September 5, 2020 – Mt Hood, Zigzag & Palmer Glaciers

Labor Day weekend was on the late side this year, so Dan, Joe and I made plans to meet up on Saturday to get our September turns in. Dan met me at my house early, and we cruised up I-5 in his Tesla, stopping for a quick charge in Sandy, before arriving at the mountain to meet Joe, who’d been up there for the past couple of days. The parking lot was a zoo, but fortunately Joe had saved us a spot to park. We set about getting our gear organized, and I walked over to my usual spot to take a picture of the mountain.

Charging the Tesla in Sandy
Mt Hood from the Climbers Lot

The mountain looked somewhat typical for September, although it appeared the Palmer was somewhat narrower than in past years. With the area closed to skiing as of August 31st, we shouldered packs and headed up the road to Silcox instead of our usual September hike along the White River Glacier. 

Looking south from above the lodge
Dan & Joe heading up the Silcox Road

Hiking up the road went quickly, and before long we reached Silcox Hut, which served as a nice spot to take a quick break, grab and snack, and drink a bit of water. From the hut, we headed up and under the Palmer lift, and worked our way up the hiking trail towards the top of the lift.

Joe at Silcox
Dan taking a quick break

Near the top of the Palmer, we split left, and headed across the rocks towards the Zigzag. It always is a bit further to the Zigzag then I remember, and a bit harder hiking as well across the loose rocks and boulders. Eventually we made our way to the last rock ridge before the snow, which afforded good views back to the south of Mt Jefferson and the Lionshead Fire burning on it’s eastern flank.

Looking south towards Mt Jefferson
Joe & Dan approaching the Zigzag

When we reached the glacier, I was a bit surprised at the lack of snow compared with years past. The snow surface looked like it would ski ok, but the glacier itself was quit a bit narrower than in previous years, and there was a significant amount of exposed ice and dirt showing. Nevertheless, we switched over to ski boots and worked our way up to near the top, finding a suitable place to drop in. We didn’t make it quite as high as in years past, due to the fact that the snow surface was just glacial ice covered in dirt and sand.

Hiking up the Zigzag
At the top of the Zigzag

We switched over to ride mode at the top of the glacier, and snapped a few photos. I took a picture looking down the Zigzag, and then we started down. I dropped in first, and made a few fun turns down a hundred feet or so, and then snapped some pictures as the skiers descended.

Looking down the Zigzag
Joe skiing down the Ziggy

The snow surface was in ok shape up top, but became much better as we traveled further down. The lower half of the glacier skied much better, and we made some fun turns down it’s lower half. Dan grabbed the camera and snapped a few photos of me as we cruised down the mid-section…

September turns on the Zigzag

We continued working our way down, and stopped below the bottom a few hundred feet to admire the Lionshead Fire on Mt Jefferson which appeared to be blowing up as the day went on (a few days later it would really blow up as much of western Oregon would burn in the worst fire season ever recorded).

Skiing above the Lionshead Fire
Pausing on the lower Zigzag

Finally, we skied the last section to the bottom of the glacier, milking turns all the way as we normally do. I caught a few pictures of Dan coming down with the mountain in the background, and then he got one of me at the very end of the snow…

Dan skiing the lower glacier
At the end of the snow

At the bottom, we loaded the skis onto our packs, and started out on the slog back up to where we’d stashed our beers, approach shoes and a few other items. I snapped a few pictures on the lower half of the snowfield, and then put the camera away until we made it back to our gear…

Looking up the Zigzag
Heading back up

By the time we had worked our way back up to our gear, the Lionshead Fire to the south on Jefferson had started getting even more aggressive, so I pulled out my telephoto lens and snapped a picture. It was also a good time to snap a few pictures of my beer of choice for the day — a large Mindhaze IPA from Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Rather than drink it on the Zigzag, I elected to take it with me to enjoy at the top of the Palmer.

Looking south to the Lionshead Fire
Beverage of choice for the day

The hike back across the rocks and scree to the Palmer is always easier and faster on the way back (or at least it seems that way), and soon we were sitting at the top of the snowfield, enjoying the view along with our cold beers, taking in a beautiful September day. The snow on the Palmer was looking pretty good, and soon we decided it was time to drop in and see just how good it was. I dropped in first, and there was no doubt — the turns were pretty nice. Joe and Dan came down after me, and we worked our way down towards the bottom at the mid-station below..

Dan skiing the Palmer
Joe cruising down the Palmer

A little bit above the mid-station, we stopped and stashed a little gear, and headed back up for one more lap. The skiers left their packs as well, and in about 20 minutes we were back on top and ready to drop in again. This time, Dan snapped a few pictures of me coming down as well…

September turns on the Palmer
Dan cruising on lap 2

We skied down to our gear, loaded it up, and headed down the road towards the mid-station until we ran out of snow. From there, it was a short hike into the canyon, where we enjoyed more turns down towards the Silcox…

Near the mid-station
Turns in the Palmer Canyon

The turns in the Palmer Canyon were really nice, and it’s always fun ripping from side to side, throwing snow on the rocks, etc. I snapped a few pictures of the skiers, and then put the camera away for the rest of the ride down to the Silcox.

Dan skiing the Canyon
Joe throwing some snow

At the Silcox, we crossed the road and milked the snow in the Mile canyon quite a ways down, and though it was dirty, it still made for fun turns. We skied down close to where the snow cats are normally parked and the snow ended, and made the hike back to the parking lot from there.

Skiing below Silcox
Hiking down to the car

Back at the car, it was super nice to change into shorts and flip flops, and enjoy a cold drink. We got the brats and grill out, and cooked ’em up while we enjoyed some fresh garden salads I’d made up the night before, as well as some fresh chips and salsa.

Salsa, Salad & a Splitboard
Apres-ski at the cars

Hanging out at the car, enjoying good food, drinks and friends is one of the best parts of September ski days, and this day was no exception. The brats . definitely hit the spot, and with bodies full from good food and our spirits high from good turns, it was time to hit the road. Dan and I bid Joe farwell, and pulled out in his Tesla for the road home. With September in the books, that usually means summer is coming to a close, with fall and the first storms of the season not far way. Winter will be here before we know it, and I can’t wait!

November 2, 2019 – Mt Hood, Palmer Snowfield+

Even though the calendar said it was November, the weather felt more like late September. With sunny skies and warm temps in the forecast, Dan and I headed up to Mt Hood with hopes of scoring some fall corn. Travel up I5 went smoothly, and we pulled into the climbers lot around 9:00 am. In addition to the weather, the mountain looked more like September than November as well.

Hood from the Climbers Lot

We set out on the road towards Silcox, and it was fairly warm already, which meant the snow had a great chance of corning on the Palmer. As usual, the views south of Timberline Lodge and beyond were as scenic as always…

Looking out over Timberline Lodge

We worked our way up to Silcox and then the bottom of the Palmer. It was easy booting to the top of the Palmer, and we chatted up a cat driver for a few minutes before heading up a bit further. The snow above the Palmer was a bit on the rough and dirty side, so after a few hundred feet we decided to call it.

Above the Palmer on wild snow

We took a deserved break to enjoy the views, eat a sandwich and re-hydrate, and then it was time to rip. I headed down first, and made some enjoyable turns on the soft, dirty snow, and Dan followed as I shot pics….

Turns near 9,000 feet
Dropping into the Palmer

We worked our way down and then onto the Palmer, where the snow improved considerably. Dan grabbed the camera and took a few shots of me, and we enjoyed prime corn turns down to the bottom.

November turns on the Palmer snowfield
Matt enjoying November corn

The snow was in good shape, so of course we headed back up for another lap. The boot went quickly, and soon we were back above the top of the Palmer, enjoying the views back to the south of Mt Jefferson and beyond….

Dan above the Palmer Lift shack
Jeff and the Sisters

Our beer, which we’d stashed earlier, was now ice cold after being submersed in the snow for 45 minutes, and went down smooth. My beer of choice for the day was a 20 oz. Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewing. After downing our beers in quick fashion, we were both a bit tuned up for our second lap, and felt like heroes ripping the smooth corn on the snowfield…

Dale’s Pale Ale
Matt cruising down the Palmer Snowfield

I ripped big fun turns halfway down the slope, then grabbed the camera from Dan and snapped several shots of him skiing the November corn.

Dan on lap number 2

At the bottom, we both agreed that a third and final lap was in order, and this time without packs. We booted back up the slope to a few feet shy of the top, and let ‘er rip one more time.

Turns on the Palmer sans pack…
Ripping turns through our bootpack

The snow on the third lap was equally as nice as the previous two, and maybe even a bit softer. We milked the turns down to the bottom of the Palmer, and regrouped where we’d stashed our gear…

November turns on Hood
Riding the residual snow on the Palmer

At the bottom of the Palmer, we spotted what looked like a finger of snow on skiers left that went way down through the gullies and avoided the Palmer “canyon” to the west, which had been littered with rocks and dirt on the climb up. We decided to give it a go, figuring we could ski at least as low on this route as we could on our ascent route.

Dan skiing below the Palmer
Dan skiing the snow fingers

The snow wasn’t the best quality, but for some reason we both enjoyed the hell out of it. Cranking turns through the tight, gritty fingers was pure joy, and beat the hell out of walking. We skied down way lower than we expected, and ended up only a few hundred vertical above the lodge.

Heading down towards the lodge
Surveying the final few turns

At the bottom of the snow, we were both stoked on the day, and made the short hike down the trail and back to the climbers lot, where more cold beverages and good food was waiting…

Looking back at the final pitch
Heading down the trail

Back in the lot, we did something I don’t think either of had ever done in November on Hood —- we pulled out the grill and cooked up some brats. Normally, we be hunkered down in the cold, with a few extra layers on, enjoying some chips and salsa along with a cold beer. This day however felt more like September, and the temps were in the mid-50’s at the lodge.

Grillin’ in the parking lot

The brats hit the spot, as did hanging in the parking lot in shorts and T-shirts. Even though we weren’t skiing powder, I think both Dan and I counted this as one of our better days of the year, given the uniqueness of skiing corn snow in November on Hood. Winter will be here soon enough, and one thing is for sure — when it comes, we’ll be ready!

September 2, 2019 – Mt Hood, Zigzag Snowfield

Summer was flying by, and it was hard to believe Labor Day was fast approaching. As the calendar approached September, Dan, Joe and I made plans to head to Mt Hood for September turns. Labor Day itself was looking like the best day for turns over the long weekend, so we opted to head to the mountain on Monday to try and score some good snow. We made it to the climbers lot around 8:30 am, surprised to find it already quite full. By 9:00 am, our packs were shouldered and we headed up the road towards the Palmer snowfield.

Hood from the Climbers Lot
Dan & Joe below Silcox Hut

The weather was nice, not too warm, but definitely looking like the snow would be corning soon. In no time we arrived at the Silcox Hut, which made for a good spot to take a quick break for a snack and drink of water while enjoying the views.

Silcox & Mt Hood
Self portrait in Silcox Hut

We worked our way up and over to climbers left of the Magic Mile and Palmer Canyon, eventually climbing a hikers trail towards the top of the Palmer. At the top, it was an easy decision to head over and check out the Zigzag. The hike over to the snow took a bit longer than anticipated, but we held a good line across the dry barren slopes and eventually reached the snowfield. After stashing a bit of gear at the midpoint of the snowfield, we headed up to the top…

Looking back towards the Little Zigzag
At the top of the Zigzag

We hung around the top of the snowfield for a few minutes, soaking in the views and refueling with a quick snack, and then it was time to step into the bindings and rip a few turns.

Dan skiing past Illumination Rock
Matt cruising down the upper Zigzag

The snow on the upper snowfield was so-so. Not real smooth, but soft enough for some fun turns. Dan and I headed over towards skiers right while Joe skied down the left side of the snowfield. Dan and I hiked across some glacial till and found a smooth section of snow that made for several fun turns…

September turns on the Zigzag
Dan carving down the Ziggy

As we continued to descend down the slope, the snow started to get better and better. After more turns, we traversed across the slope back over to where we’d stashed some of our gear, including beers, which were chilling on ice. We enjoyed a cold one and then continued down…

Dan skiing the upper snowfield
The boys halfway down

The snow on the lower half of the snowfield became better and better the further down we descended. The lower 700-800 feet was absolutely excellent, and we all agreed it was some of the best corn we’d ever skied in September. I snapped photos of the guys as they headed down to capture some of the action…

Joe and Dan ripping the lower snowfield

We milked the turns down to the terminus of the snowfield. The final pitch was short and steep, and ended in glacial till. It was so good that Dan headed back up to ski it one more time while I snapped a few pics…

Dan milking the last turn

At the bottom, we were all stoked on the snow conditions. We checked our watches, and it looked like our timing was about right — by the time we hiked up and out of the snowfield and back over to the Palmer it would be about time to ski down the Palmer after the lifts were closed down for the season.

Looking out over the glacial ice

We donned our packs and started hiking back up. Joe was in the lead, with Dan and I behind. After a bit, we decided to head over and check out some of the glacial ice I’d noticed on the way down. It was interesting to see, and made me wonder how long it had been since that stuff had seen the light of day. I couldn’t help but think of how massive this glacier once was, and recalled the stories I’d read in history books on Mt Hood about the Zigzag being so large that mules were swallowed up whole in it’s crevasses during expeditions up to Illumination Saddle. As I turned to leave, something caught my eye — it was a half of a splitboard with the binding and skin still attached. I grabbed it and decided to lug it off the mountain rather than leave it. Hiking back up towards the Palmer, I found myself wondering what the story behind this find…..I’m not sure I’ll ever know….

Dan on the glacial ice
Looking south from the Zigzag

Back near the top of the Zigzag, we worked our way over towards the Palmer, crossing the barren rocky landscape. It was around 2:30 pm when we reached the top, and there was still a group of riders hanging at the top, stoked to be hanging at the top of the Palmer for the last run of the summer. After they polished off a bottle of whiskey, they headed down, leaving the three of us up top to enjoy a beer and the scenery before it was time to shred.

Special Sauce from Goodlife

I was stoked to try out a beer I’d been wanting to taste for awhile — the Special Sauce from GoodLife Brewing. As I suspected it hit the spot. Refreshed, we strapped into our gear and dropped in to rip the corn…

Joe ripping the Palmer
September turns on the Palmer

I dropped in first and snapped some pics of Dan and Joe, then Dan snapped several shots of me as we continued on down. The snow on the Palmer was excellent as usual — it was so good in fact that we ditched our packs and climbed back up for one more lap. The second go around was equally as nice as the first. Down at the bottom, we picked up our packs and continued on. We had to negotiate a few rocks,  and then cruised into the Palmer canyon. Carving turns in the soft snow in the September sun is always a treat, and we ripped the snow all the way down to the Silcox…

Carving September turns on the Palmer

Below Silcox, there was dirty snow in the Mile canyon, but it looked like it would go, so we decided to slide it. It was slow going in places, but it was better than hiking down….

Dan skiing the Mile Canyon
Turns in the Mile Canyon

We were able to slide about a third of the canyon before the snow ended, and then it was time to don hiking shoes in place of ski/snowboard boots. It was a short hike down to the car in the parking lot, and we could hear the Grateful Dead music playing as we walked down.

Dan milking the final turns

Back at the car, we pulled out all the offerings of the season, which included fresh chips and salsa, as well as a garden salads with all the ingredients. Sitting in the climbers lot in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops, eating like kings and enjoying a cold beverage, we all agreed this is one of the things we look forward to most in September!

Apres food offerings
Dan and Joe enjoying the afternoon

All in all, this was one of the best September’s we could remember for a variety of reasons. After finishing our beers and enjoying the food, we bid the mountain farewell, with high hopes for the upcoming winter season!

August 3, 2019 – Mt Hood, Zigzag Glacier

Somehow the summer had blown by, and before I knew it the calendar said August, which meant it was time to head up to Hood for some turns. Joe and Dan were game, so agreed to give Saturday a go. Dan and I met Joe at the cop shop in Albany a few minutes before 6:00 am, and we headed north on I5. We made a quick pit stop for some breakfast items at Joe’s Donut shop in Sandy, and arrived at Timberline a little after 8:30

Hood from the climbers lot

We organized gear, loaded packs, and set out up the trail from the climbers lot. The climbers lot was as packed as I’d ever seen it, and it was nice to get away from all the commotion. I snapped a picture of Mt Jefferson to the south before we headed out, and then a pic of Hood with some wildflowers shortly up the trail… 

Mt Jefferson’s north side
Flowers on Mt Hood

We worked our way up the trail, putting some distance between ourselves and the parking lot below. The morning was warm, and any concerns we had about the snow turning to corn were pretty much gone by 9:30. The wildflowers were readily abundant, indicating it had rained some in the past couple of weeks, and made the hike really pleasant.

An old stump on Mt Hood
Hiking through the flowers

We made it to the top of the Palmer in just under two hours, and hiked a few feet above the area where a few folks were practicing self arrest as part of a group. We pushed on a bit further, then decided switching from tennis shoes to boots would be a good idea before heading further up the snowfield.

Wide angle view of the White River Glacier
Joe hiking the White River snowfield

It didn’t take too long to hike to the top of the White River triangle, near the base of the White River headwall. From there, we decided we may as well hike further up towards Crater Rock and see what type of condition the snow finger was — if nothing else it would make for a long descent down onto the Zigzag…

Dan hiking the White River Glacier
Wide angle view towards the summit

We crossed over the rocks towards the finger, and soon got a glimpse of the snow —- and it was pretty rough. There were quite a few rocks on the surface, and it was dominated by large suncups. We hung out for awhile up top, taking a needed break to refuel, and then decided there was no way in hell we were going to hike back down, so we dropped in…

Dan dropping into the finger
Joe skiing above Illumination Rock

There were a few decent turns, mixed with mostly garbage, but it was still better than hiking down. That said, none of us were considering heading back up for more. Eventually we worked our way on to the Zigzag snowfield, where the snow smoothed out and the turns became pretty nice…

Matt riding the upper reaches of the Zigzag
Skiing below Crater Rock

We continued down the slope, ripping turns on the perfect corn. Ironically, given all the unconsolidated snow we’d skied this season, this was some of the best corn of the year. I snapped some pics of the skiers as they came down by and below Illumination Rock…

August turns on the Zigzag
The skiers descending the Ziggy

The lower we went, the better the snow became. From 8,500 feet on down, we found the best snow of the day, and were stoked to keep on going. Dan snapped a few shots of me as we continued on….

Descending down the Zigzag Glacier
Harvesting some August corn

We milked turns down to the bottom of the snowfield, near 7,700 feet — not bad, considering we’d started around 10,000. I caught a few shots of Dan and Joe skiing down the last sections…

Dan skiing the lower snowfield
Joe milking the final turns

At the bottom, the clouds were starting to build higher on the mountain, so we wasted little time transitioning over and started hiking back up the snow. The hike up the Zigzag is always a bit on the mundane side, but soon we were ready to make the traverse back over to the Palmer…

Hiking back up the Zigzag
Ready to ski back towards the Palmer

As luck would have it, we were able to ski a short pitch before the traverse, so we made the most of it. I snapped a shot of the skiers heading down, and then it was a short hike back over to the top of the Palmer for a well deserved cold beverage….

Skiing a pitch between the Zigzag and Palmer
A new favorite from Deschutes

While sitting at the top of the Palmer and enjoying a new favorite hazy IPA from Deschutes Brewing, we heard the familiar hum of a couple snowcats coming from below. Soon, one of the cats was moving a healthy dose of snow a few feet away from us on the road above the top of the Palmer. 20 minutes later when his work was done, he headed down and they began grooming the glacier for the next day of skiing — score! We headed down and ripped the smooth snow, enjoying every turn!

Dan working down the Palmer
Ripping turns down the Palmer

Below the mid-station, the corduroy was extra nice — pretty much hero snow. It didn’t take long to make short work of the groomer and get down to Silcox Hut…

Dan skiing below the mid-station
Slashing the corn in the Palmer Canyon

The snow in the Mile Canyon was tracked out by the snowcats, but it still skied pretty nicely because it was plenty soft. We were able to ski down below the cats, and ultimately to a few hundred feet above the lodge, making for a pretty decent sum of 5,000 feet of vertical on the day…

Turns below Silcox
Joe skiing the cat tracks in the Mile Canyon

At the end of the snow, we shouldered our packs and made the short trek down the trail and back the car, where cold beer, garden fresh chips and salsa, and fresh garden salads were waiting. Sitting in the parking lot enjoying the feast, all of us were stoked on the day, and already looking forward to what September would bring. Until then, here’s a parting shot from the day…

Timberline Lodge on the hike out