June 23, 2016 / Comments (2)

Celebrating Summer Solstice 2016 on Mount Hood’s Illumination Saddle

What makes a party great?

For starters you need friends and laughter. Drinks and food. Music. Maybe some good-hearted shenanigans to keep things rolling.

Now take all of the above and send it uphill, 10,000 feet above sea level, to a setting that is simply spectacular. Make people throw their goodies in their backpacks, slather on the sun block and earn it. That way they’ll appreciate it when they get it.

I heard about the annual Summer Solstice Party on Mount Hood’s Illumination Saddle for the first time not long after launching Shred Hood three years ago, and I finally made it up for the first time this year. It did not disappoint.

I made the trip up with my daughter Emily, fresh back from her world travels in Jordan, Egypt, Thailand and Japan. I got Em into skiing and mountains when she was a little kid, and now I can barely keep up with her. She had a terrible bike accident a few years ago, and it makes my heart sing to see her fully recovered, ripping it up the mountain with purposeful strides and a big smile on her face.

We decided to climb up from Timberline Lodge, skipping out on the chairlift-to-the-top-of-Palmer option to make a full day out of it and get some extra exercise. The day was clear and hot, with amazing visibility. A good day to be alive and on Mount Hood.

The summer shred scene was in full swing at Timberline, with kid ski racers from all over the place tearing down through the gates and snowboarders and freeskiers throwing some huge air in the Superpipe. We did our best to stay out of everyone’s way as we slogged it up the Mile and up Palmer to a lovely lunch spot in the melting snow. By the time we had climbed up above Palmer there was a line of people heading west across the snow for Illumination Saddle, and the approach was looking lovely in the afternoon light.

It was like a pilgrimage for the Mt. Hood faithful: Meadows regulars Sean Jacks, Stacy Larsen, Dan Kneip, Allison Covington Wibby, Bob Fernandez, Jen Winklepleck; freeski superstars Tommy Ellingson, Tanner Hall, Henrik Harlaut and Hudson Knoll; freeride super-couple Randa Shahin and Josh Larkin; ski mountaineers Dave Watson and Brian Ellsworth, Shawn Hokkanen and Greg Coulter; mountain photographers Richard Hallman, Dan Sherwood, Joe Poulton and many, many more. Somebody hauled up a propane grill and 10 pounds of chicken with homemade marinade, the beers and whiskey flasks were flowing generously, and Tommy and his crew built a couple of massive jumps for an aerial show.

Here’s a shot of Tommy Ellingson in his native habitat, photo by Dan Sherwood. It was awesome to have Tommy back on the mountain spreading his love for the mountains with infectious enthusiasm:

Joe Poulton took this shot from down below:

The weather came and went, from searing sunshine to harsh winds and full-on white-out. After sweating it out on the uphill climb I got pretty chilled hanging out in the clouds. Fortunately, this is a community of great generosity when it comes to sharing layers of clothing and body-warming shots of Pendleton’s.

Danny Roberts and Judah Jones, photo by Sean Jacks

Five hours at 10,000 feet passed like 45 minutes, and before long we were making plans for the ski down, hoping for a decent weather window because skiing in a white-out is the worst.

The skies opened up on cue as we dropped down into the refrozen snow at around 8 pm. We linked turns in that beautiful setting until the cold white reasserted itself and all visibility vanished. Traversing through the whiteout now, the long, hard endless left turn to avoid the Mt. Hood Triangle and work your way back toward Palmer and the Mile and the Lodge, followed by another window of weather bliss for charging down the fall line, another white-out traverse, and one final opening in the sky for a highly enjoyable 2,000 final feet of vertical, down Palmer and the Mile and back to the Lodge, with plenty of light remaining as we clicked out of our bindings at 8:30 pm.

Other hard-core party-goers toughed it out for the sunset at Illumination, and they made it down through the sketchy weather just fine. I’ve been watching the photos roll through Facebook for days now, and as good as it is to see the mountain community so happy and united, it was even better being there. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the solstice, the mountain, and the Mount Hood community.

Big thanks to Sean Jacks, Dan Sherwood, Joe Poulton and Emily Burchfield for sharing their photos for this article.

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Last modified: June 23, 2016

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