.


For the second mile my path climbed steeply through snow-flocked trees.  Again, I was breaking trail the entire time, which was mostly fun, except for having to detour around a large downed tree.  It took a couple minutes of pondering the best route around this obstacle, and then climbing above and sliding over the tree trunk before returning to the trail.

Selfie fail

Although I made a few photo stops along the way, I kept them to a minimum.  I really wanted to be the first person at the lake - I had visions of awesome photos of the lake and adjacent woods with untracked snow as a backdrop.  I kept waiting for other hikers to pass me by, but I arrived at the lake without having seen a soul.

Ahh, that's much better!

Snow-covered Mirror Lake was so beautiful!  The surrounding forest and higher hills sparkled with untracked, powdery, newly-fallen snow.  The sky was a blinding bright blue.  And I had it all to myself.  I couldn't believe my luck!

Snow-flocked trees

It almost seemed a shame to stomp tracks through this virgin white canvas.  But the desire to explore overrode preservation.  From previous visits, I knew which side of the lake offered Mt Hood views.  Plowing through sparkly snowdrifts, I made my way there.

Snack break view

It was the photograph I'd dreamed of capturing.  Mt Hood framed by the snowy forests and surface of Mirror Lake.  After clicking several images, I sat myself down in the snow for a quick snack break.  

Hole in the lake's ice

Then it was time to get the official "selfie" for my blog's 2021 hiking page.  Propping the camera on my backpack, I set the timer and clumsily hustled to my chosen spot in front of Mt Hood.  However, the first attempt didn't quite go as planned.  In my haste to make it to my desired selfie spot, not only did I accidentally bump the camera, I also tripped over my snowshoes and landed on my back in the snow.  It did make for a funny photo (which I've included for comic relief).

Another shot of snowy trees

Snack devoured and selfie-taking finally accomplished, I shouldered my backpack and explored the trail around Mirror Lake.  The surrounding trees were covered in thick, frosty snow.  Mirror Lake appeared to be frozen over, except for one small hole of open water.  I'm not sure what caused it but the opening made for an interesting photograph.

Pristine snow

I must've spent at least an hour roaming around Mirror Lake's shoreline, exploring and snapping photos.  Although I initially planned on navigating the trail around the lake's shore, an area of deep snow and steep slopes made me decide to retrace my steps back the way I came.  

Hood beginning to cloud over

Making my way to the main trail, I stopped once more at the Mt Hood viewpoint.  By now, clouds were beginning to gather around the mountain's summit.  Once again I was glad for my early arrival.  Not only did I have the lake to myself, I also got great unobstructed views of Mt Hood.  It appeared clouds were now moving in to cover up the mountain.

One more cool snowdrift

Snapping one final photograph before leaving Mirror Lake, I ran into my first hiker of the day.  By now I was so used to solitude, the woman startled me.  Luckily I was just leaving - I'd had the lake to myself the entire time.  By then it was nearly 11 o'clock in the morning.  Starting back down the trail I couldn't believe it had taken that long before I'd encountered another hiker.

Sun shining through the forest

But......the rest of the world had finally awoken and made their way to the Mirror Lake trail.  On my way down, I ran into hiker after hiker.  My trail, just a single set of tracks on the way up, was now a well-packed rut in the fresh powdery snow.  Returning to the fallen tree, I was amused to see that everyone had followed my detour - nobody had thought to try an alternate route.

Snow-plastered tree trunk

The nearer I got to the trailhead, the more people I encountered.  I think I counted at least 40 hikers (and their dogs) in the final mile.  It was just one conga-line after another.  Arriving back at the parking lot, I found it nearly at capacity.  Definitely time to get the heck out of there!

Snowy happiness!

I still can't believe I hiked one of the most popular trails on Mt Hood on a good weather day and didn't see a soul for nearly three hours.  It was definitely my lucky day.  

(I should've stopped and bought a lottery ticket on the way home!)  

Friday, March 26, 2021

My Favorite Beach Town, Bandon

The title says it all.  Bandon-by-the-Sea with it's gorgeous beaches and charming downtown has stolen my heart.  

Light-rimmed tidepool and the Wizard's Hat

I try to visit this favorite coastal town every year.  However, COVID thwarted last year's travel plans so I was overdue.  After spending a couple of days at Shore Acres State Park, a short drive south down Hwy 101 brought me back to Bandon once again.  It was like coming home to an old friend.

Sunburst as the sun begins to drop

After checking into my yurt at nearby Bullards Beach State Park, I grabbed my camera gear and headed for the beach.  Capturing sunset was on the agenda.

Cloud reflections in beach puddle

Bandon boasts a shoreline of absolutely gorgeous beaches featuring interesting tall rock columns called seastacks.  My favorite is a rock nicknamed the "Wizards Hat."  

Pink clouds!

When planning a sunset shoot, I always try to find a good foreground subject.  For tonight's subject I chose the Wizard's Hat.  

Red shaft of light

While waiting for the sun to drop, I busied myself and my camera capturing reflections and light on nearby tidepools.

Red skies 

Sunset comes quickly in the winter, and before I knew it the sun began sinking into a low cloud layer hovering near the water.  I clicked the shutter furiously trying not to miss anything.

Seastack reflection

Once the sun dropped behind the cloud bank I thought sunset was done.  But then a few stray light rays escaped turning the adjacent clouds a beautiful shade of pink.  Then the light transitioned into a red hue.  One lone ray of red light broke through the clouds, creating a tall column in the sky.  It was an amazing sight!

Sky reflection in the wet beach sand

As the colors faded, I stayed put on the beach watching it all, not wanting to leave.  Before the skies went totally dark, a small bit of light remained glowing on the horizon.  One of my final shots captured these sky colors reflecting in the wet beach sand.

Sunrise on Bandon Beach

One the nice things about winter - early sunsets and late sunrises.  Sunrise wasn't until after 7 am, so that meant no early wake up alarm the following morning.  I arrived back at Bandon's beach at a reasonable time of 6:45 am.

Pink-hued sunrise

After the previous night's fantastic sunset, sunrise was sort of disappointing.  The eastern sky turned orange and there was a bit of pink on the western horizon.  But nothing too spectacular.  

Sea and colorful sky

Still, any day you can watch morning break over the ocean is a good day.

Seastacks at sunrise

I then turned my attention on the Coquille River Lighthouse.  Located on the banks of the Coquille River, Bandon's local lighthouse - named after the adjacent river - is an often-photographed landmark.

Coquille River Lighthouse view from across the river

The Coquille River Lighthouse is no longer in use.  After being decommissioned, it fell into disrepair.  However when the adjacent Bullards Beach State Park was created, Oregon State Parks assumed maintenance responsibility and it now functions as a tourist attraction.  A local group offers tours in summer months (which I assume have been paused due to COVID).

Coquille River Lighthouse

I discovered a great viewpoint of the lighthouse on the Coquille River's south side.  Then, I drove to the north side and got up close and personal with the lighthouse structure itself.

Lighthouse, up close and personal

The lighthouse is perched on the river's edge, adjacent to some slippery rocks.  I gingerly edged my way over the rocks to get the best view for my camera's lens.

Tall tower!

After my lighthouse photography session, I returned to Bandon's beachfront.  Although it was now high tide, I walked the narrow sand strip between the water and tall bank, capturing waves, or whatever else caught my eye.

Huge wave splash on Bandon Beach

I'd planned for two days at Bandon.  However, a huge ice storm was predicted to hit the Portland area the next day.  Reading the dire forecasts on my phone made me reconsider my plans.  Not wanting to drive through inclement weather, I cut my stay short, heading home that afternoon.  

Despite the early departure, it was great to be back in my fave Oregon coast town.  And now that I'm retired, I think my visits will become more frequent.