November 12, 2012 – Wet & Wild in the Mile/Palmer Canyons

In the game of year-round snowboarding, when you roll the dice, sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t.  Such was the case when Joe, Dan and I headed to Mt Hood in search of November pow turns.  The weather forecast looked promising, with 10-16 inches of snow on Sunday night and 4-8 more during the day Monday.  The snow level had been fluctuating between 5000-6000 feet all week, but was holding steady at 5000 feet according to NOAA based on Sunday’s forecast.  Conditions looked promising.

After a leisurely start around 6:00 am, I soon met Joe in Albany and we carpooled up I-5 to meet Dan in Sandy.  A wreck on I-205 set us back 30 minutes or so,but it just so happened that my uncle was stuck in the same traffic on his motorcycle heading to a Veteran’s event, so we got to chat with him for a few minutes on the Interstate.  Finally in Sandy, we met Dan at Joe’s, scored some donuts and coffee, bought a season snowpark pass, and headed up Highway 26 to Timberline.  Halfway to Govy, I got a call from Ron who was planning to meet up with us for a tour and was sitting in the parking lot.  “It’s raining and the visibility is about 300 feet.”  Great!  Driving through Government Camp, it was apparent it was going to be a warm day.  We pulled into the Timberline Parking lot to a light drizzle and found Ron waiting in his pickup.  He chatted with us for a few before heading home, one of the benefits of living close to the mountain.

Sorting gear prior to heading up the hill

Sorting gear prior to heading up the hill

Since we’d driven up from the southern valley, Dan, Joe and I knew heading home was out of the question given the time and effort already into the day, so we loaded our gear in the rain, donned hard shells, and started skinning from the parking lot.  Quite a bit of snow had fallen overnight – somewhere in the vicinity of 12-14 inches.  Even in the drizzle, it was nice to feel the soft snow underfoot while skinning along on my Option DIY Joni Makinen split.  Looking back at the lodge, conditions looked wintery even if it was raining…

Timberline on a wet and rainy day

Timberline on a wet and rainy day

We followed a skin track up along the lower section of the Mile Canyon, having a hard time believing there were other people out in the inclement weather.  Though things were starting to fill in, it was obvious much more snow would be needed to hide the rocks and fill in the canyons.  Here’s a shot of Dan and Joe skinning between Timberline Lodge and the top of the Mile canyon….

Skinning above Timberline

Skinning above Timberline

Below the top of the Mile we caught up with the folks responsible for the skin track as they were getting ready to head down.  Confirming the obvious, they told us how good the snow was the night before while they had stayed at Timberline.  Completely soaked, they decided going up further would be frivolous so we bid them farewell.  Skinning higher, I kept thinking the rain would change to snow eventually, especially given the forecast snow level of 5000 feet.  Near the top of the mile, a nice rain crust was developing, which made for quick skinning, but would prove to be poor for making nice turns on the way down.  At the top of the Mile, I pulled out my camera, which was quickly becoming soaked in it’s bag, and wiped my lens with the last dry cloth I had before snapping a few shots of Silcox Hut.  The below photo captures the mood of the day….

Silcox hut on Mt Hood

Silcox hut on Mt Hood

Continuing on past the bottom of the Palmer lift, I kept looking for the mid-station through the fog, thinking it would be close.  One of the frustrating things about skinning in a fog/whiteout is it makes it very hard to gauge progress.  Eventually we reached the mid-station, and after taking a look at the Palmer, decided to call it.  The upper Palmer looked as if a bomb had been dropped on it.  Mostly chunder and ice chunks, combined with low visibility – no thanks.  During the time it took to transition from skins to ride mode at the mid-station, the rain turned to snow.  Thoroughly soaked however, we had no intention of sticking around to enjoy it.  The first turns off the mid-station ramp were basically blind, and each of us had difficulty navigating the rain crust, wind drifts, and low visibility.  A few hundred feet down however the turns actually became decent.  At the base of the Palmer, it took a bit of caution to find the entrance to the Mile canyon due to the fresh snow, low visibility and lurking rocks.  Deciphering between residual snow and new snow with lots of rocks wasn’t easy, as demonstrated by Dan in the below photo (skiing cautiously due to rock danger)…

Dan negotiating in the Mile Canyon

Dan negotiating in the Mile Canyon

Once into the Mile, we actually made turns that resembled skiing and snowboarding.  I snapped a few photos, but overall didn’t get too many since I couldn’t keep the rain off my lens nor dry it off since all my gear was soaked.  Once at the bottom of the canyon, we exited and skied the road back down to the lodge, which provided some fun turns since the danger of striking a lurking rock was less than that in the canyon.

Enjoying one of the few "turns" of the day

Enjoying one of the few “turns” of the day

Back at the car cold and wet, it was agreed a warm up in Govy was in order over a nice fire and good beer.  With the Ratskellar closed, we pulled into the Mt Hood Brew Pub and found some chairs and a coffee table right next to the fire – perfect!  NW Steelhead chowder and Ice Ax IPA’s proved to be the perfect match, as we relived the day’s events and dried wet gear.  All things considered, it was a fun day, as it usually is – a bad day riding is better than a good day at work as the saying goes!  Yes, the day had four of the perfect ingredients to humble a rider……rain, rocks, breakable crust and low visibility.  But, where’s the challenge in riding perfect snow all the time?  Days like this are ones that will be remembered as fondly as good powder days, though hopefully repeated much less frequently!

Inside the Mt Hood Brew Pup

Inside the Mt Hood Brew Pup

 

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