May 16, 2009 – Zigzag Glacier to Government Camp

I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock early in the morning, and within twenty minutes I was on the road heading west towards Mt. Hood. Having stayed with family in Gresham the night before, it didn’t take long to drive up Highway 26 to Govy. I parked near the Summit Ski area and waited for Todd and Jeff to arrive, since we were contemplating riding down from Timberline after our tour. The snowpack around the ski area looked like it would go, so we left my car in Govy and drove up to Timberline.  We left the parking lot around 7:30, but skinning up the Mile Canyon and Palmer went pretty fast, though Jeff was lagging a bit because this was his first real trip using skins.  Todd and I left him at the top of the Palmer and made plans to meet up there after another hour or so.

Todd skinning up the White River Snowfield
Climbing above the Palmer

Continuing up above the Palmer, I switched to crampons around 9000 feet after I started slipping on the skins. The snow was pretty wind eroded the higher we went….

Snow surface at 9500 ft

Around 9500 feet, we decided to head down as the snow below was corning, and reports from other climbers was that icefall up higher was pretty bad. The views out towards Illumination Rock were excellent…..

Illumination Rock

We descended the White River snowfield since conditions were softer on the eastern side of the mountain. Originally, we had thought about summiting, but gave that hope up since it became obvious the conditions wouldn’t allow for decent turns on the top 2000 feet. Additionally, the number of climbers heading for the summit appeared to number around 100, which would have rendered descending via the summit route pretty much out of the question.

The upper mountain

We ran into one party on the way down that had lost one member to icefall (apparently she needed to be evacuated and taken to the hospital). Another member had a broken finger due to icefall. Indeed, every party we talked to said it was a shooting gallery above the Hogsback. With the change in how the Pearly Gates have formed, I’m beginning to think the southside summit route may not be the best ski descent anymore.

Matt strapping in for some May turns

Our decision made, we set about to head back down and enjoy the ride. After ripping skins and converting into board mode, we set off. The turns were a bit sketch at first, but dramatically improved as we descended.

May tele turns
Spring turns on Hood

Back at the top of the Palmer, we met up with Jeff and continued down. We stayed riders left of Timberline Ski area, and worked our way out towards the Zigzag canyon. The snow below 8500 feet was excellent corn. As we neared the Zigzag canyon, we traversed back right towards the low angled snowfields adjacent to the ski area.

Lower down on the Zigzag

Near 6000 feet, Todd and I left Jeff to get the car in the parking lot, and rode down through the ski area and then to Govy via the Alpine trail. Neither of us had ever been through before, but followed our noses pretty easily. It was hard to believe there was enough snow to make it through, but there was plenty. The snow was a bit sticky and the terrain a bit flat, but there’s nothing quite like riding completely off the mountain and right to the bar! Total vertical for our day on the descent was about 5500 feet – not bad for one run. Here’s a shot from Govy….

The view from Govy

Green Lakes brews from Deschutes Brewery followed at the Ratskellar, then dinner with the family in Gresham later that evening. Overall, it was a really good day to be on the mountain, as long as you stay below the ice above 9500 feet.