Skishoeing on New Years Day

February 5, 2019

 All photos are mine except where noted


White River Trail and Mt. Hood

  White River tumbles down from its glacier on the East side of Mt. Hood. If you start early enough coming up from the East, the sunrise from behind you glows on the mountain in front of you. There are two things I particularly noticed. One, of course, was the changing light and colors. As the sun gets higher, the light hits lower and lower on the mountain.



The other thing is the clouds. The mountain makes its own weather. The rest of the sky was clear, but the clouds were like a short river flowing up and over, beginning and ending around the peak. They were constantly changing, and really fascinating to watch as I was skishoeing uphill parallel to the river.


Finding Timberline trail in deep snow

After nearly 2 miles, the terrain changes because of the moraines left by past movement of the White River Glacier. Where the Timberline Trail crosses the river, you can drop down closer to the river and head further upstream to the glacier and a central moraine shaped like a tongue,

                                                Photo from WILDER~ Women In Love with Daring, Exploring & being Real (FB)


                                                      Photo from WILDER~ Women In Love with Daring, Exploring & being Real (FB)


or... you can climb up to the left and go another mile or so up to Timberline Lodge. If you go directly to the left, which I usually do, the climb is very steep. Whether on skishoes with built in climbing skins and universal bindings, or on snowshoes, it’s too steep to go straight – you have to make your own little switchbacks.

But this day I wanted to see if I could find the Timberline Trail.




One switchback

It angles back from the steep headwall, further left, up through the timber, far enough to swing into just one switchback to the right and then topping out on the ridge that will take you to Timberline Lodge. When the snow is deep, the trail is hard to find. I spotted a little silver diamond trail marker nailed to an old Hemlock tree. Even then, I lost the trail almost immediately and got a little tangled up in some blowdown. But then I spotted a very old blaze mark a short way below me, and got back on the trail.

A snowshoe rabbit was the only other traveler on that trail.


Powder on top of an icy base

Normally, breaking trail uphill in deep snow is very hard work, but we had some warm weather the week before, which melted the surface and re-froze overnight, forming a crust. Then about 6 to 8 inches of new snow covered the ice layer, which held firm, so instead of breaking trail in several feet of powder, it was only the top snow that had to be pushed through. The only time the icy crust underneath was a bit of a problem was when I was on the steep slope off the trail. Once back on the trail, it was pretty easy going. Skishoes, aka Hoks, or 'Fat Skis' are actually a little easier than snowshoes because you don’t even have to pick up your feet. Learn about them here.



Topping out

Up on top of the formation, I broke out into the open. Even though the main route had several tracks from a group of 5 who had gone up on New Years Eve, I was enjoying virgin snow on this route. This always makes me want to break out loudly singing “How Great Thou Art”, even though I’m not a very good singer.



In winter, the sun never gets very high. This makes for very long shadows on the snow.



I soon saw a perfect trail left by a fox.



 Then I saw some icycles remaining from that warm spell the previous week.


Making tracks

Finally, I got up to the subalpine slopes where I saw tracks where the 5 snowshoers had come up the headwall.

But I cut up to the left, to higher ground. I was looking for the trail sign that marks the junction of the Timberline Trail with the PCT. I couldn’t find it, so the snow was clearly deep enough to bury that sign -probably about 4 feet.

When I skied down off that slope, I looked back and took a picture of my tracks.



When I look at those kind of tracks, it’s like re-living the fun and the thrill all over again.  Swooping down through powder makes you feel like you’re floating on a cloud. It's hard to describe, but it's heavenly.




Meeting up with snowshoeing backpackers

Looking up toward the mountain, I saw 5 snowshoers heading down. I waited for them, curious to know how they were coming down so early in the day. It turns out they were coming down the same trail they had made on the way up the night before. They camped out in 14 degree weather. You’ve got to admire anyone who will do that. Their water bottles were freezing, so they melted snow, boiled it, refilled the water bottles, and put them in their sleeping bags to keep their feet warm.


                                                                     Photo by permission from Kevin and Ann Cowley


I told them I had found the Timberline Trail and broken it in, and offered to show them the way down. That way they didn’t have to fight to keep from falling head over teakettle going down that steep headwall. Near the bottom, I broke in the first part of the trail that I had missed on the way up.



It was especially fun meeting those 5 overnighters. When Ann Marie saw my Altai Skis, she said "What’s your name?” I said “Al”. She said “Al Christie?” "Yes" – she had watched my videos on Youtube and recognized me and my skis. Her husband, Kevin Cowley, is an excellent photographer, and I had seen  some of his work on Facebook. Their daughter, Sarah, took a picture of Kevin and Ann and me.






I showed them how well the climbing skins worked and then skied back down, but I rushed a little and got all out of breath, so I had to sit down on my skis for a couple minutes - not realizing Kevin was taking my picture. 






                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Photo by Kevin Cowley          


                                                                                                         Photo by permission from Kevin and Ann Cowley


The fun part - going back down

Skiing (or even snowshoeing) back down to the White River West snopark is always a very nice windup.


                                                                                   Photo by Kar Scherman


                                                                                  Photo by Kar Scherman


                                                                                                                            Photo by Kar Scherman



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