Thursday, April 8, 2021

Uphill from Timberline

To ski Mt Hood, it's all uphill from Timberline Lodge!

Amazing sunrise over Mt Hood

Well.....actually I'm not in good enough shape nor posses the skiing ability to summit 11,250 foot Mt Hood.  But I can ski up to the top lift at Timberline Ski Area, and that's a respectable 2,500 foot climb.

Sky color

The last Sunday in February I decided to do just that and invited my buddy Catherine to join me for the fun.  Catherine had recently purchased climbing skins for her cross country skis and wanted to try them out.

Hood peeping out of the clouds

Due to COVID, this year Timberline ski area limited crowds by closing their parking lots once they were full.  Rumor had it the lots filled fast on weekends, so I made Catherine get up extremely early and leave town at the ungodly hour of 5 am.  But the reward for our pre-dawn departure was witnessing an amazing sunrise over Mt Hood.

Illuminated cloud over Mt Hood

We arrived at Timberline so early we got a primo parking spot just steps from the day lodge.  Unfortunately, we also learned the hard way that the day lodge (where the bathrooms were located) didn't open until 7:30.  It was a long hour wait........

Timberline Lodge covered in snow

But Catherine and I busied ourselves with gear preparations (her) and second breakfast (me).  I also made a few treks over to the climber's parking lot, first to capture sunrise and then for some photos of the pretty post-dawn clouds over the mountain.

Ice-encased trees

But finally, gear prepped and bladders emptied, it was time to begin the day's journey!  I led Catherine to the beginning of Timberline's designated climber's route, beside majestic snow-covered Timberline Lodge.  After donning skis and backpacks I showed Catherine the finer points of shuffling uphill on climbing skins.

More white trees

For those who don't ski, uphill (aka backcountry) skiing has become wildly popular over the last few years.  Skiers attach pieces of heavy material to the underside of skis.  This material called "climbing skins" provides enough traction to enable uphill travel without sliding backwards.

Catherine trudging uphill

Most skiers use wide alpine-type skis for backcountry touring.  However, cross country skis also work.  Catherine had a pair of metal edged mountaineering Nordic skis and this was her first time using climbing skins.  Although her skis were much narrower she seemed to quickly get the hang of things.

Admiring the view

Today's weather was nothing short of spectacular.  The few sunrise clouds had drifted away leaving blue, sunny skies.  Snow had fallen the previous day combined with a bit of freezing rain, which left a sparkling winter wonderland.  Mt Hood gleamed in her white covering.  Nearby trees were coated with a thick layer of ice, their contorted shapes looking extremely artistic.  

Timberline Lodge seems sooo small now!

A few photos may have been taken by yours truly.......

Buddy photo 

I like to get creative with my selfies, and to get the above photo, I placed my camera on the ground, set the timer and then shuffled towards it.  I programmed my camera to take 5 shots, so it was fun to see the progressive images.

Lots of uphill skiers today

Unlike many ski resorts, Timberline allows uphill travel.  There are of course a few rules to follow, one being that uphill skiers need to stay off the groomed downhill ski trails.  Timberline has their snowcats plow a special road for climbers and uphill skiers.  The nice weather brought out many folks, most sliding uphill much faster than Catherine and I.

Step aside for the snowcat!

But we didn't mind in the least.  Catherine and I were having a grand time taking in the views.  Towards the south Mt Jefferson poked it's peak up above the clouds.  One of Timberline's snowcats came trucking up and then back down, forcing everyone to the side of the road.  You learn fast, the snowcat always has the right of way!

Catherine poses with Mt Jefferson

Although we'd originally planned to skin all the way up to the top of the Palmer, Timberline's highest lift, icy snow conditions made us reconsider.  That and Catherine was having traction problems.  Her narrow climbing skins didn't cover the entire ski bottom causing her to slip a bit.

Ice covered Silcox Hut

So our plans changed - we decided to turn around at the top of the Magic Mile lift, about one mile and 1000 feet up from Timberline Lodge.  I deemed this far enough for a first-timer.

Snowcat transporting people from the Silcox Hut

At the same elevation as the top of the Magic Mile is a small building called the Silcox Hut.  A rustic lodge built in 1939 by the WPA, this building originally housed the Magic Mile Chairlift's upper bullwheel.  This building was also intended as a warming hut and starting point for climbers.  After the Magic Mile chairlift was relocated in 1962, the lodge became abandoned and fell into disrepair.  Silcox Hut was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and an organization created to restore the lodge.  Present day it is rented out as an overnight facility to groups of up to 24 people and also used for day use activities such as weddings. 

Roof of Silcox Hut coated in ice

Catherine and I approached the ice-covered Silcox Hut.  Despite COVID, we were surprised to see a group of overnight guests exiting and boarding a waiting snowcat (access to this lodge is either by human power or snowcat).  

At 6,950 feet this wide open, above-treeline portion of Mt Hood sees lots of extreme weather.  It was evidenced by the thick coating of ice and wind-packed snow on the building.  Sure made for some cool photo ops!

Magic Mile and Palmer Lift houses

Our final leg of the day's journey took Catherine and I over to the top of the Magic Mile Lift and bottom of the Palmer Lift.  Both lift buildings stood silent, disabled by the previous day's snow and ice storm.  A thick layer of ice coated the lift towers and cables, which would take the ski area maintenance staff a couple of days to completely clear off.  

Ice encrusted Palmer ski lift

Now it was time to remove our climbing skins and ski back down!  

Catherine smiles as she removes her climbing skins

Since Timberline wasn't running the Magic Mile lift that day, the slopes hadn't been groomed.  So Catherine and I had to do our best "survival skiing" down a bumpy, icy snowcat track.  Although she had really skinny cross country skis, Catherine did great!  We both survived our very quick downhill trip.  (We spent about an hour and a half climbing up and a mere 20 minutes skiing back down.)

The ski down over a bumpy cat track

Yes, some folks will say that's a lot of work for only one downhill ski trip.  But I personally enjoy the uphill journey.  It's fun to take in the scenery at a slower pace.  I can have a good conversation and catch up with my friend.  Plus it's great exercise.

Another spectacular (uphill) day on Mt Hood!


  1. I want to stay in that hut! Our ski resort just started charging for uphill travel, boo!

  2. Hello,

    Looks like a beautiful day for your skiing. The views are just gorgeous! Lovely collection of photos. Take care, have a happy day!

  3. You said that someone would say it so "That's a lot of work for only one downhill ski trip".
    But I should judge that the wonderful scenery was ample compensation. You got some first-class shots.

  4. ...I've visited Timberline several times in July and there was often still snow around the lodge. What a winter wonderland.

  5. What a great post. I loved following along on this adventure. I've done a lot of skiing in my younger days, but had never heard of climbing skins. I think I would really enjoy that. Awesome photos!

  6. Beautiful views. Even though, I want to think spring,that pure white snow and ice is spectacular.

  7. Absolutely spectacular! The constrast of sky blue and snow white is magical.

  8. Goodness! Extreme conditions! Your photos are gorgeous.

  9. I had no idea that skiing uphill was a thing! Looks like a fun and gorgeous day on the slopes!

  10. Wonderful photos! You had quite a climb!!


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