Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Illumination Saddle

You thought skiing was over?  Well......not quite yet.  Still playing blog catch-up, this post is about a ski excursion from early May.    

Clear skies from Timberline parking lot

Here in the Oregon Cascades, where snow hangs around late on the mountaintops, skiing is still going strong into spring.  The first weekend in May things heated up down in the valley.  Temperatures on Friday were predicted to hit 80 degrees.  Katie and I agreed there was but one thing to do - head to the mountain and go skiing!

Illumination Saddle - our destination

Our day's destination - Illumination Saddle, high on the slopes of Mt. Hood.  Illumination Saddle is a small depression in the side of the mountain, bounded by the summit crater and Illumination Rock.  See the arrow in the photo above?  That's where Katie and I were headed.

Katie enjoying the day

Our adventure began behind Timberline Lodge.  Following the rough trail from the lodge, Katie and I strapped climbing skins to skis and headed out.  The skies were clear and beautiful, the temps unseasonably warm.  We hadn't climbed far before both Katie and I were stripping down to long underwear.

Big mountain views

The Palmer Lift was now open, so uphill travel wasn't allowed on the groomed ski runs.  Anyone wishing to climb Hood was now directed a bumpy snowcat trail.  Okay if you were on foot, but not a lot of fun for us skiers.

Silcox Hut and the bottom of Palmer lift

Reaching the top of the Magic Mile Lift, and tired of making our way over the road's uneven surface, Katie and I struck out on our own.  We decided to follow the edge of Palmer's groomed trail. 

Our climb turns into a steep slog

From here, the going was much smoother.  And it was fun to watch the snowriders cruise down the slopes.  They all looked at Katie and I, slowly sliding uphill, as if we were crazy.

Illumination Rock rises over the Palmer Lift

Dripping sweat and fighting aching hip flexor muscles, I was beginning to wonder if they were right.  As many times as I've climbed Palmer's slopes this year, the trek hasn't gotten any easier.  It's still a long, tough slog. 

Pausing for a breather

One older man stopped by the side of run and called out to us.  After exchanging hellos, the man said he was in awe of our uphill skiing abilities.  He made Katie and I laugh by doing a mock bow and bestowing a humorous blessing.  That made me feel better!

Climbers appear as dots against the mountain

Again, we were passed by a few much faster uphill skiers.  One young man was moving so quickly, Katie jokingly asked the guy if we could tie a rope to him and get a tow.  Most of these skiers didn't stop at the top of the Palmer Lift, but continued on towards the mountain's crater.

Spiders in the snow?

As we ascended, I began to see tiny specks in the snow.  Upon closer inspection, I realized these dark specks were small spiders, about the size of a pencil eraser.  I'm not sure what these little guys were doing on the side of a cold, snowy mountain.  I was surprised they were alive!

Lunch break at the top of Palmer

Finally for Katie and I, the top lift station of the Palmer came into view.  Tired and hungry, it was a sight for sore eyes.  We plopped down on top of the snow and pulled out our lunches.  Some food and a short rest were just what my poor body needed.

Heading towards the crater wall

By the time Katie and I finished lunch, it was nearing one o'clock.  With the day's high temps, I knew we didn't want to wait too long to ski back down.  Enough heat and solar energy would turn the snow into a sticky mess that's difficult to ski through.  But Katie, intent on reaching Illumination Saddle, suggested we continue uphill for another hour and then, wherever we were at, turn around and head down. 

Illumination Saddle - such a wonderful sight

We finally agreed upon a 2:00 turn-around time.  Then, strapping on my skis, I followed Katie across the wide, barren snowfield above the Palmer.  Here, the slopes were not as steep, and we made good time.  The views were incredible.  Mt. Hood's summit crater was so close, I felt as if I could reach out and touch it.

I made it!

Illumination Rock, a large triangular block of basalt, loomed larger on the horizon  It acted as a beacon, drawing me ever closer.  Finally, Katie reached the saddle between Illumination Rock and the summit crater.  A short, steep climb put us on top of the saddle, near Illumination Rock's base.

Highest I've ever been on Mt. Hood

I made it!  My gps unit displayed an elevation of 9,245 feet - the highest I've ever been on Mt. Hood.  The views were incredible.  The entire foothills and valleys spread out before us.  Mt. Jefferson, anchoring the southern horizon, seemed much larger at this high altitude.  Looking at my watch, I realized our timing was good.  It was exactly 2 o'clock - the designated turnaround time.

Time to ski down!

Our location on the saddle was a windy one.  The gap between Hood's crater and Illumination Rock acted as an air funnel.  Not wishing to linger in this chilly climate, Katie and I quickly removed our climbing skins and made preparations for the trip back down.

This was worth all that climbing

After donning coat, helmet, and giving my skis some wax, I was ready.  We'd spent all morning and half the afternoon climbing - now it was time for our reward.  With a whoop, Katie launched herself down the slope.  I quickly followed. woo-hooing as my skis sliced through the sun-softened snow.

Katie yells with glee

Oh - and the conditions were incredible!  Perfect corn snow!  My turns came effortlessly as I dropped into my tele stance.  All my worries about the snow being too soft were for naught.

Stopping to soak in the scenery

As we descended, the temperature got warmer.   Katie and I kept our eye on conditions, knowing at some point our lovely corn snow would turn into thick mashed potatoes.  But we reached the top of the Magic Mile Lift, and the skiing was still good.  Continuing downhill, the snow continued to part easily beneath our edges.  We didn't encounter bad snow until we were almost back to Timberline Lodge. 

A fabulous ski down

What a fabulous ski down!  And what an incredible trip up the side of Mt. Hood.  I figured we climbed 3300 vertical feet in a little more than 3 miles.   Katie remarked we were only 2000 feet lower than Mt. Hood's summit.

What a great way to spend a hot, sunny spring day.  Although this trip was my first time on Illumination Saddle, I assure you it won't be my last.

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.


  1. This is so awesome! Congrats on making it all the way just in the knick of time! I love the photo of the rock and I bet the views from up there were amazing. Great job! :)

  2. I LOVE it when your posts take me places I will never be able to get to myself!! Incredible:)

  3. Another totally "wow" post! This might be a dumb question, but in the summertime, can you hike to these places that you ski in the wintertime?

  4. Very beautiful place, strange to see spiders on the snow.

  5. "Crazy", yes, but wow how awesome were your rewards.
    Beautiful photography.

  6. The color of the sky is fabulous. I always liked to ski when it was warmer out and I didn't have to wear a ton of winter clothes. I'd love to know what's all in those backpacks.

  7. Such exciting excursions you have ! It is also a bit refreshing to look in and see snow on a day that is humid and forcasted to be 90 degrees. Seems just yesterday I was wishing for hot weather ... now I am admittely admiring the refreshing qualities of snow ! Ha ha

  8. Those views are stunning. I don't know how you manage to focus on the skiing with such beauty on the horizon. You are a great thrill seeker. Well done.

  9. Wow - what beautiful views and snow for a day in MAY!

    I am scratching my head on the spiders though...

  10. Looks like a great adventure!

  11. Wow! Beautiful shots of an amazing place! And, spiders in snow? Wishing you a happy weekend...tummy tickle for Bear ;)

  12. Beautiful mountain views! Wow, what a climb up, you did great! Thank you for visiting my blog :)

  13. Hi Linda! As behind as I am on blogging, I am also way behind on reading! Beginning to get caught up. This looks like an awesome climb. It seemed like you practically were on the summit. And skiing down, looks a lot faster than hiking :)


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