Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Early Season Skiing

 Why is it one of the smallest parts of your body has the potential for causing the most trouble?

Follow the skin track!

I thought my broken toe was finally healed.  I'd rested it and sworn off hiking for nearly a month.  Then in early November I slowly eased back, hiking two weekends in a row with no problems.  So when my friends Young and John wanted to take advantage of a rare mid-November snowfall, I didn't even question if my foot was ready for skiing.

Snow-covered beauty

An early season storm had deposited a thick layer of snow on Mt Hood.  Hungry for some turns, my friends and I eagerly dug out our ski gear and headed to Timberline Lodge one sunny Saturday morning.

Cool morning clouds

The sun had just risen over the adjacent Cascade mountains as Young and I attached climbing skins to our skis and began the long, slow uphill shuffle to the top of Timberline's Palmer ski lift.  A bank of unusual cotton-ball shaped clouds covered the morning sky above Mt Hood.

Looking back at a snow-covered Timberline Lodge

And the view behind us of snow-covered Timberline Lodge tucked under Mt Jefferson's shadow was fantastic. 

Young and the mountains

After attending to some first-day gear adjustments at the truck, John quickly caught up to Young and I.  Together we followed a well-worn track in the snow heading towards the Magic Mile chairlift's terminus and the mid-mountain Silcox Hut.  A mellow ascent of 1000 feet in one mile, it provided an opportunity to prepare unused muscles for the steep climb to come.

Silcox Hut

Reaching the Silcox Hut, Young and I took a quick snack break and admired the view at 7000 feet.  Snow-covered foothills spread out across the horizon.

My skiing companions

Battered by strong winds, the snow here was stiff and icy.  Frozen ridges rippled across the white surface.  One large rock was engulfed by ice crystals in the shape of a wave.

Frozen wave

Now the tough climbing began!  Following the ice-crusted towers of the Palmer lift, our path would now rise 1500 feet in a little over half a mile.

Ready for the steep climb! (photo by Young)

Skiing up a steeper slope required placing more force on the ball of my foot and bending my toes.  As I raised my heels to gain better traction, I felt a sharp twinge in my injured (but I thought was now healed) toe.

Line of backcountry skiers

Oh, that didn't feel right at all.....the next uphill kick brought another stab of pain.  I remembered that sensation.  It was the same feeling I'd experienced when I'd broken the toe hiking.

John by a lift tower

In an attempt to mitigate further damage, I tried putting my weight fully into the big toe (the injured digit was the one next to my small toe).  That seemed to keep the aches at bay for the moment, so I continued my uphill shuffle.

The long uphill slog

Skinning up the Palmer is a popular early-season activity, and there was no shortage of backcountry skiers that morning.  It appeared everyone was hoping to get in some conditioning for the season ahead.  I'm very slow, so pretty much every skier up there passed me by.

Amazing scenery behind

But one man, shuffling uphill on a pair of skinny cross country skis, slowed and began chatting with me.  He claimed he was having a tough time and wanted to take things easier.  I didn't mind the company.  John, being in fantastic shape (despite recovering from a recent cold) was far ahead and Young, starting to show symptoms of John's illness, was struggling behind me.

Palmer midway loading station

The cross-country ski man and I followed the snowcat track paralleling the Palmer chairlift's ice-crusted towers.  The warm sun began melting their icy coating, and every once and awhile a few chunks of ice would come crashing down with a roar.  Certainly kept things exciting, to say the least!

Lots of folks heading uphill

Although this fall I'd kept up my fitness with swimming, weight lifting, and cycle classes, the steep climb still had me gasping for air and pausing frequently to rest burning leg muscles.

Ice-crusted lift towers

After what seemed an eternity, the top of Palmer's lift house slowly came into view.  I spotted John waiting on top.  He shouted encouragement as I shuffled the final distance up the cat track to where he stood.  Yahoo!  I'd made it! 

Lunch break at the top of Palmer

John and I spotted Young far below.  After another 20 minutes she came straggling up the final incline, ready for a break.  John shoveled out a seat in the snow, and the three of us took a relaxing break, enjoying snacks and hot tea.  I stretched out my aching foot.  It wasn't pretty, but my toe had survived the uphill climb.  But would it behave for the trip back down?

Young photographs the mountain

After a nice long rest, taking in the lovely blue-sky day, and watching a steady stream of backcountry skiers reach the top of Palmer and beyond (some continued higher up the mountain) John declared it was time to remove our climbing skins and head back down.  The moment of truth had arrived.....

Time to ski down!

The snow, pounded and packed by the wind, was hard and crunchy.  Turns did not come easy.  Tentatively, I tried a telemark turn, only to be greeted by a stabbing pain in the toe.  Nope, telemark turns were out.  I'd have to "survival ski" downhill using alpine turns instead.

Here comes John

The trip downhill was brutal.  Not only was the snow hard and icy, we found rocks littering the slopes below the Silcox Hut.  Trying to baby my toe, I skied very conservatively, my hesitations causing several wipeouts.  Near the very bottom, we encountered a thick blanket of heavy snow.  Unable to muscle my way through, I flew over my ski tips, into an elegant face-plant.  Watching me flounder in the thick snow trying to get up, wiping off my sunglasses, and knocking snow off my helmet gave Young a good laugh (and of course some great photos too - what are friends for?)

Wipeout aftermath

Back at the truck, I gratefully removed my boot.  Trying to walk to the lodge, my foot rebelled in pain.  Yep, I was pretty sure I'd rebroken the toe.  An apre-ski beer and several of Young's ibuprofen helped take the edge off until I could get home and ice it.

Dodging rocks

So now I'm back to square one....no long distance hikes for a few weeks.  The month of December has been dry thus far, keeping the mountain snow away, so I've not been tempted to do any more skiing.

If it was a large bone broken or some other major injury, I think it would be easier to take a break from my outdoor activities.  But when the damage is limited to a small toe (and an insignificant one at that) and the rest of me is fine, I find it very difficult to lay off entirely.  But rest I will, because I don't want to miss ski season. 

(I know you're all tired of hearing about my stupid toe, so hopefully this will be the last time I have to write about it!) 


  1. I hope the toe will heal now. I know the temptation is big with all those beautiful mountains and views. Skiing up there must be a lot of fun. Now you will hopefully rest for a while :)

  2. Sorry to hear you rebroke your toe. Even small bones need time to heal (I had a broken little toe that took forever to heal).
    Your captures are wonderful.. especially that wave formation over a rock.
    Great post.. now get healed up for the coming season!

  3. Excelente trabalho fotográfico deste passeio na neve, gostei bastante de ver.
    Desejo à minha amiga e sua família um Santo e Feliz Natal. 🎄

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  4. ...snowy paradise, Merry Christmas.

  5. I can see the present you need for Christmas - a big bag of patience!!!

  6. What a bummer of a set back!

    Those ice formations make this entire outing look bone chillingly cold!

  7. Hello, so sorry about your toe. I agree with the comment above, patience is needed for the healing of your toe. The views and snowy scenes are just beautiful, lovely post. Thanks always for your visits and comments this past year. Have a happy day and week ahead. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  8. It must be quite depressing having to rest so chin up and dream of those blue skies and white slopes.

  9. Cracking winter mountain photos of the snow. Shame about your toe but sometimes rest is the only real cure. I know several folk here who have tried to go back too soon with injuries and just extended the time taken to heal, much to their disgust. Hope you make it back in time for the skiing season.

  10. Looks beautiful - good luck with your toe. I live at 7,100 feet and we've had about two inches of snow so far this "winter."

  11. Bummer! It seems weird you rebroke it though? Maybe it just wasn't completely healed. It started snowing today but so far you aren't missing much. I wonder where XC man ended up. That's braver than I am!

  12. I was going to say you're lucky to get on the slopes this early, but now I'm thinking you're having some pretty bad luck with that toe!

  13. That is awful! I hope it heals quickly. Your photos are awesome!

  14. Absolutely magical vistas. So sorry the toe had / has flared up again. I wonder if your area got any of the snow that has fallen across the border. A week after my visit, it is a magical winter wonderland again.

  15. Oh, I'm sorry about your poor toe! I have foot problems and they drive me crazy. Your photos are great though.

  16. Such lovely photos! I am glad you got to ski! Sorry about your toe. Maybe wrapping it with that clingy elastic bandage would help...splint it to another toe maybe one on each side. Perhaps a vist to a foot doctor:)

  17. You have the same daft mentality as me. Injury and rest are required but as soon as the outdoors beckon (especially snow) then we both abandon common sense and head out! I once went summer skiing in the Alps with a broken hand in a cast as well as backpacking and wild camping on the same trip.


Don't be shy! Please leave a comment.