- Written by Asit Rathod
- Category: Culture/Style
- Published: January 29, 2015
- Last Updated: January 31, 2015
Call it climate change or the natural rhythm of our earth, but all I know about the last few years here on Mount Hood is that it doesn't snow much in December and January. Still, even in a low-snow year, nothing lifts the spirits more than a last-minute mini-vacation to Mount Hood.
"Hey love what do you think about taking Friday off and heading up to the mountain?" is all the convincing it took to get my better half Charlie to start packing.
Charlie and I met like many people these days meet, online. Long story short, single mother of two great little people and an eternally life long bachelor… We have had our ups and downs but one constant always does remain: we love each other. We like to say the ending to our story has yet to be written.
There are so many great places to stay on the west side of Mount Hood, between Timberline Lodge, Collins Lake Resort, Best Western Mount Hood Inn, Grand Lodges, The Lodge at Government Camp, and The Resort at the Mountain just to name a few. We went with the Resort, left Portland after work on Thursday and got to Welches by 6pm. Dinner at El Burro Loco topped with a hot tub finished the day off perfectly.
“It's nice to see you folks again!" was the most sincere greeting from Nathan at the Altitude Restaurant Friday morning. Nathan is the nicest guy in the world along with all the staff at The Resort, and breakfast was exactly what the doctor ordered.
We had all kinds of plans for a hike or mountain bike ride for the day but sometimes the lazy side wins out. Folks from sunny states might be a little more tan and brag about how much sun they get, but I believe it's all nonsense. I love lazy rainy Oregon down days and have no guilt associated with them because it's like the weather is telling us to just chill.
We spent the afternoon having cocktails at Charlie's and a pizza at the Ratskeller in Government Camp. All this excitement was followed by a hot tub, watching a film in bed, and a four-hour nap. Rainy down days rock! Dinner at El Burro Loco again and a murder mystery episode of Dateline was all it took to have us snoozing like babies.
Saturday morning we picked up wraps from Wraptitude and donuts from the Huckleberry Inn and headed off to Mount Hood Meadows to visit old friends and ski the morning away. We were debating whether to check out the Nordic Extravaganza or hit Vista park as it was going off with 2 big jumps and a wide rail field flowing into Fireweed and the new mini-pipe. We chose to alpine ski and the biggest stoke of the weekend came from our shuttle driver when we offered him a doughnut. It reminded me that life is really simple if you let it be. He was so pumped up about the doughnut all he could yell over and over again was "THIS IS THE BIGGEST DOUGHNUT EVER!!!!" He stopped the shuttle twice to show his bros in the parking lot "THE BIGGEST DOUGHNUT EVER!!!"
We had a blast skiing Meadows in the morning but we thought it was time to get a little cardio exercise. So we jumped in the car and headed over to Trillium Lake. Typically in January we would bust out the snow shoes or cross country skis but this isn't a typical winter. We packed our lunch, wine, and Jameson into the back pack with our hiking boots and spring clothing on. The memories came flooding back as Trillium Lake was my first experience into skiing at the age of five. Just like when I was five the beauty of Mount Hood behind the lake along with the little birds that would feed from our hands made me as excited as the doughnut guy!
After our hike we hit the hot tub at The Resort and showered before heading to dinner at The Skyway in Rhododendron. We walked in and the energy seemed awkward. The menu is off the Richter scale for both a vegetarian like myself and a old school Texan meat eater like Charlie. We sat down and started ordering like a couple that hadn't eaten in weeks while laughing at ourselves — but this weird feeling that I had since walking in was only getting stronger…
Lo and behold, the funny feeling I had was one of my oldest friends and Mount Hood legend Josh Frazier looming behind me. After a long hug and High-Fives Josh sat down and joined us for dinner. His wife and little person were out so he had a hall pass to come out and have a bite to eat. It was fitting that the Winter X-Games were on the tele, which led into chatting about who Is Josh Frazier. Charlie assumed he was another crazy friend from my past who now has a real job and family. It was fun explaining to her how significant Josh and the original Mount Hood crew were to modern day skiing. Every generation has the breakout athletes and innovators that many times get lost in history because their creativity was so far ahead of the marketability of their skiing. Josh is a true legend; humble, happy, and innovator not for glory or money but because simply it was fun. What a perfect way to end the perfect day on the mountain!
"Stop talking to me and go back to sleep!" was all Charlie could mutter at 5 am. I was so excited to get our Sunday underway I couldn't sleep. Finally at 7 I ordered some eggs and toast for breakfast while packing our gear for the day’s adventure. We made it up to Timberline by 9 and true to the forecast it was sunny, 60 degrees, and the Palmer lift was running to 8500 feet and serving up nice groomers. Guido, head groomer and two-decade-plus employee, along with his crew of groomers at Timberline are magicians. Everyone loves powder but a perfectly manicured groomed run is a close runner-up to a foot of fresh.
The back pack was filled with cheese, crackers, grapes, cookies, cigars, wine, and whiskey. It was warm and gorgeous on the mountain. The views were incredible and the mountain was teeming with climbers eager to grab a slice of the beautiful day. We started up past Palmer to one of my most favorite places on earth, Illumination Saddle.
Illumination Saddle is located at around 9500ft on the south side of Mount Hood and gives unobstructed vistas of the Reid glacier, coast range to the west, and all the beauty of Mount Jefferson along with the Three Sisters to the south. We found a perfectly carved out base camp and began to get comfortable. Out came the snacks as I turned up the volume with MGMT, Empire of the Sun, and poured the wine and whiskey. Ching-ching went our glasses as I lit my cigar while sitting in silence to enjoy the moment. We looked towards Timberline and saw a merry band of three ladies skinning towards us. As they approached we only thought it appropriate to offer up a cocktail. Big smiles, food, whiskey, and stories were shared with our new amigas Tasha, Jill, and Margo. I love the mountains for the fact that new friends become good friends extremely quickly from sharing a pure love of the mountains.
I have always had two personal rules about skiing and mountaineering: 1. Safety 2. Having Fun. Everything else falls in line after the first two. When I am out with Charlie my goal is to have fun and if the conditions permit push her out of her comfort zone to help her grow and enjoy the experience.
The snow glowed a bright orange and we couldn't make a bad turn if we tried. All we could do was scream while laughing uncontrollably in excitement as we skied 2000ft of untouched snow into Big Zig Zag Canyon before traversing back to Timberline. But it was getting dark and I could see Charlie was getting scared and uncomfortable. I knew she would before leaving the saddle. What I also knew was if we left earlier the sunset would never have been as pretty. The alpenglow made the mountain look like it was on fire. So I weighed the benefit and the risk along with her comfort level, and made a choice.
When we finally made it back to the top of the Magic Mile, Charlie's excitement and awe turned into fear and anxiety. I could see the change happen and she was rushing to get down even though she was exhausted. I stopped her and made her breath with me, reassuring her I had her back. I told her we would not move until we were ready. In the moment I know she hated it but looking back I think she grew her self-confidence about being in the mountains.
"We need to do this more often love!!" was all I could say while we danced in the parking lot to some seriously terrible pop song called Jealous by Nick Jonas. Yes, that is of the formally broken up pop band Jonas Brothers. Rolling into Government Camp we pulled into our final destination of the weekend, Best Western Mount Hood Inn. We were greeted by the nicest semi-retired New Yorker named Mike. He told us stories about how much he loves working at the Mount Hood Inn and the ability of Oregonians — or their lack of ability — driving in snow. We were pumped to walk up to the room and fire up the Jacuzzi tub to melt away the day.
While chatting and driving back home Monday morning one thing became overtly clear. As we grow older there is a tendency to become jaded. The sense of adventure falls victim to us hedging our time to create the perfect day in the outdoors. We will only go skiing if it's a minimum of ten inches of fresh powder and sunny. The fact is the mountains never really change and will always give us life-long special moments, if we just go out and try to experience them. If Charlie and I had listened to all the negative speak about our winter on Mount Hood we never would have been reminded of the pure stoke from a simple doughnut or the beauty of Illumination Saddle in alpenglow.
So to the super-stoked shuttle-driving doughnut dude I dedicate this winter and the happiness every day on Mount Hood will bring in 2015.
Asit Rathod is a first generation East Indian born and raised in Oregon. He started x-country skiing at the age of five on Mount Hood and spent five winters in Chamonix, France and four summers in Las Lenas, Argentina. He is currently the ambassador to skiing for the great state of Oregon and is quickly approaching his 200th ski descent from the summit of Mount Hood.