Saved by Ski Patrol
For us in the Pacific Northwest, our winter looked like a straight dud of a season before taking a full 180° turn this February. However, stubborn high pressure ridges, statewide drought concerns, and ski season woes lingered from November through January with all fingers pointed at El Nino and climate change. The skiing, to me, had been okay so far. However, the bluebird days on the slopes were some of my favorite moments. And I got a chance to climb Mt. Hood for the first time just a few weekends ago. Let me tell you about my adventure up to the summit. It did not go as planned.
The morning of our summit attempt started at midnight on a Friday as we headed out of PDX. Fog was creeping up the sides of the interstate as we drove out of the city. In the car was Elise, my best friend and adventure partner in crime. Behind the wheel was my longtime college friend and skilled mountaineer, Derek. The plan was to get to Timberline Lodge and skin up Palmer snowfield. We'd then hike to the summit, aiming for sunrise, and enjoy a nice ski back down to the lodge.
The drive into the mountains was a quick one at that hour. I quizzed the two on space trivia and realized I didn't know much about space either. We pulled into Timberline Lodge to at least 20 other cars already parked with a handful of hungry hikers. We strapped our gear to our packs, high fived, and set off into the wilderness. The snow had a glossy film of ice on top that reflected the moonlight from above. We were able to do much of our hiking just by moonlight with the calm winds humming by. Up ahead, I could see lines of climbers already at the top of Palmer. Seeing that justified the fact that we weren't the craziest ones on the mountain.
By 5am, spirits were still high. As we continued past the Palmer lift, the snowpack had turned into an ice field with intricate spiky patterns of rime. The high impact steps were destroying the integrity of my right knee. I was beginning to worry as the pain intensified with every step and every switchback across the ice field. With another 3,000' to climb until summit, I decided to embrace the suck and carry on.
Besides the knee pain, the moment was truly cathartic. The sun was rising and refracting reds and oranges on the earth below. I could see the rolling hills for miles and start to make out the neighboring volcanoes. The summit looked close as we rested at 9,700'. A few hikers passed us on their way down and reported that the Pearly Gates passageway was unclimbable. Unstable ice had formed over the snow and loose chunks were falling off. I looked to Derek and Elise and exclaimed that the pain was just too much to carry on if we couldn't summit anyways. I was unable to bend my knee at that point. However, the views, the snacks, the company, and the workout still made the pain worth it.
After a quick photoshoot, Derek wrapped my knee and we turned back down. The two were much faster than me. My left quad was feeling the burn as I crab-limped to the top of Palmer lift. Multiple people heading up to the summit stopped to offer help and medical attention and I brushed them aside with a smile. "I'll be fineeeee!" I'd figured that once I got back on my skis, it would be a fast trip down Palmer to the car. Once again, things did not go as planned.
At this point, the sun had warmed the snow on Palmer to the perfect consistency. However, unable to bend my knee without a shooting pain, I realized I still wouldn't be able to ski. I could see the Magic Mile lift below, so my plan was to glissade down while Elise and Derek boarded to the lodge. I'd then ride the Magic Mile chair down to the lodge and meet them there. It probably wouldn't take more than 30 minutes. So I thought...
Derek and Elise set off while I fireman carried my skis on my shoulders and continued limping down Palmer. The sun was beating on me as I shamefully tried to act normal. Imagine a lone skier carrying her skies down a popular run while folks zipped by. Over 15 people stopped to ask if I needed help or wanted my skis carried to the lodge. I continued to brush them away. The frustration formed hot tears in my eyes as I continued limping down. I could see the Magic Mile lift ahead, yet it felt so far away. A young couple finally stopped me with extremely concerned looks on their faces. They told me they had flagged down the snowcat who'd called ski patrol for me. I was thankful because the pain was becoming unbearable. However, I was fearful of what could be in the headlines.
"LOCAL WEATHER GIRL SAVED ON PALMER SKI LIFT"
I really didn't want this to be a massive ordeal. A few weekends prior, a man had to be saved just above the Palmer snowfield and our own station sent out a reporter to cover a story on it. Now my situation was much less severe. But I wanted it to fly completely under the radar. I was planning to give a fake name and stay bundled in my snow gear should they ask who I was. I thanked the couple and within ten minutes, ski patrol came flying down palmer to save me. Long story short, the nice men and women in red carried my skis while I rode in a toboggan to the first aid room at the lodge. Derek and Elise had also called ski patrol on me since it had taken me 45 minutes to hobble halfway down Palmer and I wasn't returning their phone calls. I definitely learned a lesson. I still can't push myself on these treks until I get knee surgery. But still worth the adventure. We capped off the trip with many laughs, ice packs, and amazing thai food in Portland. Cheers to the next adventure and thank you to Ski Patrol!!!!