Crater Lake National Park, Oregon is a must stop for anyone traveling through the Southern Oregon Cascades. In fact, if you live in Oregon and you haven’t visited and explored the park, you are not even considered an outdoor person. It would be like living in Washington State and never visiting Mt. Rainier National Park. If you enjoy the outdoors and you haven’t visited Crater Lake then you might as well just tape yourself to your couch and call it a day. There are endless opportunities at the park. The Southern Oregon Cascades offer some of the most spectacular views in the entire lower 48 states. The hardest part is to agree on your favorite photo from the park. You will literally end up taking well over 1500 photos and then spend the next several days deciding on when to stop going through them. Historically, most visitors to the national parks only spend a few hours at the park and very rarely even venture 300 feet from their car. However, if you expect to really enjoy and have the opportunity to really take advantage of the splendor’s of the park, you will need to put on your hiking shoes or snow shoe gear and spend one or two days exploring the park. The snow can linger all year at the park and if you plan on visiting during the early parts of summer or late spring I would pack your snow shoes. This shot was taken on 5/30/12 and the snow was pretty deep. Usually the east part of the road stays closed until July and the snow drifts can linger well into July. I made sure to head out with my snow shoes since you couldn’t get close to the rim without trudging through several feet of soft snow. You can also amuse yourself by watching the fair weather visitors spend only about an hour at the park as well as doing nothing more than venture a few feet from the parking lot and only taking a few pictures. This is also a benefit to the nature lovers since you can almost feel completely alone in the park even though the main parking lot can be completely full. Late Spring and early Summer can be sun drenched and the glare from the snow and lake can cause a very intense sunburn so I would recommend bringing a lot of sun screen and applying it throughout the day since you will also be working up a good sweat. If you are wanting to venture near the rim, I would be very careful since some of the snow cornices can be very unstable due to the intense sun and warming temperatures. I rarely get too close but I have always been able to get some spectacular shots where ever I go. You literally can’t take a bad shot unless the sun is too intense or you are using the wrong settings on your camera. To get this shot I was using my Canon T1i and attached my Sigma 17-70mm lens and set the focal length at 28mm. Most of my shots are taken as a panoramic so I normally leave the rest of my lenses in the car. The aperture was at F-5.6 and I set the ISO at 100 due to the extreme glare. I also attached my CIR-PL and warming filter. Normally I would use my tripod but since the sun was out and the thought of lugging it around, I decided to leave it in the car. You will end up taking so many photos and covering so much ground, you will find that your tripod will spend most of its time in your backpack. You just want to be sure to keep a steady hand and try to ensure that it’s level. I always make sure to review every shot, by using the histogram, in order to ensure that it’s level. If not, I just delete and take another shot.
The Washington and Oregon Cascades have received between 1 and 3 feet of snow over the past several days and we are now gearing up for some 70 and 80 degree temperatures in the valley. We can expect warm temperatures and epic blue skies in the Cascade range. Though it would seem like it would be the best time to visit, you would be warned to expect some pretty dangerous conditions since the snow will be very soft and small or large avalanche dangers will be in effect. I would even recommend staying well within the ski boundaries or if you plan to be snow shoeing. I would advise you to stay well away from any of the cliffs surrounding the back country. This time of year is by far one of the best times to head up to the mountains but I always find myself trying to figure if the dangers are worth the risk. I’ve taken a lot of chances but I can’t really see my self trying to out run an avalanche with a pair of snow shoes and lugging 25 pounds of equipment. This particular shot was taken on the south side of Mt. St. Helens and the summit is dotted with snow shoe tracks leading up towards the summit. It’s actually not too difficult to snow shoe but I would recommend that you get there as early as possible, bring lots of snacks, lose the camera weight and have your dinner waiting for you at your car. The drive time from Portland, Oregon is over 2 hours and you will be pretty tired once you get home. I have only brought my tripod with one time when snow shoeing at high elevations and I will never do it again. I like being able to quickly draw my camera and begin panning the area for some great shots. I usually only bring one or two lenses and carry my camera on my front chest for quick draws. Since the snow glare is pretty brutal, I would recommend that you bring a CIR-PL and plan on constantly checking each shot that you take since you will be adjusting your shots almost every time you take a photo. I always utilize my histogram and adjust the white balance whenever needed. I also usually only use my Sigma 17-70mm lens whenever I’m climbing a snow capped mountain since I am more drawn to the panoramic views rather than close ups. This is especially true since I’m already on the mountain and I want to capture the huge landscape that’s either above or below me. I also make sure to layer my clothes and pack survival gear in case I find myself in trouble. I don’t own a avalanche beacon but I rarely take too many chances. However, I will be getting one soon once I’m ready to make the investment. I also snow shoe with my dog so I’m always looking out for his best interest and that pretty much keeps me from going somewhere where he can’t follow me.
A beautiful picture of Mt. Jefferson at Jefferson Park, Oregon. This photo was taken on October 3rd and you can see all of the Salmon berries in the foreground. They are in abundance throughout the entire Jefferson Park area and if you’re lucky you might stumble on a black bear foraging. I never got a chance to see one but I did notice several bear tracks and scat throughout the park and I did hear some rustling in some brush but I never took the time to find out what it was. September and early October is the best time to visit the park if you want to take advantage of getting the opportunity to see some wildlife like bear, elk or deer. However, the days are much shorter and the snow covered peak of Mt. Jefferson is at it’s lowest point of the year. You will have the opportunity to forage around the salmon berry drenched canvas as well as still have the opportunity to swim in one of the many lakes in the park. The weather can actually be warmer and sunnier during the months of September and October as well as maybe even getting a little of dusting of snow in the early mornings. The crowds are also much smaller then the summer months and this can be critical if you’re planning on back packing or hiking on the weekend. However, the summer months offer longer days and more snow at the higher elevations. Summer also brings out the ever so brilliant alpine flowers that canvas the park. You can literally feel like you could get lost in all of the wildflowers throughout the park. Even the lakes and smaller ponds will be at their highest levels and you can also follow some of the small creeks travelling through the lakes and fusing them into one giant water system. The biggest drawbacks about visiting during the summer months is that if you are planning on visiting during the weekend, you can expect to see hundreds of other hikers and back packers. This can really ruin the alpine experience. However, if you visit during the mid week, you are less likely to see as many people. Another drawback is that sometimes the trail will be covered in snow until August and that can really cause a problem unless you come prepared. The last time I visited was in early July and I couldn’t hike past the 1/2 mile mark without having to put on my snow shoe gear and I eventually ended up just finding a ledge and taking photos from there. I basically ended up losing out on a great hiking trip but at least I brought some snow shoe gear to get me about 3 miles up the trail. You also really want to check the weather and even contact to ranger station to see if the forest road is open. Sometimes it doesn’t open until later in the summer or there may have been a washout or fallen trees blocking the road. This can really ruin your day if you make the 100 plus mile drive and then only find out that the road is closed. You will need to purchase a Northwest Forest pass in order to park at the trail head and I would also recommend that you store your dinner in your car for your return since you will be pretty hungry, thirsty and very tired and dirty once you get back to your car. The hike to the park is 5.1 miles one way and it’s very steep. The elevation gain is 2400 feet and that’s only to the park. There is another 1000 feet of elevation gain available if you decide to continue past the park. That also doesn’t include the 3 or 4 miles of trails that winds it’s way around the area. If you plan on doing a day hike I would plan on hiking over 15 miles round trip since you won’t want to just hike to the park and then sit around. There is way too much to do and see once you get to the park. In fact, the real views and fun doesn’t even start until you get to the entrance of Jefferson Park and believe me you will know when you get there. About a few years ago, I was taking some photos of Mt. Jefferson when all of a sudden a snow owl leaped from a tree branch and quickly flew away. I never had a chance to even take my camera off the tripod to get a shot. There are even some waterfalls that you can take photos of as well as several snow bridges along the higher elevations that you may be able to cross.
Mt. Hood, Oregon! One of the most seductive and tantalizing mountain in the state of Oregon. I have snowshoed or hiked most of the trails along the Mt. Hood wilderness but sometimes I find a spot that I had been overlooking for several years. The White River snow park is one of the most popular snow shoe trails along the southeastern flanks of the mountain. However, if you wanted to cross over the White River, you would be sorely mistaken if you think that you could just hop across the river from the White River snow park. However, if you were to continue on highway 35 just over the bridge, you would see the Green Apple snow park. The snow shoe trails from this park takes x country skiers and snowshoers away from Mt. Hood and towards the south east. However, if you want to head up to the higher elevations of Mt. Hood you will want to quickly cross the highway and gear up for a challenging and vigorous trek. You will end up paralleling the White River and if you expect to just hike along the river you will be sadly disappointed. Unfortunately, the river has several forks and it’s pretty dangerous to cross at the beginning of your trek. You will need to hike along the hills above the river and then cautiously pick a safe line down from the hill and head towards the creeks edge. You really want to be careful since you could create a small avalanche. This is especially true if the temperature are warm and the snow is too soft. I found this out on my way back just before finishing my day. Once you get near the creek, you will want to look for a safe crossing area. There are several smaller creeks that create a boundary between you and the White River. I ended up having to cross three different smaller creeks. I also ended up having to again climb higher along the ridge since I was a little nervous about getting too close to the river at one point. I ended up traversing parts of a very steep hill and I noticed that there had been a lot of snow that fell from higher up. I just kept going and was lucky not to have any issues with the snow giving way. I never really felt like there would be any type of avalanche but I also didn’t want to have the snow slip from underneath me. Once I got at the bottom of the hill, I realized that I could have avoided the hill and just kept along the edge of the creek. I ended up picking a new line on my return trip. The most difficult part of the trip was just a few hundred yards away. There is a part of the trail that takes you to a fairly wide part of a creek that is also moving pretty quickly and it pretty much butts up against a very unstable part of the massive hill near it. There were a lot of boulders and rocks that had been falling from the 20 foot edge just above me and I could only hold my breath and quickly keep moving. I actually ended up getting too close to the creek and found myself falling through the snow and getting stuck for about 15 seconds. Luckily it didn’t take me too long to run the gauntlet. However, on my return trip, I noticed that there were several new rocks that had fallen after I had crossed earlier. You can even hear the debris crackling above you so you want to move fast. Once I got past the gauntlet, the trail opened up and I was able to hike directly to the White River. The smaller creeks were deep below the snow and I no longer had to worry about crossing any more water. This part of the trail was well worth the trek. Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters were already within view and the views of the mountain were well within sight. The trek to the higher elevations of the mountain are a few miles but the views are endless and you have ample opportunities to hike along the river. Unlike the White River trail, you have more opportunities to get close to the river and even more opportunities to bask in the solitude. Eventually, you will end up somewhere near the Timberline Trail. However, wintertime allows you to pretty much go anywhere you want to go and there are several snow covered parts that allow you to be a storm trooper and challenge yourself as much as you want. The massive lava butte that separates between the White River Glacier and the Newton Clark Glacier looks pretty tantalizing but I didn’t have the guts to summit it. I ended up just continuing towards the mountain and stayed in the middle of the massive snow covered walls. Each side of the mountain was at least 1,000-2,000 feet high and I noticed that there were a lot of crackling sounds. There is actually a waterfall that is about 20 feet high and helps create the White River. It’s easy to get to and once you get near it, you can get some pretty awesome photos. You pretty much have to stop at that point since the massive rock walls limit your mobility and you would have to traverse down a sketchy area and then head up a very steep wall of rock and snow. If you were really adventurous you could continue up towards the summit and probably even go another 3,000 feet in elevation before needing to either turn back or dawn your crampons and ice ax. Once you get to that spot, you would probably be able to see the skiers and snowboarders at the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area as well as Timberline. If you plan on doing this trip I would plan on bringing a lot of snacks and don’t forget your camera. I did bring my snow shoe poles but I never used them. I brought my dog and I just made sure to bring extra food for him since he burned a lot of energy chasing the snow as it tumbled down most of the steep hills that we climbed. I also only brought one lens since I didn’t want to add too much weight to my trip. I brought my Canon 23/135mm lens and attached my CIR-PL, warming filter and UV filter. Since I didn’t bring my tripod I made sure to turn on my stabilizer and I always checked each of my photos after each shot to ensure that they were either blurry or crooked. Unless your really critical of your shots and expect to spend over 8 hours on the mountain, I wouldn’t recommend bringing your tripod. You will just get too frustrated with lugging it with you and if the sun is bright enough, you won’t have to worry about camera blur or camera shake.
< Just another epic day snowshoeing on Mt. Hood, Oregon! This photo was taken on Friday and I was snowshoeing along the White River. If there is enough snow and if the upper parts of the creeks are snow covered, you can cross over the creeks on a number of snow bridges and then continue up another mile or snow. You can get up to about 8,000 feet, where you can then see Mt. Jefferson and parts of the Three Sisters. As you can see, the skies were blue and Mt. Hood was looking stellar as always. I was a little concerned since there were some really nasty rain clouds in the lower elevations and I thought that they were going to eventually ruin my epic journey up the cairn. I was pleasantly surprised that the weather actually improved as the day moved along. The clouds eventually left most of the Cascades and I was able to view Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters without any threats of clouds blocking my view. However, the day earlier, rain and snow blanketed the mountain witch made the snow crunchy in some areas and downright knee deep in others. There were a lot of snow drifts and I ended up in hard and crunchy snow one second and then found myself buried up to my knees the next second. I have never experienced conditions like that but we haven't had a very cookie cutter winter either. I was pretty sure that I would see or hear some avalanches around me since the temperature was hovering around 50 degrees but luckily I never had any problems with loose snow. I could see where some small avalanches had taken place but I never had any problems or close calls. My dog had a pretty rough time getting through the knee deep powder but overall he was able to keep up. He did finally figure out that it's a lot easier to just walk behind my snowshoe tracks but he always seems to want to be either beside me or in front of me.
The other day, someone asked me to tell them which was my favorite hike near or on Mt. Hood. It took me a second but then it soon dawned on me that there is only only hike that towers over all the rest. This hike offers everything that you wold expect from a Volcanic mountain should. I immediately explained to them that it was the Elk Meadows hike. I then explained to them that you also need to hike past the Elk Meadows trail and head straight up towards Mt. Hood, which becomes the Gnarl Ridge trail. This epic hiking trail offers everything that a wilderness hiker would love. You hike among an ancient and pristine forest, cross over several creeks and rivers. You even have the chance to cross along a wooden bridge that spans over a recently melted glacier. You can walk along an alpine meadow with millions of flowers dotting the bogged grassland. Once you leave the Elk Meadow trail, you then get the chance to explore the Gnarl Ridge trail and it’s impressive. You will immediately notice the elevation gain within just seconds. The trail shoots straight up as you hike through the tall trees. Your ultimate goal is to get to the summit of Lamberson Butte. The photo that I provided was taken from the Lamberson Butte viewpoint. With it’s elevation at 6,500 feet, you will realize that you have hiked over 2,030 feet of elevation gain. Before you can get to the top of the butte, you may have to traverse along a very steep and difficult part of the butte if it’s still covered in snow. However, if there isn’t any snow, you won’t have to worry about anything. The trail is just below an overhang and below the trail it’s a pretty steep drop, so if there is still snow, the trail may be buried and you may have to slowly navigate your way around this sketchy part of the trail. Once you get to Lamberson Butte, you will find yourself with a pretty spectacular view. You can see Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters in the south and Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helen’s towards the north. Mt. Hood stares you straight in the face as you gaze due west. Alpine flowers grow in some of the most precarious spots along the volcanic covered earth. Huge boulders are spread out across the volcanic landscape and you can hear and see some of the boulders crashing down all around you. Gnarl Ridge is an unforgiving and massive cairn just below from where you will be sitting and the glaciers high above created the cairn that created Newton Creek. This is the creek that flows under the wooden bridge that you will be crossing during the early part of your hike. There are several glaciers on the eastern slopes and many mt. climbers start from the base of Lamberson Butte. It’s a very windy area but you can find some pretty descent cover and more flat stretches just north of the butte. This is a great spot to take a break and have lunch. The views are awesome and you can plan on spending several hours taking photos. Again, if you study the photo, you will notice the many areas that I’ve mentioned. If you want to continue up, you will be able to follow the trail until it disappears under the snow. The snow lingers well into August or September so you will want to plan on bringing your snow shoe poles and maybe even some grip soles or traction cleats for your shoes. You won’t necessarily need crampons since you will be going from snow to rock several times. I pretty much kept on hiking towards the summit until I began to cramp up and trust me, you will. If you look at the photo, you will see that you will be hiking on the right hand side of the summit. You can see that it’s mostly snow and bare rock and the elevation gain is pretty steep. You could pretty much hike until you get to the summit but you will soon find yourself exhausted and starting to realize just how difficult it would be. You could easily cover over 5,000 feet of elevation gain before you even realize it. I would recommend that you bring your dinner with you and plan on eating at your car as well as rest for a while before heading home since you will be very tired, hungry and dirty. There are two places where you can start your hike. They are only a few hundred feet apart and they are both off highway 35. The first parking spot is just a few yards from the Mt. Hood Nordic Center and the other is the Clark Creek Snow Park. Just remember to purchase your parking pass or your annual Northwest Forest Pass.
I finally got the chance to schedule a snow shoe trip in the Mt. Hood wilderness. However, last Tuesday the rain was coming down in sheets, just east of Sandy and the rain was even worse around Welches. I was pretty sure that Government Camp was going to be a total bust with nothing but rain. I was pleasantly surprised that the rain had turned to snow just as I was passing by the Mirror lake parking area. Luckily, I was able to find myself immersed in snow flakes the size of quarters by the time I reached the Trillium Lake snow park. I knew that the snow was going to be wet and heavy but that surely beats rain. The entire trip to the lake was a complete whiteout. I wasn’t able to knock the snow off my camera bag fast enough. I was fortunate to bring my front loading camera bag, which really came in handy. The only way to get out of the snow, to take some tree shots, was to snow shoe in the trees and look for some shelter. However, the snow was pretty heavy and the snow was coming off the trees like water balloons. As far as I’m concerned, snow shoeing during a snow storm is the best time to be out in nature but it’s not easy for taking pictures. You couldn’t even see Mt. Hood once I got to the lake. I wasn’t surprised but I was hoping for a miracle, where the clouds would eventually clear out of the area and I find myself surrounded by snow covered trees and Mt. Hood looming in the background. However, that wasn’t the case but I made the best of it by photographing my dog running around and trying to photograph the snow covered trees in the distance. The photo that I posted wasn’t from this day but from last Sunday, when I came back on a much sunnier and dryer day. The crowds were horrendous but that was expected. It didn’t help that I broke my right snow shoe but at least it was only a few yards from the parking lot. I ended up hiking instead and luckily there were snow tracks as deep as 2 feet and the main trail was packed harder than a rock so I didn’t have any trouble getting to the lake. However, it was a totally different story if I tried to walk in the deep snow. The drought is officially over in the Oregon Cascades and last week was proof of that. It also helps that they are expecting another week of heavy snow.
Winter has arrived in the Cascade mountains with a vengeance! The snow pack is almost at 100% and the mountains continue to get hammered with the fluffy white stuff. Just returned from Mt. Hood, Oregon yesterday and was pelted with over 7 inches over the course of only 4 hours. Hard to believe that we are past the halfway point of February and will soon be watching the Spring flowers popping up but at least we can say that we dodged the drought bullet. Also can’t believe that a huge majority of snow junkies have waited until this last storm to even venture anywhere near the snow parks. I wouldn’t want to be an owner of a ski resort or any business that relies on the winter travelers. I can again officially say that I haven’t waited this long to get up to the mountain in my entire life and I hope that the future doesn’t hold any more surprises like this winter. I was even surprised that there weren’t more people flocking to the mountain resorts during the epic snow storm that was pounding the Mt. Hood area. Most of the ski resorts were pretty empty and every snow park was void of any x-counrty and snow shoe connoisseur’s. I can’t imagine how busy the mountains will be this weekend and I really wouldn’t want to deal with the ski crowds on any of the mountains. It may be best to just find a less traveled snow park, get there real early to beat the crowds and plan on looking for some secret trails that no one knows about.
Just when I thought that the Pacific Northwest was doomed to fall victim to one of the worst winters on record I am beginning to believe that we still may be able to avoid that horrible fate. The extended forecast is calling for a lot of snow, starting on Saturday and continuing for several days. This may be the beginning of our winter. However, I’m not totally convinced since Saturday is still 3 days out and I will be holding judgment on the weather experts until then. Even the metropolitan area of Portland, Oregon has been getting a light dusting of snow today. Not much to get too excited about but this is how winters are supposed to be in the Pacific Northwest. Even the Coastal Mountain’s are getting some of the magical white stuff and maybe even parts of the valley’s can partake in some of the wintery mix. I still haven’t had my snow tires put on yet but if the extended snow forecast is correct I will be putting them on real soon. I even think my Australian Cattle Dog is more excited to go snow shoeing than me. Normally by this time we would have made at least 15 trips to the Cascades.
It’s official! Winter has officially avoided the entire state of Oregon! Unfortunately, it’s also possible that the state of California and Washington may be facing the same fate. I never thought that I would be regretting purchasing my annual snow park pass. However, at least I never had my snow tires installed. Nothing worse that driving around on some meaty snow tires inside the urban jungle and getting even worse gas mileage. However, I haven’t totally given up hope. We’ve had some pretty late storm surges during the months of March in the past decade or so and maybe we are heading towards it again. If not, we are doomed to face the fate of Southern California and maybe even worse. I still have faith that the great state that is known for it’s heavy rain totals and mucky reputation will once again bask us in the glory of some heavy snow with scary rainy weather along the valley’s below. I do though, will never take up snow dancing again since I’ve worn out my snow dancing shoes and must now just put my faith in mother nature to remember how beautiful the Cascade mountains looks after an abundance of snow has draped it’s peaks.