And when the snowpack gets deep enough, it's time to strap on my skis.
|Young and I team up again!|
I set my sights on the first Saturday of December for a quick trip up Timberline Ski Area's upper lifts, conning my friend Young and her hubby to join me. But the forecast didn't look great...Friday temps on the mountain warmed above freezing and a bit of rain fell. The following day was supposed to get cold again, and I was afraid all that wet snow would freeze solid.
Still, you don't know if you don't go, so Saturday morning I packed my car anyway and headed up to Mt Hood.
Driving up Timberline Road, strong winds buffeted my car and snowflakes clouded visibility. Parking at the climber's lot, I could hardly make out the nearby lifts, let alone the top of Hood. It didn't look promising!
But when Young, her husband John, and their son pulled up, the only words from John were "suit up, let's go!"
|Young is happy to be outside|
Since Young and I are slower uphill skiers (and also like to stop and take photos) we buddied up, and let the men move at their own pace. Bundling up against the wind gusts, we started out climbing a tall bank and crossing a snowy knoll before finding our groove on the packed snowcat track.
|Low clouds and blowing snow|
Snow was falling, but the wild winds blew it around so much visibility was low. Although happy to see the white stuff, I was dismayed to discover a thick layer of ice under the meager accumulation.
|Taking a photo (aka rest) break! (photo by Young)|
But my friend and I were happy to be outside, even if the weather was less than perfect. Climbing uphill soon warmed out bodies, and we chattered away, getting caught up on each other's lives. And, of course, every once and awhile we'd stop for a photo break!
|Hood peeks out of the clouds|
Many uphill skiers tackle the steep climb from Timberline Lodge up Mt Hood's snowy slopes. First, one follows the snowcat track that parallels the Magic Mile ski lift's trails (but for safety we're required to stay off the designated runs). The first leg ends at the top of the Magic Mile and the Silcox Hut. The second leg climbs above the Magic Mile, following the Palmer Chairlift (which due to extreme weather usually isn't open in the winter but is only used for spring/summer skiing). Our destination today was the top of the Palmer, approximately two miles and 2500 feet of climbing.
|Mt Hood and the Silcox Hut come into view|
Although battling wind and near-whiteout conditions, as Young and I neared the top of the Mile, we suddenly noticed clearing skies. The Silcox Hut's snow-covered roof came into view.
|John is waaayyyy ahead!|
And then, the clouds parted, and Mt Hood's lovely white summit emerged from the storm. We also got a glimpse of John, wayyy up the slope!
|Silcox Hut is hiding behind a snowbank|
Nearing the Silcox Hut, our track became bumpy and icy. Navigating the tall berm around the building was a real challenge. But Young and I made it!
|Checking out the hut|
The Silcox Hut is a rustic mid-mountain lodge. Built by the WPA, it was originally the upper terminal for the Magic Mile Lift, and also served as a warming hut and starting point for climbers. Restored in the 1980s, the hut is now rented out to groups for weddings and overnight lodging.
|Snowed-in front door|
Reaching the hut, Young and I used it's walls as refuge from the wind, and took a quick snack break. It was also a great opportunity for some photographs of the building's details. Well, those that weren't covered in snow!
|Yup, it's the Silcox Hut!|
I especially noticed the metal inscription on the front door.
|Fantastic views above the hut|
John and Young's son were raring to reach the top of the Palmer Lift, and opted to forego a stop at the Silcox Hut. However, although the skies had cleared by the time we'd reached this point, the snowstorm wasn't done yet. As Young and I prepared to leave our sheltered break area, we were slammed by an new squall. And topping it off, the slopes above this point were nothing but ice.
|Magic Mile and Palmer Lift houses|
Traction on this glittering surface was difficult. Young took a hard fall and bumped her knee. With visibility worsening, and the snow treacherously slippery, turning around wasn't a hard decision. As Young and I were removing the climbing skins from our skis, John came sliding back downhill. He'd also been forced to turn around by the icy conditions.
The trip back downhill was not fun. The bumpy, icy slopes were difficult to navigate. I must've fell at least a dozen times. Not only were skiing conditions terrible, visibility deteriorated, making it hard to see where you were going. Some of my falls were due to skiing into tall berms that I couldn't see. It was survival skiing at its finest!
|Foiled by icy conditions!|
But near the lodge, John directed us into a small gully. Wind-blown snow had filled in the very bottom and I enjoyed a few sweet turns in the light, fluffy powder. Almost made the strenuous uphill and terrifying downhill worth it. Well - almost!
Everyone in our party made it to the parking lot in one piece. And we all agreed, even though the day's conditions were challenging, it was good to get outside and enjoy a bit of winter on the mountain.