Archive for the ‘cross country skiing’ Tag

Winter Photography, Part V: Get Away from the Road   6 comments

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Let’s continue the series on photography in wintertime.  With the holiday season approaching, we all have more time off from work.  So don’t spend all of it inside baking cookies (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  Get out and shoot some too.  We’ve covered the getting there part, plus how to dress for winter.  Now it’s time to hit the trail.

This morning I watched a few other photographers in Zion National Park.  They were, as usual, sticking to the roadside.  By far most pictures are captured from within a few yards of the road.  I don’t completely avoid it of course, having gotten some great shots even by standing on top of the car.  But although it’s even more tempting in winter to shoot near the car, getting away from the road is key to making the kinds of photos that are unique to your own vision.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The last post focused on winter clothes, but there are a few other things that can help greatly when you’re traveling in snowy or icy conditions.  So let’s look at how to stack the odds in your favor during a winter outing.

  • Camera Pack – Fit:  Though not unique to winter, it’s even more important to have a camera backpack that fits and carries well.  The typical blocky camera pack isn’t really good for hiking, but its shortcomings are even more pronounced in snow or ice where the simple act of walking is more challenging.  So find one that carries most of its weight closer to your back and doesn’t swing the weight around.  A sternum strap & waist belt are very helpful, for example.

 

  • Camera Pack – Size:  Since you’ll be carrying some extras beyond photo gear, it’s necessary to get a pack that has a roomy compartment for clothes and other non-camera stuff.  If you already have a pack that is fairly large and comfortable, but without a dedicated compartment for extras, try taking out a few velcro dividers meant for extra lenses and making a place for the extra stuff.

 

  • Filling that Pack:  In summer, typically short photo hikes can be done without a lot of the safety equipment that’s necessary both for longer hikes in summer and outings of all distances in winter.  So think carefully about which lenses to take and take out any extra camera gear that you may not need.  This makes room for extra clothes, some food plus the 10 essentials.
Now this isn't how I planned to fill my pack!

Now this isn’t how I planned to fill my pack!

  • Just in Case – Ten Essentials:  Google the 10 essentials, but realize in winter two of them are especially important:  light and fire.  Take a good headlamp with extra batteries (and don’t forget extra batteries for the camera).  Being able to easily make a fire is very important in wintertime.  Waterproof matches and a ziplock full of dry newspaper and other tinder (and perhaps some fire-starting compound) can save your butt!

Horsetail Falls, Oregon.

Feet – Extra Help    

Once you have good warm boots (see last post), consider where you’ll be hiking.  The snow and ice of winter often demands something more for your feet:

  • Traction Devices:      If you don’t plan on going through deep snow much, you don’t need snowshoes or skis (see below), but if you’ll be in icy conditions, consider the small traction devices that slip on over your boots.  Yak-Tracks are a popular brand.  True crampons are too much; they’re for mountaineering.

 

  • Snowshoes are popular with winter photographers for good reason.  They’re simple to use and sure beat wading through hip-deep powder snow.  Buy a pair that is appropriate for your size and weight.  I would avoid the super-small and light kind; they’re for the crazies who run races in them; they normally don’t float enough in soft snow.

 

 

  • Snowshoe Technique:  Practice walking in snowshoes before you carry your camera pack, then add the gear on the next hike.  While you do need to walk with a slightly wider stance and lift your feet more, most novices exaggerate this movement, wasting energy.  The idea is to sort of shuffle, lifting just enough to avoid getting tangled up and tripping.  If you never trip and fall, you probably aren’t learning to do it right.
  • The Ski Option:  I’m biased, but in my opinion skis are the best way to get around in snow.  Sure it takes a little more time to learn than snowshoes, but that time is paid many times over with more speed and more fun when you’re out.   In most terrain, I can leave snowshoers in the dust when I’m skiing.  With short days, trying to catch the light, snowshoes are too slow for some destinations.  And fun?  On downhills snowshoers are plodding while I’m whooping and hollering.
A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Using Cross-Country Skis:  Modern cross-country skis are shorter, wider and much more stable/easy to use than the long skinny skis I learned on.  And this kind have been out long enough now to go used.  Just get a basic set of touring skis, boots and poles.  With the money you save I recommend taking lessons.  It probably goes without saying, but your camera needs to be stowed safely in your pack when skiing.  I wear a small bag for my camera (Lowepro Toploader) over my chest, clipped to the straps of my backpack.  Load distribution is even more important when you’re skiing, so make sure your backpack doesn’t swing around as you move.
An alternative way to get around in winter that isn't covered in this post.

An alternative way to get around in winter that isn’t covered in this post.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

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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.

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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