Monday, April 30, 2012

More Skiing Photos

I know what you're saying..... oh no, not more ski photos!  But right after I published the last blog post, Young emailed me a whole batch of photos she'd taken from the prior weekend's amazing trip up to Illumination Saddle.

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

John and I on our way up

They were such great photos, I was wishing I would've had them before posting that trip report.  Not only did Young get some fantastic shots - a lot of them were of me! 


Young and I mug for the camera

And, as you know, when you're the one behind the camera, you rarely get in the photographs.

Fixing my blistered heel

So I decided why not just do another post of Young's photos?   So  here is an "addendum" blog post to my Illumination Saddle trip. 


Walking back from taking some photos


Since you've already read the story, this time there will be few words, and many photos (I think most people just look at the images anyway!)

John and I enjoying the view

So relax and enjoy the rest of the pictures.

Oh yeah - I'm in my happy place!

Time to take off the skins!

Not sure what I was doing here - I'm contemplating something

And by the way, after describing the icicle-like snow that we skied through, one of my friends commented "Oh, you skied through some chandelier snow!"


Tele-turns in the shadow of Mt. Hood

Now that I think about it, that's exactly how this snow behaved.  As my skis sliced through the ice crystals, the particles made tinkling sounds, and cascaded down the slope like pieces of broken glass.  I've never seen anything quite like it!

Enjoying the perfect snow

Until next weekend!  :)


Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Beyond Palmer

About a month ago, my friends Young, John and I attempted to ski to the top of the Palmer Lift at Timberline Ski Area.  As you may recall from a previous post (which can be found here) we ran into a blinding snowstorm, and had to abort.

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

Good mornin' Mt Hood!

Well, last Saturday was redemption day.  The forecast called for clear skies and warm temps.  We couldn't have asked for more fantastic weather.  Perfect spring skiing conditions.  Time to give skinning up the Palmer another shot.

Lots of solar power today

The air was balmy from the very beginning.  Above-freezing temps meant no icy snow to traverse.  The snow was soft and forgiving from the very first step (or should I say, first slide?)

Starting our climb

There wasn't a cloud in the sky.  This meant panoramic views of the surrounding hills and valleys as we ascended our route.

Our destination in sight

Skinning up a steep slope is so much better when you can see where you're going!

Enjoying the sunshine

Even though skiing uphill is slow, tiring, and extremely difficult, I enjoyed our first 1000 feet of climbing.

The Magic Mile and Palmer lift houses

But things got tougher once we passed the top of the Magic Mile and the bottom of the Palmer Lift.  The slope became much steeper.  Let the slog begin!

Climber's tracks lead to the summit

And slog it was.  By that time, my body was beginning to tire, its fuel tank on low.  It was getting close to lunchtime, and I'd burned through breakfast long ago.  My hip flexor muscles were screaming, requiring frequent rest breaks.  And to top it off, I began to get hot spots on my heels from moving my feet up and down, propelling the skis forward.

My view skinning beside the Palmer

I stopped and taped up my right heel.  That didn't seem to do any good.  Then I remembered the heel risers on my bindings.  I'd never tried them before, but I was desperate.  Once I popped the risers up, my feet didn't have to sink all the way back down to my skis with every step.  Less motion meant less friction on my heels.  Instant relief!  I continued my slow shuffle up the slope, keeping the top of Palmer in my sights.

Looking waayyy back down to Young

Young's energy was also flagging.  We plodded along the designated climber track, adjacent to the groomed Palmer ski trail.  But Young and I were hardly alone.  The nice weather had brought out many backcountry skiers, all doing the slow shuffle up the mountain.  Of course, most of them were way faster than us!  One man was even accompanied by his dog on leash.  (I wonder what the dog did when he skied back down?)

All the cheaters who rode the lift up

And, for the first time this season, Timberline opened up the Palmer Lift that very same day.  Not only were we joined by a host of backcountry ski enthusiasts (and a few lone snowshoers and climbers) but we began to encounter skiers and boarders zipping down the groomed run beside us.  Some of these folks weren't content to stay on the corduroy, and instead chose to make their way down the ungroomed side, very close to our path.  It wasn't exactly the quiet, backcountry atmosphere I was expecting.

Close-up view of ice-crusted crater wall

After an extremely long, tiring climb, the top of the Palmer Lift came into view.  I spied John taking a rest with some of the other skiers.  He'd skied ahead, dug out his blister care kit, and was ready to attend to my sore feet.  "Dr. John" taped up my raw heels and then I dug out my lunch.  Boy was I famished.  PB & J never tasted so good!

Same wall with humans for scale

Young finally arrived at our lunch spot.  She was also mighty hungry, and we wolfed down our food while watching all the snow-riders get off the lift, pose for photos, and ski back down.  Our ski mountaineering class had an acronym for these folks - L.A.M.E. (Lift Assisted Mechanically Equipped).  My companions and I were feeling mighty superior.  No LAME skiing for us.  We earned our turns!

Contrail over Illumination Saddle

The entire trip up the Palmer's slopes, I'd been eyeing the nice, soft corn snow, gleefully anticipating a great ski back down.  I was almost disappointed when after lunch, John announced we were traveling yet higher on the mountain.  I hoped we weren't going to climb for too much longer, and miss our good snow window of opportunity.

Amazing icy views!

But I'm so very glad John wanted to climb higher.  It turned out to be the best part of our tour.  Above the Palmer, the snow changed dramatically.  The very top layer consisted of small icicle-shaped chunks of ice.  The morning sun had softened the ice so that our skis edges easily cut into it.  The snow below was just the right consistency - soft, but not grabby.  The best snow we'd encountered all day, it was a dream to ski through.

John is a speck against the summit crater

John's goal was to reach Illumination Saddle, a wide depression between Illumination Rock and Mt. Hood's crater.  Illumination Rock is a large basalt plug that sits very prominently on the western side of the crater (look back at my first photograph, and you'll see it off to the left).  As we climbed further up the mountain, the icy cliffs of Hood's crater came closer into view.  They were truly spectacular!


Me and my trusty skis

Luckily, the terrain above the Palmer Lift was not as steep as what we'd been climbing (my heels appreciated that!)  Our route dipped into a bowl-like depression downhill from the crater that seemed to block the pesky wind that'd been blasting us all day.  With no wind and pure sun, temps in the bowl were downright toasty.  It was a very comfortable ski across a glittering, icy plain.

Group photo

Finally, John picked a spot in the middle of the wide, icicle-spangled slope and declared it our turn-around point.  We sat down, took a breather, and enjoyed the wonderful views from high on Hood.  From my perch, I could see both the Zigzag and Little Zigzag Canyons far below.  Uphill, the summit crater looked so close, it seemed one could reach out and touch it.  And views looking west extended almost all the way to Portland.  Truly amazing!  There is nothing more satisfying than taking in vistas that most people never see.  Especially when you've traveled there under your own power.


New elevation PR for Mt Hood!

And I reached a new elevation personal record for Mt. Hood.  My previous Hood high point had been the top of the Palmer, elevation 8,540 feet.  But John got Young and I up past 9,000 feet elevation.  Almost 9,100 feet, to be exact.  From Timberline's parking lot we'd climbed a grand total of 3,000 feet.  Woo-hoo for us!

Wonderful view of Illumination Rock

So my party and I spent a lovely half hour sitting on top of the world, eating, resting, and taking lots of photos.  By this time it was mid-afternoon, and the sun-warmed snow began to sluff off from the steeper slopes above us.  We were far enough away not to be in any danger, and it was cool to watch small point avalanches roll down the crater walls and the slopes below Illumination Rock.  But the temps were still on the rise, and we didn't want to miss our good snow window.  Time to do what we'd been dreaming of the entire climb - take off those skins and go downhill!

Time to ski down!

The first run down was pure heaven.  The ice parted beneath my ski edges for some sweet, effortless turns.  I glided down the first 500 feet sporting the world's biggest smile.  Totally hero snow!

Enjoying the fabulous corn snow

Of course by now, my legs were mighty pooped from our grand climb.  I stopped for frequent "quad breaks" whenever my tele-turns became shaky.  Young was tired too, so she didn't mind. 

Skiers against the skyline

And besides, on this sunny day, the scenery was so fantastic!  From Hood's  high slopes, we could see a panorama of mountains and forest, from the plains of eastern Oregon, past the Cascade volcanoes, to the foothills of Portland.  A descent with views this grand just shouldn't be hurried.

Here comes Young!

But warm sunny days on the slopes means you'll eventually encounter snow that is too soft for skiing.  As we traveled further down the mountain, the snow became softer and slushier.  The consistency slowly grew thicker.  Then the mushy slop began to grab our skis.  This started to happen about the time we reached the top of the Magic Mile Lift.  There was still another thousand feet to go.  Ugh!  The last mile was a long, slow, careful trek that tested our "survival skiing" skills to the max.

Below the Palmer lift house

Finally Timberline Lodge came into view.  A most welcome sight!  We all agreed it was time to head to Hood River for some well-earned beer.

A day like today totally stoked my enthusiasm for backcountry skiing.  Even with the endless uphill haul, numbing fatigue, and blisters, I still had a fabulous time.  Backcountry skiing is taking me to places I've never been before.  I'm discovering new aspects of Mt. Hood, on beyond Palmer.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Corvallis Half Marathon

Last year, when I ran the Eugene Marathon, my daughter gave me a hard time for running a race in the city of her rival college.  To equalize things, I vowed to find a race that was held in Corvallis, home of Oregon State University.  Imagine my delight to discover the Corvallis Half Marathon.  Not only was it my favorite distance, but the race was scheduled for mid-April, near the end of ski season.  Perfect timing.  Sign me up!

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

Nice finisher shirt - too bad it's too small!

As one of my goals for 2012, I vowed not to let any running event interfere with skiing (gotta have your priorities!).  It wasn't like I stopped running over the winter months.  I just backed off from any serious training.  What it did mean, though, was no races during the months of January through March, and no spring marathons.  But I figured I could still ski and handle a half by the time April rolled around. 

Ready to rock 'n roll

Of course, like many races, registration happens months in advance of the actual date. What seems like a good idea when you sign up becomes a "what was I thinking?" moment four weeks before the big event. That's about the time I employ the "oh crap, I've got a race in one month" training plan.  (Big thanks to my neighbor Penny who got my sorry butt up early for two morning runs a week - couldn't of done it without you).

Looking serious at the start

Then the weather forecast called for amazing weather on Hood the day before my big race.  The mountain was calling and I couldn't resist!  Not willing to miss skiing on a bluebird day, I headed up to Mt. Hood Meadows.  And it was a fantastic day.  (Photos and story can be found here.)  I got in a bunch of runs on incredible snow before forcing myself to quit early.  Yeah, I knew I'd probably pay dearly for this ski trip....

Following the pack

I woke up the morning of the race feeling surprisingly good.  My legs were a tiny bit tired, but not sore.  The feeling continued, even after the hour and a half drive to Corvallis.  After picking up my race number and timing chip, I headed over to Denise's apartment for a potty break in a real bathroom.

Running through the OSU campus

I finished prepping for the race at my daughter's apartment.  The weather was predicted to be warm and sunny, so I chose shorts instead of my staple winter running capris.  And since the race was taking place on the OSU campus, I donned the only orange tech tee I possessed, and my OSU cap.  I was going to represent (go Beavs!) 

Denise drove me back to the starting line, in the middle of the Oregon State campus.   By then, a large crowd of runners had gathered.  It was a festive scene, with the OSU band playing peppy tunes.  I love marching bands, and really enjoyed the music.  Got me all fired up to run.  The morning chill and clouds were burning off, making way for a beautiful, dry sunny day.

Denise caught me at mile one

And soon enough - we were off!  The pack headed around the perimeter of campus, before turning back and running straight through the very heart of it.  Crowds of people lined the main road, cheering, ringing cowbells and waving signs.  Little kids held out their hands for "high fives" (which I love to give!)  I'd loaned Denise one of my cameras to get some photos, and I spotted her on a street corner near mile one, firing away.

Still feelin' good

Then a very friendly man struck up a conversation with me.  He inquired about my arm warmers, and I asked him about his Vibram Five Fingers shoes.  Turned out he was a high school science teacher in a nearby town.  Since Denise is studying to do the same thing, it provided a common topic.  We chatted until the first water station, where I lost  him in the crowd.

We ran right underneath this building

After a nice tour of the OSU campus, the course then took its participants into the rural countryside on the outskirts of Corvallis.  We ran by fields just starting to wake up from a long, wet winter.  It was very scenic and sure beat running along a busy urban roadway.  My body was starting to wake up, and I enjoyed a very pleasant couple of miles.

Loved the mile marker signs!

One of the things I loved about this race was its wonderful mile markers.  Each sign was bright and cheerful, and had an inspirational slogan.  Really helped keep a positive attitude (which was even more important in the later stages of the race).

Approaching the covered bridge

Then the course took us down a country lane and through a beautiful covered bridge.  How great is that?  I love covered bridges, and couldn't help myself - I wanted some photos.  So I pulled over to the side and stopped to snap a couple of images.  The volunteers stationed at the bridge laughed at me.  I just smiled and replied "Well, as you can see, I'm not in this race to win it!"

The runners were routed right through the bridge

After running through the bridge, my runner friends and I continued through farmlands, crossed a road and parking lot.  In the parking lot was another water station, and more cheering people.  They were really cheering loudly and at first I thought it was for me.  That's I looked behind me and saw......

Hooray for the Superheros! 

THE SUPERHEROS!  Two guys dressed up in superhero costumes running the race.  What fun!  I turned around and asked if I could take their picture.  They were great sports, and even slowed down and posed so I could capture their greatness.  I ran with them for a short distance, joking that I should've donned a Wonder Woman costume.

Running through the country

Then the course turned back onto a nice, wide bike path that wound through more lovely countryside.  About mile 6, things changed and we got routed onto the side of a road.  Not quite as nice, but the race organizers had the traffic control down pat.  Not only was there a sign at the 6 mile mark, there was another one to commemorate the halfway point.  And it had the greatest slogan - "Now is the time to lose your quit."  This saying kept me going for the next couple of tough miles.

By mile 7 we were back following the road

Miles 7 to 8 were a slight incline along a semi-busy road.  The elevation gain was minimal, but by this time it felt like I was climbing a huge hill.  My pace slowed down considerably.  I felt myself sagging and thought "OK now is when you're gonna pay for that ski trip!"

Denise caught me at mile 8

Happily, I ran into the nice science teacher from the beginning of the race.  We picked up our conversation where we'd left off, and it provided enough of a distraction to get me to mile 8.

Wave for the camera!

Mile 8 fell in a local park that wasn't too far from Denise's apartment.  Running through the park, I was happy to see Denise and her two roommates standing in the crowd, cheering for me.  That put a spring back in my step.  Beyond the park, the road dipped into a sweet downhill.  Rejuvenated, I put the pedal to the metal and picked up the pace.

More inspirational mile marker signs

The course continued through a maze of residential streets.  Some of the home's occupants gathered at the curb and on street corners to applaud the runners.  All the support was greatly appreciated, and I thanked as many spectators as I could.

Passing people at mile 11

After taking in a Gu around Mile 9, I began to get a second wind.  I was amazed to be still feeling good, and not as tired as anticipated.  Checking the time on my watch showed that a 2-hour finish was doable.  I didn't expect to be running such a fast pace this late into the race!  That brought out my competitive side.  Time to kick it into high gear and see how quick I could finish this thing. 

The finish line is in sight!

Slowly, the residential neighborhoods gave way to apartments and businesses.  I could tell we were getting closer to campus again.  At one point, I heard loud heavy metal music up ahead.  When I got closer to the source, I saw a lone guy with a boom box entertaining the runners by doing air guitars and crazy dancing.  He was great!  His antics made me laugh and provided a much-needed mental boost.

Everyone's finish was shown on the stadium jumbo-tron

The runner pack crossed a busy street, and entered Greek row.  It was fun to run by all the fraternity and sorority houses.  At one house, a bunch of frat boys were sitting in the front yard, drinking beer and loudly cheering the racers.  I whooped back, which garnered a huge enthusiastic response from the guys.  By then, I was in such a competitive zone, I didn't even think about getting some photos of the Greeks.  But those guys were so funny, now I wish I had taken a couple pics to share here.

My great support crew

Then before I knew it, we entered back onto the Oregon State campus.  The campus is such a beautiful place in the spring, with it's blooming trees and flowers.  I was happy to be here, because this meant the finish line was close.  I zoomed down the campus road, passing a couple of ladies I'd been trailing the entire race.  Taking a corner, I heard a bunch of loud cheering and was surprised to see Denise and her roommates.  Their unexpected presence gave me another positive energy surge and I shifted into high gear.  Only one mile left - time to finish this thing in a big way!

Reeser Stadium was full of runners

I zigged and zagged through more campus roads, until finally the walls of Reeser Stadium loomed ahead.  Almost done!  I turned a corner into one of Reeser's parking lots, and noticed a bunch of spectators holding a sign that read: "Run like you're being chased by a rabid opossum!"  I laughed so hard!  That sign provided the positive motivation I needed to step on the gas for the final push.  I streaked through the parking lot and there before me was the ramp leading down to Reeser's field.   I could hear the whoops and applause before even entering the stadium.  Hitting the turf, I was engulfed by the noise.  The finish was set up on the field's 50-yard line, and no sight was sweeter.  As I hit the timing mats, my Garmin read  2:03:49.  Although not a PR, it was still a great time.  I'd survived another half marathon, with spotty winter training and skiing the day before! 

My wonderful daughter and I

Denise and her roommates Kristin and Shannah, greeted me at the finish.  It was great to have someone waiting for me, and I thanked them for their support.  A large crowd was gathered on the field itself and a festival atmosphere prevailed.  I felt amazing considering my busy weekend, with only a sore right ankle.  After some great soup and bread, and a shower back at her apartment, I took Denise and her roommates out for lunch.

I was really impressed with this race.  The course was absolutely beautiful - a great tour of Corvallis. Took me to parts of town I didn't know existed!  (and Denise has been at OSU four years)  There was lots of water stations and the volunteers on traffic control were great.  I love, love, loved the mile marker signs.  And it was fabulous to finish in Reeser Stadium!  Made me feel like a true champion. 

With a good night's sleep, I recovered quickly and didn't feel too bad the next day.  Maybe I need to go skiing the day before a race more often....  :)