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Skiing and slipping along the PCT

The tracks led to a trail that was tempting because, well, just because.

We clipped into our cross-country skis, then instead of taking our usual route that connects with the Big Mac and Petunia trails, we glided across the snow-covered Summit Sno-Park parking lot to the place where the ski tracks headed north. At an intersection a short way up, the sign at a junction offered two choices, head toward Brown Mountain or continue north toward Fourmile Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail.

We headed north, crossing a bridge. As the trail gradually climbed, we followed the tracks through sometimes thick forest. At sections where fallen trees or piles of limbs blocked the trail, we — just as the track-setters had done — angled around the obstacles. Most were easy diversions, but at one — again, just as the unknown others had done — we side-stepped up and around the lumbering tree before returning to the trail.

Even near the summit of Highway 140 between Medford and Klamath Falls, an elevation of just over 5,000 feet, winter really hadn’t really set in the day we were up there. On the Monday before Christmas, the trail was only thinly covered with snow in places. Our poles punched through soft sections of snow to dirt. More worryingly, the snow along extended sections, especially along frequent curvy turns shaded by trees, had melted and frozen, leaving an ice-like surface. Unless temperatures warmed, coming down would be like ice skating.

That would come later.

Instead we enjoyed views of the sometimes sunny blue skies and the often densely forested terrain. Most of all, we just enjoyed being outside, sometimes kicking and gliding but more often making new creases in the previously laid track.

From the Summit Sno-park, the PCT eventually meets a junction that forks west up Mount McLoughlin. We didn’t go that far. About two hours in, as the meandering trail steepened and the sky darkened, we did an about-face.

Skiing downhill is fun — when under control, ideally on fresh snow. With freshly waxed skis, I was seldom in control. Most of the ride down was fun and swift, with some sections mimicking the feeling of ice skating on Plexiglass. A few times I totally lost it, with both skis jetting skyward and me crashing backward. I felt like a quarterback taking a thumping from a 350-pound linebacker, landing at least two times on my back, then feeling slightly dazed while trying to catch my breath and get upright.

My friend, who had gone ahead because her skis were wider, heavier and had metal edges, politely stopped and turned around to investigate without hovering. I expect she heard me expelling expletives I didn’t know I knew.

After several thumps I clicked out and carried my skis, something I’d never done. But after only a short recovery, it was back on my skis heading downhill, refusing to let the outing end on the wrong kind of downhill note.

Since that day, the mountains have seen several snowfalls, so your descents are likely to be smoother than ours. Here’s hoping we get lots more snow.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Photo by Lee Juillerat A cross-country skier follows tracks laid by a previous skier across a footbridge on the Pacific Crest Trail.