Getting the most out of the Sno-Park pass

 Huh. My hair is frozen.

(Now mind you, I am no stranger to my hair freezing; I've been in too many nasty, blustery mountain conditions to not be acquainted with that crusty, clumpy, dripping sensation of haircicles touching my collarbone. But this was a bluebird day.)

Oh. It's the sweat in my hair that froze. [Gross.] 

Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
~5 miles, ~1800 feet

Yesterday, while on a slog around the neighborhood block to work the cobwebs out of my brain, it began snowing on me. Well, more like the rain was *thinking* it might fully convert to snow, but that's beside the point. The point is that those fat, icy pieces of falling sky were enough to have my snow withdrawal come crashing to the surface, enough that I was contemplating skipping class and taking a mental health day (clearly it's that time in the term where I am beyond being reasoned with, and most days I just want to throw my computer out the window).

Checking my school email that night, I see in my inbox that class is cancelled due to professor illness.

Wow. The stars really aligned here. If that's not a message, I don't know what is.

Regarding the snow withdrawal, it has just been that kind of a year. Beyond the obvious school thing taking up a large chunk of my time, snow levels on the mountain are acting bonkers, flitting from pass levels (where the trailheads are) up to mountaineering levels (where the goats go). Hood had the beginnings of a nice winter coat in November, then December and January passed with a seeming snow drought, just intermittent sun and rain. Lately, my backyard mountain will see a glorious dumping of fluffy white stuff only to have the freezing level rise the next day which, of course, means rain all over that glorious new snow. To top it all off, lovely new snow time never coincides with when I can actually get myself up to the mountain- it's been a vicious, irritating cycle.

[Soapbox over.]

My annual sno-park pass really needs to see more action.

Like I said, the stars aligned.

I arrived at the White River Sno-Park at 10:45am to 22° and bluebird. Jackpot. My goal was Boy Scout Ridge, some almost 3ish miles away near the head of the White River Canyon. The White River Sno-Park is one of the most popular places on Mount Hood, so the first 1/4 mile is almost always a mad throng of families and dogs and sleds and people in varying stages of snow sport ability. Today, it was blissfully quiet, only two groups getting out on the trail in front of me.

The snow was good; better than good, actually: fantastic. It was approaching almost sugar quality, that coveted Wasatch-type snow Andy and I seek out in Utah on semi-annual ski trips, but that we never, ever get here unless the temperature happens to plunge into the teens or lower. Even then, it's only *sugary* relative to our Cascade Concrete. Whatever, for here, it's bomb diggity, and I was mooooore than happy with it.

Breaking trail for almost three miles through it though was going to be fun. 

first tracks

Most snowshoers head up the lower slopes of Boy Scout Ridge just past the White River Canyon's "Bowl" about a quarter mile beyond the sno-park. I continued straight, following the undulating, snowbound river's edge, settling into the rhythm of my lungs and legs working in concert as I continued across the smooth, white world. 

By the time I reached a bend in the river with no snow bridge to cross, I was breaking trail through roughly a foot of sugary snow. Beautiful. Taxing. But also exhilarating. On a personal note, fitness is something I have struggled with over the last decade- to be able to break trail to this degree says to me I am regaining what I lost, and that I can continue on this journey forward.

From here, I popped up a tiny ridge to the left and slogged through intermittently burned, sparse forest on my way to my goal. Mount Hood rose in the distance, beyond the head of the White River Canyon, Boy Scout Ridge, my goal, to my left. I stood for a while, taking in the views, the shape and relief of the stark, white world and watched a random, backcountry snowboarder make some turns down the ridge.

Instead of heading up the traditional knife edge path to the top of Boy Scout Ridge, I picked a path to the left of where the snowboarder had just come down and prepared to get to work. It was going to be a trudge. Here, wind had packed a tremendous amount of snow into this gully- a hard, icy layer, perfect for my snowshoes to grip, could be found under two plus feet of powdery brilliance. In places, I was almost up to my hips as I put one foot in front of the other, my trekking poles nearly to the hilts as I climbed the ridge. Halfway up I pondered the wisdom of my decision but stubbornness prevailed, and I continued onward.

I won. Cresting the top of Boy Scout Ridge, I set about re-layering, making lunch and discovering the frozen hair debacle. After wandering around a bit, the light changed, a stormy, brooding quality settling over the area, and I decided to make my way back. My mental health day was complete- I was exhausted, settled and in a perfect space of physical and emotional contentment.


Mount Hood beyond Boy Scout Ridge
eerie light in the White River Canyon

On the way back, the light changed and I impromptu sat down for a snowshoe feet picture: my new favorite. [GRIN]

Study Break

Mount Saint Helens National Monument, Washington
~8 miles, ~1600 feet elevation gain

**Nature deficit disorder, related to full time nursing program, secondary to midterms, projects, clinicals and volunteer events, as evidenced by patient reports 10/10 pain, self-reported longing for the outdoors, pallor, grouchiness, mood swings and distraction.** 

February FakeOut has arrived, those anomalous winter days punctuated by sun and warmth, where the world actually has time to dry out before nature rips the proverbial rug out from under us until June-ish. I have no hard data to support this beyond what my scattered brain wants to believe, but February FakeOut seems to arrive every year here in Portland: just when you think you cannot take another day of the deluge, the soggy pant hems, the tip-toeing through leaf-clogged puddles, the steel gray sky.... POOF! Sun! We've had over a week of clear, windy skies torturing me from the windows of clinical, taunting me during my slog up the hill to lecture. It is gor-geeeee-ous outside. And right now, I am badly in need of a mental health day. Being neck deep in chronic illness 24/7 is making me twitchy.

Pharmacology be damned, I'm going outside.

It feels exceedingly strange to put on sun block.

One of the things I love about the alpine is its ever changeable mood. We were looking for an eclectic hike, full of views and shifting conditions so we headed north to one of our favorite areas, the blast-tortured north face of Mount Saint Helens. On our way up long, winding Washington State Route 504, Andy commented how strange it is that people travel from across the globe to visit Helens, yet for us, she is practically in our backyard- a beloved recreational area. Living in the Pacific Northwest is not for everyone, but it is necessary for souls like ours.

The area near Johnston Ridge never fails to fascinate me. Here, the north face of the mountain fell away, scouring an entire new landscape in its wake as it deposited the largest (recorded, mind you, recorded) landslide in history down the valley of the North Fork of the Toutle River. The pyroclastic blast felled old growth like toothpicks, and the splintered remains of the ancient forest still litter the ridgelines. Whole new lakes were formed while others were obliterated, the entire area basically picked up in a giant fist, remolded, and set down again upon the earth.

Boundary Trail, January 2011

We arrived at the Hummocks trailhead to sun, bluebird skies, and basically being overdressed. Patches of icy snow lingered but nothing tangible enough for the snowshoes strapped to our packs. Our sights were aimed higher though, so the snowshoes stayed on.

The Hummocks trail is an interpretive trail, which I usually tend to avoid like the bubonic plague. But this one, I give credit to: it's an outstanding (and unpaved, thank god), undulating, 2.5 mile walk through the hammered landscape of the North Fork of the Toutle River, where the landslide deposited 3.7 billion cubic yards of earth fourteen miles down the valley. You literally walk upon ruined pieces of the mountain's previous summit- hummocks.

From the Hummocks trail, we picked up the Boundary trail, which quickly winds its way up the ridgeline on its way to Johnston Ridge Observatory. Once around a corner, the wind found us and remained fierce for the remainder of our hike.

Upon hitting wind-scoured snow, the trail was lost, and in this area, there is no hope of finding any trace of trail once it is gone. So tortured, so unique is the landscape, no semblance of any path remains once it disappears under snow. In summer, the Boundary trails hugs the cliffs, traipsing its delicate, precarious way to the observatory. With the snow and wind and the awkwardness of snowshoes strapped to our feet, we stayed high and left of the trail, climbing a large promontory overlooking the Loowit Viewpoint. 

Here, the true nature of the 1980 eruption becomes painfully clear, the landscape literally pounded flat, scoured naked and raw by the mountain. In the summer, the pumice, riding the almost-always-windy landscape, soaks into everything: hair, teeth, eyelashes, nose, camera gear. It's like taking a bath in a crystallized sand dune.

Hugging the cliffs, March 2010

I sat, buffeted by the wind, watching the mountain, my vision tracing the undulating lines left over by the landslide, taking in the tormented color of the earth, the snow-covered silhouettes of the Mount Margaret backcountry and Mount Adams gracing the skyline. I sat for a long time, until I was almost too cold to move, even though I was now wearing everything I owned. From the trailhead, the temperature had dropped 25 degrees.

These are the days I need to remain grounded, to resettle my soul, to remain humbled in the face of all that is before me. 

Time to tackle pharmacology again.