Sunday, March 31, 2019

June Lake Snowshoe Adventure

This winter, I've been really digging snowshoeing.  It's a great alternative to battling Mt Hood's increasingly crowded ski slopes.  What could be better than trekking around a lovely, snowy forest?

The sun shines on Marble Mountain Sno-park

In mid-February, the Cascades received a huge dump of fluffy, powder snow.  Dying to sample the goods, I invited my friend Catherine and her daughter to join me for a snowshoe romp at the base of Mt St Helens.  Having hiked the June Lake trail last summer, I'd been hoping to explore it again in snowier times.

Lots of deep fluffy snow!

So I drove the 2-plus hours from Portland to Washington's Marble Mountain Sno-park.  Not only the trailhead for many snowshoe and skiing adventures, snowmobilers also made this their home base.  Although I wasn't thrilled listening to loud, revving snowmachine engines in the parking lot, thankfully the motorized and self-propelled modes of transportation were each designated separate trails.

Snow-plastered trees

We started out on a trail that served as the main winter climbing route for Mt St Helens.  It was easy to follow - several hikers and skiers had tromped down the snow into a deep ditch where the trail was supposed to be.  I was pleased to see a good 15 inches of the white stuff blanketing nearby woods.  Tree trunks were plastered with snow and their branches heavy with accumulation.

Catherine tempts fate

As we walked, my friends and I were often struck by snow sloughing off branches.  We joked about being "tree-bombed."  Passing under a particularly large branch holding up a huge bank of snow, we were careful not to make much noise.  Didn't want that to come down on our heads!  (Catherine, however, couldn't resist tempting fate while posing for this photo.)

Mother-daughter photo op

A short distance up the climbing route we turned off onto a side trail to June Lake that I remembered from last summer's trek.  I was glad to have beta from that visit, as the snow made navigation more difficult.

Blue skies and white snow

This trail meandered through some stunning scenery - forests full of flocked trees and clearings with snowy mounds that looked like soft pillows.

Looks like fluffy pillows

After intersecting with the summer road (currently used by snowmobilers) Catherine found the sign to the June Lake trailhead and parking area.  Yeah, judging by the sign, you could say the snowpack was a wee bit deep!

See how deep the snow is?

My friends and I joined several other snowshoers and a few skilled cross country skiers up the main June Lake trail. We were treated to more lovely snowy woods, and every once and awhile the forest parted to give breathtaking views of Mt St Helens' foothills.

June Lake Falls

Although the mile and a half seemed to take forever (probably because I was getting mighty hungry by then) we finally crossed a tiny creek that was the lake's outlet.  Yahoo!  We'd finally made it to June Lake.  Time for rest and food!

Lunch break with a view

Although the lake was mostly snow-covered, a tiny bit of open water produced some fantastic reflections of adjacent trees and shoreline.  And - best of all - a partially frozen waterfall tumbled down from the cliffs above.  The blue-tinged icicles surrounding it were beautiful.

Snow-covered June Lake

June Lake's shoreline was lined with other snowshoeing parties when we arrived.  But Catherine, her daughter, and I found a spot of unoccupied snow and settled down for a bit to eat and a spot of hot tea.

Reflections in a tiny bit of open water

Lunch with a view!  Oh yeah - this is one of the many reasons I love hiking.

Group photo

After sufficient rest and refueling, my friends and I packed up our feast and made ready to continue our snowshoe trek.  But first, I conned another hiker into taking a group photo in front of June Lake's waterfall.

People show the size of this waterfall

It was decision time - Should we retrace our steps back the way we came, or make a loop via the Pike Ski Trail?  Although I didn't see any trail signs, I assumed a well-trod path through the snow heading away from June Lake was the Pike trail.  Group consensus was that we go for it.

Traversing the Pika Ski Trail

My friends and I followed a winding boot path that climbed up several steep rises.  The area was wide open, offering fantastic views of the valley below. 

Mt St Helens peek-a-boo

And, surprise - Mt St Helens herself even made a brief appearance.

Blue diamonds mark the way

After wandering across this wide, white open space (and confirming with a couple of backcountry skiers that we were indeed on the right trail) I spotted the tell-tale blue diamond trail marker as our path dived back into the woods.

Catherine catches snowflakes

About this time, the skies clouded over and a light snow began to fall.  It was so beautiful!  My friends and I reveled in the soft flakes, and Catherine tried to catch a few on her tongue.

Selfie attempt

The Pika Trail finally connected back to the main Mt St Helens climbing route.  From here it was a mile and a half of sweet downhill to the parking area. 

Ski trail intersection

However, this trail was popular with backcountry skiers and snowboarders, so we had to be on the lookout for people zipping down behind us.  Luckily, the few snowriders we encountered were spotted well in advance, giving us ample time to clear the trail.

"Candy Cane" tree

I spotted one tree whose top was so covered in snow it curled downward like the top of a candy cane.  Good for a photo op or two.

Tromping through deep snow

Another great day in the woods, my friends and I covered 5.5 miles in a spectacular winter wonderland.  I think June Lake and it's surrounding trails are even more beautiful with a coating of snow.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Always Bring the Snowshoes!

Since our first snowshoe outing had been so successful, I suggested to my hubby we try another.  The last weekend of January clear, warm weather was predicted for the mountain.  Perfect conditions to explore Mt Hood's White River Canyon.

Mt Hood from White River Sno-park

A super-popular area for snowplay of all kinds, the White River Sno-park attracts crowds on sunny winter weekends.  To get a head start, I insisted on arriving early.  Worked like a charm - we had the place nearly to ourselves at 8:00 on a Sunday morning.

Heading off on the trail

Recent warm weather had refrozen and thawed the snow several times, creating an icy crust.  As hubby and I stood at the traihead, preparing to don snowshoes, we noticed the snowy trail was so packed down snowshoes really weren't necessary.  I considered strapping them onto my backpack, but couldn't figure out a good way to attach them.  My hubby declared he didn't want to carry his snowshoes and decided to put them back in the car.  He offered to drop mine off while he was at it, and, against my better judgement, I handed them over.

Lone snowman

I did, however, hang onto my microspikes, and these boot traction devices came in handy navigating the slippery, icy trail.  Snowshoes stowed, my hubby and I started out following the wide, packed-down path that served as our trail.  Views of Mt Hood were magnificent from the beginning, the white-cloaked mountain rising regally above the White River's snowy banks.

Making friends with the snowman

My goal for the day was to follow the user trail about a mile as it wound along the White River, and through a forested area to Boy Scout Ridge.  I'd hoped to climb this local feature, and continue along it's ridgeline for more fabulous mountain views.

Boy Scout Ridge

With the sun's intense solar energy beating down, temps heated up fast.  It didn't take long before hubby and I were shedding layers.  We walked past a popular sledding hill, climbing up it, and continued on through the woods.  Evidence of past snowplay showed itself in several places, but my favorite was a lone snowman sitting beside a steep dropoff, with branches for arms and hair.

Stunning viewpoint

By the time we reached the base of Boy Scout Ridge, the snow was softening up rapidly.  What had once been an icy crust was now the consistency of mashed potatoes.  Our feet started to break through, and hubby and I began to sink mid-shin into the snow.  Hmmm.....maybe leaving the snowshoes behind wasn't such a good idea.

Couples photo attempt

At Boy Scout Ridge's base, the forest opened up to an amazing viewpoint.  The White River valley, with Mt Hood towering over made for some great photo ops.  And Boy Scout Ridge, rising steeply in the other direction, looked mighty imposing. 

Following tracks in mushy snow

The ridge was also really, really steep.  With the snow conditions so soft and loose, I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle the climb up Boy Scout Ridge.  What if the snow started sliding? 

Our turn around point

Hubby and I took a break to rest, snack and think things over.  While we were taking a breather, we watched a woman and young boy attempt to climb Boy Scout Ridge.  Both had on snowshoes, and the boy actually made it all the way to the top.  We were amazed (I was sure he was gonna come sliding back down).  But it looked like hard work - and unlike the boy, we didn't have our snowshoes, which would make the climb even more difficult.

The White River winds through the snow

No, Boy Scout Ridge didn't look like it was in the cards for today.  Time for plan B.  I suggested to hubby we continue our trek following a lower ridge that led further into the canyon.  We saw another snowshoer and a couple of backcountry skiers heading that way, so why not?

Climbing up the riverbank

But.....the going wasn't easy.  Since most folks who visit White River only travel about a quarter mile from the parking area, tracks peter out quick.  The nicely packed trail we enjoyed at the beginning had dwindled down into a few scattered footprints in the snow.  And it was no longer crusty, icy snow that would hold our body weight.  Hubby and I postholed nearly every step, sometimes up to our knees.  It was a tough, slow slog.

Another view of the White River

After a quarter mile of frustratingly slow travel, my hubby cried uncle.  His boot insole had bunched up and was hurting his foot.  He stopped and tried to straighten it out, but by this point the insole was beyond repair.  I agreed it was time to turn around.  Without snowshoes to keep our bodies above this weak, slushy snowpack, neither one of us was having much fun.

Abandoned snow fort

Instead of retracing our steps through the forest, I suggested following the banks of the White River on our return trip.  I hoped it would make for easier footing.

River crossing

Well, the snow was just as soft and mushy along the river, but at least we were treated to more spectacular mountain views.  And we passed by more human-made snow creations, a crumbling snow fort and another cute snowman.

Another cute snowman

It was slow going, trudging through the snow, occasionally crossing the river's steep banks.  Although my hubby was in pain, he was a good sport about it all.  Finally, we glimpsed a huge crowd of people near the sledding hill.  The last quarter mile was an obstacle course winding through many large groups, sledders, dogs, and other folks enjoying the snow.

Huge crowd near the parking lot

A tough 4 miles post-holing through soft, sun-warmed snow.  And although I should've known better, I went ahead and left a vital piece of gear behind.  Never again!  The moral of this story - always carry your gear with you, because you never know when conditions will change.

Hike number 4 of 52 complete! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ladies Backcountry Ski Day

After hiking up the Tilly Jane Ski trail one hot day last summer, I was itching for a colder, snowier revisit.  Clear skies were forecast MLK weekend so I rounded up my adventure buddies Young and Catherine for a ladies ski day.

My partners in crime!

Although Young and I are long time backcountry ski buddies, this would be a totally new experience for Catherine.  The short 3-mile trek to Tilly Jane cabin provided a perfect first-timer introduction to the world of backcountry skiing.

Sliding uphill

Arriving at the parking area, it took several minutes for the three of us to don appropriate clothing, buckle up boots, locate skis and poles, and make sure our backpacks contained the essentials.  But finally, gear together, my friends and I approached the forested lower trail.

Lovely snowy forest

The first half mile of the Tilly Jane Trail wound through a fir forest.  An earlier snowstorm had dumped a foot of fluffy white.  Drooping tree branches, thickly laden with snow, made the woods look positively magical.  My friends and I oohed and aahed as we slid along, with me opting for several  photo breaks.

Catherine admires the scenery

Sporting true backcountry skis with climbing skins, Young and I slid uphill with ease.  Catherine, however, had only cross country skis with patterned bottoms and no skins.  Steep climbs were much more challenging, but Catherine managed to successfully side-step up the first few little hills.

Catherine did great despite not having climbing skins

We came upon the first trail junction, with it's multiple signs, each showing different distances, degrees of difficulty, and spellings of "Tilley" Jane.

Many signs, different distances

From this junction, the uphill path became much steeper, and the packed snow track more slippery.  Deciding enough was enough, Catherine removed her skis and strapped them to her backpack.  She'd hoof it on foot from here.

Time to carry the skis!

With packed snow providing a firm base, Catherine trotted quickly ahead of Young and I (jokingly teasing as we labored uphill). 

Gliding through the burn zone

But the forest quickly cleared, and we entered the burn zone from the 2008 Gnarl Ridge fire.  Although the forests of bleak, gray trees were sobering, the bright side was this fire opened up fantastic view corridors, giving hikers glimpses of the adjacent foothills and mountain peaks. Best of all, the fire's aftermath left front-row, in-your-face views of Mt Hood the entire way.

Mt Hood makes an appearance

It was a brisk climb, alternating from moderately to super-steep.  Climbing each rise, Young and I would proclaim this hill to be the one where the Tilly Jane cabin was located.  But we'd reach the summit, only to find more snowy forest stretching ahead.  (Are we there yet?)

Spectacular scenery!

The Tilly Jane cabin is available for overnight group rentals.  As my friends and I trudged uphill, we met a group of Boy Scouts heading down, who'd spent the previous night at the cabin.  A couple of the boys were sliding down the trail in plastic sleds.  The group looked like they'd all had a great time.  What fun memories for these young men!

Clouds hugging the adjacent hills

The clear, sunny weather was nearly perfect for our hike/ski.  A strong wind higher up had us donning our jackets again, but uphill movement kept my friends and I toasty warm.  Now if only we could find that darned cabin.....

Catherine taking it in

Nearing lunchtime, everyone was getting tired and hangry.  Just when I thought we'd never see the Tilly Jane cabin, we topped the final hill, and there it was!

Finally the cabin!

Yahoo!  A sight for sore eyes!  After posing for a couple of group victory photos (achieved by setting my camera's timer and balancing it on my backpack), it was time for some rest and nourishment.

Victory photo at Tilly Jane cabin

Catherine showed us a cool way to rest your back while sitting in the snow.  Just cross your skis and plant the ends in the snow!  She really knows how to relax in style.

Catherine relaxes in style

We chose a spot in the sun, donned warm layers, and enjoyed our lunch break.  Sandwiches, hot tea, and ginger cookies were on the menu.

Panoramic break spot

With some incredible panoramic views from our lunch spot.

Our lunchtime view

The Tilly Jane Trail is a popular ski and snowshoe winter hike, and while we ate, my friends and I watched several people (and cute dogs) ascend this final hill to the cabin.

Watching the hikers and dogs approach

Then, with food in our tummies, it was time for the moment we'd all been waiting for.  The ski down!

Time to ski downhill!

All the way up I'd been longingly eyeing the fluffy new-fallen snow in the trees beside our trail.  Was it as light and powdery as it looked?  We were about to find out.

Catherine perfects her snowplow

Oh yeah!  The snow was divine.  Making tracks through the trees, Young, Catherine, and I whooped and hollered as we zipped down the first hill.

Young looking for untracked pow

Although Catherine was a bit tentative at first, she soon got into the rhythm of things and did great.  The only mishap was mine - after flying down a hill I hit a deep patch of fluff and promptly face-planted.  Luckily it was a soft landing, and there were no witnesses to my klutziness.  But getting back up necessitated taking off skis and backpack (I felt like a turtle, stuck on my back!).

Sunshine in the forest

Not only was the snow perfect for skiing, afternoon light illuminated the far hills, and the scenery was just as awesome as our trek up.  Conditions couldn't have been more perfect.

Scenery break

Reaching the last half mile back in the forest, our trail became a slippery tread of packed snow, forcing a prodigious use of edges and our best survival skiing skills.  Catherine, on cross country skis which are harder to control, cried uncle first, opting to continue on foot.  I finally did the same about a quarter mile from the trailhead.  Young was the only die-hard skier in our group to make it the entire way back on her boards.

Finding fresh tracks through the trees

Back at my car, poor Catherine was having a hard time releasing the buckles on her ski boots.  Brand new last year, she'd only used them a couple of times.  Young and I tried to help, but only succeeded in ratcheting them tighter.  Not wanting to shut off our friend's circulation, we abandoned our release efforts.  Catherine cheerfully joked she'd just have to wear her boots home.  Good thing I was driving!

More powder turns

On the drive home, once we had cell service, Catherine searched google for a video that would offer instructions about loosening her boots (a great idea I would've never thought of).  But the only video  she could find was in French.  Although it made for some entertaining moments, the video wasn't much help.  Then I suggested Catherine call the store where she bought her boots.  After a funny and somewhat embarrassing conversation (Catherine was such a good sport about it all) she got the needed advice, and freed her feet.  Hallelujah! 

Young zips past the signpost

A great day to be outside in the beautiful, snowy Mt Hood National Forest.  Lots of smiles and laughter with my friends.  Thanks Young and Catherine for such wonderful company!

Hike number 3 of 52 is in the books!  (Backcountry skiing counts too)