Each year, E and her friends from "Teach For America" try to get together and catch up. This year, the gathering was taking place on the Oregon coast, and it was a perfect opportunity for the two of us to finally visit Oregon. We were also able to couple the trip with a trip to Mt. Hood, and a visit to friends in Seattle.
The trip over to the Oregon coast was a bit long, but it was interesting to see that part of the country. We found that much of eastern Oregon was like eastern Washington, generally quite dry, with lots of farming and small towns. One of the most notable features of the trip was passing through the Cascades along the Columbia River. The wind picked up substantially and tossed the car around. At this point, were in the area of "The Gorge", a world-famous spot for windsurfing, where the wind is howling more often than not. If you take a look at one of those 3-D relief maps of the U.S., you can see that the Gorge area is one of the only low passable spots through the monstrous Cascade Range. There's no wonder that the wind blasts through there. The other notable part of the trip was passing through the Oregon coast mountain range, which reminded me a lot of the northern New England with winding mountain roads, smaller farms, and lots of green vegetation.
After a couple of days at the coast, we headed over to the Timberline area on Mt. Hood for some skiing. We were meeting up with our friends Scott and Greg from Seattle. As it turns out, E was somewhat oblivious to what type of skiing we'd be doing. Although it was July, she was under the impression that we'd have an entire mountain to ski on. Well, she was a bit disappointed (to put it mildly) when she found out that all we'd have to ski were a few spring groomers with a lot of other people; and at a $38.00 price to boot. A number of things had come together to make it a rough morning for E, but we finally got going. We took off from the parking area at 5,924' and rode the Magic Mile Express Quad up to 7,016'. At this point, the snow was still patchy, so we took another quad, the Palmer Express up to the main skiing on the Palmer Snowfield. Finally, we found ourselves at 8,540' and we were ready to ski! The summit of Mt. Hood looked tantalizingly close. As long as you chose a good route among the glaciers, I'd have to think you could hit the summit (11,240') with a few hours of hiking.
It was now around 11:00 A.M., and we could finally survey the ski terrain that was available. Off to skier's left on the Palmer Snowfield, there was a lane about 30 yards wide open to the general public, followed by about a dozen other lanes for racers and other training groups. To the far left, and down below the lanes, there was park after park after park where all sorts of people were practicing jumps. I'd heard about all the racing lanes, and assumed that there would be some freestyle camps going on as well, but I had no idea that there would be so many jumps. There were literally dozens of built up terrain features. If they weren't all filled with skiers and boarders, it would have been a huge playground to explore. Off to the skier's right of the lift (Outer West area) was a bunch of open terrain. It had an intermediate pitch just like the training lanes, but was open to the public and practically deserted. In this area, you skied among neat lava rock formations as you connected different smaller snowfields. Above the lift, there was plenty of terrain available if you wanted to hike. The first 1,000 or so vertical feet were similar to what we were skiing, with maybe a little more contour and steepness. Above that however, it looked as though you got into the glaciers. With many crevasses visible, and who knows how many invisible, I think you'd want to be properly equipped and have some knowledge of the terrain (or get a guide) to make turns up there. We could see that there were some tracks up in the terrain just above the lifts, but there was no need to hike for good snow... maybe on a powder day. :)
We first took a couple of runs on the public lane to warm up and check out the snow. The snow was excellent corn, not too soft, not too hard. It was actually great skiing, with clear blue sky and temperatures probably in the high 60s. The public lane was a bit crowded, but sticking close to the edges allowed you to keep away from the general flow of people, and enjoy the turns. We finally found Scott and Greg in line at the mid-station and got together. They took us over to the open terrain on the skier's right and we had a lot of fun cranking some turns in the corn.
Unquestionably, the most curious phenomenon of the day was the thousands of black butterflies (or maybe moths, I'm not sure) that swarmed across the ski trails. It seemed as though black snow was falling, and it was easy to run into them while skiing. I know I bounced a few off my sunglasses throughout the day. I'm not sure what they were doing, but they were all fighting against the breeze to get somewhere. Curiously, later in the day, every single one of them was struggling to get back in the OTHER direction. It seemed as though they were always struggling against the breeze, and their natural aerodynamics didn't help much.
After a while, the racers began to leave and took away the gates and ropes. Before long, the whole place was just one big open slope that anyone could ski on, hundreds of yards wide. The snow was still in great shape, so we took this opportunity to check out the vast snowfield. Eventually, we worked our way over to some of the jumps that were deserted on the left, and had some fun on them. Most of the terrain parks and features were still full of camp people, so we couldn't visit those. They seemed in no rush to leave, especially since the snow was still in such good shape as it approached 3:00 P.M. After a couple of runs in the jumps, we decided it was time to head all the way down and call it a day. If you do a top to bottom run, you actually got a good bit of vertical (2,616'). However, you have to really work hard to connect the different snowfields and strips to get to the bottom, the slopes are generally mellow, and the snow gets stickier. It was still really interesting picking a path among the old lava flows, watching others who were doing the same thing. In the winter, you can even go lower than the parking area and get the full 3,590' of vertical.
When we finally reached the bottom, we changed clothes and stopped in to check out the historic Timberline lodge. The pictures of the lodge buried in the snows of winter were amazing, as was all the antique ski gear. From there, we headed down to Hood River for dinner, stopping off to take a dip in a mountain stream along the way. Hood River was a nice little town, infused with tons of windsurfing culture. We stopped down by the Columbia River to watch a few windsurfers and check out an awards presentation from the "Gorge Games". After dinner, we headed down the road along the Columbia River, while Greg filled us in on the local sights. We spent the next couple of days in Snoqualmie at our friend Scott's place, before returning to Montana.
So, although I wouldn't say to plan a special summer trip to ski Timberline (unless you're going to do a camp) it's a fun experience to throw in if you're in the Oregon/Washington area in the summer. It turns out that this was our latest skiing to date. We did try to make some turns up at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park when we there on July 22nd, but the most easily accessed terrain had just recently been closed to skiing. There was still a ton of snow, but it had reached the point where they didn't want people playing around on it due to the underlying vegetation. There were plenty of other options to ski if one had more time, but we were on a trip with my parents and didn't want them to have to wait around for hours while we hoofed off into the wilderness. As I write this, we're returning from another trip to Whitefish & Glacier, and I can see a huge snow filled couloir off to the east in the Mission Range. It's nice to look at, but since it's probably a 5,000 foot hike to get up there, to unknown quality snow, it's a bit more than I'd want to deal with (unless I had LOTS of time on my hands). There's still skiable snow at Glacier even now, depending on how small a patch of snow you want to ski, or if you want to go deep into the backcountry to get to bigger snowfields/glaciers. I bet a lot of non-glacier snow will survive through until winter, since cold weather is not far off in the high elevations of the park. While hiking on Sunday up to Hidden Lake Pass (7,140') in the park, the temperatures dropped into the 40s as a storm came in, and we got blasted with a windswept downpour of rain and sleet. It was my first taste of winter weather in a couple of months, and it felt great. We can also see a bit of snow left in the Bitterroots, which I'm thinking may last through until winter (last year I don't think it did). Like the stuff I've seen in the Mission Range, this is tough to get to, and would require a couple of days of commitment for unknown quality skiing. Still, it's nice to look at, and the thought of somewhat local snow making it through to the next season is quite nice!
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