It has been a looonnnggg time since I was last on cross country skis. I believe it was the last time Mia and I went up to the Methow Valley for a long weekend that I strapped boards to my feet. Down our way we’ve got Teacup Nordic Trails up near Mt Hood as one of the closer options. For some strange reason, we’ve never been.
A group conversation this past fall about backcountry XC skiing tickled my fancy once again. Then, almost by magic, the next LL Bean catalogue showed up at our house with some new skis that I had never seen before. LL Bean had both the Altai Skis (no longer listed on their website as of January 16, 2023) and then a house brand ski they called “The Sliding Snowshoe“. These seemed perfect for what I wanted to do. I already owned skis for groomed trails, but I wanted something that could handle ungroomed trails. The fact that these two LL Bean options didn’t require special boots was an added bonus.
Mia was kind enough to have a chat with Santa Claus before Christmas, and on the 25th of December, I was surprised and psyched to see the Altai Hok skis under the tree.
I am by no means an expert XC skier. Heck, I barely qualify beyond beginner stage! The Altai Hok skis are nice for me because they are not the fastest ski downhill given the integrated skin and they are relatively wide for nice float but slower speed too. The metal edges added a degree of control I was not used to compared to my Classic XC skis.
December was a good month for snow up at Mt Hood. January however has been warmer and wetter than normal. This has led to a lot of melting at the lower elevations. However, when the weekend forecast was showing favorable conditions a group of us started to form a plan.
Trillium Lake is a popular option, but Colby had better suggestions with the 44-Trails area and Tilly Jane. The forecast originally called for a drop in temperatures Saturday into Sunday morning, that didn’t happen quite as quickly as we were hoping though. Because it was still raining (pretty hard too) at even around 2500-3000′ elevation it meant the Tilly Jane area was the better option since it is a bit higher than the 44-Trails.
We opted for the easier option of following the Cloud Cap Rd as opposed to the more demanding and steeper Tilly Jane hiking trail. It was a good reintroduction to skis for me. The grades were never all that steep, and the snowpack was a bit sticky. Also, we had no set agenda on distance or time. Basically, the idea was to go up until we decided to turn around.
Somewhere around 4,400′ elevation the wind started to gust as the trees started to thin. We decided to shoot for another 30 minutes but ended up going maybe 10-15 minutes more before making the call to turn around. We’d done about 3 miles at this point and the wind wasn’t letting up. I was also getting a hot spot on both my ankles from my boots rubbing (I saw two nice quarter size blisters when I got home) and John was feeling his 8 mile run from the previous day. I think Colby was fine, but he was okay with turning around too.
We did decide to try a little more rustic option after descending back into thicker tree cover. The Wagon Rd Trail #642 crosses Cloud Cap Rd so we climbed up for several minutes before turning around for a bit of arm flailing fun.
For the almost two hours of going uphill we ended up going down in about half that time. The snow was stickier (perfect snowman snow) the further down we got, resulting in slower speeds. Again, not really a bad thing for me since I am just getting back into this XC ski thing.
Since Colby was kind enough to drive, I paid for gas and John got him lunch. Turns out that neither Colby or John was familiar with the slogan of “Gas, Grass or Ass” when I tossed that out as a joke. I’m not into drugs and both John and I are married so “Gas” was really the only option that Colby was going to get from the two of us. Colby is originally from Idaho and John from Bristol, UK. We did head down a path to a brief conversation about regional quips/sayings. John has quite a few good ones from the UK, I’ll just leave it at that.
With three, possibly four, more months of potential snow up around Mt Hood I think we are all hoping to get for a few more day trips like this. John has also tossed out the idea of a 2024 Three Sisters Hut to Hut Traverse. I missed out on the 2022 trip a group of friends did.
I feel like I lost a bit of my touch for winter weather recreation. Before moving to Oregon in 2013 I was doing a lot of winter hiking in the White Mountains of NH. I had my gear pretty dialed back then. I forgot a winter shell type jacket and really should have gone with a bigger daypack vs the fanny pack (or hip pouch for you people born after the 1980’s). Lesson (re)learned and no harm no foul.
Thanks for reading,