Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Perfect Powder on Mt. Hood

While I've been posting photos from my October National Parks trip, fun stuff has been happening at home.  Its ski season!!  Taking a brief break from my vacation recaps, I wanted to share a recent ski trip on a perfectly powdery bluebird day.  (Bryce Canyon photos are coming in my next post - I promise!)

Picture perfect morning!

Between Christmas and New Year, the snow gods delivered big time on Mt. Hood.  Storm after storm rolled through the Cascades, coating the mountaintops with layers of white fluff.  The Wednesday after Christmas, the skies cleared.  My friends John and Young made plans to ski up Mt. Hood and invited me along.  I hemmed and hawed about taking a vacation day from work.  I'd been extremely busy with a large project and was worried about falling behind.

Sparkly snow

But in the end, as it always does, the promise of a sunny ski day won out.  Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood was reporting 7 inches of new fluffy snow.  Blue skies and fresh powder?  The heck with work!  I requested the day off (on my deathbed I knew I wouldn't be wishing I'd worked more).

John, our trailbreaking hero!

Pulling into the Timberline Lodge parking lot that morning, Mt. Hood gleamed a brilliant white.  John, giddy with the prospect of fresh snow, told Young and I he planned to take us all the way up to Illumination Rock.  Gulp!  That's a 3500 foot climb!  Extremely ambitious for the first backcountry outing of the year (IMHO).

Palmer and Magic Mile lift houses

Young and I strapped on our skis, shouldered our backpacks, and followed John up the first steep pitch paralleling the Magic Mile ski trail.  Both of us were secretly hoping John would forget his outlandish plan.  But John was having a great time slicing through the new-fallen snow, even deliberately steering us off the plowed cat track so he could break trail.

Ice-crusted lift tower

At least breaking trail slowed John down!  He's extremely fit and usually leaves Young and I in the dust.  This time, we were able to keep up.

Young is happy to arrive at the top of Palmer

I know what some of you are thinking - they're skiing UP a mountain?  If you're not a long-time reader of my blog, yes, I'm one of the crazy folks who loves backcountry skiing.  This involves climbing up mountains under your own power (no lift required).  I've posted more details about this activity in past entries and if you'd like to learn more see this post.

Sunny lunch spot

Our group continued it's journey up the side of Mt. Hood.  It wasn't long before we were passing by the top of the Magic Mile ski lift.  The top of the Magic Mile is also the bottom of the Palmer Lift, which takes skiers to an elevation of 8,540 feet - the highest lift on Mt. Hood.  The snow-covered lift houses made a nice contrast to a backdrop of low clouds.

Young and I enjoy the views (Photo by John)

While low clouds settled in the valleys below, my friends and I enjoyed unlimited vitamin D.  Bright sunshine made the fluffy snow crystals sparkle like diamonds.

Onward to Illumination Saddle

Here's where the real climbing began!  Although we'd ascended 1000 feet already, we still had a stiff 1500 foot trek to reach the top of the Palmer.  And from past trips, I knew this next leg was much steeper.

High above the clouds (photo by John)

John advised Young and I not to ski too fast and burn ourselves out (I'm especially guilty of this).  "Slow and steady" he reminded us.  With the Palmer lift closed (it was covered in ice from the last storm and needed to be cleared) we were able to use the groomed ski run.  Knowing I had a long, slog ahead, I put my head down and concentrated on sliding one foot in front of the other (slow and steady, of course!)

Just me 'n Hood

Turning my focus inward, I developed a consistent rhythm.  Inch by inch, I crept uphill, marking progress by counting the lift towers.  Although this climb had been difficult in the past, today time seemed to pass quickly, and before I knew it I was one lift tower away from the top!  Yahoo!  And, although strenuous, I'd done much better than I thought, especially considering it was my first trip of the season.

Tracks lead to Illumination Rock

Beating Young and John to the to of the Palmer, I waited for them to catch up.  Then we trekked uphill to a sunny spot, and John shoveled a out snow bench.  Perfect spot for a leisurely lunch break!  It felt so good to sit down and fill my belly.  And the views were fabulous. 

We reach our turnaround point

After our relaxing lunch, I was sort of hoping John would tell us to prepare for our ski down.  But he had other plans - John instructed Young and I to gear back up, and follow him further up the mountain.

Yahoo!  Time to ski down!  (Photo by John)

John pointed us toward Illumination Rock, a tall fin-shaped pillar jutting up from Mt. Hood's west side.  A gentle depression sloped between the top of Palmer and this pinnacle, that usually caught tons of snowfall.  John predicted there would be good skiing here.

So one we trudged...up, up, up.  It was nearing mid afternoon and I was beginning to get tired.  The fluffy snow we'd been skiing through all morning looked so wonderful.  I was dying to swoosh downhill through it.

Snack break with a killer view

Finally John came to a stop.  This, he announced, was our turn-around point.  We'd climbed to an elevation of 9400 feet.  Young and I took the climbing skins off our skis, and donned our helmets and warmer jackets.  Then we sat in the snow, took a snack break, and marveled at the incredible view from high on Hood.  Acres of virgin, untracked snow spread out below.  It was ours to ski - all ours!

We skiers dream of making first tracks through untouched slopes of fresh powder.  At ski areas, you may have one or two of these runs before the trails get tracked up.  But this was the advantage of backcountry skiing - we practically had the place to ourselves.  Hardly any other people were up on the mountain.  It couldn't have been more perfect!

Enjoying our turns (photo by John)

And so my friends and I made our descent, whooping and hollering joyfully through nearly a foot of perfect powder snow.  (John hates it when I holler "woo-hoo" so I made sure to do it as often as possible)  Using my GoPro, I captured a very shaky video of our first turns (I was tired from the climb and adjusting to skiing with a backpack).  Knowing the trip down would be way faster than our climb, I took my time and savored each and every turn.

Lovely late afternoon light on the mountain

Towards the bottom of our run, with daylight fading fast, we reached John's truck as the sun began to sink towards the horizon.  The last rays on Mt. Hood were so fabulous, I just had to capture the scene.  The mountain was drenched in a lovely pink alpenglow, highlighting our entire day's route.

Pink alpenglow lights up where we'd been

Supremely proud of myself, I'd climbed 3500 feet in seven miles.  A huge confidence boost to my fitness level!  But now it was time to find some pizza and beer, and review the days photos and video footage (Do I really say "woo-hoo" that much?)

A great use of a vacation day!  I didn't think about work even once.  :)

Sharing with:  Photo Friday and Through My Lens


  1. What a nice snow day for you and your friends. I can see up close in your photos the ridges I see on Mt Hood
    on our west side. Your evening shots are splendid.
    Even better in real life for you. Thanks for sharing, my friend!!

  2. Another awesome collection of photos Linda. Thanks to you I got a view of what winter should look like. It is just not happening here this year.

  3. Fantástico e belo passeio na neve.
    Um abraço e continuação de uma boa semana.

  4. Hello, Linda! WOW, I must agreee you are very fit to climb this mountain. The scenery and views are stunning. A great use of your vacation day. Beautiful photos and video. Happy Thursday, enjoy your day!

  5. You finally post about a place I have seen - and it looks ever better than I recall. Only did some short day walks about the base of Mt. Hood - but it was still good!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  6. Nice pics - glad you are finally getting snow

  7. What an awesome day of skiing! One of those perfect weather and perfect conditions days. Your uphill treck makes by best xc skiing look like a walk in the park! I get worn out on the short little 5 minute uphill stretches. Enjoyed you spectacular views of Mt. Hood, and the earlier post from 2912, which explained things really well. Never had the chance to try that sort of skiing.

  8. That looks amazing! What incredible scenery to take your mind off the climb. I am not a skier but I sure would like to trying Nordic or snow shoeing some day...especially in such a setting as this.

  9. Oh wow. Ski-ing or work? That's a no-brainer. The skies and snow just look fantastic.

  10. You don't need to go to Switzerland, you've got it all on your back doorstep!
    What a magical fabulous day. I've been waiting for a snow report.

  11. Amazing photos. That's the kind of snow and winter conditions we used to get here so I'm jealous. Being at a marginal latitude since climate change kicked in all we get now is rain, rain and more rain... or slush. I'm reduced to watching alpine skiing on TV now instead of taking part.
    Fantastic mountain.

  12. Whoo Hoo! Glad you brought me along. It is what most skiers dream - vast stretches of ungroomed powder. Do you have to worry about avalanche danger up there? Our avalanche danger is high right now in the backcountry.

    1. Hi Barb, Avy danger is pretty low on that side of Mt. Hood. Plus the snow in the Cascades is usually of the wet, heavy variety (aka "Cascade Concrete") so it stabilizes pretty quickly. However, my friends and I did wear beacons and carried avy gear just in case.

  13. What a perfect day, although I take lifts to get up the mountain. Don't you have to worry about avalanches once your out of the ski area? They're all too common here in Colorado.

  14. Your photos of our beautiful mountain and LOTS of snow on it brought a smile to my face! Your "woo hoo" comment made me laugh--thanks:)

  15. You should feel good about how fit you are! I'm very impressed and I love the views!

  16. Wow! Stunning photos. The colour contrast is spectacular.

  17. lovely to see such wonderful snow pictures, great photos.

  18. sure glad you are having more snow this year than you did last year.

  19. really coooool pics,i can feel the cold here as i am from asia so here we have only our northern areas where snow falls in winter,in my school days we used to go for picnic whenever it snowed ,

    amazing sharing your evening pics are really magical ,have a blessed day

  20. My good ness, this is an amazing accomplishment Linda, and your photos are stunning. I would have enough trouble going down the mountain, never mind up. I would have to back up 25 years for this. I used to love backcountry skiing, but those days are gone, and will have to enjoy it through you. I too agree that on your deathbed you will not be saying oh I wish I had been at work that day. LOL! I especially love that shot of the alpenglow. Gorgeous!!!! Such an amazing adventure!! Thanks for sharing this

  21. Great scenes--even if it IS snow!!

  22. I wish I weren't so scared of the downhill part, because the uphill looks pretty fun.

  23. I don't even ski...up or down, but these are just crazy, beautiful photos. My goodness, and then going down through pristine snow. I was looking forward to Bryce Canyon, but I'm thrilled I saw these!


  24. Maravilhosas fotos com paisagens deslumbrantes.

    Boa semana!
    ❤ه° ·.

  25. Wow! That is a trip of a lifetime, and it sounds like it's a lifestyle choice for you. Those photos are incredible, and how great that you get the mountain all to yourselves.

  26. Wow, Linda the whole day looked so fabulous! I never saw up skiing before--it looks like something I'd love to try, as it looks more controlled than downhill skiing. I'm also curious as to avalanches--do they ever occur there? Mt Hood in its alpenglow looked so beautiful!

  27. Absolutely stunning Linda, incredible views and loved the video. I'd have been saying woo-hoo all the way down too and a few more things I dare say, lol. What a thrilling way to get down a mountain :) Thanks for taking us along.

  28. Wow! Those are spectacular pictures! And I'll bet your workmates saved your work for you so you didn't miss anything.

  29. I really envy you. I haven't had the chance to make good winter and snow shots this season, since we simply don't have any snow here in South Europe. Your images are truly amazing. Especially the 4th one. Thank you for linking in with "Through My Lens".

    Mersad Donko Photography

  30. Absolutely stunning photos and video! Oh how beautiful! Looks like so much fun!

  31. Woo hoo, what great fun for you and your friends! What a beautiful day! My heart dropped nearly to my stomach when I saw those clouds and figured it was a big drop down! That Alpenglow shot is stunning:)

  32. That snow looks amazing! You've captured it beautifully!

    Thank you for sharing it with us at Photo Friday!

  33. Nothing wrong with a little "woo" but be careful how much you "hoo". (I'm trying to funny, hope it worked)


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