Monday, April 29, 2013

Easter Weekend on the Mountain

It's time to catch up!

During a busy Easter weekend, I snuck away Saturday morning for a quick ski up the Palmer lift.  Tele-buddy Katie was my partner in crime.

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Here I go again!

It was a gorgeous blue-sky day.  Not a cloud to be found.  Covered in a thick coating of white, Mt. Hood never looked better.

Beautiful sunny day on Hood

When we pulled into our usual parking lot, Katie and I discovered it full of search and rescue vehicles.  Teams of people from law enforcement and volunteer organizations were gearing up for a serious mission.  We learned they were searching for a lost young woman.  She'd apparently left the previous Sunday to climb Mt. Hood, and hadn't been heard from since.

Search helicopter in the sky

As Katie and I began our climb up the cat track, we heard a loud noise.  A helicopter appeared in the sky.  It hovered over Timberline Lodge before finally landing in a blocked-off portion of the parking lot.  It sat in the parking lot for several minutes before rising back up and flying away.

Katie watching the 'copter land

The entertainment now over, Katie and I returned to our slow slog up the mountain.  But today I was feeling way more energetic than my last Palmer ski, and made it to the top of the Mile in good time.

Buddy shot

I made Katie pose for a couple of self portrait shots.  Katie, being her usual feisty self, popped up her middle finger on my first try.  After that, I made sure all fingers were down before clicking the shutter.

Katie starts pooping out

Above the Mile, things again got steep.  But having a companion to talk to (and commiserate with) made the trek uphill so much more enjoyable.  The time seemed to pass quicker than my previous solo attempt.

This view was worth all that climbing

About halfway up the Palmer lift, we began to see teams of rescue workers coming down the mountain.  Katie asked one person if the search was over and she replied "sorry, we can't say anything."  Hmmm....that didn't sound good. 

Self portrait attempt

However, the second search party we encountered was a little more helpful.  One of their members confirmed the search was over and that it had a "happy result."  Checking the web later that evening, I read that the helicopter we'd seen earlier had spotted the woman.  She was alive but injured, so the 'copter plucked her off the mountain, and whisked her away to the hospital.  For being lost six days, the woman was in good condition.  Her docs predicted a full recovery.  It was nice to hear this story had a happy ending.

A group heading above the Palmer

Nearly noon, Katie and I finally crested the last rise to the Palmer's top terminus.  We staked out a spot on the snow and dug into our lunch bags.  Being tomorrow was Easter, I packed a special treat for my friend and I (Reese's peanut butter eggs!  Is there anything better?)

Easter treats

A man and wife team had been snowshoeing behind us.  They arrived at the top a few minutes later.  In our morning's conversation, Katie told me how much she loves Kahlua.  When the man sat down next to her, Katie jokingly asked him if he had any Kahlua.  To our surprise, he pulled out a flask and offered her a nip!  (Turned out it was some other type of liquor, but still a very funny moment)

The snowcat was back

The sky was crystal clear, and the temps balmy.  It was wonderful just to sit on the side of Hood and take in the fantastic scenery from on high.  Timberline's snowcat was running again, and we had fun watching it chug up the steep slope, unload a group of skiers, and crawl back down.

My skis get a break

One of the disadvantages to being above treeline on a wide-open mountain - where to go when nature calls?  After refueling and hydrating, Katie and I both needed a potty break.  The bare snowy slopes left no place to hide.

Katie starting down

If there wasn't anything to hide behind, Katie and I did the next best thing - we traversed around the mountainside until we were far away from the main climber's route.  Although still exposed, we made enough distance from the crowd to be unrecognizable.

There she goes!

Now, the moment we'd been waiting for.  With our tummies filled and our bladders emptied, there was just one thing left to do - ski back down!  Yahoo!

Skiing down is the best part

The sun's solar energy had transformed a firm, icy surface into butter-soft corn snow.  A delight to ski through!  Katie and I whooped and woo-hoo'ed on our descent.  The great conditions held up until about halfway down the Mile.  Then our wonderful snow turned into sticky, grabby glue.  The rest of the way down we carefully picked our way through snow the consistency of mashed potatoes.

Timberline Lodge pano

Finally Timberline Lodge came into view.  Such an amazingly beautiful place!  Taking off our skis in the parking lot, I attempted to capture the west wing in a two-shot pano. 

Our early afternoon finish gave me plenty of time to get home and complete preparations for tomorrow's Easter dinner (Hmmmm......and maybe have just one more of those peanut butter eggs.  I think I burned enough calories!)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Checkin' Out the Eastern Gorge

Another Friday off!  However, morning obligations prevented a ski excursion.  Not wanting to waste an entire day, I decided to squeeze in a quick afternoon hike.

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Portland was it's usual rainy self.  Hoping to escape some of the wet, I traveled to the eastern Columbia River Gorge.  Rumor had it wildflowers were starting to bloom at Tom McCall Preserve.  Time to check things out!

Twisty roads of the Old Columbia River Hwy

Tom McCall Preserve is just east of the town of Mosier.  Located on a high plateau, this unique area boasts a spectacular display of early spring wildflowers and a diverse wildlife habitat.  Tall basalt cliffs tower over impressive views of the Columbia River.

This field was a mass of yellow

From Mosier, the Old Columbia River Highway winds along the bluff-tops.  I passed cute little farms and cherry orchards in full bloom.  Newly-leafing trees and young spring grasses colored the hillsides an electric green.

The Rowena Plateau

This preserve has two official trails.  One climbs steeply to the top of Tom McCall Point, offering glorious mountain views.  The other is an flat, easy ramble along the lower plateau.  Short on time, I opted for the second trail.

Posts from an ancient fence

The plateau trail wanders through a grassland that's famous for an abundance of spring wildflowers.  Sadly, I'd arrived too soon.  Although I spotted some yellow desert parsley dotting the landscape, most everything else was just getting started.

Desert Parsley

My path passed by a small pond, rimmed by gnarly oak trees.  A field covered with tiny, yellow flowers caught my attention and garnered a photo session.

Cliff overlooking the Columbia River

After meandering by a second pond, the trail emerged to a cliff-edge viewpoint.  The tall basalt walls of the Gorge rose from both sides of the river.  The rocky layers alternating with green grassy slopes made interesting patterns.  The Columbia River, brown and mighty, wove through the bluffs.

Gnarled oak trees

Traveling along the clifftops, I spotted a lone tree adorned with white fluffy flowers.  Of course, I had to investigate.


Above river's edge, the wind was howling.  Made photographing these white flowers very difficult when their branches wouldn't stay still.  I patiently waited, camera in position, hoping for a break.  I did manage to capture one half-decent shot.  Later research in my wildflower guidebook identified these fluffy petals as serviceberry.

Steep basalt cliffs

Perched high on the plateau, I could see up and down both ends of the Gorge.  A dark, heavy cloud hung in the western sky.  It appeared to be moving my way.  Thinking I was about to get wet, the camera was hastily packed away.  But I got lucky.  Only a few drops sprinkled my shoulders.  Once the raincloud passed, my camera came back out again. 

Delicate pink flower

Trail's end brought me to the edge of a rocky bluff.  The landscape was dotted with yellow balsamroot flowers, just beginning to bloom.  A huge hawk sailed above me.  Mesmerized, I watched him glide along the cliffs below. 

Magnificent view at trail's end

My vantage offered a fantastic view of the western Gorge.  Perfect spot for a self portrait.

Another balsamroot flower

After lots of balsamroot shots (LOVE that flower!) I retraced my steps back through the grassy plain.  Returning on the Old Columbia River Highway, I came upon this tumble-down barn nestled in a scenic valley.  I couldn't resist stopping for a quick photo or two.

Abandoned farm on the way home

Even with limited time and not-so-stellar weather conditions, it was great to get outside and explore the Gorge with my camera.

Linking to:  Share Your Cup Thursday and Weekly Top Shot.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Return to Corvallis

(Linda's note:  This post is dedicated to all who were affected by the Boston Marathon tragedy, especially those wonderful spectators who took time out of their day to cheer for the runners.)

One of my favorite races last year was the Corvallis Half Marathon.  It had a beautiful course, lots of friendly volunteers, and finished on the 50-yard line of Reser Stadium (go Beavs!)  And since my daughter attends Oregon State, it provided an excuse to go visit.

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Race swag

So when it came time to sign up for this year's races, the Corvallis Half was first on my list.  But, as with last winter, I managed to do more skiing than running.  And I battled some injuries - first a wrenched knee, and later a sore hamstring.  Race day morning found me feeling quite unprepared. Unsure how my body would perform, I gave myself permission to take it easy.

Shannah and I at the starting line

My daughter's friend Shannah, who with Denise watched me in last year's Corvallis Half, decided to run this year's race.  She'd never before ran this far and was a little bit apprehensive. 

Mile one done!

Race day was a cold, rainy morning.  Denise and I met Shannah at the starting line.  We ducked under the covered entryway to Gil Coliseum and stayed there until it was time to start.  Happily, the rain stopped just before the race began.

Hot dog man

I'd been battling the same sore hamstring and Shannah had spent some time the day before icing an achy hip.  So both of us came into this race with no expectations except to finish (that, and Shannah wanted to run the entire distance). 

Running thru campus

Shannah and I stuck together at the start, and in unison dodged through the pack of runners for the first mile.  We saw Denise and mile one, and she snapped a couple quick photos.  Denise also got a shot of a man running the race in a hot dog costume!

Cherry trees in bloom

The first couple miles of the race winds through the beautiful Oregon State campus.  Cherry trees in full bloom lined some of the campus roads.  In addition to the stately brick buildings, we had some pretty landscaping to enjoy.

Man on the left running with his dog

Near mile two was an aid station manned by screaming little girls from the local "Girls on the Run" organization.  These girls were awesome!  They cheered, rang cowbells, waved wonderful signs, and handed out water like pros. 

Pretty tu-tu

Then our course left campus for a scenic bike path that passed by pastures full of sheep.  We got passed by a man running with his dog.  We joked with him that the dog needed a race number too.  The man said he was counting on the dog to pull him through to the end.

Crossing the famous covered bridge

My favorite part of this course was crossing over the covered bridge.  Such a pretty setting!

Shannah's still happy

Shannah was going strong at mile five.  No hip pain whatsoever, she was smiling and chatting away.  I attempted to grab of photo of her running, but this was the best I could do.  It's a little blurry, but captures Shannah's joy perfectly.

Views of the scenic course

Still following the bike path, we emerged into an open area of golden farm fields.  Ahead was a forested hillside, marking where the path turned and headed back into town.

The wonderful mile marker signs

Having someone to run with helps so much!  As Shannah and I chattered away, the miles seemed to pass effortlessly.

Finally just before the halfway point, we left the beautiful bike path for the shoulder of a busy country road.  From there, the course climbed a slight incline until it leveled out at a local park.  Waiting for us at the park was Denise, two of Shannah's family friends, and Shannah's boyfriend holding a sign that read: "Go Shannah!"  What a nice surprise!

Still smilin' at mile 8

From the park, the race course wound through several residential neighborhoods.  I remembered from last year that the people who lived here were great!  I wasn't disappointed.  The streets were lined with spectators clustered around streetcorners, waving signs, cheering, and ringing cowbells.  So nice and much appreciated at this point in the race.

Funny chicken entertaining runners on the course

Miles 10 through 11 were tough for both of us.  My energy started to flag, and I could tell Shannah was feeling fatigued.  The course passed through an area full of student apartments, and there were no spectators to be found.  I figured the college students had all slept in.  Even passing the fraternity houses, which had some of my favorite spectators last year, produced only a couple of guys looking out a window.  But rounding a corner, we came upon a race volunteer in a chicken costume, and this funny sight restored us a bit.

Finish line celebration

Approaching the outskirts of the OSU campus, we were greeted by screams of encouragement from the Girls on the Run.  Most welcome at this point!   Passing the mile 12 marker, I decided it was time to put the hammer down.  Shannah gave me permission to go on ahead so I reluctantly left her behind as I accelerated.  Looking at my watch, I knew I'd miss the sub 2-hour mark, but I was hoping for a finish time around 2:04-ish.

I finish just behind Shannah

Oh, it was hard to keep up this fast pace late in the race.  But Reser Stadium looming ahead seemed to give me some energy.  Then, with about 400 yards to go, I heard a voice, turned around, and was surprised to see Shannah passing by.  She had her afterburner on big time and was making a beeline for the finish.  I had enough time to yell "go Shannah!" before she left me in the dust.

Victorious runners!

Turning the corner into the stadium, I could hear the cheers of the spectators.  I flew down the ramp and emerged onto the field.  Aiming for the finish line I gave it all that I had.  I crossed the line and my watch read 2:04:25, only 30 seconds slower than last year.

Shannah was waiting for me at the finish and we gave each other a sweaty hug.  Having finished her first half marathon, she was euphoric.  We wandered through the maze of spectators until we located Denise and Shannah's boyfriend.  And then, as if on cue, the skies opened up and rain began to pour down.

Denise was a great support!

It was an amazing race.  My body behaved, the rain held off until I finished, and I helped Shannah complete her first half marathon.  And she totally kicked butt!  What a great start to my 2013 running season.

If you're interested, here's last year's race recap.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Solo Up the Palmer

The forecast promised a clear sunny day.   My backcountry buddies, Young and John, decided to ski up Mt. St. Helens and invited me to join them.  Although summitting MSH has been on my bucket list, I was battling a very sore hamstring.  Not wanting to be out in the wilderness should something go awry, I reluctantly declined.

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Timberline Lodge view behind me

But the itch to get out and ski somewhere was nagging me.  I needed some sort of tour to satisfy my backcountry craving.

The sun tries to break through clouds

Luckily, there is always the Palmer Lift at Timberline Ski Area.  Closed in the winter due to severe weather, the Palmer is only operated for spring and summer skiing.  But uphill travel is allowed on its slopes anytime.  Due to the close proximity of the resort, it's a safe place for solo backcountry skiers.

Not sure what this tiny building is

I'd never before tried backcountry skiing by myself, so was a little bit nervous as I gathered my skis and backpack in the parking lot.  A huge class of Mazamas mountain-climbers-in-training were just heading up, and with their ropes, ice axes, and huge backpacks, were a bit intimidating.

Hood begins to emerge from the clouds

But I managed to find the snowcat road adjacent to the lodge, and after securing my climbing skins, and donning my backpack, began to climb.  Although sunshine was predicted, the skies were cloaked in thick, white clouds.  A bright, fuzzy, round sun struggled to burn through the foggy layers.

Snow covered Silcox Hut

My ascent was turtle-slow.  I'd done a long training run the day before and my body was still tired (and my hamstring unhappy) from the exertions.  But I was also distracted by a small grove of snow-crusted trees adjacent to the cat road.  The icy white patterns on the branches were most picturesque.  Lots of good photo ops.  (In truth, this delayed me more than my worn out legs.)

Mountain climbers in training

As I ascended the lower slopes, the sky began to lighten.  The shape of Mt. Hood's summit started to emerge from the clouds.  By the time I reached the top of the Magic Mile lift, my favorite mountain was in full view.

Follow the tracks

Ah....looking back downslope, the adjacent forests and mountains began to appear.  That sunny day I was promised might just happen after all!

Ice crusted lift cables

The path to the top of the Magic Mile lift gains approximately 1000 feet in elevation over a mile.  Not super-steep, I covered the distance without too much trouble.  However, the ascent from the Mile to the top of the Palmer was much steeper, gaining 1500 feet in a slightly shorter distance.  After a quick snack and photo session near the Silcox Hut, I gathered my strength for the tough climb ahead.

Ahhh.....nice groomed track

The good news - I discovered a wonderfully groomed track cut into the snow leading to the top of Palmer.  Yippee - no breaking trail!  The bad news - once I started up the steep black diamond slope, my body was not happy at all.  Legs and lungs screamed, my breathing became labored gasps for air, and my heart hammered in my chest.  The higher I climbed, the more frequent the rest stops became. 

Mt. Jefferson makes an appearance on the horizon

Luckily, the sky was mostly clear, providing excuses to take lots of scenery-capturing photo breaks.

Maintenance Man trying to knock ice off the tower

My groomed track paralleled the Palmer lift.  Still recovering from a recent storm, the cables and towers were coated in a white, icy crust.  About halfway up, I noticed some activity at one of the towers.  A maintenance guy had climbed to it's top and was attempting to knock the ice off.  An interesting sight, it didn't take much convincing to take a break and watch.

Ice removal from the lift cables

After all the ice had been removed from the pulleys on top, the maintenance guy climbed down, and was joined by another man in a snowcat.  They attached a long rope to one section of the lift's icy cable.  The other end of this rope was then tied to the snowcat.  Once everything was secure, one of the men jumped into the snowcat and drove it downhill.  As the rope traveled along the cable, snow and ice sheared off.  In no time at all the cable was clear, and the men had moved on to the next section.  For a skier slogging up the steep slope, watching this show was a welcome distraction.

Gettin' passed yet again....

I wasn't the only person crazy enough to ski uphill that day.  Chugging up this second section, I was passed by a couple dozen skiers.  Almost all of them were young and male, so I didn't feel too bad.  Then an older gentleman slid by me (he appeared to be in his 70s).  Then I started to feel like a wimp.  Looking back down the hill I realized I was now the last skier. 

Timberline's snowcat - the cheaters way to the top

Oh the last quarter mile was so hard!  I was dead tired, my heart kept trying to leap out of my chest, and it appeared the top of the lift would never come.  It got so bad I made myself count to 20 before I'd allow a rest stop.  I even briefly considered taking off my skins before reaching the top and just skiing back down.

View from the top of Palmer

But finally, finally, I climbed the final pitch to the top lift station.  What a sight for sore eyes!  The first order of business - find a spot to sit and have some lunch.

Clouds coming back in as I ski down

There were a few people sitting around by the snow-covered lift house.  I spotted a couple ski patrollers having their lunch, so I sat down nearby.  I wondered why the ski patrol was way up here when the lift wasn't running. 

Snow begins to fall near the top of the Mile

Then I made a discovery.  Timberline was using one of their snowcats to shuttle skiers up to the top of the Palmer.  I watched a bright red snowcat lumber up the slope.  Once stopped, a dozen snowriders got out.  The ski patrollers were assisting the people riding the snowcat. 

I was kind of disappointed.  Here I'd climbed all the way to the highest lift under my own power, and was looking forward to skiing pristine snow.  I'd earned the right to ski this.  But now I'd have to share the slope with people who took the easy way up.

The snowcat makes another trip uphill

Some lunch in my belly mellowed me out a bit.  There really was enough snow to go 'round.  And the nice groomed run wasn't very tracked up yet.  So I packed up my lunch, took off my skins and prepared to enjoy my reward.  Downhill travel, here I come!

Timberline Lodge in the snow

As I began my descent, I noticed the sunny skies had disappeared.  They'd been replaced by heavy clouds, that began to spit fat snowflakes.  Halfway down the snow began to fall in earnest.  At the bottom of the Palmer, I looked back up slope, and discovered visibility was deteriorating.  I could only see about halfway up the lift now.  I'd enjoyed a sunny trip up and sunshine while on top - my timing had been good.

I reached the Timberline Lodge with tired legs, but a smiling face.  I'd successfully completed a trip up the Palmer all by myself!  A huge confidence booster for sure.

Now to go home and ice that cranky hamstring.....