Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cooper Spur Road

Ski mountaineering class finished in early March.  I thought that was the end of my chances to go backcountry skiing.  But another opportunity presented itself, thanks to my friends John and Young.  A couple of Saturdays ago, they invited me to join them skiing up the Cooper Spur Road.  Of course, I responded with a most enthusiastic YES!

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Snow-covered Cooper Spur Road

Cooper Spur Road is a narrow, winding Forest Service lane, that, in the summer, takes visitors up to the historic Cloud Cap Inn and Tilly Jane Cabins.  (See previous post here to read more about the historic Cloud Cap Inn and Tilly Jane area).  But this road is closed in the winter, and access is restricted to hardy souls on snowshoes or skis (well, and snowmobiles too).

Following the tracks up the road

The weather report was iffy for Saturday.  A storm was predicted to roll in midday, with winds and snow.  But we left Portland in warm temps, and encountered torrential rain while driving through the Gorge.  Uh-oh!  Maybe today wasn't going to be good for skiing.

But entering the town of Hood River, the sky began to clear.  Young spotted a rainbow arching over the Columbia River.  The second time in two weeks I'd seen a rainbow on my way to go skiing!  I told my companions it was a good omen.

Heading cross-country into the forest

We arrived at the Sno-Park near the Cooper Spur Ski area.  It was familiar territory, as our class began the Tilly Jane tour here a month ago.  This time, instead of following the trail, our plan was to ski up the snow-covered road.  Our destination, however, remained the same.  The goal was to reach the Cloud Cap Inn.

My great skiing companions

Weather was warm from the get-go.  We didn't get too far up the road before stripping down to base layers.  The above-freezing temps meant that the snow was already soft.  That was fine with me.  I don't like skiing on ice ever - even if I'm skiing uphill with climbing skins. 

Treewells in the burned-out forest

About two miles up the road, John whipped out his map and gps, and decided we should short-cut into the woods.  The Cooper Spur road is very windy, and it was much shorter and more direct to ski cross-country through the forest.  Young wasn't too sure about this.  She was afraid of getting lost.  But John assured her there was no way this would happen.  We had maps, compass, and two gps units.  Plus, our route would cross the road many times, so there was always an bailout point.

A single skiers track through the ghost forest

So off we went, making our own tracks through the snow.  The forest in this area was scorched in a 2008 fire, and the blackened, dead trees made for a scenic, if not slightly eerie route.

Lunchtime!  PB&J never tasted so good.

Happily, the snow was soft and easy to ski through.  John, Young, and I eyed the slopes we were ascending, already plotting our trip down.  If the temps held, we'd be rewarded with some sweet corn snow for our descent.

Young enjoys some hot tea

We made frequent rest, photo, and navigation breaks.  John was teaching Young how to use a map and compass and included me in the lessons.  I appreciated the instruction - this is one skill I'd like to get better at. 

Great photo of Young and John

The weather cooperated big time.  The temperatures stayed pleasantly warm, the skies partly cloudy, the wind nonexistent.  Considering the forecast, we couldn't believe our luck.

The skiing trio

Finally John skied up a steep slope.  Although his gps said we were less than a half mile from Cloud Cap, our watches read 12:30, and our tummies said lunch was past-due.  So we decided to take a lunch break, and settled down on the side of the hill amongst the ghost forest.  My hot tea and PB&J bagel never tasted so good!


The sun even came out during lunch!

Once we had food in our systems, it was decision time.  Did we continue on uphill to Cloud Cap Inn, or was it time to take off the skins and ski back down?  The weather was starting to change, and a fog bank rolling in.  The temps seemed to be dropping slightly, and we didn't want the nice soft snow to turn icy before we could get down.  So the consensus was to turn around and head for the trailhead.

Nice views on the ski down

All morning while huffing and puffing up the slope, I'd looked forward to effortlessly sliding back down through the trees.  I'd hungrily eyed the soft snow, anticipating the first sweet turns.  But my return trip didn't turn out as I'd imagined.

I manage a few tele-turns

I was skiing with a new, larger backpack.  I don't know if it was the bigger pack throwing off my balance, or fatigue from the four-mile run I'd done the night before.  Or maybe the tele-gods deserted me.  Whatever the reason, I began to have a heck of a time making turns in the snow.

John flying through the snow

I made frequent falls.  Getting up started to become extremely difficult and taxing.  My backpack acted like a anchor, tipping me backward, and making it hard to stand back up.  I felt like a turtle that got flipped on its back.

Young takes off through the forest

At first, I made jokes about my crashes.  I told my companions: "Help I've fallen and I can't get up!"

I fall for the umpteenth time

But after wiping out over a dozen times, I lost my cool.  After unsuccessfully struggling to right myself, I had a meltdown right there in the forest, hollering out a bunch of choice cuss words (that I hardly ever say).  It probably didn't help that John had my camera at the time and captured me sprawled out in the snow.

John's wackiness cheers me up

But John and Young, being the good PATIENT friends that they are, came to my aid and put up with my little hissy fit.  Young helped me onto my feet and John offered to take some of the weight in my pack.  John stared acting goofy, and got me laughing again.

I actually stayed upright this time

After blowing off some steam, I felt better.  And after that, things improved.  I managed to stay upright the rest of the way to the road, and even got a couple more good tele-turns through the soft snow, which was beginning to get a tiny bit crusty.

Here comes Young!

Navigation back to the road was a breeze.  We just followed our tracks through the woods.  I didn't take long and my group reached the point where we'd began our forest traverse.  An easy two mile slide down the road was all that remained.

I'm havin' fun now

Higher up, I'd noticed the clouds and fog moving in and getting thicker.  A few snowflakes occasionally drifted through the trees.  But once we reached John's truck, raindrops began to dot the ground.  What perfect timing!  We'd managed to make it to the trailhead before the precip started to fall. 

We earned these beers!

Now there was only one thing left to do.  Time to head to the brewpub for some well-earned beers!  After a good day's backcountry ski tour, nothing tastes better.

Aside from the minor frustrations with my downhill trip, I still had a great time.  A fantastic day to be out in the woods!


  1. Beautiful! I am not a good skier either, but I can do it if I go really slow. Speed scares me! Looks like you had a fun day!

  2. I don't ski since the speed scares me, but I have always wanted to try cross country skiing. Your trip looks like so much fun and the pictures are amazing!

  3. Way to persevere! Backcountry (tele)skiing is hard, especially in the Cascades. I like that you keep trying! Keep it up! From, the suckiest-but-also-trying telemark skier ever

  4. Great report from what looks like a beautiful area. All those burned down trees make the place look very ghostly, in a nice way.

  5. I always enjoy your posts - full of good friends and good times!


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