Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The White Room

Another weekend, another ski tour with John and Young. It's getting to be routine.  This time, our adventure took us to Timberline Ski area for a self-propelled trip along the Palmer Lift.

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

Well, the day started out with partial blue skies

Our day started out partly cloudy, with some sun and blue sky teasing us.  The top of Hood peeped in and out of the clouds.  John said he'd heard things were supposed to clear up later in the morning. 

Beautiful untouched snow

Snow had been falling for several days up on Hood, and we were happy to see the adjacent slopes draped in a thick white coating.  It was totally untouched and unbelievably beautiful.

Taking turns skiing across a steeper slope

But John, Young and I couldn't resist making tracks through this perfect whiteness.  We began our tour with a climb up a steep powdery knoll right off the end of the climber's parking lot.  The slope was a little steep, so as an avalanche precaution, we crossed one at a time.

Our last small ray of sunshine

On top of the ridge, our views opened up.  We could see the adjacent snow-covered  hills, and low clouds hugging their tops.  But we could also see darker clouds and fog moving in. 

Single track through the white plain

John continued to believe things were supposed to clear up, and reminded us of this.  And then, it began to snow.  The higher we climbed, the stronger the wind, and the heavier the snowfall.  I was beginning to wonder where John heard his weather report.

The snow begins to fall

It wasn't like we were skiing in the wilderness. We were adjacent to a ski resort. Our goal was to ski from Timberline Lodge up to the top of the Palmer, the highest chairlift at Timberline Ski area. Our first leg paralleled the Magic Mile lift on a snowcat track, Timberline's designated uphill route. This snow road provided nice views of the historic lodge.

John skiing through the trees

Skiers and boarders whipped by on the adjacent runs of the Magic Mile.  Some snow-riders stared at us fools, trudging UPHILL.  Young and I laughed when John commented "they must think we're crazy!"

John and Young skinning up the cat track

Even though we were working hard skiing uphill, the strong wind kept our body temps from overheating. All three of us pulled our hoods up over our heads to protect faces from the icy blast. This time, I didn't remove any clothing layers during the climb.

Rest break (photo by Young)

Looking uphill, we could make out the outlines of the Magic Mile and Palmer lift buildings through the gathering white fog. Conditions didn't look very good up there. There wasn't any blue sky or sunshine anywhere to be found.  Hmmmm....... John, are you sure you got today's weather report?

The Mile and Palmer Lifts shrouded in white

After a long, tiring climb, the cat track we were following led us to the top of the Magic Mile. We took the opportunity and had a quick water and snack break. A very friendly ski patroller stationed at the top asked our destination, and gave a weather and conditions report. The guy said there was a storm coming in bringing more snow - a totally different forecast than John had heard. Looking at the current windy, snowy weather I tended to believe the patroller. Sorry John, no blue sky today!

I'm enjoying my chocolate (photo by Young)

At Timberline Ski area, the Palmer Lift begins at the top of the Magic Mile. The Palmer is the highest lift on Mt. Hood, reaching an elevation of 8,540 feet. It's located on a  treeless, exposed side of the mountain, and due to severe wind and visibility, is rarely open in the winter. This lift gets used mainly for spring and summer skiing, when conditions are much milder. Due to weeks of crummy weather, the Palmer hadn't been in use for awhile, as evidenced by it's iced-encrusted cables.

Snow and fog envelop the Palmer Lift towers

Above the Mile, visibility became very limited. We used the Palmer's iced-over lift towers as guideposts to navigate our way up. Every once and awhile a skier or boarder who'd already reached the top would materialize out of the fog and zip by.

The ice-crusted cables of the Palmer Lift

A lot of ski movies talk about entering the "white room" - a euphemism for riding deep powder or skiing in a storm.  My companions and I got totally enveloped in a thick, foggy cloud.  All I could see was the color white.  With the howling winds and swirling snow, getting heavier by the minute, I began to feel as though we'd entered our own white room (cue that Eric Clapton song!)

Visibility is getting worse

Two towers beyond the Palmer's midway unloading building, John halted our group and exclaimed "I can't see sh**!"  The conditions had deteriorated so much that we couldn't see a thing but white.  It was an unanimous decision to bag our goal.  Time to take off the skins, and try to make our way down.

Lunch break at the midway unloading building

It was an extremely slow return trip.  We alternated between hitting icy, blown-off areas, and deep snowdrifts full of fluffy powder (with a couple of small drop-offs thrown in just for fun).  And, thanks to the fog and blowing snow, we never knew the snow conditions until we were in them.  It was a true "skiing by Braille" experience.

Trying to pack up amidst the wind and snow (photo by Young)

But, oh the snow was so good!  It was the finest dry powder I've skied in a long time.  It's a rarity for Hood to get such light, fluffy snow.  I wished for some visibility.  It would've been so nice to be able to rip through this pow.

By the time we returned to the top of the Mile, conditions had improved.  Finally I could see farther than a foot in front of my face!  We continued our descent on the groomed run below the Mile.  But the slope was blown-off, and conditions weren't near as good as the untracked pow on Palmer's slopes.

Can you tell it's me under all these layers?

Time to go off-piste again!  John led us away from the groomed run, to some untouched fluff on the side of the cat track.  More fun ensued.  We skied down to the steep knoll we'd climbed first thing in the morning.  Our tracks were the only ones marring a perfect white slope.  John told me to go first.  I swooshed down that lovely powder slope, making graceful curving turns all the way. doesn't get any better than this!

Sorry, there's no photos of our wonderful trip down.  I was having way to much fun to stop and take pictures.  So you'll have to take my word for it, skiing down through that magical, lightweight snow was worth all the sweat and toil it took to reach the top.  I'd even endure a couple more hours in the "white room" to ski snow like that again!

Total stats for the day:  4 miles round-trip, 2000 feet elevation gain.  Three pairs of tired legs.  Too many powder turns to count.  And huge smiles on all our faces.

1 comment:

  1. Great photos - I could almost "feel" the snow. Sure wish we had gotten some of that here.


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