Monday, April 13, 2015

Back up the Palmer

A foot healing from bunion surgery cut this year's ski season short.  And, yes, a low snowpack didn't help matters (Several people commented I picked the right time to get my foot fixed!)  Although I managed to hit the local resort by mid-January, and racked up a respectable 10 days on my season pass, there was one winter activity I thought I'd have to skip entirely - backcountry skiing.

Leave it to my good friends Young and John to make sure I didn't miss out.  One sunny Sunday in late March, they invited me on a trip up Mt. Hood along the Palmer ski lift.

Good morning, Mt Hood!

Blue skies greeted our arrival at Timberline Ski Area.  Mt. Hood, wearing a coat of winter white, contrasted beautifully with the cloudless morning.  A scraggly lenticular cloud hung over her very summit, which made for some excellent photo ops.

Our climb begins....

My friends and I quickly booted up, strapped on our skis, and began the slow uphill shuffle.  My day's destination was the top of the Palmer Lift, the highest chairlift at Timberline (and on Mt. Hood).  Sitting at an elevation of 8500 feet, it was a grueling 2500 feet climb from our starting point at Timberline Lodge.

Buddy selfie shot

John, who's uber-fit, decided to sprint ahead (he wanted to see how quickly he could reach the top of Palmer), leaving us ladies to creep along by ourselves.  No problem - it was a good chance for quality girlfriend time.  The first half mile, we chattered away, getting caught up on each other's lives.  I went for major dorkdom, wearing my GoPro camera on my head (and Young still agreed to ski with me!)  But it was a great way to capture footage of our journey.

We followed a rough track plowed by one of Timberline's snowcats, that paralleled the groomed ski runs (ski areas don't allow uphill travel on their designated trails).  We met a couple of mountain climbers, descending from an early morning summit attempt.  Chatting with the lady climber, she told us high winds forced them to turn around short of the top.  After leaving the climbers, Young and I were lapped by a couple of men also skiing up the mountain.  Neither Young nor I are speedy uphill skiers, so this was the first of many groups that passed us.

Hood wearing a dramatic cloud

But with scenery this spectacular, we didn't really mind.  As the morning wore on, Mt. Hood's wispy cloud evaporated, and we were treated to crystal-clear summit views.

Young poses for a mountain shot

For those who've recently begun reading my blog, traversing uphill on skis is accomplished by attaching climbing skins to ski's undersides.  These thick pieces of material stick to ski bottoms, and provide enough traction to enable a person to travel uphill, while preventing downhill slides.  They're amazing devices!  Once a skier has reached their desired destination, the skins are removed, and he/she is able to enjoy a trip downhill (called "earning your turns").  Backcountry skiers refer to uphill travel as "skinning."

It was great fun to have my GoPro.  Experimenting with a different point of view, I laid the camera in the snow and skied towards it.  I got right up to the camera, and it still captured my entire self.  Love that wide angle lens!

The Palmer and Magic Mile Lift houses below

Lovely scenery and good company made the distance slip by quickly, and before I knew it, Young and I were staring at the top of the Magic Mile and the bottom of the Palmer lift  houses.  We'd climbed 1000 feet in a mile - only 1500 vertical left to go!

Young attacks a big snowball

Of course, the final 1500 feet were way tougher than the slope we'd just climbed.  Past the lift houses, things got much steeper.  Muscles began to ache, breathing became heavier.  I felt like we were moving in slow motion.

Timberline's snowcat

Still, there were lots of things to distract us from our tired bodies.  A snowcat roared by providing great photo ops.  Skiers started flying downhill, transported by the now-running Palmer lift, and we jealously watched them speed by.

Snow farming, PNW style

Near the very top, Young and I spied vertical lines of snow plowed into the mountainside.  We later learned these ridges and valleys were created to capture and store the snow as it blew across the slopes.  Timberline Ski Area is open nearly year-round, catering to summer ski and snowboard camps.  The Palmer Glacier usually stays intact throughout most of the summer, enabling people to enjoy skiing well into August (and sometimes September).  But with this year's low snowpack, we assumed that management was trying to catch and preserve as much of the white stuff as possible.

About midway up the Palmer Lift, my foot began to ache.  I adjusted my binding to try and take pressure off the big toe joint.  It helped a bit, but my foot still wasn't happy.  I considered stopping short of my goal, but the lift terminus looked so close.  I really didn't want to bail yet.  So I ignored my toe's protests and soldiered on.

Relaxing on top of the Palmer

Nearing the very top, the snow's surface, chopped up by multiple snowcat visits, became very uneven.  The last little pitch was extremely steep, causing Young and I to sidestep the final few feet.  It was very exhausting.  I've never been so happy to reach the top of a ski slope!  I captured our efforts on my GoPro and posted the video above.

Our view downhill

John greeted us as we reached our destination.  The wind was roaring, and he had bundled up against the cold.  It had taken him a speedy hour and twenty minutes to skin to the top.  It took Young and I three hours.  John had been waiting in the freezing wind for nearly one hour and 40 minutes!  Needless to say, he was very happy to finally see us ladies.

The Magic Mile and Palmer lifthouses

Young and I found a spot to sit and enjoyed a well-earned snack.  We admired the grand view spread out before us.  The Cascade foothills stretched out to the horizon, anchored by Mt. Jefferson far in the distance.  We bundled up against the frigid wind, and Young was nice enough to share some hot tea with her shivering friend.

Timberline Lodge sporting a very bare parking lot

Although I was ready to head downhill, Young and John weren't finished yet.  They planned to continue uphill and try to reach Illumination Rock.  But I was quite done, and told my friends I'd wait for them in the lodge.

I took advantage of the resort's groomed runs for my return trip.  It was wonderful to let gravity do most of the work.  But my body was tired from the uphill trek, and I made many stops on the way down.  The day's warm temps had softened the snow, and by the time I'd descended below the Magic Mile, it was extremely sticky.  Not fun to ski in at all!

Gorgeous Mt Hood view from the brewpub

But I made it down in one piece.  Happily, I stowed my gear in John's truck and went to fetch a hot drink.  As it turned out, my wait was short.  It wasn't long before Young and John appeared at their vehicle.  They said the snow above the Palmer was extremely icy, so they'd decided to turn around.  After taking off our boots, and packing up the gear, there was only one thing left to do......


Head to John's favorite brewpub in the tiny town of Parkdale and enjoy some liquid refreshment while taking in more spectacular Hood views.  Here's to a successful ski tour with good friends.  Cheers!

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday and Wednesday Around the World


  1. The scenery is just stunning!

  2. A fun and gorgeous series of photos, Linda! Those snowcapped mountains are amazing!!!

  3. What a hike wow. Especially that last video with the final part of the climb. I felt exhausted just by looking at it, can't imagine what it must have felt like. The cloud above the mountain top is really stunning, and overall the mountain landscapes are a sight to behold.

    Mersad Donko Photography

  4. Wow - I'm exhausted! Fabulous shot of Mt Hood from the brewhouse. Hope your foot is healing well.

  5. Wow, what a wonderful series!
    It's good seeing our mountains covered in white...
    with more to come.

  6. Hope your toe suffered no ill effects. As always the scenery is just spectacular.

  7. As always you have super photos Linda.

  8. Beautiful shots, and am impressed with the GO PRO on your head.... Looks like a fun day, but also some serious exercise. Bet you are loving doing that minus that bunion!

  9. Beautiful photos! What a wonderful way to spend the day. And a great way to end it :)

  10. Linda, I am just amazed at your ability to hike & ski after your foot problem.. I do love these beautiful photos & video you bring back from your outings.. The snow covered mountains are just beautiful. Great post. Have a happy day!

  11. Wow - I don't think it get much better than that! I am planning to finally get to the snow this year - now all we need is some snow!!

    Dark Side of the Moon is correct for the first one - and the second is by the same band.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  12. Linda, so glad you enjoy the skiing and were able to get a chance to make the trip.

  13. Looks like a gorgeous day on the mountain! Glad you've got so much energy! I really like your Go-Pro videos. I keep thinking, maybe ....

  14. What fun! And what fabulous pictures and videos. Hope your foot recovered with some rest. I sure did enjoy going along with you on this trip. :-)

  15. I'm surprised you did the climb with your foot still healing. You are much braver than I am! But the views are lovely and you just cannot beat great friendships!

  16. Wow, what an ambitious trip! I was interested in the climbing skins. It's been a long time since I've been cross country skiing, but I recall a tedious herring bone step, which would probably be REALLY hard on a steep slope! Glad you made the trip, and I always enjoy your views from the top!

  17. Foot by foot you made it! I enjoyed the videos...the scenery is so beautiful! :)

  18. love that lenticular cloud on the top of the Hood. Another gorgeous series of images.

  19. I have little use for purposefully getting cold, but your photos are great to see!

  20. Almost year round? That's impressive. So is your athleticism!

  21. I hope our recent snow has helped out up there a bit. I was surprised that there is even some snow on the higher areas of the coast range this morning. LOVE the "farming" photo--too cool! Both of your friends sound like they are TRUE friends:)
    Blessings, Aimee

  22. WOW, the only month that I've seen Timberline Lodge is in July. Actually one year there was more snow in the parking lot and your picture shows. Tom The Backroads Traveller

  23. Magical! Awesome! So glad your foot has progressed so well.

  24. Not a bad mountain to have in your back yard. Good work with the GoPro and great photos of a superb day.

  25. What a great capture of Mt Hood! I hope your toe joint survived - you were testing it! This is the last week of skiing at Breckenridge. We are under a winter storm watch that may deposit feet of snow. Will it never end?

  26. Dearest Linda; Wow, I truly admire your power to challenge after your surgery! I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the video; Mt Hood view is sure really GORGEOUS♡♡♡

    Sending Lots of Love and Hugs from Japan to my Dear friend in America, xoxo Miyako*

  27. I'm glad you were able to do this back country ski, even with a healing foot and low snow conditions. The climb up looked hard, but the reward of having done it and being able to enjoy the view with your friends was worth it. Your GoPro took wonderful videos--that is a fun camera to own!

  28. Gorgeous views! Did you get to explore the inside of the lodge? Those historic lodges in Oregon are always so beautiful inside.

  29. I cannot even imagine how difficult that climbing is to do. I see you are loving your Go-Pro.

  30. Wow, what a trek up hill. The views are gorgeous and I can see that you are having a great time! I loved Timberline lodge. We ate lunch there when we visited. My hubby has a go pro and we forget to take it with us. There was a small town nearby that I loved, but I think it was Prospector something.

  31. love that mountain. Have many good memories skiing there!


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