Mother Nature has been anything but generous to the skiers of the Pacific Northwest so far this year. Bouts of snow have been sandwiched in between long periods of warm and wet or bone dry days. The downhill crowd is getting a little stir crazy, myself included. This past weekend, despite a recent stretch of arid conditions, I convinced myself that the sunny forecast in central Oregon would yield spring-like corn snow in the Sisters backcountry. Unwilling to face the prospect of another day of laps on the Palmer snowfield, I struck out on my own hoping to find the goods, eternally optimistic.
Santa delivered an early present this year - a cold Arctic air mass and record low temperatures. The temps started dropping last Sunday night, and over the course of the last week they stayed consistently below freezing with overnight lows in the Gorge dropping down to 10-15 deg. F. It's been a few years since we've had a good, solid freeze in the area, and people were stoked to go check out the ice conditions!
Rumors started to trickle in during Thursday and Friday, and it didn't sound overly promising. Despite the cold temps, most routes in the Gorge either hadn't come in at all or were super thin. Many of the lines depend on seeps and spray, which is kicked up by the strong east winds that prevail when a powerful low pressure system moves onshore. But we've had a relatively dry fall and for some reason this system didn't bring those traditional mean winds. Still, it's not too often that we get temps that are this cold, so out we went in search of the elusive Columbia River Gorge ice climbing.