I started this post out by just creating a list of all the adventures that I went on in 2021. But… I realized pretty quickly that wasn’t particularly interesting – While it was informative, it was pretty dry, and the list didn’t really capture the feeling of the year.
Instead, I think I’ll just post my favorite pictures, along with a quick summary of the sort of the major adventures of the year:
The winter brought lots of backpacking and snow hiking – It’s still strange to me how much I’ve grown to know Oregon in the last year and a half… or, more accurately, how little of Oregon I really met in the preceding four years.
I visited friends in Sacramento in the spring; had amazing catch-up time, and saw some stunning views of Lake Tahoe
In the late spring, I visited one of the most photographed lakes in the Pacific North West – Colchuck Lake! I even summitted Asgard’s Pass with a friend… though the blood-price for that trip was steep. I injured my knee again, which put me out of hiking condition for nearly two months afterward.
The summer saw the death of my Grandmother, a blow to the entire family that we’ll never truly move on from. I was brought unexpectedly face-to-face with just how much of my personality came from her. Her passing brought an unexpected gift, though, in the form of nearly two weeks visiting family and friends back in New England.
The early fall brought my first dedicated rock climbing trip in quite some time – along with summitting what is probably the most iconic climbing route I’ve ever done. Devil’s Tower, in the bag!
The late fall brought friendship and comradery in amounts I haven’t seen in years. A backpacking trip with friends, and a huge event in my friend group – My friend Dillon’s bachelor party, and my role as best man in his wedding!
The winter is still coming in to Oregon, but the end of 2021 brought the return of beautifully snowy conditions up on Mt. Hood, and a reminder of just how glorious the Oregon Coast really can be…
**As always, if anyone would like a copy of any of these photos, please let me know. I have many of them already printed, but can always re-print anything that anyone would like.
After my friend Mike headed out, I went up to the mountain!
The storm hadn’t fully receded yet, but it had definitely calmed down quite a bit. And, more importantly, traffic was pretty much non-existant. I mean, in comparison to the usual traffic on this road, that is. For some reason, the drive to Mt. Hood just… it just takes so much longer than it logically should. I mean, it’s 70 miles. Mostly on highways. Why does it take 2 hours???
Anyways. Drive looked good, I had newly waxed cross country skiis, and I was feeling energetic after having some good socialization time. Tossed the gear in the car, filled my coffee thermos with some hot drink, and headed into the blizzard!
Now I know what you’re thinking.
“Ben! How could you take pictures while driving in the snow???”
“Well, other-Ben, As you can see there’s quite a bit of space between me and the next car… that’s because traffic was moving at approximately 20mph, and had pretty frequent stops. Thankfully this was only for a short distance, but those stops gave me just enough time to snap a picture while waiting to make sure the car in front of me didn’t backslide into my sweet snow-stang”
Yeah. The drive was… not as bad as it could have been, thankfully. But it was still slow once we got to the snow.
Thankfully, traffic petered out pretty quickly after one initial slowdown, and I was able to make it to the trailhead without much difficulty. I should clarify – I didn’t go to the originally-planned trailhead.
See, I love Elk Meadows, so that was my original plan. I had my hiking ski boots on (ski boots that are crampon compatible, and comfortable for ascending in), crampons, and everything ready for some vertical movement… but the roads and conditions were getting pretty bad as I passed the pullout for the Timberline Lodge. I probably could have made it, but I wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous or risky today.
Instead, I stopped at Trillium Lake – usually jam-packed with people, but thanks to the snow it was only packed. I was able to find a pretty safe parking spot without much difficulty, geared up, and headed in!
The trail was beautiful and fun – Deep snow, clear going, and nicely downhill pretty much the whole way.
Then I made a mistake.
I went off-trail, excited that I had newly-waxed skis that I thought could take me anywhere. And they could! Anywhere that was downhill.
When I hit a river and decided to turn back, I learned the mistake I’d made. Remember how I mentioned that the skis were newly-waxed? Well… the folks that had waxed them put a nice, thick layer on… just like you’d do for downhill skis. But Cross Country skis have little scales on the bottom to grip the snow, giving you traction when you push off. Scales that are small, and easily covered by a thick layer of wax…
Going into the adventure, I hadn’t noticed that the scales were covered up. Downhill I’d just glided beautifully, no issue and no hassle.
When I tried to climb back uphill though, I was stuck. I stepped forward, and the ski slid backward. I actually made negative progress for a little while.
I tried taking the skis off and just hiking out. No dice – the snow was 3+ ft deep, not something I could crawl through.
I tried going sideways. No dice – the trees were thick, and I didn’t quite have the room to manouver.
I legitimately got scared for a while – I had the safety gear to be okay, of course, and even call for help if absolutely necessary… but I really didn’t want to have to send up a satellite beacon because my skis were slippery.
After quite a bit of sliding and falling and being frustrated (okay, maybe like 20min, max) I was able to struggle my way out of the low-ground. It was mostly a lot of creative switchbacks, using poles and trees for leverage, and more pizza-walking than I ever expected to do on a pair of cross country skis.
With my escape made, I seriously considered just turning back and heading home. I was tired, and had walked quite a bit in the last few days… and after nearly getting stuck in the deep powder, you can’t blame me for wanting a bit of an escape from my escape into the woods, right?
So I rested a bit, had a bite to eat, and drank some water from my unfrozen water bottle. I even chatted with some other skiers who, ironically, were having the opposite problem than I was! Their skis were sticking quite a bit on the heavy snow, and they were having just as rough of a time making headway as I was.
With my spirits buoyed by the snacks, and knowing I wasn’t along in my struggles, I forged onward. Instead of turning around, I stuck to the groomed trail for the rest of the trek – gliding pretty easily, though still being quite frustrated every so often by the backsliding that my skis were doing.
After a while though, it seems like the thickest part of the wax rubbed off enough that I could almost get traction! This gave me enough speed to make it all the way to the lake, where I got some… well, not views, really. but I did see the lake! Sort of.
Since there weren’t really any views, and the lake was completely exposed to the driving snow and biting wind, I headed back into tree cover. Ate a quick bite of lunch in a conveniently placed shelter, and took the chance to relax and enjoy the sheer simple quiet that fresh falling snow gives.
I think that’s one of my favorite parts about the winter. The simple quiet of the world… It was cold, sure, but I had the right gear to keep myself warm. And in that simple comfort, the entire world seemed completely still and utterly serene… not a single sound aside from those I made myself.
I rested a while, and even took the chance to patch up some holes in my snow pants, since I was warm enough without them. But daylight waits for no one, not even as intrepid an adventurer as I am, so I did have a timeline to keep. I ate a few more slices of brie, rearmored myself in the snow layers, packed the warmth layers into my backpack, and headed back toward the car.
I’ll admit – I was worried about the way back. My skis were getting a bit better traction, sure, but it still wasn’t optimal… and if you recall, the route from the car was mostly downhill. I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to get enough traction to get up the trail easily.
In the end, my concern was well founded. My skis didn’t cut it, but that’s where having backup plans come into play – I just took them off and hiked out in my boots. No hassle, no mess, and no forging through deep snow, thanks to the groomed trail. Soon enough, I was back to the car and warming myself up for the long trafficy slog home…
I’ve lived near it for years, now… and somehow, this winter is really the first time since probably 2017 that I’ve regularly gone up to visit. I love the snow, and I’m finally remembering just how much I can enjoy getting out onto the snow fields.
This weekend was a little unique – instead of going on a long solo adventure, I went with someone! Woo actually socializing! Go Ben!
It was a weekend of firsts – My friend Laurel had retreated into her winter cocoon for a while, so this was the first time I’d seen her since the Oregon rains has swept into town. It was also her first time putting chains on her truck, and her first time on cross country skis! Double-win, for double excitement! We met up in Portland, transferred probably too much gear from my car into her truck, and headed out toward the mountain with grins on our faces; there’d been a storm a few days prior, and the forecast was looking beautifully blustery.
Perfect weather to cross country ski in, right?
Things went pretty much exactly as planned – The roads before Mt. Hood were nice and clear, with a bit of rain and a smattering of traffic… but not much of either, thankfully. We ate breakfast sandwiches as we drove, stopping for coffee along the way. Soon enough we got to the pull off where the traffic cameras showed snow starting to accumulate, and we pulled over to put the chains on the truck before grinding upward into the snow.
Laurel did gloriously; not having much trouble getting the chains on, and then holding a steady hand on the wheel as we forged upward in elevation. Really, not much to say past that – the drive went well, with surprisingly few other cars doing strange things. People… seemed to be pretty sane this weekend, driving slowly and cautiously, with not a single person sliding sideways down the highway (unlike last weekend).
We parked, geared up, and headed into the snow.
The terrain was glorious – the snow was a bit deeper than it had been the weekend before when I was backpacking, but traveling was much quicker thanks to the skis, and the fact that I wasn’t carrying a 40lb backpack through the snow drifts.
Similarly to driving, Laurel did great on the skis – and as always, I got a deeper appreciation for the activity myself after seeing someone new taking to it. It’s why I love teaching people, and exposing people to new things – when you show someone something new, you have the chance to see it through their eyes for a few moments… and remember what it was like the first time you tried that activity.
It’s awesome, and I really appreciate getting to remember just how special and fun some of these adventures of mine are… especially when they start to become almost routine.
We skied ’till we couldn’t ski anymore.
Literally – we got right up to the foot of the glacier, where the trees stop and the mountain begins. It was beautiful.
It was beautiful, but also rather intimidating. Mt. Hood made it clear that we weren’t quite welcome today; the wind picked up as we left the cover of the trees, to the point that making forward progress was basically impossible… and seeing more than 10ft in front of ourselves was completely out of the question.
We’d come far enough though – our goal had always been just to explore and enjoy skiing, while catching up on the last few months, and we were accomplishing that goal quite well. So we didn’t press our luck – we took a short break in the lee of a tree, to have some cocoa and a quick snack of brownie bites. Then, headed back down the mountain toward the parking lot.
The way down was… interesting.
See, Laurel had rented her skis, which meant that they were in great condition and well waxed. Myself, on the other hand, had my pair of hand-me-down skis that some old neighbors had gifted me when they moved out of town. I haven’t ever waxed them, and I’ve been going on quite a few trips so far this year.
When we started downhill, I was pretty quickly left behind. One of my skis was still pretty well waxed, but the other was noticeably less so. But I’m nothing if not resourceful, so as we descended I pretty quickly got the hang of… well, basically skateboarding down the mountain. I’d balance mostly on my waxed ski, pushing off with my unwaxed one. I could control my speed pretty well, and was able to keep my fear of crashing to a pretty controlled unease.
I couldn’t quite keep up, still, but I think I did pretty well, all things considered.
After we arrived back at the truck, the cocoa thermos came out again. Sandwiches were made, cocoa was drank, and views were admired.
We drove home, a drive as uneventful as the drive up, thankfully. Nice and simple – a very good day on the mountain.
Then I got home, after transferring my inordinate amount of gear back into my own car, and found out that Laurel had sneakily attached a tiny hand to my antenna. The danger of hanging out with friends again – the pranks resume.