Last week was another awesome day up on Mt. Hood, Oregon. I visited the same place that I was last week and what a difference a week makes. The previous week was a complete whiteout with nothing but snow blind conditions but last week it was nothing but blue skies and spring like conditions. We were also blessed with a good two feet of powder, which made the snow shoeing more than memorable. However, the temperatures got pretty high and I ended up finding myself in some pretty soupy conditions later in the afternoon. At first I was a little hesitant about heading towards the lower end of the White River Glacier but as I continued along I realized that it look pretty safe. The temperatures were a little cooler and the wind was pretty gusty. You can see some of the wind swept snow in this photo. Too bad a lot of the snow was blown off parts of the higher elevations but at least it provided some character. The snow did eventually start to get pretty soft but by this time I was almost at the stopping point. If you haven’t been to the White River snow park or made the trek to the top of the trail, I highly recommend that you visit. You will want to expect the unexpected since there is no place to escape the changing conditions and if you do find yourself in a whiteout or snow blind conditions, you can expect a very dangerous and stressful trip down since each side is a steep 500 foot drop off and you would surely be trapped or stuck in the creeks below. There are a couple trees about 300 yards from the top but they wouldn’t provide a lot of protection. However, they could provide a good point of reference while making your way down. You would probable just want to hunker down and wait for the weather to change if you did find yourself in dangerous conditions since I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving a fall from either side and I surely wouldn’t want to be the first. The good thing about the trek is that you can see quite a bit and you would probably be able to see any change of conditions but unfortunately you are pretty close to the mountain and aren’t able to see much on the west or north and this is where most of the nasty weather comes from. I have actually run down with my snow shoes and I think that you could get down safely if you were trying to beat out a fast moving storm. I would also recommend that you bring your best camera and lens while visiting this spot. I took this photo with my Canon Rebel T1I and my Canon 23-135mm lens. I’ve packed my tripod with me before but it can get really cumbersome and heavy so I started leaving it behind. It’s also not worth setting it up most times since I usually end up taking between 500-1000 shots at a time and I no longer have the patience with a tripod when snow shoeing.
The best way to really enjoy all of the snow that has finally been assaulting the Cascades is to take a trip with your pet and plan on snow shoeing in waist feet deep powder. We are finally seeing some descent snow conditions and it looks like we are getting close to our normal winter weather. I actually took this action shot of my dog, Buck, while snow shoeing along the upper crest of the White River snow park last year. We were able to snow shoe near the same spot last week but we found ourselves in whiteout conditions as well as feeling the effects of becoming snow blind from the snow and winds. More snow is pounding the area at this time now and hopefully we get another few more days of heavy snow. I’m looking forward to getting up there soon and I highly recommend that all of you dog owners that have athletic dog’s allow them the opportunity to enjoy the snow just like their human owners.
I was surprised to find myself in Whiteout conditions while snow shoeing along the White River, in the Mt. Hood National forest. I had been monitoring the forecast for the past few days and thought that I would take a chance, even though the forecast was calling for a mixture of rain and snow. I was fortunate to find that it started snowing just before the Tom, Dick and Harry parking area, along the 26. It continued to snow but got much heavier as I continued past Government Camp. Good thing that I kept driving since the snow really started to get heavy as I took the Hwy 35 exit. The snow at the White River snow park was more like graupel but at least it wasn’t raining. My first mistake was that I never brought my ski goggles with me. That ended up being a huge mistake because it snowed the entire day and it only got windier and heavier as I increased in elevation. I found myself in mostly whiteout conditions as I crossed over the white river and headed towards the summit. I never got anywhere near the summit but I was intrigued by the complete whiteout conditions and I was also experiencing snow blindness. This is where my ski goggles would have come in handy since the wind was blowing the snow in my eyes and I ended up squinting for part of my journey. I could see for a few hundred feet but I couldn’t make out any of the snow directly in front of me. I literally didn’t know if I was about to step off a 100 foot cliff or a 1 foot step. I ended up looking for small trees that provided me with more depth of my surroundings and ended up having a pretty fun time exploring this phenomenon. I was concerned that our winter was over early again but this current winter weather if providing a pretty good second chance to get back some of our snow pack that we lost during our previous warm up.
If you have ever visited the Trillium Lake area, in winter, you’re probably aware that it can get very busy and the trek can be very congested and uninspiring. However, if you take the time and exert the energy, you can really find yourself in a very complicated and exhausting trek. I have snow-shoed the Trillium Lake snow park several times, over the years and I have taken many side trips around the lake as well as taken some of the trails that take you well away from the lake. However, last week I attempted to get off the main trail and went straight up. I ended up at a bluff that I never knew existed and realized that I truly had stumbled on an amazing viewing spot This photo was taken from the top of the bluff. Unfortunately, you can’t see Mt. Hood in the background due to the overcast skies. I was amazed by the views, as well as how easy it was to get to the top. There are hundreds of massive granite boulders that make up the bluff and the hill beneath. There is also pristine powder with huge boulders creating an awesome sledding opportunity. To understand just how cool this spot is, I recommend that you check on google maps and look for a small bluff of granite rocks standing in the middle of the forest. It’s just east of Trillium Lake. I was really lucky to find this spot since I had been asking myself if I was getting too bored with snow shoeing. This view changed my mind and made me realize that it’s worth making your own tracks. However, my story only gets more crazy from there. From this viewing spot, you can actually see highway 35 in the distance but unfortunately, you really can’t tell if it’s actually the 35 or the 26. This is where I made my first mistake. Because I ended up going around to the bottom of the bluff and skirted along the snow covered granite boulders, I really wasn’t paying attention to when I needed to change direction. The rest of the trek was pretty steep but I had fun traversing to the bottom and when I got there I noticed that there was a lot of water in the form of several creeks that were snaking between the elevations of the forest. This is where I crossed my largest and scariest snow bridge. It took me a while to find the best spot to cross but it was also over 8 feet above the creek and I ended up having to jump from one snow covered tree to another. Did I also remind you that I always snow shoe with my 5 year old Australian Cattle Dog? He always goes with me but he is also scared of having to swim or cross narrow bridges. Luckily the snow bridge was pretty wide so it was really easy to cross and my dog didn’t have any problems with navigating the bridge. Shortly after I got to the other side, I noticed that there were dozens of other creeks and brooks that I would have to navigate. I actually ended up in a huge meadow that was dotted with lots of shallow creeks. I still wasn’t sure how far I was from the Trillium snow park, so I decided to try to make my way towards the Hwy. However, just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I ended up breaking my snow shoe. The grommets and the plastic band that wraps around the aluminum frame completely broke off. This was my worst nightmare since I now found myself in a meadow filled with water and waist deep snow. I was especially concerned since I really didn’t know how long it would take me to find my way back and I wasn’t sure how many more creeks I would have to cross with a broken snow shoe. Once I realized that I couldn’t go any further I decided to inspect my snow shoe and realized that I could remove one of my shoe laces and wrap it around the snow shoe. Luckily it worked pretty good but I wasn’t really comfortable since I now didn’t have a shoe lace on my shoe. Nothing worse that having to snow shoe in waist deep snow and having to jump across creeks and brooks with a sloppy snow shoe. It also didn’t help that I was still pretty lost. Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better since I ended up having to pick a pretty scary part to cross the final creek of my journey. After I jumped several feet to the rocks and snow on the other side, I forgot to think about what my dog was going to do. Just as I thought, he too one look at his options and stood there and didn’t move a muscle. Without going in to detail, I spent the last 20 minutes pleading and cursing at him. I’m really glad that no one was there to see or hear me at this very low point of the day. At this point, it was starting to get a little dark and I had no intentions of spending the rest of my day trying to barter with my dog. I ended up taking off my snow shoes and crossing the creek in order to retrieve him. I finally picked him up and rather gingerly tossed him to the other side. I was exhausted at this point but I knew that I still had a rather long journey ahead. Luckily, I was in for a treat since I didn’t have to cross over any more creeks and once I noticed some rather broken up snow at the top of a small hill, I had finally reached the Hwy. I ended up paralleling the Hwy for about 2 miles until I reached the parking lot. I can now say that I had one of my most amazing snow shoe treks ever and it’s pretty crazy to think that I was questioning the joy of snow shoeing earlier in the day.
Yesterday was a great day at the White River East snow park. As I drove from Portland, the entire west side of mt. hood was blanketed in clouds. However, as I neared closer to the Trillium lake snow park, I noticed that the trees in the higher elevations had a dusting of snow on them. I realized that the south and east part of the mountain had accumulated a few inches of snow. I quickly headed to the east snow parks. The day seemed like a spring morning….Sunny and 39 degrees. As I ascended towards the mountain, I again didn’t need my snow-shoes until about 1/2 mile up. The snow finally started to get deep and I could see several x-country and snow-shoe tracks. Once I got to the main lookout area, above the power lines, I noticed that the smaller creek just below was still covered. I decided to snow-shoe towards the higher elevations of the glacier on the south east side of Mt. Hood. I was able to shoe up the moraine, until I was met my a sheer drop from both sides and only about 2 feet of walking space. I decided to stop at that point. The day was epic. The mountain showed itself several times and the storm clouds continued to move north at light speed. The sun never left since the clouds were at a very low altitude. I would recommend this trip since it gives a much better perspective of the volcano and the sheer magnitude of the snow drifts on both sides of the mountain gave me some great photo opportunities.
This is what a sparse looking Mt. Hood looks like during the month of January. This photo was taken from about 5,000 feet and the date of the photo was January 13th, 2015. If you have ever visited Mt. Hood or anywhere else along the Cascade mountain range, during January, you would expect to see about 10 feet of snow blanketing the surrounding area. However, with the current climate collapse, you are looking at a very bare bones view of what the Cascade range currently looks like. I never thought that I would be experiencing a winter that was worse than last year. This winter is so bad that last years winter looked twice as good. That’s taking it pretty far since last year I thought that it was the worst on record. If we don’t start getting some snow the ski resorts will be lucky to avoid bankruptcy and our alpine glaciers will soon be a thing of the past. I also really hate to think that this summer may be more dangerous than last year. Normally, the photo that you see in this post would look like a photo from May, not January. I still want to think that it’s not all doom and gloom but I’m seriously getting nervous about the impact of another horrible snow pack. It’s hard to imagine that I could have hiked to nearly 9,000 feet without even needing my snowshoes. I ended up stopping at about the 7,000 mark and I was surprised to find even more loose gravel and dirt blanketing the higher elevations. I could see and hear several rocks cascading down the steep slopes that otherwise would be mostly snow covered until late April. It’s hard to imagine that the exposed rocks and soil nearly doubles the rate of erosion.
One of the best places to snow shoe inside the Mt. Hood forest is along the Barlow Trail. There is a small ski park just off of Hwy 35 and it offers some of the best terrain within the area. You can cross country ski, snow shoe or if you feel up to the task, you can carry your snow board or skis to one of the many higher elevations and make some fresh tracks. The trail system will take you as far east as you can go but if you plan on heading west, you will find yourself standing along Hwy 35. However, you won’t have any problem getting some great shots of Mt. Hood as long as you can work your way to an open clearing or higher elevation. You will pretty much be engulfed inside the forest so you can expect to be standing below some pretty spectacular trees. There are also hundreds of small creeks that wind throughout the area so you will want to be prepared to cross a few of them as well as navigating through some of the underbrush that grows along the creeks. However, if the snow pack is deep enough, you may not have to worry about any of the creeks or underbrush since they could be several feet below the snow pack. If you plan on taking some photos you will want to keep in mind that you are directly south east of Mt. Hood and since the sun will most likely be at about a 90 degree angle from the mountain, you will want to be sure and attach your CIR-PL and plan on looking for ways to avoid too much glare. This is especially true if you encounter clear blue skies like the one I posted. The direct sun along with the intense glare from the mountain and snow can really make it difficult to get a good quality shot without too much overexposure. Normally I would bring my tripod on days like this but since the trek is so strenuous and difficult due to the trees, you would be better served if you leave the tripod in the car and just plan on taking a lot of photos and utilizing your histogram as much as possible. Since I took a lot of photos of the trees, covered in snow inside the park, I made sure to remove my Cir-PL in order to maximize the limited light penetrating the forest. You can end up passing some pretty spectacular shots without even knowing it while trekking through the snowy forest if you’re not careful. I try to remember to look up as much as possible in order to take advantage of every opportunity. Because the snow park if pretty small you can expect it to fill up on weekends but if you get a spot you can expect limited crowds. The best thing about the Barlow snow park are the views of Mt. Hood and the forested trees so you may want to pick a day when the skies are clear and just after a big snow storm blankets the trees.
One of the most grueling hikes in the Mt. Hood National Forest is a hike called Devils Peak Lookout. It provides over 3200 feet of elevation gain and is a 8.2 mile round trip hike. The hike is pretty much straight up and straight down. It’s also like doing heavy squats up and then heavy lunges down. The only rest time available is when you decide that you need to take a break. You can also expect to feel like you have 50 charlie horse running through your legs for at least 5 days. You literally won’t be able to walk normally for almost 5 straight days. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and make the hike and then you will. By the time you get half way down from the trail, you will start to really feel the pain shooting through your knees and quads. You can rest anytime you want but unfortunately, you are only putting off the inevitable. I usually rest about every mile or so and then snack a little bit in order to recharge. The hike itself is amazing with fantastic views along the way as well as spectacular old growth forest the entire length of the hike. The photo that I posted is just one of the millions of photo opportunities that you will find throughout the entire hike. There are several areas where you will be able to walk across some really small trickles of water but the best part is it provides the opportunity to cool down. I normally drench myself as much as possible since I’m usually sweating like a pig even though 90 percent of the trail is completely shaded from the sun. The name of the trail is actually called Cool Creek Trail but you don’t actually hike along or near a creek. I don’t think any of the small brooks that you will see actually pass as a creek. This is especially true since they pretty much dry up during the summer months. However, it did rain the morning I made the hike so I was able to find some trickling water at one of the spots. There is also a creek where you park but it’s called Still Creek. If you’re training for a serious climb, I would highly recommend this hike but if you’re only looking for a easy or moderate hike, I would recommend that you avoid this trail. There are plenty of other hikes available within the Mt. Hood Wilderness area. However, this hike has it all! Awesome views of Mt. Hood and Jefferson, salmon berries, Oregon grape and rhododendrons. You may also see several different species of alpine birds.
When the temperatures are hot in the valley, you are better off heading towards the higher elevations in the Cascade mountains. However, you have to be sure to lather a lot of sun screen and carry lots of water when heading out into the wilderness. You can pretty much lose 10-15 degrees in the higher elevations but you will find yourself immersed in the sun and breathing pretty hard while you climb towards the sky. You are guaranteed to find nothing but sunshine in the Cascade mountains during the summer months, so I always look for a hike that will be a challenge, offer the best views and allow me to beat the heat. The Gnarl Ridge hike is no exception since you will climb 2400 feet of elevation gain and you will be standing just below Mt. Hood with lots of cool winds blowing through your hair. You will also be able to hike along an ancient forest and have the opportunity to still get a little bit of sun on your pale body. The absolute best thing about the hike is that you cross several creeks, large and small, as well as several opportunities to hike across several snowy patches on the north side of the trail. The water temperatures are freezing and it provides a great opportunity to cool yourself down by dipping your feet in the frigid water as well as splashing the rest of your body. The temps are literally just above freezing along Newton Creek since it’s glacial melt and the numerous creeks along the trail are cold enough to drop your core body temperature pretty fast. The only downside about making this difficult hike is that you will need to bring a lot of water and snacks and that can really add weight to your day pack. However, you’re load will gradually start to lose weight as you consume your water and food. The round trip hike to Gnarl Ridge and back is 10.2 miles but if you have enough energy, you can continue up the trail and hike to some of the alpine glaciers that are just above Gnarl Ridge. The trail will take you to Cloud Cap and several mountain climbers take this very trail when they’re wanting to climb the summit from the north. This photo was taken while standing at the Gnarl Ridge viewpoint and it’s looking southeast. Mt. Jefferson is just to the right but out of the picture and the horizon is a little hazy due to the sun being so bright and just above me when I took the shot. Lamberson Butte is on the left and it looks pretty steep so I have never climbed it. The rock formations are epic and you will find yourself taking hundreds of photos while trying to depict the rocks as objects from an alien planet. There are dozens of small alpine flowers dotting the landscape and you will want to tread lightly so you don’t kill or damage the fragile flowers. You can also hike to a huge waterfall that is fed by the glaciers and eventually makes the 1,000 foot drop towards Newton Creek. Just before you get to Gnarl Ridge you will get a great view of Mt. Adams in the north but unfortunately a fire had destroyed parts of the forest that is just in front of the view. However, if you wait just before you get to the level part of the trail, you can get a great shot of the mountain without the dead trees in the foreground. This is also the part of the trail that you will most likely find snow covering the trail and unfortunately it’s a very steep part of the hike and it’s at about a 65 degree angle. If you’re afraid of heights or just afraid of falling and sliding a few hundred feet, you may want to wait until late summer when the snow has completely melted. Since this part of the trail is on the north side of Lamverson Butte, the snow hangs around a bit longer and the trail cuts along the butte, which makes it more treacherous if the snow is still covering the trail. However, if you bring some snow-shoe poles you won’t have any problems navigating through the snow.
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.