Sunday, April 30, 2017

Best of Bachelor

I live for the weekends.  Holding down a 40-hour work week means time off is a precious commodity.  By Tuesday I'm already plotting the next weekend's activities.

Morning at Mt Bachelor

The last weekend of March promised a wonderful sunny day on Friday.  Lucky for me, that perfect weather day coincided with my Friday off.  Never one to waste a rain-free day (especially this winter!) I decided a trip to Central Oregon's Mt Bachelor was the perfect way to enjoy the rare sunshine.

Broken Top Mountain from the slopes

Wanting to take full advantage of a sunny ski day, I left Portland at the ungodly hour of 4 am Friday morning.  But this early hour meant empty highways, and making good time I pulled into Mt Bachelor's parking lot a mere 10 minutes past the 9 am lift opening.

Blue skies!

It was a blue-sky perfect day!  The mountain gleamed a brilliant white in the morning sun, overnight snow still clinging to the trees.  Giddy, I grabbed my skis and  headed towards the lift.

Photo for my Aussie friend Helen

I rode the Pine Martin Lift up, and once on top marveled at the tremendous scenery from high on Mt Bachelor.  Broken Top Mountain and the Three Sisters anchored the northern skyline.  Ski area views don't get much better than this!

Cool light in the trees

After a few quick "warm up" runs down Pine Martin's trails, I headed to the Outback Lift to sample the goods.  As expected, all the runs off of the Outback Lift have an Australian themed names, and I posed for  photo at one of the trail signs for my Aussie friend Helen.

Pine Martin Lodge from NW Express

After a few trips up and down the Outback Lift, I continued west to the next chairlift, the Northwest Express.  The runs off this lift are all black diamonds, the most challenging of all.  The top of this lift offers wide open views of the adjacent mountains and lakes, and also has a killer view of the Pine Martin Lodge, perched on the side of Mt Bachelor.

Fun black diamond runs

What run to choose?  I started down one, but some fluffy powder between the trees enticed me, and before I knew it, I was off into a thick glade full of deep snow.  Although the snow on the groomed runs was a tad bit icy, the shade of the trees had preserved this snow and it was still deep, dry, powdery, and a dream to ski in.

The best snow was in the trees

Hands-down the best run of the day, I floated happily through the tree-sheltered powder.  Stopping for a quick break, I admired the lovely views of the white-flocked trees inside the forest.

But skiing by one's self in a gladed area is not safe - people have fallen into deep treewells and died.  Although I would have loved to do multiple trips, common sense prevailed and I decided not to push my luck.  One tree run was enough for today. 

Nice enough weather for an outdoor lunch

Tummy rumbling, it was time for a quick lunch stop at the Pine Martin Lodge, perched mid-mountain atop the Pine Martin Lift.  The weather was so nice, several people decided to eat lunch on the outdoor patio.  But I was happy for an indoor break, relaxing in the wonderful restaurant.  A bowl of their killer Thai chicken soup hit the spot!    Recharged and refreshed, it was time to explore Mt Bachelor's east side.

Ice-crusted Summit lift

I'd heard a rumor the Summit Lift was going to be opened.  Extreme weather on the mountain's very top often closes this lift for days.  But judging by the number of skiers heading east, I knew something was up.  Following the crowd, I came upon a huge lift line for the Summit.  Luckily, riding single has it's advantages, and it didn't take long before I was paired up with a group of ladies  heading towards the very top.

The sign is covered with snow and ice

Disembarking at the mountain's summit, I joined the crowds of people at the overlook, gaping at the panorama below and taking copious pictures.  Of course, I couldn't resist the photo ops!

Getting ready to unload

The lift house and towers were crusted in a thick coating of ice.  It takes a lot of work to thaw out the lift pulleys and cables and make the chair operational.  Still, the ice formations are mighty impressive!

Ice crusted lift towers

The view one gets as they ski down from the summit is spectacular.  I think it's the best scenery from a ski run ever.  Making my way downhill I made sure to take several breaks and just soak in the wonderful panorama of Central Oregon spread out before me.

The spectacular view skiing down from Summit

Although I love skiing the fresh powder during storm days, a sunny day at Mt Bachelor is truly the best way to experience this fabulous Central Oregon resort.  This was hands-down my best Bachelor day this season.  So worth the early morning drive! 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Last of the Bus Days

Normally my winter ski bus runs Thursdays in January and February.  But this year's wacky weather caused many cancellations (two rain-outs, one day of high winds, and one due to too much snow in the city).  When a bus gets cancelled, another week is added to the end of the session.  All those make-up days extended our season well into March. 

Skis, beads, and crown

Of course I had no objection!  March is usually the best month to ski in the Cascades anyway.  Not only that, it also meant we could celebrate a few more holidays usually missed.  Our bus has a party every Valentine's day, but this year, a lady on my bus and I decided it would also be fun to celebrate Mardi Gras.

Enjoying Heather Canyon

So I ran to my local Dollar Tree and picked up a bunch of beads, masks, and decorations.  And I couldn't pass up a Mardi Gras-themed tiara (only a dollar!).  With the help of some well-placed duct tape it fit perfectly on my helmet.

Great views of Hood abound

My Vancouver ski buddies were more than happy to don the colorful beads I offered them.  Glen brought his daughter Annie and she was a great addition to our group.  We had a perfect blue sky day full of great skiing, culminating in three amazing runs down Heather Canyon (the snow was like velvet!)

Our great Mardi Gras decorations

For the ride home, we decorated the bus in festive gold, green, and purple.  I made special sandwiches, and my bus friend whipped up a batch of Mardi Gras-colored jello shots.  The jello shots were a huge hit, so popular they were all consumed before I could get a photo!

Sunshine and smiles

A couple weeks later, we had a more subdued celebration of St Patrick's Day (planning Mardi Gras had worn me out) with a only bottle of Guinness and Irish whiskey making the apres-skiing rounds.

Hello from the bottom of Heather!

A week after that was our final bus Thursday of the year.  To end things on a high note, the weather gods cooperated with a lovely clear day.

Me 'n the guys in Heather Canyon

My Vancouver "Men in Red" ski buddies and I went everywhere!  We took multiple long runs from the highest lift at the resort.  I was finally able to try out a new GoPro gadget that attached the camera directly to my ski pole.  I'm happy to report it worked splendidly - way better than my old selfie stick.  Take a look at the video below for proof:

My friends and I had lots of fun that day.  Brian had the idea to take some silly photos of  us pretending to crash into trees.  I think Glen had the best one of all - I call it his "Sonny Bono impression."

Glen does his best Sonny Bono impression

Waiting to load the chairlift, someone was playing a loud upbeat song, and my friends and I broke into spontaneous dance moves (much to the delight of the liftie!)

Ready to rip down Stadium run

I kept forgetting to bring a few "sacrifices" for the poor, empty bra tree.  To liven it up, my buddies hung a few leftover Mardi Gras beads high on its branches.

Hanging Mardi Gras beads on a tree

You never know what you're going to see at your local ski area....  (I came upon this snow imprint at the top of the chairlift, and have no idea how it was created!)

The crazy things you see at the local ski area....

Of all the activities I do, skiing is hands-down the one that brings me the most joy.  It's a time to play in the beautiful winter outdoors.   A time to fly down the slope as fast as my skis (and my nerve) allow.  A time to be silly with my friends.  A break from my humdrum working and life routines.  That's why I love these midweek ski days.

I'm gonna miss my ski bus buddies!

Throughout my life, there's very few places I really felt as though I fit in.  On the ski bus I've met a great group of like-minded people who share my obsession with sliding on snow.  We all get together for 8 short weeks to play on the slopes, laugh, be a little crazy, and enjoy the company of fellow winter enthusiasts.  These folks are my peeps!

Here's to my bus buddies - thanks for another wonderful ski season.  Seeya next winter!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Crater Lake's Winter Wonderland

My hubby stared at our route ahead.  The snowy slope tilted at a 45 degree angle.  Midday sun had baked its icy crust into a soft, unstable surface.  Only one set of tracks continued across the steep traverse.

"I don't like the looks of this" he warned.  "One false move, and we'll end up sliding into the trees below." 

Crater Lake, sparkling blue in the sunshine

Three years ago, my hubby and I made a February trip to Crater Lake, Oregon's lone National Park.  We had a fabulous time snowshoeing around it's rim (read about our adventures here and also here).  This scenic blue lake covered in snowy white so captivated me, I'd been plotting a winter return ever since.

In early March of this year I finally got my wish.

The snow is crazy deep this year!

Crater Lake is a unique place.  This natural wonder was created over seven thousand years ago when a violet eruption caused the collapse of Mt. Mazama, a huge volcano.  Over time falling rain and melting snow collected in the hollowed-out caldera, forming a deep, clear lake.  A near perfect circular shape, Crater Lake's waters boast an alarmingly bright blue hue.  Measuring 1,949 feet it's the deepest lake in the US, and quite possibly the most pristine body of water on earth.

Starting out on the Rim Trail

Despite receiving an enormous amount of snow annually (a whopping 43 feet on average!), Crater Lake National Park manages to stay open during the winter months.  Access, however, is not easy. Rim Road, the only auto route circling the lake, isn't plowed so viewpoints beyond Rim Village can only be reached using skis or snowshoes.  The North Entrance is closed, forcing many visitors to travel out of direction to reach the West or South Entrances.  And heavy snowfall often closes the drive between Park Headquarters and the lake's rim.

See the sign?

The other issue with visiting in winter - frequent stormy weather.  Getting a clear day during this season is a crapshoot.  Snowstorms and fog frequently hide the lake from view (rangers estimate it's only visible 50% of the time).  On our last visit, we'd lucked out with a spectacular clear-sky weekend.  I hoped for the same kind of weather this time around.

Wizard Island

As I've mentioned before, this winter was an especially snowy one for the Cascade Mountains.  One storm after another pounded Crater Lake with monster dumps, pushing the snowpack well above average.  The week before our planned trip an especially large storm dropped several feet of snow in the southern Cascades, followed by two days of soaking rain.  This large amount of snow closed the road to Rim Village and all week the park's website ominously warned it might not be cleared by the weekend.

Heading across a snowy plain

But we'd made our plans, and hubby and I were still going - closed roads or not!  As we made our way south from Portland I took advantage of sporadic cell service to check road conditions on the park's website.  Around noon I got the news I was hoping to hear - the road to Rim Village had been reopened!  Yahoo!

Gigantic snow drifts!

After a long 5-hour drive over weather-beaten mountain roads, our trusty Subaru navigated the final switchbacks to Crater Lake's Rim Village.  We were met with howling winds and cloudy skies.  Occasional bursts of ice pellets pelted our faces as we climbed up a tall snowy berm ringing the parking area, to the lake overlook.  My hubby and I were able to get a few quick glimpses of Crater Lake's surface before thick fog moved in and obscured everything.

Recent rain left deep grooves in the snow

Disappointed, we took shelter in the visitor center, moping about the unfortunate weather.  However, a friendly worker in the gift shop assured us that tomorrow's forecast promised sunshine.  Perfect!  That was the day we'd planned a snowshoeing trip along the Rim Road.

Looking ahead to the Watchman - our destination

As promised, the next morning dawned clear and sunny.  Again, we piloted our car back up the winding road towards Crater Lake's rim, marveling at the tall snowbanks lining the highway.  So much snow had fallen, the banks were over 20 feet tall in some places.  The road resembled a slot canyon snaking through this thick snowpack.

Frosty trees

In winter months, the unplowed road around the crater's rim reverts to a trail for skiers and snowshoers.  Although a few folks brave the entire 31-mile route, most visitors only venture 2-3 miles down the West Rim Drive before turning back.  On our last visit, my hubby and I made it nearly four miles in, almost to the Watchman Overlook.  Today's goal was to finish what we'd started three years ago and finally reach the Watchman.

Spectacular viewpoint

After gathering all our gear, we again climbed up the steep snowbank to the lake's viewpoint.  Under clear skies, Crater Lake sparkled an unreal shade of blue.  Our snowshoe departure was delayed a good ten minutes due to copious photo-taking (I won't say by who!).

Wizard Island is front and center

My hubby finally managed to tear me and my camera away from the spectacular sights, and begin our day's journey.  We'd started fairly early, and saw only a couple of skiers as we left the Rim Village buildings.  Despite the sunshine, temps hovered around freezing, creating an icy crust on the snow's surface.  But cleats on our snowshoe bottoms provided excellent traction, and we made good time traveling across the firm snow.

Another huge snow drift

After a little over a mile, we came upon Discovery Point, the first overlook.  This clearing provided an excellent view of Wizard Island.  Formed by later eruptions, this conical little island near the lake's west shore resembled a wizard's pointed hat.  My hubby and I inched as close as we dared to the edge to take in the marvelous panorama.  Overhanging snow cornices along the rim's walls forced us to stay a respectful distance back.

Lots of snowy features to navigate

Beyond Discovery Point, my hubby and I traversed over and around a series of gigantic snowdrifts.  Navigation was easy as other visitors had left a well-trampled path.  We passed by an area where recent heavy rains had worn deep grooves into the snow.  At one forest clearing I spotted a couple of tall peaks in the distance (I later learned one of them was Union Peak).  And around one bend in the path was a view ahead to Watchman Peak, our day's destination.

One of the crater's rim walls

Aside from a couple of skiers, my hubby and I were the only people on the outbound trail.  We began to meet groups of campers heading back towards Rim Village after spending the night outside.  Crater Lake National Park allows backcountry camping during the winter months, and it appeared to be popular.  Although I like to camp, sleeping in a cold tent on top of snow doesn't appeal to me.

The sun started to shine

On the previous day a ranger had warned of a treacherous section along the Rim Road.  Just beyond the Watchman, the road was cut into a steep cliff.  On plentiful snow years (such as this one) the roadcut filled up with snow creating a steep, avalanche-prone cross-slope to traverse.  Our previous trip three years ago had occurred during a lower than average snowfall year, and we'd had no trouble following the road.  But the ranger's advice became real when we met a young man snowshoeing back towards Rim Village.  Planning to travel around the entire lake, the man said he was stopped by an unstable, slippery slope just beyond the Watchman.  Not wanting to risk dying in a fall or avalanche, he'd turned around.

Fantastic reflections on the lake's surface

Despite the young man's warnings, my hubby and I decided to continue as far as we could.  We passed another fabulous overlook of Wizard Island (photo break time!)

People climbing the snowbanks onto a rooftop

Although we'd initially made good time, the intense sun's rays were quickly taking their toll on our icy trail.  The snow began to melt, and the softer the snow became, the harder it was to snowshoe upon, and the slower our progress.  I began to notice small slides and snow rollers traveling down some of the steeper side slopes.

Crater Lake's clear surface reflecting the sky

Finally a little over 3 miles in, we came upon a steep, hazardous-looking slope.  Soft snow was beginning to slide in a few places, and only one set of tracks (from the young male snowshoer we presumed) wandered across the incline.  My hubby wasn't at all comfortable crossing this area, pointing out if we slipped, it would be a long downhill slide to the forest below.

Another fabulous view

So the decision was made to end our day's journey here.  Before turning around, hubby and I took a seat in the snow, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch break.  The sun was warm, we inhaled some tasty treats, and the surrounding scenery was top notch.  Although we'd fallen short of our original day's goal, the consolation prize wasn't too bad!

Grab a seat on this cabin's roof!

Then it was time for the long trek back to Rim Village.  Soft, sticky snow slowed our pace, but I enjoyed passing by all the wonderful viewpoints a second time around.  The sun's powerful rays lit Crater Lake's surface, turning it a brilliant shade of blue.  High clouds reflected on the water's surface.  Truly magical!

Mt Thielsen in the distance

The closer we got to Rim Village, the more people we encountered on the trail.  With one mile to go, hubby and I felt as if we'd happened upon a crowded downtown sidewalk.  Even in the dead of winter, Crater Lake is a busy place on weekends.

A huge snowdrift at Crater Lake Lodge

Finally the visitor center and Rim Village buildings came into view.  My hubby, tired and sore from our adventure, opted to rest in the car.  But it was still early afternoon and such a lovely day, I didn't want to leave just yet.

The Lodge was shuttered for the winter

So I grabbed my camera and headed towards the shuttered Crater Lake Lodge.  Open during summer months, this historic structure was boarded up for the season.  I marveled at the huge snowdrifts that had formed behind the building.  They were nearly as high as the third floor windows!

Road plowed through the deep snow

Other buildings were also buried in snow.  One near Rim Village had drifts extending over the roof, and people were climbing up the rooftop and sliding down.  Another smaller cabin, also buried up to its eaves, had three people perched on the very peak of the roof, enjoying this amazing scenery from an unusual perspective.

Crater Lake Pano (click to see larger image)

A few fun facts about this unique national park: 

The lake is 4.5 to 6 miles wide. 

Although the average snowfall is 43 feet per year, the greatest cumulative snowfall ever recorded was 73 feet during the winter of 1932-33.  The greatest depth of snow on the ground at one time was 21 1/2 feet in 1983.  Normally the snow melts by August, but some years (probably this one) many drifts stick around until the snow returns again.

Due to its extreme depth, Crater Lake rarely freezes in winter.  Temperatures normally aren't cold enough to freeze this large amount of water.  The last complete surface freeze was in 1949, although 95% of the surface froze in 1985.

Wonderful day to be outside!
Another wonderful trip to my favorite National park!  I think winter is definitely the best time to visit Crater Lake.