|Have skis, will travel|
Luckily, around the Mt. Hood area, ski trails abound - some of them well-used and located in areas relatively safe from avalanches. One of these such routes is none other than the historic Tilly Jane Ski Trail.
|Little snowman in the woods|
I'd skied this trail a couple years before, with a Mazamas ski mountaineering class. I remembered it passed through a ridge, once the site of a massive forest fire. The old burned out trees opened up for some nice views. Tilly Jane was also a very popular trail, so chances were good I wouldn't be alone. Time for a revisit!
|Skimpy snow in some places|
Driving to the trailhead that morning, I was dismayed by the lack of snow along the roadside. Once at the parking area, the first thing I did was check out conditions. The trail was covered - just barely. A narrow ribbon of icy snow clung to the tread. Although things didn't look real promising, I strapped on my skis and headed up anyway, hoping coverage would improve higher up.
|Signs, signs, everywhere signs.....|
The first half mile was a challenge. I dodged rocks, fallen trees, and even crossed a couple of swampy creeks. I had to take my skis off and walk a small distance through a couple patches of bare trail. Finally, I reached the first big trail junction. Signs were posted on several different trees, some fairly new, and others old and weather-beaten. Several paths met here, but I was only interested in one - the route to Tilly Jane A-frame cabin.
|Burned out forest|
From here, the climbing began in earnest. Snow coverage increased, and finally my trail was totally encased in white. It was a relief to no longer dodge rocks and bushes. A short distance later, I reached the edge of the Gnarl Ridge fire limits.
|First Mt. Hood sighting|
In the fall of 2008, a massive forest fire charred the woods in this area, threatened homes, and a nearby ski area. Also in peril were the historic Tilly Jane A-frame cabin and the Cloud Cap Inn. Through hard work from brave firefighters, all these structures were spared from destruction.
The burned-out forest, although stark and ghostly, was actually quite scenic. The charred stumps and bleached gray trunks lined an open ridge. Lack of vegetation here provided some mighty fine views of the adjacent forested hills.
I passed a large rock that was just begging me to set my camera on it. Perfect prop for a few action selfies.
|Follow the blue diamonds|
Thanks to a well-trod track through the snow, the trail was easy to follow. But occasional blue diamonds nailed into the trees helped with navigation.
|Hood guides me on|
The sun began to intermittently peep out of it's cloud cover. When the woods brightened up, I'd quickly dig out my camera, trying to capture some of the stark gray trees against blue sky. Cloud-cloaked Mt. Hood appeared above the skyline, guiding my path.
|The sun breaks out|
Although temps were beginning to warm, the snow remained quite icy. Sliding along, I began to worry that the ski back down would be treacherous. I'm not a fan of skiing on ice, especially in a treed slope.
|Dead tree peek-a-boo|
From the parking area, it's three miles and about 2000 vertical feet of climbing to reach the Tilly Jane cabin. Well into late morning, I kept climbing short hills, thinking I'd see it at the crest. But each time I reached the top, there was no cabin in sight.
|My friend the sunburst|
I kept leapfrogging a snowshoeing couple with a large dog. I'd get ahead and then stop to take photos, and they'd pass me by. Finally I came upon them resting in a large treewell. The man asked if I knew how far the cabin was. I told him I thought we were close, but having only been up here once before, I wasn't exactly sure. The man thanked me and said their dog was tired, so they were heading back down.
|Mountain views in the distance|
Upon parting with the snowshoers, I began climbing up another big hill. Huffing and puffing, I decided if I didn't see that darn cabin soon, I was going to stop for lunch anyway. Then I crested the hill, and up ahead in the woods was the peaked roofline of the Tilly Jane A-frame cabin. It wasn't a quarter mile from where the other party had turned around. They were so close!
|Tilly Jane A-frame cabin|
The Tilly Jane cabin was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC). This group also built the nearby historic Guard Station, and the ski trail I'd followed today. The cabin is managed by the Oregon Nordic Club, and reservations are required to spend the night.
Although I'd reached the cabin over the noon hour, I found it deserted. There were backpacks and sleeping bags inside, indicating it was occupied for the weekend. I assumed the group staying here was probably out enjoying the fine day.
|Skiing back through the woods|
I ate my lunch at a nice sturdy table, enjoying the heat from a small fire smoldering in the wood stove. Nice to have a warm shelter and dry place to sit.
|Cool wispy clouds|
I spent about 45 minutes at the cabin, eating, taking photos, and getting my skis ready for the downhill trip. In that short time, the sun's mighty rays worked their magic on the snowy trail. When I was ready to ski down, I found much to my delight, that the snow had been transformed from a stiff, icy crust to lovely soft corn.
Oh it was a fun trip downhill! The sun was warm, the snow perfect. I whooped and hollered as I zipped through the trees. What took nearly three hours to climb, was covered in about 15 minutes of descent.
|Ending on one of Cooper Spur's ski runs|
The last mile of trail, with it's skimpy snowpack, was just too bare to properly ski on. I didn't want to scratch and ding my ski bases, so I loaded them onto my backpack and hiked the rest of the way out. Upon reaching the big junction, I decided to take a different trail back. I hiked over to the now-closed Cooper Spur Ski area. Coming out on top of a ski run, I put my boards back on for one final downhill slide.
It was great to get outside on such a lovely winter's day and revisit a scenic and historic part of Mt. Hood. And it was a great confidence builder for me to complete a solo backcountry ski tour.
Sharing with: Weekly Top Shot.