Tag Archives: White River

Hiking the White River Glacier in the slush

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Saturday, 17-Apr-2021



After backpacking out at Twin Lakes, I wasn’t quite feeling ready to go home yet.

I’d seen Mt. Hood in the distance, both as I drove and while I was camping out, but that still left me feeling a bit of a pang of distance from the mountain. I needed to get closer, and to get further up on the snowfields… I can’t tell if I just missed the mountain, if I wanted a bit more snow adventure before the summer came along, or… if I was just feeling the restlessness of spring.

Regardless of the reason, I packed my gear into the car and set my boots right under the air vent to dry out as much as possible on the drive up to the White River sno-park.



It was a nice drive, you know? I’ve gotten to know the way pretty well in the last few months, but coming toward the park from the South was definitely a slightly different experience. Nothing hugely different, mind you, but… just enough of a change that it felt interesting.

I arrived, I parked, I slipped into my mostly-dry boots and clipped on my crampons, found a pretty painted rock (interestingly similar to the one I found at Twin Lakes…) and headed up.






It sucked.

I mean, I could talk about how beautiful it was, and how the sky was a glorious shade of bright blue. I could talk about how the White River had carved a beautiful slash through the glacier, and how the sun was sparkling off the pristine snowfields in the distance.

But truth be told, I wasn’t having a good time. The snow had softened up quite a bit as the Sun had traversed the sky, and every step was a struggle. No one beside me had been up this way, it seemed, so I was breaking trail with every step.

I really wished that I’d brought along my cross country skis… But you know. If wishes were fishes, and all that jazz.


I forged onward and upward.

Up to the foot of the glacier, where the sun sparkled against the outline of Mt. Hood.

And there, I saw “screw it, the snow stinks and I’ve been up there before. I want dinner” and turned around, and went home.



Sometimes, that’s the best course of action… and even then, it brings beautiful views and great pictures.

Cross Country skiing up the mountain… a little ways up the mountain, at least.

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Saturday, 27-Feb-2021

Mount Hood.

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?

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.

Backpacking the White River, 15 & 16-Jan-2021

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Friday and Saturday, January 15th and 16th, 2021



I’d planned on hiking up to Elk Meadows again… since at this point Elk is basically my go-to locale whenever I don’t really know where to go.

I love that, by the way. I really enjoy having a “spot”, somewhere that I know I can just escape to, that doesn’t involve significant planning or thought. It’s just… “hey, I want to get out of town. How about I just go to the place, and do the thing? I can pack the stuff that I always pack!”

Anyways I didn’t go to Elk Meadows.


Since it’s winter, the main trailhead for Elk Meadows is a bit… snow covered. And by “a bit”, I mean that there’s roughly 6-8 ft of snow filling the little turnout that I’d normally go to. The last few times I hiked Elk, I parked at the Nordic Center for Mt. Hood Meadows, but that was just a single day… so to be paranoid, I’d called ahead to confirm that I could park overnight, and learned that overnight parking was absolutely not allowed.

I needed a new plan.

Thankfully, one of the Nordic Center folks who I spoke to recommended hiking the White River – I’d always just assumed that it was a small snow-park used for day sledding, but looking into it there was a nice trail that would connect me to the timberline trail… which would be perfect for the small outing that I was aiming for. I’d already had all the basics packed, so I was on the road as soon as the car was packed.

The ride out was pretty simple, and involved picking up a bagel sandwich for brunch… which turned out to be way more of a pastry than a sandwich, but… I’m not going to complain right before backpacking.



The hike in was beautiful – the parking lot was more full than I’d have seen at Elk, but the crowds were purely focused on sledding, and stayed within maybe a quarter mile of the parking lot. I didn’t see anyone after half a mile in, and was able to enjoy the cold and the quiet just as well as if I’d been heading toward my original destination.

By the time I was ready to set up camp I’d passed my intended turnout point, and instead found a perfect little campsite that had been set up by someone else sometime recently – a little flat spot partway up a steep hill in the trees, with a small area for cooking and a tent spot just the right size for my little shelter. I set up, hiked around a little bit, made dinner, and stared up at the sky as the sun set and the stars came out. Soon enough the air had that beautiful cutting edge to it, and so I curled into my sleeping bag and tucked myself in for some reading before drifting off to sleep.

The morning came bright and clear, with my Grey Jay friends (or family members of my friends) joining me for a light breakfast as I watched the sun light up the mountain.

People had started coming by pretty early in the morning, but even at the densest crowds, there were very few people this high up on the river – I think the most people I saw was a ski rescue group practicing avalanche testing… maybe 12 people or so?

I had a nice breakfast, relaxed, packed up, and then set off for what I’d planned on being a quick little walk up the glacier before heading back down.

Instead, I kept going as high as the snow would take me – extremely cautiously, though. Strangely, my concern wasn’t anything to do with crowds or avalanche or anything, but was instead the light. Not something you think about often in the winter, but with the bright sun and clean snow, the glare was intense. Really intense, intense enough that I was quite worried about sunburn or hurting my unshielded eyes.

Thankfully, some light clouds rolled in right before I was about to turn around, and the shade was enough that I was confident that continuing onward wouldn’t be any major risk. I mean, I was pretty sure I’d come out of it with a tan or light sunburn, but the bigger worry was my eyes, and since I kept checking in with myself every 10min or so, I felt pretty happy about forging upward.

It was worth it.

The views kept getting better as better as I ascended higher and higher – Realistically, I don’t think I got any higher than 5,000ft elevation, but the views were unparalleled as I looked North to the summit, and South to the rest of the cascade range. The sun shining through the fishscale clouds…

<muah>. Perfect.

I met a few folks on the walk, but aside from the views there’s not really much to talk about. It was beautiful, I loved not carrying a pack (since I’d left it back at camp), and I felt amazing. You know how you can smell the cold, and how snow gives that crisp taste to the air? Well, this had that in abundance, and I loved every second of it.


After I got back to my gear, I hefted the pack and started back toward the car.

The crowds thickened as I got closer and closer to the parking lot, to the point that I masked up after a little bit, as people were becoming unavoidable. There were families sledding, grills set up, and just this massive sense of happiness and excitement from the yells of people sliding down the snow.

I saw a few back country skiers too, some having descended from where I was, and some from as far away as the Timberline Lodge. I was definitely a bit jealous, I admit, but I still loved the chance to be hiking on the snow.

Absolutely worth every step.