February 2, 2013 – Mary’s Peak

After missing the weather window for powder earlier in the week, finding some nice corn snow to ride in the warming temps seemed like the next best bet.  With the forecast calling for freezing levels around 5000 feet over the weekend with sunny skies, the timing seemed right to head for Mary’s Peak for some turns.  Ron had been wanting to get to the Peak at some point during the winter, and was game to make the drive south, so we made plans for a Saturday ski tour.  After meeting in Corvallis around 7:30, we headed west through the thick fog, which gave way to clear skies and sunshine a few miles outside Philomath.  Turning off highway 34 and cruising up the winding paved road, we eventually got our first glimpse of the mountain.

Thinking that the mountain would be caked white from the recent storm that dumped over three feet of snow in the Cascades, our hearts sank a bit when we saw the very meager coverage on the south side of the hill.  It appeared the storm had dumped quite a bit of rain on Mary’s before it moved out, leaving a patchwork of rain runnels and spotty snow.  Not to be deterred however, our plans changed from exploring the steep north side to lapping what snow we could find on the west prairie and beyond.  Parking just before Parker Creek Falls, we skinned up the road and our spirits picked up a bit when we saw the snow covered west prairie……

Ron and Mary's Peak

Ron and Mary’s Peak

One thing I always seem to forget is how quickly the snow on the south side melts out and that the south aspect is the first one visible from the road below.  With renewed spirits, we skinned onward towards the west prairie.  Crossing Parker Creek is always fun, and it’s enjoyable to skin along the rushing water and breathe in the fresh mountain air soaked with the scent of the beautiful hemlocks…..

Touring along Parker Creek

Touring along Parker Creek

After the creek crossing, we popped out on the south prairie and skinned up the frozen surface towards the summit.  Several minutes later, we arrived to one of my favorite views in the state of Oregon.  Looking out over the Willamette Valley, which was engulfed in a sea of clouds, we could see 13 volcanoes along the cascade crest, from Mt Rainier to the north to Mt Thielsen to the south.

Ron on the summit of Mary's Peak

Ron on the summit of Mary’s Peak

 

Skinning north from the summit

Skinning north from the summit

 

Mt Hood from Mary's Peak

Mt Hood from Mary’s Peak

Shortly after reaching the top, a solo skier named Malcom cruised up and we chatted a bit while enjoying the views.  A bit later, we decided to tour around the mountain and check out a few other aspects while waiting for the snow to corn on the summit prairie.  We made a short but fun lap off the easterly pitch above the summer parking lot, finding some excellent corn snow……

Ron enjoying some Mary's Peak corn

Ron enjoying some Mary’s Peak corn

 

Cruising down with the Willamette Valley below

Cruising down with the Willamette Valley below

After a our short lap on the east slope, we headed down below the summer parking lot on the low angle snow as far aw we could until we quit gliding, enjoying the fun turns all the way.  We found a nice noble fir with a bit of shade that made a great spot to stop for lunch.  The old growth nobles on Mary’s Peak are worth the visit alone……

Ron enjoying lunch on the Peak

Ron enjoying lunch on the Peak

After lunch, we motored back up and made another quick lap on the east side, stopping at the bottom to explore the trees.  Good lines exist, but none held enough snow to make it worth the while.  Someday though, I’ll get up to the Peak in the right conditions to make powder turns down through 35-40 degree old growth noble firs, but all we could do on this day was imagine how good it could be…

Ron scoping out the tree lines

Ron scoping out the tree lines

Back on the summit, the snow had corned enough by early afternoon to make for some great turns on the summit prairie.  Cruising down the low angle slope in perfect corn while being able to see ocean is such a treat.  At the bottom, I could tell Ron was pretty happy with the previous run, and the smile on his face said that one run justified him making the long trek down from Portland.  We cruised back up and made a few more laps, each one perfectly smooth and nice…

Corn turns on the summit prairie

Corn turns on the summit prairie

Heading out, we met up with a fellow named Kirk after crossing Parker Creek, and enjoyed a pleasant conversation while skinning back towards the car.  Rather than skinning back down the road, we elected to head down the west prairie to maximize our vertical for the day with the hopes of hiking down through the thick trees to the road below, thereby eliminating much of the road slog on the way out.  Our plan worked to perfection, and we had another three hundred feet of vertical to add to the day….

Ron making turns in the west prairie

Ron making turns in the west prairie

Hiking down through the trees went off without a hitch, but getting to the road proved to be a bit difficult due to the steep slope on the cut bank, but we managed without incident.  After a short 1/4 mile ski back down the road, we were celebrating the day with a well deserved IPA, reflecting back on what is always a unique experience in making turns on Mary’s Peak.  Back in Corvallis, we stopped off at McMenamin’s for a burger before calling it a day.  A good beer and a burger always hit the spot after a long day of riding!  Given our expectations for the day, I was happy with the riding we found!  Corn snow in the winter is always a treat, but I’m already dreaming of scoring some powder turns in the noble’s sometime in the future!

Mary’s Peak – April 14, 2012

Ninety nine times out of one hundred when I’m looking to make turns, I load my gear into a vehicle and head east.  After my most recent outing to Mary’s Peak on the 14th of April, I think I’ll have to change that.  At 4,097 feet, Mary’s Peak is the highest point in the Oregon coast range, and towers nearly 3800 feet above the Willamette Valley.  Given that I grew up within a few air miles of the mountain, it’s also always fun to return “home” so to speak and take in the views of the cloudy seas that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Cascades.

I left the house rather early at 5:30 in the morning, feeling quite relieved actually to be heading west instead of east, searching for some corn snow.  I’d turned down offers of a free ride and lift ticket to Mt Bachelor for the day, preferring instead to earn some turns and hopefully earn some of the best views in the state, in my opinion.  The weather was calling for sunshine and calm winds, and I knew the conditions would be good since I can see the peak from my commute to work with it’s top still snow-covered.  What I didn’t know was how far up the road I’d be able to drive.  Unlike several years ago when I grew up playing at Mary’s Peak in the winter, the road is no longer plowed, and however far you can drive is how far you get.

Within  40 minutes I turned off Highway 34 and was able to wind my way up the road to the point where the road leaves the south exposure and wraps around the north side.  At this point, there was a couple of feet blocking the snow, so I parked nearby, pulled out my DIY Custom split, and started skinning up the road just as the sun crested the north ridge.  The sun coming through the trees made for a pretty picture….

The sun peeking through the trees on the approach

The sun peeking through the trees on the approach

Skinning up the road through the big Doug Firs and Nobles was pretty cool and reminded me that I need to get back here at least a few times each winter.  After 10 or 15 minutes, I came to the west prairie, and soaked in the views of the cloudy skies.  One of the things I love about the coastal mountains is the views from the higher peaks…..it’s fairly routine to have fog fill the river valleys below while the peaks stick out above….

Looking south from the west prairie

Looking south from the west prairie

After admiring the view from the west prairie for a few minutes, I skinned back to the road and followed it to the far side of the prairie before deciding to leave it for a more direct approach towards the true summit.  Skinning by the first weather station, I could see the south prairie off the summit, holding snow on about two-thirds of it’s grass – plenty to make for some good turns.  To get to it, I needed to cross Parker Creek, which wasn’t too difficult even though there was minimal snow bridges available – I got lucky and found one right where I chose to descend.  When I broke out of the trees on the other side, more views opened up and I stopped to snap some photos, including the one below looking west towards Grass Mountain…

Grass Mountain above the clouds

Grass Mountain above the clouds

The skin up the south prairie to the top from here didn’t take me too long, though I stopped several times to take pictures of the surrounding views.  The snow surface was perfectly frozen smooth snow, and I knew it would turn to primo corn as soon as the sun warmed it.  When I reached the top, I was rewarded with 360 degree views, ranging from the Willamette Valley to the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean.  I set up my tripod for a few shots and snapped some photos…

Looking back to the northwest

Looking back to the northwest

While waiting for the snow to corn, I skinned down off the top to the north, dropping down to the north prairie, a place I used to frequent while in college.  Memories of building kickers with my buddy Andrew and gazing out across the lights of the Willamette Valley at night came flooding back.  Mt Hood was clearly visible to the north, as depicted in the below photo….

Mt Hood from Mary's Peak

Mt Hood from Mary’s Peak

After spending a few minutes on the north prairie, I headed back to the top to snap a few more photos with the tripod before making some turns.  The sun was at the perfect spot in the sky to snap some pictures, and I got a few photos I really liked with my 10-22 mm wide angle lens, including the below photo looking to the southeast with the Willamette Valley in the distance…

Looking out over the Willamette Valley

Looking out over the Willamette Valley

Around 9:00, I put the tripod away and assembled my board halves into ride mode.   The snow wasn’t quite corned yet, but I was getting ancy to make some turns and wanted to get multiple laps in.  Dropping into the low angle slope, I made dozens of smooth consistent turns turns.  The nice thing about snow covering a grass meadow is that it doesn’t take too much coverage to provide ample riding.  The snow was nearly 4 feet deep at the edge of the meadow, but only a few inches on the other side, but cranking turns wasn’t a problem since the grass surface was really smooth.  At the bottom of the slope, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t been spending more time up here in the past few years.  I headed back up for another lap and found the snow to be perfect corn on the second run.  The following photos shows my tracks looking back down the meadow…

Tracks heading down the meadow

Tracks heading down the meadow

A couple more laps followed, and the snow seemed to get better and better on each successive lap.  Skinning up the meadow was quite peaceful, and before I knew it, I’d laid down several tracks on the mountain.  I contemplated another lap on the meadow, but decided against it, wanting to get home for a late lunch with the family.  On my last run, I made nice smooth turns down to the bottom, then switched back to ski mode for the trip out.  Here’s a shot of my tracks in the meadow…

My tracks from the morning

My tracks from the morning

I crossed Parker Creek on the same snow bridge where I crossed earlier, and stopped to snap a few photos of the creek since the lighting was nice….

Parker Creek

Parker Creek

The ski out went quickly, and I ripped the skins once I got back to the road and skied out on the still frozen snow.  The snow was firm enough that I probably could have snowboarded, but skiing was kind of fun, and I only fell once:)  Back at the car, I loaded my gear and was home by 12:45 – in time for nice outdoor lunch with the family and some afternoon gardening!