The Palmer Glacier is located on the south side of Mt Hood, between the White River Glacier to the eastÂ and the Zigzag Glacier to the west.Â ItÂ is probably the best known of Mt Hood’s 12 glaciers, due in large part to the fact that it is the only place inÂ the USÂ where lift served skiing and riding occurs 12 months a year.Â The PalmerÂ covers anÂ elevation from 9300 feet on it’s upper end to somewhere around 7000 feet at it’s terminus (the start of the PalmerÂ Chairlift inside the Timberline ski area).Â Â Many sources indicateÂ the glacier ends nearÂ 6200 feet, but in lean snow years finding snow below 7500 feet is difficult at best.Â The upper part of theÂ Palmer above the ski areaÂ is connected to the White River Glacier and melts apart from the ski area snowfield in late summer.Â The Palmer isÂ the source of the Salmon River, and was briefly named the Salmon River Glacier in the 1920’s.
Prior to 1924, the Palmer was thought to be a snowfield, which it is generally thought of as today.Â However, according to Jack Grauer’s 1975 book titled The Complete History of Mt Hood, during the mild winter of 1923-1924, such little snow fell that crevasses began to be revealed.Â Later in the summer, a horseÂ fell into a blind crevasse.Â This prompted an investigation by the Mazama’s as to whether or not the Palmer was a snowfield or a glacier.Â In the fall of 1924, the Palmer was determined to be a glacier, and has since been namedÂ so onÂ the maps, though there have been no crevasse sightings on the glacierÂ since the summer of 1924.
Earlier evidence of crevasses on the PalmerÂ came from the man for whom the glacierÂ was named.Â Â Oregon pioneer Joel Palmer climbed to near the 9000 foot level below Crater Rock while looking forÂ a suitable route for wagon passage from The Dalles to Oregon City in 1845.Â Upon his descent, he came upon several blind crevasses in the vicinity of the Palmer, which as Jack Grauer points out in his book, indicates that the glacier has shrunk considerably since the mid 1800’s.
The below photo was taken byÂ L.J. BaileyÂ in 1935, is part of the Glacier Photograph Collection,Â and is courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data CenterÂ in Boulder, CO.Â It showsÂ theÂ PalmerÂ Glacier in the upper center of the image, with the White River Glacier in the center of the photo.
The Palmer Glacier of today is far from what Joel Palmer encountered in 1845.Â It’s nowÂ famous for it’s summer skiing and riding, and is heavily salted to keep the snow firm for racing.Â BothÂ Windell’s and High Cascade Snowboard camps call the snowfield home during the summer, and theÂ US ski team trains there.Â The scene can be quite chaotic at times, with campers and racers all vying for the same patch of snow.
Later in the year however,Â the Palmer is one of the easiest places whereÂ decent turns can be had inÂ the lean snow months of September and October, and the camps are usually gone during these months.Â Lift tickets during the summer are quite expensive, but allow for thousands of vertical feet of riding, whereas hiking to the top is rewarding, and allows for one or two long runs back down to the snow’s end.
Overall, theÂ PalmerÂ has a rich history and is a fun place toÂ make turns.Â I’ve had numerous good outings there over the years, and usually venture back at least once a year to lap lots of continuous vertical!