Friday, June 30, 2017

Closing Time at Mt Bachelor

I knew it was gonna be a wild day when the guy parked next to me donned a pink tutu.

Welcome to Mt Bachelor's end of season party!

Greetings from the summit!

Here in the Pacific NW, our mountains are blessed with abundant snowfall that generally sticks around well into late spring.  Central Oregon's Mt Bachelor ski area usually keeps its lifts turning until Memorial Day weekend.  Although I'd never before experienced it's final day, this year I happened to be in Bend during the holiday.  Why not go and check it out?  After all, it's not every day you get a chance to ski over Memorial Day weekend.

Fantastic views skiing down the summit

I recruited my best ski buddy Kim (who coincidentally also happened to be in town) to join me for the fun.  On a warm, sunny Memorial weekend Sunday we met up in the parking lot of Mt Bachelor.  Although still early morning, the party had already started.  Loud music blared from car speakers.  Dozens of people were putting on wacky costumes, with plenty more already clad in shorts and t-shirts. 

T-shirt weather!

Overnight temperatures had stayed well above freezing so the snow was already soft.  Kim and I took a few runs on the lower slopes before realizing we needed to move higher.  So we headed to the summit lift.

Due to frequent high winds and low visibility, Mt Bachelor's summit lift is rarely open.  But on sunny spring days it's the perfect place to ski.  Kim and I made several laps before the snow began to get too soft.  Today's warm air and sunshine turned the snow into sticky peanut butter.  As all skiers know, when the snow starts grabbing at your skis, it's time to quit.

Time to watch the pond skim

Even if conditions weren't great, Mt Bachelor had many other activities planned.  There was live music and a beer garden at the base lodge.  And, in proper ski area closing day fashion, they also offered a pond skim competition.

A trio of snowboarding bananas

What's a pond skim?  It's a contest where skiers and snowboarders slide down a steep hill with a pool of water at the bottom.  The object is to slide all the way across the pond.  To add to the merriment, contestants often compete in wacky costumes.  Everyone is judged by their performance (although I never figured out what constitutes a good score).

Waiting for the show!

Mt Bachelor's pond skim was in full swing by the time Kim and I returned to the base area.  Although the course was lined with spectators, we found a fairly open area near the top of the slope.  I got out my pocket camera and tried to capture a few photos of the action below.

Will he make it across?

Although it looked impossible that anyone could travel all the way across, surprisingly several people did.


Of course, the wipeouts were the most fun to watch.  And there were some doozies!  But no worries, the water didn't appear to be very deep, and there were staff with long poles standing by to fish people out.

This guy is prepared

For awhile I stood by the fence and watched competitors zip by.  This little kid was decked out with a life jacket and paddle!  Talk about being prepared!  I was surprised by the number of young boys that participated.


The costumes were a riot.  There were several bananas, a couple of pirates, an 80s guy, unicorns, Hawaiian shirts and shorts....but my favorite was a guy dressed up as Moses.  (With a costume like that you would think he'd have an upper hand on parting the water, but unfortunately he sank.)

Fancy jump at the end

A few crazy people not only made it all the way across but managed to catch air at the end.

Very patriotic!

After an hour of watching from above, Kim and I began to get thirsty.  So we made our way down to the beer garden.  I ran to my car, changed out of my ski boots, and grabbed my big DSLR camera.  Then we wormed our way to the fence near the pond's very end.


This was a perfect place to watch the contest.  As competitors skimmed across the water, successful riders slid right past us.  And we had a front row view of splashes from the unlucky ones.

Little banana makes it across

I had a ball trying to capture contestants sliding across the water.

With a jump at the end

This young banana-wearing boy did quite well.

Do they give points for huge splashes?

This dude did not.....


Some young men tried to do somersaulting jumps at the pond's end. 


They were incredible to watch.


Quite a few of them crashed spectacularly.  Luckily, aside from some bumps and scrapes, I didn't see any serious injuries.

This guy made it on one ski

This guy made it all the way across on one ski!

Big air!
Time for another action shot. 

Will he stick the landing?

Yard sale!

High marks from the judges

I never did figure out the judge's scoring system. 

Nice pink jacket

Sorry.....There's too many fun photos to weed out, so I'm posting them all.  Enjoy!

"Hey dude here's your water gun!"

Two contestants at once

The fisherman makes it

80s guy doesn't - but he still has his beer

Nice jump!

Cool costume

This guy made it across despite losing his pants

One of the few female contestants

She can't believe she made it!

Bringing the water with him

Uh oh.....

That looks like it hurt

Pink unicorn?

Will the Abominable Snowman make it?


Ahoy mates!

Sinking pirate

In the end, a good time was had by all.  Kim and I decided this was definitely an event we'd return for next year.

Wet high fives! it's time to hang up the skis until next December.  But this was a fitting end to what's been a fantastic season.  I'm counting the days until the snow flies again!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dog Mountain Morning

My choice of hikes this spring kind of look like a "Gorge's greatest hits."  There was Coyote Wall, Dalles Mountain Ranch, Memaloose Hills, and most recently, Eagle Creek.

Of course this list wouldn't be complete without a journey up the steep, wildflower-covered slopes of Dog Mountain.

Sun breaking through the forest

A humble hill on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, most of the year this trail doesn't get much love.  But when the balsamroot bloom in late May, hikers flock here in droves.

My friend the balsamroot

During peak bloom, vehicles pack into the small parking area, and cars line the side of Hwy 14 in either direction.  Then last year authorities downsized the parking area through a re-striping project, posted "no parking" signs along the highway, and vigorously enforced these new rules.  Hearing horror stories of the lot filling by early morning and huge crowds on the trail, despite the parking restrictions, I stayed away in 2016. 

Spectacular first view of the upper meadow

But Dog Mountain is one of my favorite spring hikes, and I'd missed visiting it's flower fields. This year I decided to go anyway.  The heck with the crowds and parking mess!

Prime bloom, baby!

Close monitoring of local hiking and wildflower Facebook pages gave me clues as to when peak bloom would occur.  Then I picked the closest Friday and made sure to leave my house bright and early.  My plan worked like a charm - pulling into the parking lot at 6:30 am, I was the 8th vehicle.

The balsamroot covered Dog Mountain's slopes

Since I've hiked "the Dog" dozens of times, I usually don't take many photo stops in the first half.  The path starts murderously steep, and stays that way much of the first mile, switchbacking through a mostly viewless forest.  I put my head down and slowly trudged up the incline.

Classic Columbia River view from Puppy Point

About halfway to the top views open up, and weary hikers are treated to a preview of the summit vistas.  The Columbia River stretches out below in a bright blue ribbon, perfectly framed by the steep cliffs of the Oregon side and Wind Mountain on the Washington side.

Looking towards the eastern Gorge

I was delighted to see cheery sunflower-yellow balsamroot flowers gracing the hillsides here.  About the time I reached this lower viewpoint, the moring sun burst through the trees, creating a great sunburst photo op.

My kind of sunshine

But even better stuff awaited on top!  So after a quick photo session and snack break, I continued my climb.

Steep trail winds through the upper meadows

The second portion of the trail climbed relentlessly.  It was a tough, grueling trek but again I took the "slow and steady" approach.  Before I knew it the forest began parting to reveal the stunning summit meadows.

Wind Mountain view

The upper meadows were in prime shape.  Covered with thousands of balsamroot flowers, the slopes were colored yellow.

Kaleidoscope of color

The trail cut a path through this wildflower paradise and I followed it an old lookout tower site.  Perched over the Gorge, it gave higher panoramic views of the river and Gorge cliffs below.  Nicknamed "Puppy Point" by the local hiking community it was a great place to soak in the iconic views of Wind Mountain and the Columbia River before the final half mile summit slog.

Looking back towards Puppy Point

As always, my pace always slows when I reach the lower summit meadows.  So. Many. Flowers.  I just want to capture it all!

Relaxing on the summit

It took quite awhile for me to cover the final distance to Dog Mountain's summit.  The morning light illuminated the flowers and Gorge below perfectly, and I was in photographic heaven.

Wind Mountain and the western Gorge

Finally, I joined about a dozen other people for a quick mid-morning snack and rest break on the very top.  Tiny buttercup-like flowers covered the meadows, and I spied the very tip of Mt Hood rising over the Oregon side.

Can you spot Mt St Helens?

As always, I take the Augspurger Mountain Trail back down.  Although longer, it's not as steep, and passes by more outstanding wildflower meadows.  And you get a bonus view of Mt St Helens.

Dewy phlox blooms

And, as expected, the upper Augspurger Trail did not disappoint! Not only balsamroot, but I also saw lavender phlox, deep purple larkspur, stunning orange Indian paintbrush, white prairie stars, and even a nice patch of chocolate tiger lilies.  Truly Mother Nature's kaleidoscope!

Soaking in the sun

Come, walk down the Augspurger Trail with me.  I'm going to cut out the commentary, and just let you all enjoy the next few photos.

The flower fields on Upper Augspurger Trail were fantastic too.

Yellows and purples

I never tire of this view!

Flowers in the sunlight

After leaving the lovely upper meadows, it was a quick downhill trek through peaceful green forests until the parking area came into view.  Now late morning, it was plum full.  I spotted a line of four vehicles circling the parking lot like vultures, waiting for open spaces.  A pickup truck spied me walking to my car, and patiently waited while I took off my boots and loaded my gear.

Indian Paintbrush

Waking up early paid off big time.  Not only did I get a parking spot, I also had the trails largely to myself and - bonus - wonderful morning light to boot.  And it was great to revisit one of my favorite spring wildflower spots!

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