|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.
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