Sunday, April 28, 2019

Park City - All About the Skiing

My friend Hollie takes full advantage of her time share membership with an annual winter vacation to Utah's Park City.  This year, she invited me to join her.  Having never skied Park City before, I jumped at the chance to visit a "new to me" resort.

Smiles on my first day at Park City

So the first day of March found me sitting in the backseat of Hollie's car, speeding through the Gorge at morning's first light.  Joining us for the 13-hour drive to Park City was Hollie's friend Steve, himself an avid skier.  Having three drivers made the trip much more bearable, and the miles passed quickly.  Before I knew it, we were climbing out of Salt Lake City into the mountains.  Park City here we come!

Balcony view

Our time share condo had a nice view of the pool and hot tub area.  Plus - the gondola to Park City's Canyons base area was right outside!

I could barely make out the mountains

Park City, with 330 trails and 7,300 skiable acres, is the second largest ski resort in North America.  In 2015, Park City merged with neighboring Canyons resort to become the biggest ski area in the US.  And huge it is - the sheer number of chairlifts and runs shown on it's trail map was mind-blowing.

But the fog was cool

Large, famous ski resorts also charge big prices.  A day lift ticket at Park City cost an astronomical $180.  Trying to pick the best value for my wallet, I chose to forgo skiing the first day, which was Saturday, assuming it would be packed with weekend crowds.  (I'm not paying 180 bucks to sit in lift lines!)  Steve, who had an Epic pass, decided to check things out.  He confirmed I made the right decision, reporting that the resort was so busy it "resembled Bejing."

The place was huge!

But the following day new snowfall, and the promise of smaller crowds, had me joining Steve on the slopes.  Luckily, his Epic pass got me a "buddy discount" for a lift ticket (thanks Steve!) so I avoided paying full price.

Famous "Orange Bubble" lift

Having skied Park City many times, I was thankful to have Steve as my guide.  His knowledge of the often-confusing maze of chairlifts and ski runs was a life saver.  I just followed Steve where ever he wanted to go - and enjoyed every place he took me.  Lots of nice wide blue cruisers, all groomed to perfection.

Hollie at Deer Valley

A scant 4 inches of fluffy powder had fallen overnight, making the first few downhill trips pure heaven.  Although low-lying clouds hid much of the nearby mountains, views were still mighty nice.  Having skied hard the day before, Steve was tired by 2 pm.  He decided to head back, but wanted to do one more run, and point me towards the base area.

Tremendous views

Having stuck to Steve like glue all day, I surprisingly took a wrong turn on the last run and lost him.  But I had my trail map, and managed to navigate my way back to the Canyons base area just fine.  Once there, I took a few laps on the "Orange Bubble" lift (so named because of the orange plastic shields that protected skiers from stormy lift rides).  Then, I discovered a run that took me right to the front door of our condo building.  Ski in/ski out lodging - how awesome is that?

Huge slopeside houses

Hollie and Steve had hoped to ski at nearby Deer Valley Resort.  This ski area, with the reputation for catering to a more upscale crowd, also charged upscale prices for their passes.  But Hollie to the rescue - after learning she could score discounted Deer Valley lift tickets for sitting through a time share presentation (she said "No problem, I'm good at saying no") Hollie took one for the team, and was able to get all three of us $75 day passes to this shi-shi resort.

Hotel on nearby hill

So Monday morning, Hollie, Steve and I piled into the car and drove a short distance to Deer Valley.  The first run Steve and I accompanied Hollie, who is a beginner skier, down one of the easier trails.  She did fantastic!  As we progressed downhill, I marveled at the huge, fancy houses perched right on the edge of the ski trail.  And on a neighboring hill was an enormous luxury hotel.  Too steep to build a road to the top, this hotel was accessed by a rail track hugging the hillside.

Views from every run

Buoyed by her successful first run, Hollie was ready for round two.  But I lagged behind taking photos and missed poor Hollie take an epic wipeout.  She'd slipped backward and hit her head hard.  (Even though she was wearing a helmet, packed snow is not soft.)  Confidence shattered, and head throbbing, Hollie was done for the day.  Steve and I slowly guided her down the rest of the run and delivered her into the lodge.  After assuring Steve and I she was okay (and taking my emergency ibuprofen), she encouraged us to go and ski without her.

Accommodations lined the ski runs

Time to explore this new to us ski area!  Although we had trail maps in our pockets, Steve pointed to the nearest lift and said "let's go here."  We ended up randomly following trails, and hopping on lifts all morning.  The runs were impeccably smooth - Deer Valley has a reputation for stellar grooming.  I marveled at all the fancy homes, condos and hotels lining the trails and adjacent hillsides.  It was like someone had plopped a ski area in the middle of a very wealthy city.

Hills dotted with homes

About one o'clock, we were both famished.  Time to find a lodge to get a drink and eat our sandwiches.  But where was a lodge?  We skied up to a few gigantic houses, mistakenly thinking they were ski lodges (we really couldn't tell the difference!)

The famous Stein Ericksen Lodge!

After consulting a trail sign and hopping on a short lift, it deposited Steve and I next to another large structure.  Was it another Mcmansion?  Upon closer inspection, we discovered it was indeed a lodge.  And not just any lodge - this was Stein Ericksen's Lodge!

Stein Ericksen was a legendary downhill skier from Norway, winning gold and silver medals in the 1952 Olympics.  He was also credited with developing "aerials," a form of freestyle skiing.  After retiring from competition, Stein taught skiing in several resorts throughout the US before settling in Utah as the director of skiing at Deer Valley.

Havin' a beer at Stein's place

As Steve and I stepped inside Stein's lodge, we could tell right away it was an extremely classy place.  The restrooms had cloth towels, and the gathering rooms boasted fancy furniture and expensive carpets.  Most of the people were sporting pricey ski wear.  Boy did I feel like a country bumpkin!

The restaurant had a huge waiting list.  Steve suggested we have a beer at "Stein's Place," but there was even a line to get into the bar.  But one of the hostesses advised if we sat in one of living room areas, someone would serve us.  Luckily, Steve and I snagged a set of chairs, and as promised, a waiter materialized to take our order.

Loved the scenery

So Steve and I spent a pleasant lunch break drinking our beers, and sneaking bites from our sandwiches (we assumed sack lunches were a big no-no, thus our incognito noshing).  Once refueled, after taking one more potty break (gotta take advantage of such lavish restrooms!) we were ready to finish off our day at Deer Valley.

Hooray for Deer Valley!

Steve and I stumbled upon the furthest northerly lift that took us to Deer Valley's ski area boundary.  Standing on top of the Empire chairlift, Steve and I gazed over the adjacent peaks, wondering exactly where Park City ski area began (we'd find out tomorrow just how close we were!)  Then, navigating the many ski runs and chairlifts brought us back to Deer Valley's main base area, where Hollie was waiting.  But....before calling it a day, Steve and I skied past two runs that were used for the 2002 Olympic skiing events.  If my legs hadn't been so thrashed, I would have totally skied both of them.  Oh well, next time.....

Aspen stand

Ski day three brought Steve and I back to Park City.  This day Steve said he'd take me over to the Park City side of the resort.  Following a circuitous (to me!) pattern of trails and lifts finally brought us to the Park City gondola.  After Park City acquired the Canyons resort, this gondola was built to bridge a deep canyon between the two.  Now one big happy ski area, visitors can easily traverse between the two former resorts.

2002 Olympic events held at Deer Valley

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the views from the Park City side were simply outstanding.  Although my legs were tired from two straight days of skiing, the scenery and terrain revived them into service.

Back at Park City

Such wonderful wide, long runs!  Such stunning scenery!  And, although there were plenty of skiers, Steve found places that weren't very crowded.  We had a great morning, skiing a different trail every time.

Gondola ride to Park City side

That afternoon, Steve took me up McConkeys Lift to see Park City's southern border.  A long, sweeping blue run followed the ridgetop, treating us to wide open views of the entire valley.  Stopping at one place, we both looked across a 20-foot gap of snow and spotted a ski run on the other side.  What trail was this?  It looked kind of familiar.  Then Steve and I realized we were looking at Deer Valley ski area - and it was the run we'd been on the day before!

Quirky mascot

The next two days brought wet, stormy weather and I wasn't about to pay big bucks to ski in the rain (I could do that at home!)  However, Hollie and I found other things to occupy our time.  I'll recap our "off day" antics in my next post.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Winter Trip to Smith Rock

Still on my quest to photograph a snowy Smith Rock State Park, I planned a late February trip to Central Oregon in hopes of catching some white stuff.  En route, I found lots of snow on nearby Santiam Pass.  I even captured a great photo of Mt Washington cloaked in her winter finest.

Not Smith Rock

But...brown, un-snowy scenery greeted me upon my arrival at Smith Rock.  Curses, foiled again!  (Frowny face....)

Classic Smith Rock View

However with scenery this spectacular, one doesn't stay sad for long.  Smith Rock features acres of  unique geologic formations that are amazing in any season.

Mountain view through the gap

It's steep, red rocky cliffs are extremely photogenic.  And they're also popular with the rock-climbing crowd.

Riverside Trail

I started out on my favorite loop that began with a ramble along the Crooked River's banks.  Tall colorful cliffs rose straight up from the river's edge.

Rock climbers

A few hardy rock climbers were already beginning their ascents.  Nothing I'd ever try, but fun to watch.

A bit of red

Ambling along the Crooked River, I was delighted to see a bit of reddish colored bushes lining it's banks.  Accenting the blue water, orange rock reflections, and green trees, it made for a lovely scene.

Golden river bank

Further down the river I spotted a deer dozing in the tall grass.  Slowly I crept closer to her, snapping images as I went.  Finally, the doe deemed me too close for comfort, and rose up to move away.  I noticed she was limping, one hind leg dangling.  Not wanting to distress the doe any further, I backed away.  But looking back for one final glance, I noticed she'd teamed up with another doe, both keeping a close eye on me.

Wildlife sighting

The trail then wound around the back side of Smith Rock's cliffs.  Still following the river I entertained myself by watching the numerous ducks and geese floating in its waters.  And the golden grasses lining the banks made nice photo subjects.

More golden grasses
Rounding a bend, I got my first look at the famous "Monkey Face" rock formation.  A favorite conquest of rock climbers, the top looks like - you guessed it - a monkey's face.

The Monkey Face

Can you see the resemblance?

Row of mountains

Just past the Monkey Face, I ran into a junction with the Misery Ridge Trail.  This path takes hikers up and over the ridge adjacent to Monkey Face.  After a leisurely flat jaunt along the river, it was time to climb.

Climber attempting the Monkey Face

And on this trail I finally got my wish - these north-facing slopes held final remnants of the last snowstorm.  A bit of white dusted the bushes and wedged into rock crevices.  But, not so nice, any snow on the trail had been beaten down into treacherous, slippery ice.

Peak panorama

Lucky for me, I'd remembered to bring my microspikes.  As I stood contemplating whether to use them on this icy path a man approached, gingerly walking downhill.  He warned me that the trail was ice nearly all the way to the top and very slippery.  That was enough incentive to make me dig those microspikes out of the backpack and slip them over my boots.

Another classic view

It was a good decision.  The microspikes gave me all the traction necessary to safely scale the icy trail.  However, I was surprised by the number of people I encountered going the opposite direction without any kind of traction whatsoever.  It was bad enough trying to hike uphill on ice, I couldn't imagine trying to make my way downhill on shoes alone. 

Rocky spires

This was one trail that rewarded you for your effort.  As I slogged higher, the valley opened up below, with more and more scenery unfolding.  I began to see several Cascade peaks lining the horizon.  Also the checkerboard shapes of farmland and several huge Mcmansions dotted the landscape.

Good name for this trail!

On the ridge's very top a bench was strategically placed.  Good place for a snack break to take in the views.  I glimpsed at the white Cascades peaks jutting up at the border between mountain and plain.  Some of Smith Rock's shorter spires were front and center directly below.  And of course, Monkey Face was now at eye level.

Lame selfie attempt

Climbing now behind me, I removed my microspikes for a relaxed stroll across the top of Misery Ridge.  Traveling to the opposite side, more spectacular views awaited me.

These people need microspikes! did more slippery, icy trail.  The top portion of the path down the other side was just as ice packed.  I wasn't really keen to go through the trouble of pulling out my microspikes and putting them on once again.  Maybe I could carefully traverse this short patch of trail?

More great vistas

However, watching the people ahead of me trying to navigate this slippery path quickly changed my mind.  I thought to myself  "Why risk injury when you have devices with you to prevent falling?"  Common sense won the day, and I took another break to don microspikes once again.

Red rocks

Although I only needed traction for a short distance, it made the return trip must faster (and safer!).  Once past the ice, it was a quick downhill trek back to the parking area.  Now time to head towards Bend to see my daughter and grand-puppy (who was becoming a huge, but handsome doggy).

And ironically, Central Oregon got walloped with nearly two feet of snow the day after I left.  Had I stuck around there would have been ample opportunities to get my Smith Rock winter photo fix.  Always a day late and a dollar short.... (however with that much snow, I also would've been stuck in Bend!)

Handsome grandpuppy

Hike number 8 in the books!  A wonderful 4.5 mile ramble through one of my favorite state parks. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Winter On Hamilton Mountain

One thing about attempting this "52 Hike Challenge," it's taken me to places I normally wouldn't venture in winter.  Not only have I completed several snowshoe treks, but one mid-February weekend I decided to visit a familiar trail in the off-season.

Young is ready to hike!

The Hamilton Mountain Trail is one of my favorite "go-to" hikes.  Located on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, it's relatively close to Portland.  Plus the 8 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain make for a respectable jaunt.  I've covered this trail in nearly all months and seasons.  That is, except winter.

Snowy woods

It's not that I don't like hiking in cold weather - I just like skiing more.  Trips to the slopes usually consume most of my winter weekends.  But trying to complete my goal of 52 hikes in a year meant I needed to swap a few ski days for hiking ones. 

Approaching Rodney Falls

Luckily my friend Young also loves getting outside in the winter, and was all for joining me on this latest adventure.  We'd initially planned on hiking Hardy Ridge, but finding the access road unplowed and closed, we quickly decided nearby Hamilton Mountain was "Plan B".

Steps completely filled in with snow

February had been brutal weatherwise, producing low-elevation snowfall in the Gorge.  Nearby woods were decked out in beautiful white.  However, the feet of many hikers had pounded Hamilton Mountain's snowy trails into slick ice.  We didn't venture very far before microspikes were pulled out of backpacks and put to use. 

Partially frozen waterfall

Traction devices securely on boots, Young and I could now safely enjoy the lovely winter surroundings.  After a mile we passed by Rodney Falls, ice-rimmed but still flowing despite the chilly temperatures.  We noticed huge icicles hanging from the cliffs above, and saw evidence of a small icefall.  Not wanting to linger, we snapped a few quick photos and headed back up the canyon's other side.

First grand Gorge view

The well-built trail into Rodney Falls canyon featured a set up stair-steps down (or up depending up which way you were traveling) to the viewing area.  Today Young and I discovered those steps totally filled in with snow, creating a steep, slick slope.  Good thing we had our traction devices!  (But even so, we moved cautiously)

Kicking steps in snow and ice

Past the top of Rodney Falls canyon, we came upon our first grand Gorge viewpoint.  Beacon Rock and the Columbia River were front and center.  Lingering fog and the snow-filled slopes of the Oregon side made this vista even more lovely. 

Awesome Gorge view No. 2

Past this viewpoint, the climbing began in earnest.  Young and I slowly navigated the icy trail, kicking steps up a few steeper sections.  We were passed by a few people with just running shoes (no traction devices) and marveled how they were able to stay on their feet.  (They were younger and more limber than us so maybe that's why - or they were more fearless!)

Heading towards another open viewpoint

A little ways up the trail, we came to another open viewpoint boasting more fantastic Gorge vistas.  We could see over to Hardy Ridge, our day's first choice destination, it's forested slopes looking mighty lovely.

Looking towards Hardy Ridge

Further up the trail, Young and encountered a bit of fog.  Unfortunately it occurred at the viewpoint beside a set of impressive basalt cliffs.  Usually a good place to glimpse the Bonneville Dam and Columbia River below, today we had to settle for just looking at the snowy cliffs.

Foggy cliffs

The higher Young and I hiked, the deeper the snowpack.  Our original plan had been to follow the traditional Hamilton Mountain loop, descending another trail from it's summit past a saddle.  However, we ran into a hiking friend on his way down, and he advised us to return via the same trail. Apparently heavy snow had weighted down the bushes on the loop trail below the summit, making progress difficult.

Winter wonderland

Young and I once again dived back into the woods.  Snow covered tree branches made this forest absolutely magical.  Cameras came out to document the beauty.

The sun comes out

The sun even decided to make an appearance.  Yeah!

Lovely snow covered branches

The final summit push seemed to take forever.  Deep snow disguised our once-familiar trail, making it hard to determine exact location.  We also had to navigate several blow-down trees, and a few low bushes, sagging under heavy loads of snow.

Finally the summit!

But finally we glimpsed blue sky peeping through a warren of low-hanging bushes.  Struggling through our final obstacle, Young and emerged at Hamilton Mountain's summit to sunshine. 

The best Gorge view of them all

And, oh what tremendous views!  The Gorge looked even better coated in her winter white.

Young admires the snowy panorama

After enjoying a quick bite at the summit, Young and I debated whether to attempt the loop trail.  We decided to check it out first.  Apparently not many people had used it since the last snowfall, as there were only a few deep footprints in the snow.  Not up for a long jaunt of post-holing, we decided to heed our friend's advice and return the same way.

Dramatic Gorge cliffs

There's only one thing worse than climbing a steep, icy trail - descending it!  Even with traction devices on our boots, Young and I encountered a few areas that were downright treacherous.  Early afternoon brought above-freezing temperatures that began to melt the ice.  A thin layer of water over some of the icy trail sections made a surface that was slicker than snot.  Despite having microspikes, we each struggled to keep ourselves upright in several places.  Unfortunately, both Young and I each took a bad fall, but luckily survived with only bumps and bruises.  (But, boy did it hurt!) 

Perfect photo op spot

On our return trip, we were amazed to see a large percentage of the hikers without any type of traction on their feet.  We even met a man with a baby strapped to his chest!  After both of us warned him of the icy trail conditions, he said was turning around.  I really hope there were no serious injuries that day, but after seeing so many unprepared people, I wouldn't be surprised if there were.  (Folks - winter hiking is fun, but please have appropriate gear!)

Tiny snowman back at the trailhead

Young and I ended our fine day's adventure back at the parking area, where we were greeted by a tiny snowman at the base of a sign. 

What a great way to spend a chilly February day.  I've decided I really like winter hiking.  Outstanding scenery, no worries about overheating, and best of all - no bugs!  It's going to be difficult to decide which activity to pursue next winter - skiing now has a rival.

Hike number 7 of 52 is in the books!