|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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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!)