Archive for the ‘Winter Sports’ Category

Friday Foto Talk: Winter Photography, Part I   8 comments

Winter's first snowfall: southern Utah.

Winter’s first snowfall: southern Utah.

This week I got snowed on for the first time this season, on the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah.  It’s been cold too, well below freezing some mornings.  So I think it’s time to talk about winter photography.

First of all, I’m assuming you want to keep shooting in wintertime.  There really is no reason to stop.  There is a beautiful crystalline light that is unique to winter.  And this is the time to go for fog and other moody atmospheres.  Most important, how else are you gonna get a shot for that Christmas card?

Fairy Falls in winter, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Fairy Falls in winter, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Don’t worry, your camera will be fine.  In fact, excessive heat and humidity are much bigger worries than cold is.  Camera manufacturers publish a lower limit of around 32° F (0° Celsius).  But modern DSLRs can function just fine down to 0° F and even lower with no ill effects.  You just have to follow a few simple precautions:

  • Be Gentle:  Cameras and even many lenses are mostly plastic these days, and plastic gets brittle and will break much more easily in frigid weather.  The metal parts also get more brittle.  So avoid knocks and be especially careful with both camera and lens.  Glass doesn’t care how cold it gets, but you’re already being careful with that spendy glass, aren’t you.

The old one-room schoolhouse in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

 

  • Beware Condensation:  When you bring a camera that has been in the cold inside, or anywhere warmer, there’s a risk of moisture collecting inside the camera and lens.  Obviously this is not good.  So before coming in from the cold, put your equipment inside your zipped-up camera bag at least.  A large ziplock or otherwise sealable plastic bag is even better.  Let your gear warm gradually inside that bag before taking it out.  The colder it is outside, and the more humid the warm place you’re bringing it back into, the more important it is to follow this advice.  It’s also a good idea to let it cool off gradually, inside your camera bag, before shooting.
Oneonta Gorge, Oregon.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon.

  • Battery Blues:  Batteries have shorter lives when they’re cold, and the colder the shorter.  So bring extra batteries and keep the spares in an inside pocket, near your skin.  If you know you’ll be shooting again next day, keeping the camera and lenses inside your trunk, where they remain cold, will avoid the whole condensation thing.  But remember to take the battery out and bring it inside to recharge.  If you take your memory card out to upload photos, stick it in a little ziplock before coming inside and let it warm up gradually.
Late afternoon light hits Silver Star Mountain, Washington, after a mid-winter snowstorm.

Late afternoon light hits Silver Star Mountain, Washington, after a mid-winter snowstorm.

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To the Summit of Mount St. Helens!   6 comments

The view of Mount St. Helens' lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

The view of Mount St. Helens’ lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

Last week a friend and I climbed Mount St. Helens, the famous volcano in Washington state.  I have up to this point only skied it, hiking up on my skis and then doing the moderate and fun descent.  I would have done it this way again, but with my ribs still healing, I didn’t want to take the chance of a re-injury.  So I just hiked it while my friend hiked up carrying his AT skis.  His wife came along, but she was only into a hike, so didn’t summit with us.

Mount St. Helens' steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

Mount St. Helens’ steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

It was a gorgeous day, perfect really.  The temperatures were not too cool and not too warm.  And so we didn’t sweat gallons, nor did the snow soften up too much for great skiing.  If it were any cooler though, crampons would have been required.  As it was we only hit one icy patch, which was easily handled by kicking steps.  I did have my ice axe, and that helped near the top.

Crater View II

Mount Rainier pokes above the clouds, as viewed from the summit of Mount St. Helens.

My friend had a great run down while I glissaded.  It has been awhile since I’ve done any glissading, (sliding down a snowfield to descend a mountain).  It is normally done on your butt, but it can also be accomplished on your feet, on your belly (penguin style!) or use your imagination.  A pair of slick rain pants will allow you to glissade shallower (and safer) slopes.  I alternated between a butt and foot glissade.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Glissade safety tips:  When glissading, it’s important to see where you are going and stay off the really steep stuff.  You want a “runout”, where the grade flattens a bit and you can slow to a stop.  If things get steep, and yet you still feel safe with a glissade, you must have an ice axe and slide on your butt, braking all the way with the axe.  You also need to be comfortable doing a self-arrest in case things get out of hand.  Safety first of course, but when you feel the need for speed and you have a good runout below you, let ‘er go!

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

After the climb I headed home to Portland the back way.  In other words, instead of returning west to I5 then south (boring!), I drove east on Forest Road 90, continuing as it turns into Curly Creek Road.  I slept overnight in my van along the upper Lewis River and did a couple short hikes next day in the beautiful forest here.   It was good to stretch my legs, which were sore from the climb.  Then I continued, turning right on the Wind River Road all the way into Carson.  I did stop again to do a hike along the beautiful Falls Creek Falls (see next post for that).  Then I simply traveled Hwy. 14 from Carson west to Vancouver and across the river to Portland.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Note that to climb Mount St. Helens you need to visit the MSHI website for instructions on the permitting process.  During summer a limited-entry permitting system is in place.  But I’ve always done it in Spring, where you can buy the $22 permit online, pick it up in Cougar on the way to the trailhead, and have at the mountain when it still has significant snow.  Believe me it is easier to climb it in snow, because of the loose pumice (2 steps up – 1 step down) nature of the surface in summertime.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens.  Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens. Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

Cross-country Skiing at Mt Hood   14 comments

Mount Hood peeks above the fir trees during a cross-country ski outing in Oregon's Cascade Mountains.

Mount Hood peeks above the fir trees during a cross-country ski outing in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.

It grew cold and snowed in our mountains during the first week of spring.  When the storm broke I took the opportunity to go up to Mount Hood and ski.  Whenever I tell somebody I have gone skiing they immediately assume downhill skiing.  I mostly cross-country ski nowadays, though I still love downhill.  It was a beautiful day.

If you are looking for a good place to begin your winter exploration of Mt Hood (on skis or snowshoes), I think Trillium Lake is a good choice.  Those who know the area well might scoff at this choice.  After all, it is fairly popular and can get crowded.  It is very easy to find, however, and offers the option of quickly losing the crowds to ski very beautiful terrain.

Mount Hood stands near snow-covered Trillium Lake on a full moon ski.

Mount Hood stands near snow-covered Trillium Lake on a full moon ski.

Trillium Lake Snowpark lies just a few miles east of the pass at Government Camp, along Highway 26.  Coming from Portland it is on your right.  You immediately descend into a beautiful basin.  On skis it is quite an exciting descent, but because you are following a wide snow-covered road, there is plenty of width to snowplow.  From the bottom you can do like 95% of folks do and circle Trillium Lake.  This is a fantastic option for a beginner (who would probably take off skis and walk down the big hill).

Ice clings to moss along a cross-country skiing trail in Oregon.

Ice clings to moss along a cross-country skiing trail in Oregon.

If you are more of an intermediate, or adventurous novice, go straight ahead at the bottom of the hill.  Then take your first left, climbing up a hill, still on a logging road, to start the Mud Creek Loop.  You will leave most other skiers and shoers behind.  From this loop, you have a couple other options aside from staying on the loop road.  About a mile up, you will see the signed Quarry Trail take off to the right.  This fairly narrow trail descends through open areas and shortens the loop.  You can leave the trail and cut long beautiful turns if you have the ability.

There are plenty of beautiful details to admire on a cross-country ski outing.

There are plenty of beautiful details to admire on a cross-country ski outing.

On Saturday I did a favorite trail of mine, the Lostman.  Other than the name, I like this narrow loop trail for its beauty and generally great snow conditions.  Look for the signed trail leaving Mud Creek Road on the left.  The trail is narrow but not steep, only about a couple miles in length.  You will invariably have it to yourself.  Keep a close watch on the blue diamonds though, because the trail’s name is very appropriate.  You come back out on Mud Creek Road, where you can either turn right to retrace your route back to Trillium Lake or continue the main loop by turning left.

Beautiful Mount Hood is illuminated by alpenglow.  Mirror Lake is at bottom.

Beautiful Mount Hood is illuminated by alpenglow. Mirror Lake is at bottom.

After doing Lost Man, I headed up to Mirror Lake specifically for taking sunset photos of Mount Hood.  This is a short climb on a popular summer trail that leaves Highway 26 just west of the Ski Bowl ski area.  I climbed above Mirror Lake for these last three shots.  The powder snow was deep!  It kicked my butt!  I was a bit too late for perfect light, as the sun set into a cloud bank along the horizon.  But I was happy to have made it in time for a good picture of Hood.  I swept several telemark turns down through the powder under a nearly full moon, as the temperature rapidly dropped.

A crystal-clear and cold evening under the moonlight skiing near Mount Hood, Oregon.

A crystal-clear, cold evening under the moonlight skiing near Mount Hood, Oregon.

What a day!  I hope you enjoyed the pictures.  Click on any of them for purchase options, and to peruse the main portfolio section of my website.  These versions are low-res and are not available for free download anyway (they’re copyrighted).  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.

Mount Hood stands alone, surrounded by forest, during the beginning of dusk.

Mount Hood stands alone, surrounded by forest, during the beginning of dusk.

A Winter Stay on Mt Hood   2 comments

Mount Hood catches alpenglow from a setting winter sun.

Mount Hood catches alpenglow from a setting winter sun.

 

I spent a night on Mount Hood a few days ago, and the weather, people, skiing, everything was perfect.  It’s been a long time since I’ve stayed up on the mountain.  It is about an hour and a half to get up to Mt Hood from Portland, so it’s not that far.  But staying up there is a totally different experience.  You get to play in the snow until dusk, mellow out and drink hot chocolate in front of a fireplace, and go out under the stars.  You get to go right from breakfast to skiing or snow-shoeing.  The car can stay parked or you can make very short drives to Timberline Lodge or one of the nearby trailheads.

Two subalpine firs stand out against a purple dusk sky near timberline on Mount Hood, Oregon.

Subalpine firs stand out against a purple dusk sky on Mount Hood, Oregon.

We stayed at Tyee Lodge, a purpose-built place just above Government Camp run by the Trails Club of Oregon.  In wintertime you need to hike from the parking lot up a trail cut into the snow, but since it’s only 200 yards or so that’s certainly no problem.  The lodge is right on a cross-country and snowshoe trail that leads up to Timberline Lodge and Ski Area.  Also, a sledding hill is a short walk away.

If you become a member of the Trails Club, it’s easy to stay here.  If you’re not, get in touch with the Trails Club and if you bring a few guests, you can stay here on weekends when the club opens it to members.  The cost is $25/person per night, and that even includes dinner and breakfast.  Such a deal!  There is a group dining room, and a large living area.  There’s a big stone fireplace, with games, books, all you need to be cozy.

Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood at blue hour.

Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood at blue hour.

Male and female dorms with bunk beds are rustic but easy to handle given the cheap cost.  There is also a large staging room downstairs where skis, snowshoes and sleds are kept, and an adjoining drying room for wet gear.  There’s even a game room with ping-pong table.  The nearby Mazama Lodge, run by the venerable climbing club of the same name, is somewhat bigger and a little fancier.  But Tyee is really perfect, in a perfect spot for all sorts of snow-play.  Try renting a condo or house in Government Camp, or a room at Timberline Lodge, and $25/night looks like a steal.

Looking south from Timberline Lodge, the Cascade Range volcanoes stretch away into a clear dusk sky.

Looking south from Timberline Lodge, the Cascade Range volcanoes stretch away into a clear dusk sky.

I had a great time with a small group of fellow meetup friends.  I cross-country skied up to Timberline one day, and up above tree line the next.  Then I did my first real telemark turns of the season on the descents.  The weather was dominated by an air inversion, where the valleys below are cold while the upper elevations bask under a layer of warm air.  It cracked 50 degrees in the afternoon, and I even took off my shirt while climbing to Timberline.

By the way, the public is welcome in Timberline Lodge, where there’s an enormous multi-story stone fireplace, restaurant, and bar upstairs with a drop-dead view of the mountain.  I’d do this again in a  heartbeat.  What a nice way to spend a weekend.

View across one of Timberline Lodge's snow-covered roofs to the setting January sun.

View across one of Timberline Lodge’s snow-covered roofs to the setting January sun.

Skiing Vs. Snowshoeing   Leave a comment

The LaSalle Mountains in southern Utah are a fantastic place to cross-country ski.

The LaSalle Mountains in southern Utah are a fantastic place to cross-country ski.

I am not used to waiting until the first week of January to get up to the mountains for cross-country skiing.  But the early season saw me in southern latitudes, so I guess it couldn’t be helped.  My recently completed western U.S. odyssey was a loop that was designed to avoid snow.  And except for an October hike in Colorado that traversed early-season snow, and also getting snowed on in Utah’s canyon country (see images below) things went pretty much to plan.

In the first snowfall of winter in the Colorado Rockies, bear tracks mark the animal trail.

In the first snowfall of winter in the Colorado Rockies, bear tracks mark the trail.

The year's first snowfall and a cold morning turns the road trip to one where staying in the sleeping bag seems like a great idea.

The year’s first snowfall and a cold morning makes staying in the sleeping bag a bit longer seem like a great idea.

But once back in real winter-time, I was eager to get up there into the cold air, to find a quiet trail with snow-covered evergreens, to cut long graceful turns down a soft white slope.  Well, you get the idea.  I went up to Mount Hood just an hour east of my house in Portland, arriving in mid-afternoon.  This is too late for most people, but for me, it was perfect.  Firstly, I wanted pictures near sunset.  Also, I know that were I to ski 5 hours or so on this first day of the season, I would end up with painfully sore muscles in strange places.  Cross-country skiing works the muscles of the hip area mercilessly, particularly the adductors.

There had been 4 or 5 inches of new snow over the previous two days.  I headed to the Trillium Lake area, which is a popular area near Hood for both XC skiing and snow-shoeing.  I like Trillium Basin because you can ski relatively easy, skier-groomed “trails” (really snow-covered gravel roads) where there is plenty of room for both snowshoe and ski tracks.  See below section for a discussion on this.  But Trillium is also great ’cause you can explore narrow trails or go off trail using clear-cuts and natural openings.  There are even a few slopes, not very steep, that are great for telemark turns.

I went up the Mud Creek Loop (a road) and did the normally snowshoe-free Lost Man Trail (a fun trail that loops through forest and meadow).  Then I climbed a hill for a view of the Mountain as the sun set (see images below).  In the gathering dusk I descended a large partially cleared area, gliding down through amazingly light & fluffy snow (for the Cascades at least).  I had just under an hour’s ski out using my headlamp.  I like skiing by headlamp, but it does lead to occasional disorientation.  The light tunnel and the rhythm of skiing can sometimes mesmerizes you.  It’s a strange but not really unpleasant feeling.

Mount Hood, Oregon glows as the sun sets in mid-winter.

Mount Hood, Oregon glows as the sun sets in mid-winter.

XC SKIERS VS. SNOWSHOERS

Many cross-country skiers do not like snowshoers because it is easier and MUCH more fun to ski in a ski track than on a trail stomped out by snowshoes.  When you’re snowshoeing, stepping over a ski trail is easier than walking through fresh snow.  So you can see the obvious point of conflict here.  It works best when snowshoers make their own trail whenever possible.  But by the same token, skiers should always try to create a separate trail as well.  Of course this involves a lot of work for the first person down a fresh trail, and it requires a certain zen attitude to plow through deep snow right beside an already broken trail.

It’s especially frustrating to break a ski trail then return on the same trail only to see two snowshoers side by side (so they can chat easily), with one person in the ski tracks you just set, the other person in the snowshoe trail.  Sometimes it seems that you are the only one in the forest who is aware of the etiquette.  But whatever happens, it is never cool to get uptight when people do not know the etiquette, or are unwilling to cooperate.  You are out there to have fun after all!

My attitude towards this conflict has of late become even more mellow than it was; I would even say I’m resigned.  The fact is that these days snowshoers outnumber cross-country skiers by a fairly large margin.  Nobody wants to go to the trouble to learn how to ski anymore.  Walking seems easier, even though in the long run (once you’ve learned) skiing through snow is both more efficient and more fun than walking through it.  I hope if you’re reading this that you take the time to learn how to cross-country ski.  Trust me, it’s WAY better than snowshoeing.  But however you do it, the key is to get out there,  to experience that feeling you can only get in the crystalline air of winter-time.

Mount Hood and fresh powder make the first day skiing a fine one.

Mount Hood and fresh powder make the first day skiing a fine one.

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