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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|
|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.....