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.
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