Mt Hood, Palmer Snowfield – December 29, 2013

It’s gonna’ be ugly this spring if it doesn’t snow soon I thought to myself as I checked the weather forecast again.  As it sits presently, the snowpack in the Oregon cascades is running anywhere from zero to about 20% of normal.  With 2014 three days away, I was jonesing for turns and decided it was time to get out to stretch the legs regardless of conditions.  Ron and Todd were game as well, so plans were firmed up to do a tour up the southside of Hood on Sunday.

I woke before my alarm in the morning, made some coffee and hit the road.  A few hours later, I arrived at Ron’s and soon we were headed up the highway towards Timberline.  As we neared Govy, we got our first glimpse of the mountain, and could tell the snowpack was dismal.  In Govy, Ski Bowl was bare for the lower third of the mountain, with only a few inches coating the upper mountain around 5000 feet.  As we neared Timberline, the snow finally started to increase in depth, to a whopping 20 inches or so near the lodge.  We met Todd in the Climber’s lot, pulled out gear and started skinning up the canyon.

Mt Hood from above the Climber's lot

Mt Hood from above the Climber’s lot

The snow was rock hard and very slick, kind of like skinning on a hockey rink on an incline.  The sun was out, but a stiff wind kept us cool and the snow hard as we worked our way up towards Silcox Hut.  Ron and Todd agreed to stop long enough for me to snap a quick photo…

Ron and Todd breaking trail:)

Ron and Todd breaking trail:)

Mixed with the icy snow surface was a decent amount of water ice, which made proper skinning technique a must even on the mellow slopes.  Skinning over what normally wouldn’t get a second thought suddenly demanded more attention to detail, where a fall would hurt at the very least but could end up in slide.

Todd skinning over water ice

Todd skinning over water ice

The headwind which was blowing down the mountain and keeping us cool (but the snow firm) also kept the upper mountain shrouded in a cool lenticular cloud all morning….

Lenticular over Hood

Lenticular over Hood

A few hundred feet below Silcox Hut, I stopped to put my beanie on and set my sunglasses down in front of my pack for less than a second.  Promptly, they were picked up by a strong gust of wind and blown down the slope.  They kept sliding and sliding, and though I went after them, I never did find them.  With the wind, they likely ended up in the White River canyon.  That little mishap cost me a couple hundred feet, and by the time I caught up to Todd and Ron they were hunkered down under a rock.  We made the call to descend from here, given the wind, and then maybe head back for another lap.

Ron ready to drop for lap 1

Ron ready to drop in for lap 1

Even though it was icy, the snow skied decently.  If it hadn’t been for the wind, it may have even been corn for our descent.  Ron and Todd dropped in while I snapped a couple of photos.  I followed, and found the best snow to be in the gully about halfway between our high point and the car…

Ron and Todd heading down

Ron and Todd heading down

Down at the car, the Climber’s lot was full, and we rehydrated and ate a snack.  The wind picked up again, and Todd elected to head home.  Ron and I stuck around for awhile, and finally the wind died down so we headed out for a second lap.  Skinning up the second time was much nicer as the snow finally started to soften.  I snapped the below shot looking down into the Salmon River canyon during a quick break on the uptrack, which snows the lack of snow on the lower mountain.

Looking down the Salmon River canyon

Looking down the Salmon River canyon

After passing some snowshoe enthusiasts (they were out in force — I’m guessing they don’t have anywhere to go either), we skinned partway up the Palmer snowfield with a few other skiers.  By the time we reached an equivalent elevation with the mid-station around 1:45, we could tell it would only be a few more minutes before the snow started to refreeze.  The window for corn snow is pretty limited this time of year.

Looking south towards Jefferson

Matt on the lower Palmer

The second lap was quite a bit better than the first, and we did find a few spots where the snow resembled corn.  I snapped a few photos of Ron while he ripped the snow on his handmade skis, then found a few fun turns in the canyon.  Sitting back down at the truck in the lot, we both agreed it was nice to wrap up December with a greater than 3000 foot vertical day of riding

Ron enjoying turns on lap 2

Ron enjoying turns on lap 2

After a Mirror Pond pale ale and some grub, I hit the road home.  Given the conditions, I’d have to say it was a good day, but compared to normal December standards it was well below average – it really needs to snow in a bad way!  Here’s a parting shot from the day…

Cloud over the canyon

Cloud over the canyon

 

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