Thursday, May 29, 2008


With very high snowfall this year - record levels at some locations - the threat of snowmelt flooding has been a concern. There is still 9 feet (2.75 meters) of snow at 5,000 feet (1524 meters) on Mount Hood. At 6,000 feet (1829 meters) near Timberline Lodge there is nearly 14 feet (4.25 meters). This is more on the ground that falls many years.

In April 2002 we had heavy rains combined with melting snowpack to produce a moderate flood, perhaps 37 or 38 feet (11 meters) above sea level, or about 15 feet (4.6 meters) above the rivers summer levels. The peak lasted less than a day.

This year, despite continual cool wet weather, no large rain events have come along. A 5-day heat wave starting May 15th gave local highs from 84 to 95 (29 to 35 Celsius) and began rapid snowmelt. Since then the river has kept at 28 to 31 feet (9 meters) above sea level with the continuing meltoff at high elevations. No dramatic flooding is happening, but the sustained high levels are unique in our 20 years living on the banks of the Clackamas.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

White River Run

I've been a busy boy lately and haven't been prompt about posting events I've done, so this one is about two months behind. On March 2nd two of us skied up White River Canyon on Mount Hood. Our route was only about 2.5 miles (4 km) each way but seemed longer with the constantly changing scenery and elevation. The sno-park elevation is just under 4300 feet (1310 meters); we topped out at about 5470 feet (1670 meters). Others that day were much higher on the mountain.

Both the low outwash plain route and the upper bench route up the White River start out from the parking area along the same track. Excess outwash is used to make what in summer is a road, and in winter a broad ski and snowshoe route. Before long the two split and the upper route climbs somewhat steeply to the upper bench while the lower drops onto the windy valley floor.

Near the start before the two routes split

Our route followed the upper bench rather than the outwash plain. Though higher, the partial tree cover and the adjacent White River / Salmon River high divide makes for less wind and exposure. The views are much better with the higher position.

Years back snowshoeing was almost unheard of. Nowadays it has become common, and it appeared that the majority of people at White River today were using them. Compared to cross country skiing its a slow sport but wonderfully stable, low impact and mostly risk-free.

Following snowshoe tracks up to the Upper Bench was simple. This picture is from where the top is reached. The Outwash Plain route is a hundred or so feet below (30 meters). In the upper left of the picture below is an early sign of fog rolling in, spoiling the clear weather we began with.

Partway up from the lip of the Upper Bench, with the other route below.

The snowshoer's track kept close to the steep dropoff, much closer than skiers would habitually go. These routefinders seem unfazed by the potential for unstable cornices. We made plans not to follow this path on the way down.

Closeup of the edge of the Upper Bench

The upper bench has long been home to a tall forest of lodgepole pines. Unfortunately this woodland has been struck by pine bark beetles. The now dead trees still stand, many oozing pitch from the wounds caused by this insect. Judging by the brown but still-on-the-tree needles, these fatalities occurred just last summer. For more details about this situation, see these earlier posts:

Beetles, Fire and Changed Environments

Olallie Scenic Area Highlands

Formerly lively forest of lodgepole pine

Snow conditions were fine for this trip, very deep, easy to grip and climb, and of moderate speed for the downhill runs. Once the bench proper is reached, the slope is easy, with occasional steeper sections into the dry creeks. The open forest is easily negotiated even at higher rates of speed.

The Upper Bench ends abruptly at 5100 feet (1550 meters), after about a mile and three-quarters (2.8 kilometers) travel. Straight ahead and to the left very steep terrain ("as steep as ground can lie") leads up to the high divide between White River and Salmon River, and a little farther via a narrow neck of ridge to Timberline Lodge at 5900 feet (1800 meters). One snowshoe party took off up to the left; later they could be seen at lunch in a clump of trees at the edge of the dropoff. Off to the other side the route drops into the moraine area of White River. This route had already been used, showing the snowbridge over the stream was solid. Making a fun run down and across, we soon were to the small group of trees shown in the picture below. Then it was up the moraine ridge to the left.


Skiers at the base of the moraines of White River

The picture above shows the shadow from the continually thickening fogbank. As we quickly gained elevation climbing the small moraine, snow conditions deteriorated. Areas of ski-slowing wind crust alternated with faster soft snow. Dodging the bad patches hardly slowed us at all.

Below is a fog-shrouded shot from our high point. A shallow depression gave us minimal protection from wind; the sun strove to warm us through the fog while we took lunch. The view is to the south along the Cascade Mountains. Without the fog many peaks and ridges would have been visible, as far as Mount Jefferson 48 miles distant.

From about 5470 feet (1670 meters), our high point

Looking to the east and northeast, we spied ski tracks and skiers tackling some really steep slopes with telemark equipment. In the picture below, both the large Triangular Moraine on the left and the smaller one just right of it were tracked from top to bottom.

White River Tracks

We watched a few skiers chew the slopes of Triangular Moraine before they departed down the valley floor. Earlier one had linked turns down the moraine on the right, perhaps coming from Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area. Approaches to the top of either moraine are long, steep and not for the weary; but a spendy lift ticket at Meadows would shorten that route. None of these skiers opted for a second climb and run.

Our own route down involved regaining the Upper Bench where even the steepest sections did not overcome the slow snow. We dropped down the steep upper bowl to the outwash plain to finish.