Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rained Out

 Rain is a four letter word.

Well, at least it is to skiers in the Pacific Northwest.  Nothing scares snowriders from the mountain like the threat of wet stuff.  But it wouldn't be a proper winter in the PNW without a few rain out days. 

Timberline Lodge, covered in snow

Ski areas here are prepared for the occasional soggy day of  "snain."  (Yes, that's what they call it on the snow reports - no self respecting ski area actually wants to admit it's raining.)  To keep their guests dry, resorts hand out dorky plastic bags with arm- and head-holes to slip over jackets.  This year I actually had the pleasure of wearing one of these nifty accessories on an especially wet ski day (sorry, no photos - didn't want to risk drenching my camera.)  And after bombing down Two Bowl, I got a backhanded compliment ("You ski pretty well for wearing a plastic bag") from some smart a$# man.

Snowcat close-up

A couple of weekends ago, my friend Katie and I planned another uphill assault on the Palmer Lift.  Checking weather reports the night before, rain was predicted to start at 4 pm the next day.  No problem - we planned to be done well before any moisture began falling from the sky.  When we met that morning, Katie informed me the forecast had changed - the rain's start time had been moved up to 1 pm.  Although it was cutting things close, we decided to go ahead with our tour, and turn back when things started getting soggy.

I attempt to conquer the big snowball

Katie and I arrived at Timberline Lodge to overcast skies thick with leaden gray clouds.  We hurried to get ready, and hit the trail around 9 am.  To get the farthest distance possible, the plan was to take minimal stops.  But right away I was distracted by a huge snowball on the side of the snowcat track.

Take that, snowball!

Who doesn't love playing with a giant snowball?  Think I can climb it?

Katie laughs at her goofy friend

Katie of course, couldn't do anything but laugh at her goofy friend.  And remind me that we needed to keep moving!

Slogging up the cat track

But once we passed the snowball, my friend and I settled into an uphill rhythm, following the bumpy track made by Timberline's many snowcats.  As we climbed, the mountain, far up ahead, guided us on.  

I get artsy fartsy

Mt. Hood's summit was cloaked in a swirling white lenticular cloud.  Although it didn't stand out much against the white overcast sky, while messing around in photoshop later I accidentally produced this artsy image.  And I kind of like it.  At least you can now see the mountain's features and the cloud stands out a bit better.

Our friend the snowcat at Silcox Hut

We made good time up to the Silcox Hut (a mid-mountain cabin that hosts overnight guests).  The wind was blasting our faces, so Katie and I sought shelter beside its walls, and downed a quick snack.  And I couldn't resist snapping a few more shots of the cool yellow snowcat that ferries visitors back and forth.

Clouds are getting thicker up high

But my friend and I couldn't linger long if we wanted to make the top of Palmer Lift and beat the rain.  So we pulled on another layer and continued our climb into the howling wind.  Up above Silcox Hut, the mountainside is totally exposed to the elements.  Sometimes conditions can be brutal.  I can tell you that day it wasn't much fun.  The wind stung our faces and chilled my hands.  At least the lift wasn't running, and uphill travel was allowed adjacent to the towers.  If visibility got bad, we'd have landmarks to follow.

Lenticular cloud over Hood

Looking back, I noticed a dark gray cloud hanging over the western sky.  It appeared as though rain was falling from it's underside.  Not a good sign.  Nearing the chairlift's halfway unloading point, I began to feel occasional drops strike my jacket.  Katie noticed too, but she was in denial.

Then the rain began to fall in earnest.  Katie looked at her watch.  The time was 11 am.  We both grumbled about the weatherman getting it wrong.  But now the question was, should we continue?

Looking down at the lift houses below

The decision was unanimous.  Neither one of us wanted to be stuck on the mountainside in a driving rainstorm.  Besides getting drenched, we were afraid visibility would quickly shrink.  It's no fun to try and pick your way downhill if you can't see.  Katie and I sadly pulled the climbing skins off our skis, and headed downhill.

A red snowcat is the only colorful thing in this landscape

Instead of enjoying lunch on top of the Palmer, we ate perched on a bench beside the lockers in the Timberline Day Lodge.  Katie loves Kahlua, and I'd packed a small bottle, planning to surprise her at the top.  But instead of enjoying a treat on the mountain, we ended up surreptitiously slipping shots in our hot chocolate.

Ah, skiing the PNW.  Sometimes it gets a little wet.  But although our uphill tour got cut short by r@#$ it was still great to get outside and play on my favorite mountain.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

(Almost) Spring Skiing

The calendar read March 7th.  Spring was still two full weeks away.

But don't tell that to Mt. Hood......

Sunny day!  Yahoo!

My ski-buddy Kim and I both had Friday off, and the weatherman predicted a warm, sunny day.  Time for a visit to the Hood to partake in some spring skiing! (even though it wasn't quite spring yet).

Ready for our first run

Although a week of constant mid-February snowstorms revived our skimpy snowpack, the weather this season has been more spring- than winter-like.  Another blogger complained that "PNW" (Pacific Northwest) stood for "Pacific No Winter."  But those who prefer their ski days sunny and warm were happy campers.

Cool cloud bank hovers over the valley

Kim and I certainly were smiling.  How can you not when the first ride up brings you views like these?

Looking into Heather Canyon

Due to the low snow, Heather Canyon, Mt. Hood Meadows' Expert area, had been off-limits most of the season.  But the fabulous February refill covered its slopes enough that the ropes were finally dropped.  Kim saw me staring longingly into the canyon and told me to go ahead and take a run (she doesn't do double blacks).  She promised to meet me at the bottom of Shooting Star lift.

Bottom of Heather Canyon

So I happily swished down the slope between Twilight and Moon Bowls.  Although a little icy on top, my ski edges soon found some soft fluff to bite into.  Although the slopes were pretty bumped up, I still had a fun ride down.  Upon hitting the bottom, I stopped to take in the beauty of this stark, snow-covered landscape.  Sitting in the bottom of a massive canyon makes you realize you're merely a speck in this great big ole world.

Riding the  lift out of Heather Canyon

Then it was a quick slide to the lift, and a fun ride up the steep canyon wall.

Approaching the Shooting Star Lift

And during the trip, plenty of photo ops.

Different perspective of the lift line

Passing over the Shooting Star chair gives one a different perspective of lift lines.

Kim waving to me from below

And a wave from Kim, waiting below.

Dramatic views from top of Cascade Lift

Post-lunch, the sun was out in full force.  My friend and I traveled to Cascade Chairlift, the highest place in the ski area.  Fantastic views could be found from every direction.

Gotta be careful!  (photo by Kim)

But lookout for the hazards!  Kim snapped this funny photo with her phone, and was nice enough to share.

Kim tryin' out some demo skis

The  intense solar energy worked it's magic on the snow, and by afternoon, it was lovely soft corn.  An absolute joy to ski through!  Crowds (what little there were) had tapered off, so lines were non-existent.  Kim and I made lap after lap, until our legs were crying for mercy.

Mountain and forest views

These ungroomed wind-blown drifts were probably my favorite run of the day.  It was big fun to slide up and down these small (and large) bumps.  I even caught a tiny bit of air!  (tee-hee!)

Hood is lookin' good

Ahhh..... blue skies, soft snow, no crowds, endless solar energy.  Who doesn't love spring skiing?  (Especially when it arrives early!)

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Suddenly Spring

Winters in the Pacific Northwest can be downright dreary.  No, we normally don't get the cold and snow like many northern climates, but the endless gray cloudy days get old.  Combine lack of sunshine, lots of rain, and overall grayness, and the months from November to February can seem long and gloomy indeed.

Our first daffodil!

But then, in early March, something wonderful happens.  First, the daffodils rear their sunny yellow heads out of the cold soil.  Then, bright purple crocuses arrive on the scene.

The neighbor's crocuses about to open

And...the next week all the flowering trees erupt in frilly pink blossoms.  BAM!  Before you know it, everything is in bloom.

Water droplet dangles from a daffodil

Spring really snuck up on me this year.  The week after I spotted our daffodils sprouting flowers, every tree in the neighborhood burst into color.  I swear it all happened overnight.

Raindrops bead on daffodil leaves

There's a flowering pear tree in our front yard.  The tree isn't anything special 11 months out of the year.  But in March it decorates itself with lovely white blooms and pink-tinged buds.

Our floweriing pear tree is in bloom

The neighbors on our cross street also have some nice flowering trees.  This past sunny Saturday morning, I ran over with my camera to capture morning light on the blooms.

More lovely blossoms

Right now these bright yellow flowering trees can be found all over town.  Not sure what they are called (not much of an arborist, sorry!) but I know what I like to photograph.

Bright yellow flowers brighten a neighbor's tree

Our next-door neighbors have a giant weeping willow tree, that dangles over the fence into our yard.

Blossoms cascade down our neighbor's weeping willow

It was chock-full of cute little white flowers. 

Blossom close-up

The flowers began dropping from the tree's branches, decorating the ground below.  Even lying on the sidewalk, they're mighty pretty.

Fallen blooms decorate the sidewalk

Remember the photo of the closed crocus flowers at the beginning of this post?  Well, later that day I was delighted to pass by and discover their petals had opened.  And they were indeed lovely.

The crocuses are open!

Spring in Portland is colorful and glorious.  Bursting onto the scene like a delightful surprise, it's our reward for enduring the long, dark, gray months of winter.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Diamond Lake

Before I get started with today's post, I need some help from my blogging friends.  Has anyone had troubles following other blogs with Google Friend Connect?  This week, I tried to follow a few different blogs using GFC, and and it didn't work.  I kept getting error messages.  Has something changed I'm not aware of?  Is Google pulling the plug on GFC?  If any of you can help shed some light on this issue, please leave me a comment!  Thanks!!!

Pointy Mt. Thielson from the highway

Okay, on to today's story.  After spending two glorious days at Crater Lake, Roger and I packed up for the long drive back to Portland.  But on our way home, we decided to make a pit stop.  Just north and west of Crater Lake is another place that's very special to our family - Diamond Lake.  When our kids were little, we used to spend long summer weekends camping at this beautiful body of water.  Fishing was great, the campground was wonderful, and both our kids learned to ride their bikes on the paved path that circled it's shore.

Tall snowbanks line the road to Crater Lake

Since Diamond Lake is a short distance from Crater Lake, Roger and I decided we had to stop by.  So we bid Crater Lake goodbye, and hit the road that wound west and north around the park.  Diamond Lake was only about 20 miles away, and it didn't take long before Roger was pulling into the marina parking area.

Diamond Lake and Mt. Bailey

We'd never visited Diamond Lake in the winter.  The lake has a resort, with a lodge, cabins and a general store.  Although summer is it's busy season, the place stays open year-round.  When the snow flies, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and cat skiing are the main activities.  Diamond Lake is anchored by two lovely mountains on each side - Mt. Bailey to the west, and pointy-topped Mt. Thielson to the east.

Snow art on Diamond Lake's shore

When we lived in South Dakota, Roger was an avid ice fisherman.  Sadly, living in western Oregon, temps rarely get cold enough to freeze the lakes, so Roger hasn't ice fished in years.  But up here in the mountains, in winter the mercury drops well below freezing, and Diamond Lake regularly ices over.  Roger was very interested in checking out the ice fishing scene.

Swedish chef snowman?

It was cool to see the lake covered with snow and ice.  So different from our summer trips!  And even more fun - someone had built a couple of incredible snowmen on the lakeshore.  One looked to be a chef, and the other was built with a set of sturdy legs.  Pine cones and sticks were used to outline facial features.

Roger goes to check on the ice fishing

While Roger trekked out onto the ice to talk to the fishermen, I roamed along the shore snapping photos of these very creative snowmen.

Snowchef and Mt. Bailey

Roger returned with a report that the fishing was slow.  Still, I think my hubby was wishing he'd brought his pole and still owned an ice auger.  Maybe we'll have to return to Diamond Lake next winter.  I'll pass the time skiing up Mt. Bailey while Roger's busy enticing trout to bite.

Our winter trip to Southern Oregon was a rousing success. Whether it's to visit Crater or Diamond Lake, I have a feeling there's a return visit in store for next winter.

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

More From Crater Lake

Time for day two!  If you missed my post from day one of my Crater Lake trip, you can read all about it here.

After a spectacular first day at Crater Lake National Park, I couldn't wait to return.  Lucky us, the following morning dawned clear and sunny once again.

Obligatory entrance sign photo

My hubby and I stayed at the Union Creek Resort about 20 miles west of Crater Lake.  Driving to the park that morning, I made him stop for an obligatory entrance sign shot.  Of course, he would have nothing to do with being in the photo, but I had no problem hamming it up.  :)

Another lovely day!

Yep, the lake was just as blue and beautiful as when we left it yesterday.  Conditions were a bit windier, however, so no great reflections.  Good thing I took a zillion reflection photos yesterday!

Snow flocked trees

Instead traveling on skis, today I decided to rent snowshoes and give that a try.  I figured I'd be more stable on my feet traversing the monster snowdrifts.  However, I soon discovered snowshoeing is a lot of work.  And you don't go as fast.  Every time a skier slid by I felt pangs of jealously watching their effortless gliding.

But Roger was happy, as I kept up with him much better.  As a matter of fact, he was much faster than me.  (Blame it on the monster backpack full of photo gear that I was carrying.....he had only a small load)

I'm on snowshoes today

We decided to follow West Rim Drive again, but this time go farther.  Roger and I blasted by the first mile and a half, only stopping to take photos at the scenic overlooks. 

Large snow roller

The day was warm, and due to the higher temps, we noticed the newly-fallen snow was no longer light and fluffy.  It was turning heavy and wet.  We came across a few steep slopes with snow rollers at the bottom.  These snow rollers are formed when snow gets so wet and heavy that gravity kicks in and a chunk of snow gets moved down a slope, rolling into a ball as it slides.

Sunbursts were out in force

We trudged by huge snowdrift area number one, and stopped to admire Mother Nature's handiwork.  And I couldn't resist grabbing a couple of sunburst images.

Huge drift formed a canyon

By late morning, we passed yesterday's turn-around point, and delved into new territory.  It wasn't long before we encountered monster snowdrift number two.  It was in an area where the road is perched on the side of a steep cliff.  Huge drifts formed against the tall rocky slope.  The very top of the drifts were almost pointed, leaving little area to walk on snowshoes.  The slopes below were really steep, so Roger and I opted to trek through a small canyon formed between the drifts and uphill side of the road.

Clear skies meant great views

We passed through a clearing, and oh the views were grand indeed!  The skies were clear as a bell and we could see for miles.  The adjacent snow-topped spires of Union Peak and Mt. McLoughlin rose out of the forested foothills.

Tromped down trail

Rounding a bend, we glimpsed ahead to a view of Watchman Peak.  My goal for today was to hopefully hike up to a fire lookout tower on top.  But when I actually saw the peak for the first time, I realized that would be a long, steep climb.  Hmmm.....maybe we'd just hike around it instead?

Snowy trees made for amazing scenery

After a quick trailside lunch of cliff bars and apples, it was back on our snowshoes, breaking trail through the heavy snow.  By now most of the people we saw were on skis, and to be courteous, we didn't want to tromp through their ski track.  There wasn't yet a snowshoe trail established, so we had to make our own.  Let me tell you, it was a good cardio workout!

Knocking snow clumps off the bottom of my snowshoes  :(

My el cheapo rental snowshoes didn't do so well in the heavy sticky snow.  I kept getting huge icy clumps of snow balled up on the bottoms.  I didn't need any more weight on my feet, so it necessitated lots of stops to knock the extra baggage off.  Very annoying, to say the least.

White frosted mountain

Roger and I had agreed on 2:30 as our turn-around.  It was nearing our designated time, when we met a couple coming from the opposite direction.  They told us of an amazing overlook just 20 minutes further down the trail.  Although he was tiring fast, my hubby knew that I really wanted to see it, so he told me to go on ahead without him. 

Cool ice patterns on this tree

With Roger resting in a lovely forested glen full of frosty trees, I took off through the snow, hell-bent on reaching the next viewpoint.  I trekked through  a mostly barren slope, with just a few stunted trees coated in a thick layer of rime ice.  The trees were really cool, and made for some excellent photo subjects.  I could've spend an hour just photographing them.  But I knew Roger was waiting, and didn't linger.

Watchman Overlook pan-o-rama (click to enlarge)

Coming up on the overlook, I got hit with a huge blast of icy wind.  I quickly threw on my jacket and hat.  But then I grabbed for my camera, because the above panorama is what greeted me.  Oh yeah!  The best viewpoint yet.  Click on the above photo to get the full effect.

Wizard Island close-up

Wizard Island was front and center.  The lake spread out from both sides, shining bright blue.  Mount Scott rose from the opposite shore.  So amazing!  Totally worth traveling the extra distance.

Open views from the road

I quickly shot off a bunch of images, and then hot-footed it back to where Roger was waiting.  He'd passed the time taking photos of the lovely flocked trees.  Although I tried not to burn a lot of time with my side trip, when I reunited with my hubby it was way past our turn-around time.  And we still had a 3.5 mile return trip to the car.

More lake glimpses

So there wasn't a lot of photo taking on the trek back.  And we tried not to take too many breaks.  Both Roger and I were beginning to tire, boots now rubbing our feet, and muscles starting to complain.

Sparkling snow

But I did stop for a few shots of the lovely sparkling snow.  Huge ice crystals had formed overnight on the snow's surface and they glistened like diamonds in the sun.  Truly a magical sight!  Sadly, photos just didn't do it justice.

Enjoying late afternoon light on the lake

We took a final break about a mile from the trailhead, sitting on a portion of rock wall uncovered from the snow.  Such a grand view!  The late afternoon light illuminated the lake's steep rim beautifully.  I handed my camera to a couple who happened to be walking by and asked them to take a photo.  Turned out to be one of my favorites from the trip.

My reward for the day!

We reached the car, footsore, tired and hungry.  Although I run and ski, snowshoeing made my legs sore in totally new places.  I decided I like skiing much better, and will use my telemark skis and climbing skins next time I visit.  Oh yes, there will be a next time!  Probably not until winter 2015, though.  But maybe it will be a better snow year (although I can't complain about the timing of this trip).

My gps read a grand total of 8.5 miles traveled for the day.  After such a long trek, Roger and I enjoyed a hearty meal at the wonderful restaurant where we stayed.  And I rewarded myself with a huge slice of their famous pie.  A perfect end to a perfect trip!

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.  and Our World Tuesday.

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