Archive for the ‘Mount Hood’ Tag

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.


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.

Smoke and Photography   Leave a comment

I want to pass on what I’ve found about photographing with smoke – in the skies and otherwise.  Landscape photography in general is better in clear air.  I don’t mean clear skies – clouds are good!  I mean clear air, the kind you get on a cold morning in autumn or winter.  But that clear air will mean a blue bias to the color.  Of course you can color correct if you don’t like that, but that is easily overdone.  Some of the most popular landscape photos on the web were shot in very clear air at golden hour (early or late in the day).  You’re best off with that plan if you want a lot of detail in your shots.

Crater Lake in Oregon is calm as the sun rises.

But those sorts of shots can get old.  So we search for fog, mist, even rain sometimes.  Anything to give the shot some atmosphere.  We rarely go out when skies are smoky from forest fires.  That’s just an ugly look, we think.  But depending on how much smoke is in the air, this can result in some interesting, even great pictures.  The picture above was taken at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon last month while the smoke was drifting in from fires in northern California.  Now there wasn’t that much smoke, and I had the advantage of being at a relatively high elevation.

At the time I was taking this picture, in the early morning, smoke was obvious and not all that great looking.  As you can see, however, it has some nice color and a somewhat unique look.  Whenever you have a warm-looking color tone at sunrise it’s worth going with that – it always looks a bit different than sunset.   This strategy can yield some nice shots, but it’s hard to tell at the time of capture.  You can’t go by what things look like when you’re there.  It’s just too hazy and low contrast to think photos will turn out nicely.

Here are some things that will help:

  • Being far enough away from the fire that the smoke is thin and/or layered across the landscape.
  • Getting to the highest elevation you can, in order to be looking across the top of the ground-hugging smoke.
  • Shooting in the very early morning.  The late afternoon golden hour will likely see the smoke thicker and more obvious, though the winds and progress of the fire will be the major factor.
  • Definitely expose a bit to the right (slightly overexpose).  You want to avoid noise at all costs, since the mixture of the “grain” in the shot from the smoke and noise will not look good.
  • In post-processing you’ll generally want to increase contrast and clarity unless the smoke is providing a lot of atmosphere, and depending on the composition.  It’s a balance, but you generally will be able to use a heavier hand than with other landscape pictures.

Mount Hood and Hood River Valley are shrouded in smoke from a late-season fire.

The smoke in the shot above was heavier (I was closer to the fire), but not too heavy.  Also, I was taking it from a lower spot, more inside the smoke layer than the Crater Lake example.  So the blurry orange typical of smokey sky is much more dominant, effecting the colors of the landscape much more.  The two shots are very different: the first one is better for sure, but the dominating smoke of the second in no way ruins the shot.  It turned out much better than I thought, and gave me hope that a different composition and subject might take better advantage of the smoke.  I even tried that night (image below) from a spot that I love in the spring for its flowers; it’s a short hike, illuminated by a half-moon on this night.

Mount Hood is illuminated by a half-moon with the summer stars above.

Of course taking pictures of people in smoky conditions normally means they are smoking.  These can obviously be very atmospheric shots, and though I can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke, I will accept it in order to bring a real personality to my subject.  Women normally don’t look good smoking in my opinion.  The shot below was not nearly as disagreeable to me as it would be if he was smoking a cigarette.  Though I don’t smoke it anymore, I still love the smell of ganja.  He was quite a willing subject, a Malawian on the shores of that beautiful lake in Africa, Lake Malawi.  It’s easy to believe you’re in Jamaica.

A hard-working woodcarver in Malawi relaxes with his drum, and partakes of his reward.

So when that smoke appears to intrude on your pictures, do what you should always do when you have a camera: go with the flow.  Use the smoke to give your shots an interesting look.

Posted September 8, 2012 by MJF Images in Photography

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Time for the High-Country: Cooper Spur   6 comments

Cloud Cap perches over the north side of Mount Hood, with the Hood River Valley & Mt Adams in the background.

It is finally time for the high country. A quick camping trip up to Cloud Cap on the north side of Mt Hood (Oregon) gave us access to the most spectacular alpine terrain within a day-trip’s distance of Portland, where I live. We had a late spring and cool early summer here in the Pacific Northwest. I even got stuck without chains on Mt Hood in a snowstorm – in June!

As the temperature in the lowlands climbed to 100 on this first hot weekend of the summer, three of us drove up through Hood River and to the campsite near Cloud Cap. Cloud Cap is the site of a historic & extremely well-built climbing lodge (image above). The temperatures would not exceed the mid-80s up here, and it felt cooler because of a breeze coming off the glacier.

A ski trip up Cooper Spur on the north side of Mt Hood. Note the flare at left.

The last time I was up here it was the middle of winter, with temps. in the low 20s on a gorgeous bluebird day (image above). In fact, I have most often been to this area for backcountry skiing, not hiking. One can drive all the way to Cloud Cap in summer, on a 9-mile long gravel road. But in winter you don snowshoes or strap skins on your skis to climb the steep direct Tilly Jane Trail. There is a nice cabin – Tilly Jane Guard Station – plus a shelter at the top of that trail, for those who have made arrangements to spend the night.

Andee walks the only flat part of Cooper Spur on the north side of Mt Hood.

Our plan was to hike up to Cooper Spur, a prominent ridge that extends northeastward from the north headwall of Mt Hood. We wanted to get to 9000 feet at least, on the 11,235-foot mountain. We climbed and my recent knee issue did not show up. So I was in the lead as we topped out on the Spur.

With the clear skies we had, the Cascade volcanoes of Mt Rainier, St Helens & Adams in Washington were in-your-face visible, and Mt Jefferson, the Three Sisters & Broken Top in Oregon also stood clear. Some low-lying smoke was visible from this lofty perch. This subtle layer of smoke hanging around has been transported all the way from huge fires in the Siberian Taiga.  The view down on to the heavily-crevassed Eliot Glacier (Mt Hood’s largest) was fantastic as well.

The idea behind a foot glissade is to “ski” on your boots; turning is difficult at best.


Mount Hood rises above the sandy but flowery approach to Cooper Spur (on the left).

We really wanted to get a closer look at this climbing route, one of Hood’s toughest.  So we climbed up to about 9250 feet, where the climb markedly steepens & becomes technical.  We had only ice axes, no crampons, so it was unwise to go further. But the mountain was certainly urging both Andee & I onward. Climbing conditions were excellent, and we were reluctant to turn around. This route now is firmly planted in my mind, and will bother me until I do it.

We glissaded back down. First we tried a standing glissade, but the snow conditions & steepeness demanded a sitting glissade, using the ice axe as a brake. Lower down, the snow fields offered fantastic foot glissading, which let’s face it, is usually more fun. I was able at one point to get a few shots of Andee in silhouette with Adams & Rainier (which is also calling me now) in the background (image above).

We passed the flower display that on this rocky and sandy side of Hood is fairly subtle, then back to camp just in time for sunset. It had been too long since I camped, & it felt great to gather around a crackling fire. The evening was cool enough to appreciate a fire.

Next day we traveled west along the Timberline Trail. A major flood in 2006 wiped out the crossing of Eliot Creek, and many people are turned around by this barrier even today. But it is not difficult to cross here, if you are sure to watch for loose falling rock. There are ropes to aid you on the steep canyon sides. We climbed up to the Languille Crags and descended an awesome knife-edge ridge.

The trees here are so stunted & bent (flagged) by the high winds & snows of winter that they look like a collection of old men. Some of these trees, such as the one pictured below left, are over 700 years old.  We also passed several memorial plaques, which commemorate mountaineers who paid the ultimate price of their sport.

When we returned, Cloud Cap was buzzing with activity. It was the hottest day of the year, a Saturday, and plenty of people were seeking relief in these high elevations. This short trip definitely stoked that fire in my belly that I’ve always had for high country. Mount Rainier here I come!



A twisted & bent 700-year old pine grows on the north side of Mt Hood, Oregon.

Creative seating options abound while traversing a jagged ridge on the north side of Mt Hood, Oregon.

Life without Mountains? No way! Paradise Park   Leave a comment

Indian paintbrush bloom in Paradise Park on Oregon’s Mount Hood.

Shifting gears now, into the realm of my nature & landscape photography & exploration.  But I’ll return to travel again soon.  Mount Hood is the closest major mountain to where I live in Oregon.  I don’t think I could be happy living somewhere without mountains.  I will never understand why people retire in flat Florida.  We in the Pacific Northwest of America are blessed with several different ranges of mountains, but it’s the Cascades that are the tallest and most convenient to where most of us live.

Before going on, I should mention the images you see here are available for licensing and download, or you can purchase as prints.  Visit my website or contact me for more details.  It’s not lawful to download and use them without permission.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation on this.  Okay, back to the mountains!  We have had a much cooler and wetter Spring and early Summer than the rest of the country.  And so the high country has been slow to melt off.  But now the snow is beating a rapid retreat and flowers are beginning to reach their peak in the subalpine meadows of the Cascades.

Lupine bloom along the ridgeline near Paradise Park on Mount Hood, Oregon.

One of Mount Hood’s finest hikes follows the Pacific Crest Trail west from Timberline Lodge and drops for a few miles, only to rise again to Paradise Park.  It is about 11 miles but feels longer.  You will do most of your climbing on the return trip.  With photography it took us a full 8 hours to do the hike.  That includes the 1/2 hour we spent building a rock bridge across Zigzag Creek.  We could have simply taken off boots and waded across, but that would have been too easy.  Besides, who doesn’t like building things, even if it is only a dozen rocks plopped into a river to form a hop-hop crossing.  Those rocks were heavy though!

One of the numerous waterfalls along the trail to Paradise Park, Mt Hood, Oregon.

The weather was perfect, sunny but not hot.  Beautiful lupine, indian paintbrush, glacier lily and beargrass, along with other flowers blooming along the trail, water tumbling everywhere, and the west face of 11,235-foot Mount Hood looming over all of it.  I mentioned the crossing of Zigzag Creek, but you will also need to cross the canyon it has carved.  Moderately steep switchbacks on either side make you earn your entrance to Paradise Park, which extends north from the opposite side of the canyon.  Soon after crossing the creek, a loop route departs the main trail and enters perfectly named Paradise Park.

Park is a word applied to subalpine meadows near timberline (at 5000-6000 feet elevation here).  Gorgeous streams lined with water-loving wild lily and monkeyflower pass boulders dropped by glaciers.  Glaciers are still visible from here, but they have retreated far up the mountain during recent (warming) times.  There are several great camping spots, and one was occupied by a backpacking couple.

On the return trip (it’s an out and back hike), the clouds which had been hanging in lower elevations began to rise and swirl among the trees, causing a beautiful effect looking toward the sinking sun.  Light was shifting so fast I did not bother to set up a tripod, and it was just bright enough shooting into the Sun for hand-held pictures.   As we approached the Lodge, Mount Jefferson formed a distant counterpoint as the last rays of the sun hit the iconic building.

Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge is less than an hour and a half from Portland, Oregon, and parking is free.  In summer Timberline is crowded with ski camp participants, mostly youngsters in bright lycra.  They look a little funny in their enormous boots, lugging bulky boards.  You might think the trail would be crowded as well, but realize that most people do not have the energy for an 11-mile hike, so you should only see a few other hikers in Paradise Park.

Mists swirl through the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon.

This hike is near the top of my list on Mount Hood.  There are a few other great ones, but Paradise Park requires a fairly short drive and you get to park somewhere that does not require a Forest Service parking pass.  For me, one who does not go along with the Forest Service on this, it’s a nice bonus!

So if you find yourself at Timberline Lodge  some day, set aside the good part of a day to do Paradise Park.  If you don’t hang about taking tripod-mounted pictures, it should only take about 6 hours.  You will thank yourself for taking the time to hike through the flower-filled meadows and beautiful forests of Mount Hood.

We don’t have the highest mountains in the world, and they are not stacked on top of each other as in the Rockies or Alps (they are isolated volcanoes). But this is enough for me.  And since Portland lies only an hour or so from the Cascades, it’s the next best thing to actually living in mountains.

I’m watching many family members and some older friends retire to Florida now, and I just can’t see myself joining them.  Where would I hike?  Where would I ski?  No thanks!

Timberline Lodge floats above the clouds on Mount Hood in Oregon.

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