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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 are of
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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