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home : columns : columns April 30, 2016

3/5/2013 2:24:00 PM
Touring Hoodoo's upper Nordic trails
Spectacular vistas, such as this birds-eye view of Mt. Washington, can be seen from Far Loop, at the end of Hoodoo’s upper Nordic trail system. photo courtesy Craig Eisenbeis
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Spectacular vistas, such as this birds-eye view of Mt. Washington, can be seen from Far Loop, at the end of Hoodoo’s upper Nordic trail system. photo courtesy Craig Eisenbeis

By Craig Eisenbeis

Back in January, I reported on Hoodoo's lower Nordic trail system, which I have skied a number of times. It wasn't until last month, however, that I finally got around to skiing Hoodoo's outback on the upper Nordic trail system and enjoying its beautiful mountain views.

Readers who follow my outdoor columns may recall that, while I have certainly been enjoying cross-country skiing lately, I lay no claim to any lofty level of expertise. As a result, I have always scrupulously heeded Hoodoo's clear warnings that their upper Nordic trail system is for "advanced" skiers only.

My skiing buddy, however - who has continually nudged me further into the Nordic world - seems to have a different vision of my skiing future. So, it really came as no surprise when, one day I heard, "Let's do the upper trail today!" Since I'm more afraid of saying "no" than I am of pushing the envelope, we did.

Hoodoo's upper Nordic system starts on the northern slopes of Hoodoo Butte and wraps around the west side of the mountain to a turnaround loop south-southwest of its starting point. The trail pretty much hugs the 5,000-foot elevation contour for what is billed as an 8.8-kilometer ski tour, passing under the lower part of the Hodag Chair Lift en route.

A trip around the upper trail system starts with something a little different from the usual cross-country ski tour: a chair lift ride. That's where the "upper" part of this adventure comes into play. Skyline Trail, as it is called, takes off from the top of the Manzanita Chair Lift; and, although crossing downhill runs in a few places, it follows a separate track around the mountain.

The trail is fairly straightforward between the Manzanita and Hodag Chairs, with several very reasonable ups and downs but no terrifying slopes or obstacles. Once past Hodag, the trail trends upward and farther south.

Eventually, a decision is necessary because Skyline Trail splits into the "High Road" and the "Low Road." The two join back together at the "Far Loop." Together these three trail segments form a figure eight at the end of the upper trail system.

I took one look at the steep slope dropping off down the Low Road and I immediately opted for the High Road. About that time, a skate skier came flashing by at breakneck speed, smiled, waved, and cooly rocketed down the steep Low Road exit to the right. I'm not at that point, yet.

The High Road continues on uphill through a very nice sub-alpine forest of fir, hemlock, and whitebark pine. At one point, we passed what appeared to be fox scat in the middle of the trail, which had been groomed only that morning.

After a few hundred yards, the High and Low Roads reconvene at the Far Loop, or the midpoint of the figure eight. On our first time through, we stayed left at this junction and followed the Far Loop to where it - as you probably guessed - loops back around and returns to the High-Low junction.

There are many spectacular views along this trail, but the most rewarding are to be seen at the farthest portion of the Far Loop. Here, the vista looks out across the frozen surface of Big Lake, far below, and directly across to the most picturesque aspect of Mt. Washington. Lining up in a southerly leading parade, The Three Sisters, The Husband, and other points along the Cascade Crest trail off into the distance.

We stopped for a lunch break atop some bare rocks and enjoyed the beautiful cloudless day. There was not a breath of wind. We saw a total of four other skiers on the trail that day.

On our way back, we headed down a fairly steep trail where the Far Loop rejoins the High and Low Roads. Since there was an ample run out at the bottom, I took the hill down after only a moment's hesitation. Although I planned all along to take the Low Road back, I slowed down by running back up the slight slope of the High Road. I then cut across to the Low Road to rejoin my friend, who had been touring through the trees.

At one point on the Low Road, we came across some snowmobile tracks, where thoughtless operators had cut up the groomed Nordic trail. The only snowmobilers we saw were courteous and stayed on their own trails. In the distance, we could see others engaged in a death-defying maneuver called highmarking on nearby Sand Mountain.

According to the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, "Highmarking is the practice of climbing steep slopes with a snowmobile to attain the highest mark/location on the slope, or get over the top. It is one of the most dangerous things you can do on a snowmobile. Highmarking accounts for more than 63 percent of the avalanche fatalities involving snowmobilers in North America."

Highmarking is extremely dangerous because the best terrain for it is typically in areas where avalanche danger is the greatest. Because of this activity, snowmobilers are the recreation group most likely to die in an avalanche. The Forest Service recommends sticking to low-profile, non avalanche-prone terrain.

Continuing along the Low Road, we eventually reached the steep hill where the High and Low Roads split. We found it necessary to sidestep up the steepest portion. We continued back on Skyline Trail and had almost returned when I noticed that I'd lost my water bottle. Neither of us were ready to quit, so back we went to do it again.

We followed the same route, staying left at the Low Road drop off, but turned right onto the Far Loop the second time. We returned by that same leg, but this time I actually made the left turn at the bottom of the hill, back onto the Low Road, without using the High Road run-off. I finally found my water bottle along the Low Road, but it had been completely destroyed by an aggressive raven.

On my second run up the steep Low Road hill, I was able to herringbone up the entire hill without sidestepping. By the time we returned to Manzanita, it was late afternoon; and I felt that we'd had a pretty good day. One more adventure was yet to come, however.

From the top of Manzanita, the only way back to the lodge and parking lot is via the downhill ski runs. Up until this point, I hadn't felt threatened by the "advanced" rating of the upper trail. That was about to change.

We headed down the green (easy) run called "Over Easy." There is a steep dogleg near the bottom that I've always thought a bit much for a "green" run. On alpine skis, though, I've never given it a thought; not so on cross-country skis. After crashing a couple of times, I finally took off my skis and walked down through the stretch between the "slow" banners. My more experienced friend, of course, had no problem negotiating the area and even carried my skis through the difficult portion for me.

It was kind of an ignominious conclusion, but it failed to tarnish an otherwise delightful day. Hoodoo's upper trail system is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. A Nordic trail pass is required ($14), and includes a ride up on the Manzanita Chair Lift.

All of Hoodoo's Nordic Trails can be skied for free Monday (except holidays) through Thursday. Nordic trails are not groomed or patrolled on those days, and getting to the upper system is quite an uphill hike. The lower trail system, however, is readily accessible from the parking lot. Sno-Park permits are not required in Hoodoo's parking lot. Hoodoo is located 20 miles west of Sisters on

Highway 20.

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