Artist Point

  • Date: December 31, 2017 – January 1, 2018
  • Location: North Cascades
  • Start: Heather Meadows at Mt. Baker Ski Area
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Snowshoe Routes: Washington by Dan A. Nelson; Washington Trails Association

The full moon shone brightly, illuminating a vast, snowy landscape crisscrossed with all the paths we’d taken that afternoon. I recalled the warmth of the sun from earlier in the day as I vigorously wiggled my fingers and toes within their gloves and boots, attempting the impossible task of staying warm with temps hovering around 10 to 12 degrees. Here we [Mack, Cassie, and I] were on New Year’s Eve freezing our asses off on a snow camping trip, just like the previous year. This time, however, we weren’t alone. Sitting out in the snow just a few yards from our tent, we were surrounded by strangers whose faces I only knew from their Instagram profiles. Before our trip began, I wasn’t entirely sure how camping with a new group of people would pan out, especially given my history of social anxiety. It turned out to be the best NYE decision we’ve ever made.

Our best family portrait ever captured by Stacia

 

Day 1: Heather Meadows to Artist Point, with side trip to Huntoon Point (3 miles)

The sun was high in the sky by the time we arrived at Mount Baker Ski Area. Bluebird weather meant everyone was out enjoying the superb snow conditions. What better way to spend the last day of 2017? Thankfully, a majority of our group (us included) had caravanned up from Marysville together and managed to get parking next to each other. Phew! At least one of my social anxiety-related fears—finding people I’ve never met in a crowded area–wasn’t going to be an issue. We hit the trail shortly after noon. After sitting in a car for nearly six hours, we were happy to finally be outside breathing in the mountain air. Cassie, who harbors an extreme aversion to being in a moving car, was especially ecstatic to be out and romping in the snow.

The snowpack in the Mount Hood area left much to be desired when we were there a few days earlier. The short trek up to Artist Point more than made up for it. For the first time in a long time we were getting legitimate use out of our snowshoes, too! I hung back, completely enthralled with our surroundings, trying to capture it all on camera. I found myself clumsily waddling to catch up with everyone more than a few times. Despite a couple of hills here and there, the hike up to the ridge was rather mellow. The incredible views along the way (in addition to those from the ridge itself) amounted to a seemingly disproportionate payoff. Even with heavier-than-usual packs, the reward far exceeded the amount of effort needed to reach it. It also meant we still had a few hours to make camp and roam about before sunset.

Austin Pass Visitor Center below Table Mountain
Another of Austin Pass Visitor Center
About half of our group

Typical snow-eating Cassie with Kulshan Ridge in the background
Mount Shuksan!
“Why are you humans so damn slow?”

As soon as we topped out, I was immediately overwhelmed. Southwest of us stood Mount Baker, her slopes glinting beneath the afternoon sun. Just east of us stood the rugged and mighty Mount Shuksan, whose sharp, jagged towers rose high above her long, outstretched arm. God it felt good to be back in the North Cascades. All I wanted to do was drop my pack and begin exploring the expansive Kulshan Ridge, but our first order of business was getting our camp set up. Another couple in the group had made it up earlier in the day and already set up their tent. We all followed suit and situated ourselves in a sort of line, forming a little city along the northeastern side of the ridge.

More “familiar” (i.e. I recognize them from social media) faces began to arrive, including Meghan, the organizer of this NYE snow camping bash, and Rose and Anastasia, the Musical Mountaineers. I’m a little embarrassed to say this because I know I’ll sound like a fangirl, but I was ridiculously excited to be in the presence of basically everyone in our group. Before this event, I already followed many of them on Instagram, consistently drawn to their ability to inspire adventure and foster a love for the outdoors through captivating writing and/or photography. Getting to meet them in person and find that they were all truly wonderful human beings was the cherry on top of the entire experience.

Good afternoon, Baker!
Yeah…we had a big group

Another view of our row of tents
Crowd gathering to hear the Musical Mountaineers!
Rose (keyboard) and Anastasia (violin), the Musical Mountaineers

The afternoon passed far too quickly it seemed. Following Rose and Anastasia’s absolutely magical performance (which I was so happy to have the opportunity to hear in person), the sun began to dip behind Baker. The formerly glistening white landscape took on a blue-ish hue with the receding light. We hustled to the Mount Shuksan viewpoint where Amanda, Stacia, John, Jon, Alissa, and Justin were also capturing the final moments of daylight. A few of us made the additional short side trip up Huntoon Point to watch the sun set behind Baker. The warmth of the sun had now officially left us, but the glow of the full moon beyond Shuksan, as well as the opportunity to continue conversations with new friends, kept us from returning to camp (and warmer layers) for a little while longer.

Photo by John

Photo by (other) Jon
One more Shuksan shot (by Stacia)

The gentle purple and blue of twilight gave way to complete darkness by the time we returned to camp. Everybody sat gathered in the snow, cooking dinner and keeping warm with stoves. We coaxed Cassie out of the tent–she’d been napping in there ever since we’d set it up–and joined the dinner circle. Continuous conversation has never been my forte in large group settings, so I listened, laughed, drank, chimed in occasionally, and enjoyed the unexpected sense of community. I hardly knew any of these people and yet I felt safe and comfortable; I felt a sense of belonging. There were still several hours left until midnight. I knew we weren’t going to make it, especially with the early start we’d had that morning and the long drive back we’d have the following day. Mack, exhausted and a little drunk from all the beer John lugged up to camp, turned in first with Cassie. I hung out for awhile longer until I couldn’t feel my toes then succumbed to the warmth of my sleeping bag.

As I lay inside the tent, unable to actually fall asleep despite being tired, I heard the rest of the group hunker down in their tents shortly thereafter. I tossed and turned for awhile, finding it difficult to fully relax because I had to pee so bad, but unwilling to leave the warmth of my bag and tent. It was 11:50 pm when I finally gave in, threw on my boots, and stepped outside into the cold. The ridge was empty, save for a couple of backcountry skiers; a stark contrast to the bustling crowds of the afternoon. The moon gave off so much light that I didn’t even need a headlamp to walk around. I wandered about for a short while. The only sounds that filled the quiet night came from a few nearby campers shouting “Happy New Year!” and the whoomph from my boots plunging into the snow with each step. A smiled to myself, realizing I’d actually made it to midnight (the first time in years I think). I allowed myself a bit more time to absorb the first few moments of the new year in solitude before returning to the tent. I whispered “Happy New Year” to Mack and Cassie, kissed them softly, then tucked myself back into my sleeping bag. It’s amazing how quickly you warm up (and fall asleep!) when you’re not holding in your pee.

Dinner in the dark
Cassie and Meghan
Such a bright and clear night!
Midnight wanderings
Midnight wanderings continued

 

Day 2: Artist Point to Heather Meadows, with side trip to Huntoon Point (3 miles)

Despite a somewhat restless night, the promise of a breathtaking sunrise got me out of the tent pretty quickly. Mack, Cassie, and I joined Stacia and Jon for another trek up to Huntoon Point. Cassie bounded joyously through the snow and up the boot path. She was well rested now and ready to run and play again. As we walked, I kept my eyes on the melding of colors taking place in the sky and their interaction with the mountainous landscape. The soft pastels of dawn perfectly complemented the wavy, quilted texture of the clouds. Shuksan was still a dark silhouette, but Baker glowed a rosy pink with the first light of day. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more beautiful “first-light-of-day-mountain-glow” than the one from that morning. From Huntoon Point, we could see the sun beginning to rise behind Shuksan and made our way back down to the spot we’d taken pictures at the previous evening. Capturing those first rays of light as our little group stood before it was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip; a perfect and glorious start to the year.

Morning snuggles
Chasing the sunrise

Morning light on Baker

Shuksan sunrise
Finally warming up

Back at camp, champagne bottles were popped in celebration and Meghan was busy whipping up a New Year’s Day feast of turkey bacon and pancakes. I don’t remember what Mack and I ended up making for ourselves (if we made anything at all), but I do remember partaking in the pancakes and sharing both the pancakes and bacon with Cassie, who shot us puppy dog eyes whenever the servings were passed around. The North Cascades had blessed us with yet another perfect weather day. More and more people seeking sunshine and deep snow were making their way up by this point. The solitude of my midnight wandering just a few hours earlier felt like a distant memory, but in its place was a scene filled with families, friends, smiles, laughter, and warm and welcoming exclamations of “Happy New Year!” One by one people our group began to disassemble to pack up camp or begin a new adventure for the day. Our celebration together was coming to an end. Thankfully, in the midst of it all, we did manage to come together for our one and only group shot to mark the occasion.

Breakfast time

Cassie with Stacia and Jon
The crew

2017 was filled with a number of new, outside-the-comfort-zone outdoor experiences for both me and Mack. I’m glad we decided to close out the year and begin the new one with one of those experiences. We’re ready for all the adventures that await us for this new year and, after this trip, look forward sharing a few of them with new friends. I mean, when you meet people who find joy in freezing their asses off outside in the dead of winter, why wouldn’t you hold onto them? Thank you Amanda, Meghan, Matt, Stacia, Jon, Alissa, Justin, John, Allison, and Mitch for your adventurous spirits and welcoming presence. We couldn’t have asked for a more incredible New Year’s.

Tumalo Falls

  • Date: January 21, 2017
  • Location: Central Oregon (Bend)
  • Start: Skyliner Sno Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Duration: 3 hours (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Outdoor Project

Although only a day trip, Tumalo Falls was our first of two adventures during a weekend in Central Oregon. Our original plan was actually to backpack past Tumalo Falls along Tumalo Creek and snow camp somewhere in/near Happy Valley. However, after coming down with a cold a few days prior and realizing we’d be in for two straight days of heavy snow according to the forecast, we decided to turn it into a day hike, then camp at Tumalo State Park before heading to Smith Rock (which will be covered in a separate post) the following day. I was a little bummed at first, but, ultimately, it ended up being a far better idea since we got to explore more of Central Oregon.

We started out from Portland somewhere between 6:30 and 7 am. It usually takes about 3 hours to drive to Bend, but winter road conditions on Hwy 22 slowed us down immensely. We didn’t reach Skyliner Sno Park until 11:30 am. Snow was already falling pretty heavily and the breeze kept blowing it into our faces. We didn’t have our goggles. Of course, the one time we needed them we forgot to pack them. We used our hoods and Buffs to cover up as much as we could and started out.

From Skyliner Sno Park you have two options for getting to the falls: you can continue about 0.4 miles down Skyliner Road to Tumalo Falls Road, which you’ll follow 2.5 miles to the Tumalo Falls Day Use Area, or you can follow the less crowded Tumalo Creek Trail, which begins at the sno park. Usually, we opt for the less crowded trail, but since we were starting much later than anticipated (and the trail option was a little longer), we decided to continue to Tumalo Falls Road.

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The hike to Tumalo Falls was, in all honesty, nothing special. Don’t get me wrong, it looked beautiful! In the end though, it still felt like a plain road walk. Maybe I was just grumpy from the long drive. Or maybe it was because the snowy, cloudy weather was basically obscuring the surrounding landscape save the trees on either side of the road. The 2.5 miles were turning into somewhat of a slog. And, unless you’ve got special running snowshoes, it’s kind of difficult to move very fast. I kept wondering if we should’ve just taken the trail instead. At least Cassie seemed to be enjoying herself. Seeing her face light up and her tongue hang out as she charged and plowed through the snow made seemingly dull moments so much more fun.

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The snow covered footbridge crossing Tumalo Creek indicated that we were just around the corner from the iconic viewpoint of Tumalo Falls. Despite my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about Tumalo Falls Road, I was completely entranced by the dark blue water of the creek flowing through marshamallowy mounds of snow. A perfect prelude to the viewing of the majestic falls just ahead.

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Although we’d seen tons of people along the way, there wasn’t a single person at the viewpoint when we got there! For a few short minutes, we had a magical view of Tumalo Falls all to ourselves. It definitely made the semi-boring walk much more worthwhile.

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We continued a short ways uphill to reach the viewing platform at the top of the falls. It wasn’t nearly as spectacular as actually seeing the falls, but it did offer more space to relax, sit down, and (if I hadn’t been snapping pictures the entire time) enjoy a snack or lunch. It was still snowing though and Cassie started to shiver after a few minutes, so we didn’t break long before we headed back down. Tumalo Creek Trail continues up past this point though, and Mack and I are already making plans to come back after the snow melts to get in some long trail running miles while exploring the numerous other waterfalls along the creek!

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After getting dinner and snacks at a nearby Market of Choice, we drove back out to Tumalo State Park to set up camp. Our plans to backpack in the snow may have fallen through, but we did get to do a less strenuous form of snow camping at the park campground! The spot was already dug out for us, so all we had to do was set up the tent and make sure everything was staked down firmly in the snow. At least we didn’t have to bust out the shovels. We capped off our evening with a mini boysenberry pie from MOC and a steaming cup of cocoa.

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White River Canyon-Boy Scout Ridge

  • Date: January 15, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood
  • Start: White River West Sno Park
  • Distance: 5 miles (but we only did 4)
  • Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 1800 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

After being cooped up in the house the previous weekend, Mack and I couldn’t wait to get out this past weekend. We’ve gotten so used to doing something outside nearly every Saturday and/or Sunday these past few months that it’s hard to skip even one weekend! Even though Portland got dumped with a foot of snow during the week, the freeways were basically clear by the weekend and the weather was shaping up to perfect. We left before sunrise on Sunday morning so we could take our time driving out of the metro area. It was a white-knuckle drive until we reached Mount Hood Highway, where road conditions improved significantly. We arrived at the sno park just after 9 am. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

A race course was being set up and marked when we arrived, so we decided to get a move on, hoping to make it further into our route as to not get caught up in the inevitable crowd. (The event, for those interested, was this one: http://www.xdogevents.com/whiteriver.html) However, as we started to near the ridge, my eyes kept glancing at the White River below, winding its way through untouched powder. It was too enticing. I convinced Mack to descend into the canyon so we could follow the river a little ways before heading back up. It was incredibly peaceful, especially since it deviated from the route that most people take. I kind of wish we’d continued along the river the entire way, but at the time, I thought it would be more sensible to stick to the route we’d already planned. By the time we made it out of the canyon, the snowshoe race/walk had begun and a throng of people were making their way up the same path.

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Here they come!

Although the event looked like fun, as a bystander seeking some degree of solitude, it was a bit frustrating. In addition, Cassie is not a fan of large groups of people and refused to keep moving at times, making our progress even slower. We were able to cut our own path through the snow (parallel to the race course) after making it up the hill and into the trees. The turnaround point for the race came shortly after that. Phew! We breathed a sigh of relief when we realized the rest of our hike would not look like a giant ant trail. As we continued through this sparsely forested section, we only encountered one other group (of XC skiers). Finally some peace and quiet.

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Solitude at last

As we exited the forest, the path skirted the edge of the slope leading into the canyon. The river was now quite a ways below us and Mount Hood stood before us, majestic as always, completely unobscured. What a beautiful day to be outside. I was so happy we’d decided to hold off on our original plan to snowshoe to Tamanawas Falls, which wouldn’t have offered the expansive views we were getting now.

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The final stretch to the upper viewpoint was a steep, but thankfully short, climb. While taking pictures of Mack and Cassie making their way up, I got distracted and forgot to activate the heel lifts on my snowshoes. Mack pointed this out once I caught up about 3/4 of the way up the hill. Oops. Even with the heel lifts, the hill was still tough to tackle. I just felt so clumsy walking in snowshoes! Changing direction on the switchbacks was an ordeal. At one point, we even tried front pointing to safely ascend the steepest section. Definitely wasn’t very effective in snowshoes. I thought about taking them off, but we were almost to the top and I didn’t have a means of strapping them to my pack anyway. I guess Mack and I need to work on our footwork.

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The hill

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When we reached the top, we were greeted by a relatively flat, mildly forested viewpoint. A perfect spot to stop and relax (and for future snow camping!). Cassie appeared pretty exhausted at this point. With the sun shining down on us the entire hike, I imagine she was maybe a little toasty, too. We gave her some water and treats before she plopped down in the snow and closed her eyes. The final viewpoint was still about a half mile up along the ridge, but we decided to turnaround at our current spot, especially since downclimbing the steep slope we’d just ascended was probably going to be slow. We rested a few minutes longer and took in the gorgeous view of Mount Hood from our snowy perch before getting up (also a struggle in snowshoes) and beginning the descent.

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Looking out at the continuing path along Boy Scout Ridge
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Mount Jefferson

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As anticipated, it took quite awhile to get down the hill. We were able to switchback some of it, but I ended up feeling more comfortable front pointing down. An ice axe would’ve been super helpful. It was difficult with Cassie on her leash, so we ended up just letting her go (leash still attached in case we needed to grab her) so she could descend at her own pace. She usually sat down and waited between us while we took our time climbing down. When we were closer to the bottom, I was able to plunge step the rest of the way. Mack tried glissading, but he kept getting stuck in the snow. It was still fun to watch him try, and Cassie seemed amused as she attempted to run beside him.

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Mack trying to glissade

The number of people on the trail had definitely picked up now that it was after noon. We passed several groups of four or more as we descended the ridge back to the sno park. The last half mile or so was filled with people skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. There was even a group or two that appeared to be practicing their snow shelter building skills. Thank goodness we hadn’t started our trek this late in the day! We arrived back at the now very crowded parking lot feeling content with our morning adventure. Our third time snowshoeing was definitely one for the books. Next time we’re out in this particular spot we’ll have to try snow camping!

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View of the canyon from the ridge

Trillium Lake Loop

  • Date: December 31, 2016 – January 1, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood
  • Start: Trillium Lake Sno Park
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Type: Loop
  • References: Outdoor Project

After snowshoeing for the first time a few weeks back, Mack and I made it a goal to try our hand at winter backpacking this season. And what better time to give it a shot than the first of the year? After splurging on some new four season sleeping bags (with some much needed help from a Columbia Sportswear employee pass) and a winter coat for Cassie, we made plans to drive out to Bend, snowshoe to Tumalo Falls and continue along Tumalo Creek, then set up camp in Happy Valley. As per usual, we scrambled to get stuff together the night before and, with lots of packing still to do in the morning, decided to adjust our trip to something shorter and closer: Trillium Lake on Mount Hood.

First family selfie of the year!

 

Day 1: Trillium Lake Sno Park to south end of Trillium Lake (2.8 miles; 1 hour 50 minutes, all breaks included)

After altering our original trip at 10 pm the previous night, we got a pretty late start in the morning, arriving at the sno park just in time to snag one of the last parking spots in the lot. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, so naturally the crowds were comparable to a summer weekend at Disneyland. I can’t remember the last time we saw so many people (and dogs!) on the trail. Fortunately, the road was wide enough to accommodate everyone that showed up to enjoy a wintry New Year’s Eve. The snow was packed down enough from heavy usage that snowshoes weren’t even necessary for the most part, but we kept them on to avoid adding extra weight to our packs.

We got our first clear view of Hood about a mile or so into the hike at Summit Meadows. Aside from a couple of freshly made tracks crisscrossing the meadows, much of the snow here was untouched. To get away from the crowds (and to get a nicer shot of the mountain, which would be the last until reaching the lake), I blazed my own trail through the deep powder. Finally made use of the snowshoes!

Mount Hood from Summit Meadows

After the meadows, we were back in the forest, passing by several cozy looking rental cabins along the way. We’d put some distance between us and some of the bigger groups (who stopped to enjoy the meadows) at this point and got to enjoy some short lived solitude.

The lake seemed to appear suddenly as we rounded the bend out of the forest. Skies were still completely clear and Mount Hood could be seen once again in all her grandeur. Of course, in addition to the incredible view was the inevitable crowd. There were people lounging in the deep snow on the shore, traversing the frozen lake, and there was even one guy ice fishing. Before doing any further exploring of our own, we decided it would be best to set up the tent.

We found a nice little spot on the shore with a fantastic view of the lake and the mountain. Yes! Now to dig and smooth out a platform. Easier said than done. Because of the relatively fresh powder, we had to dig pretty deep before we were able to stamp out a firm, stable platform. By the time we got the tent up, it had been nearly an hour. Even with her jacket on, Cassie was shivering like crazy, so I wrapped her in a towel while we finished carving out boot boxes. Clouds started to move in as well, and I kicked myself for not getting a picture of the landscape while it had been completely clear. I pulled out my camera for a few quick shots.

Mount Hood from the shores of Trillium Lake

View from my side of the tent

We set up Cassie in the tent first. Mack wrapped her in his puffy down jacket so she could warm up faster. We’ll definitely need to work on setting up more quickly in the future so our poor pup doesn’t freeze to death! We unfurled our sleeping pads and new bags first, then piled in with all the rest of our gear. It didn’t feel that cold outside (especially since we’d been moving for the last hour and a half setting up camp), but it sure felt nice to remove my snow covered boots and curl up in a comfy bag. Mack went straight to work boiling water for hot toddies. Surprisingly, this was the first time we’d carried an alcoholic beverage into the backcountry. It definitely needs to happen more often.

Now that it was after 3 pm and the clouds had completely obscured Hood, we were finally getting our much awaited solitude. Of course, the temperature had dropped a bit (or at least it felt like it now that we were all warm and snugly in the tent) with the sun gone/hidden. Neither of us felt like getting up to put on our boots, gaiters, and snowshoes to walk around the lake. Cassie was already sound asleep, too! Aside from a couple reluctant bathroom breaks, we stayed in the tent the remainder of the afternoon.

Our New Year’s Eve consisted of more hot toddies, munching on cheese puffs, tortillas, and jelly beans, watching Gilmore Girls on Mack’s phone, saying “hello” and “happy new year” to the occasional skiers that passed by, hitting snow (that was now falling pretty heavily) off the tent fly, and nearly jumping out of our skins when the fireworks went off at Timberline Lodge. All in all, I’d say it was a damn perfect way to close out 2016.

Enjoying a hot toddy
Our campsite

 

Day 2: Trillium Lake to Trillium Lake Sno Park loop completion (2 miles; 1 hour, all breaks included)

I opened my tent door the next morning to find my boot box, which had been nearly a foot and a half deep the day before, almost completely filled with new snow. And snow was still falling. Mack and I decided we should take turns packing up so one of us could keep Cassie warm. I offered to go first. After rolling up my sleeping bag and pad, I shoved everything into my pack,  pulled on my rain pants, gaiters, and boots, then stepped out into waist deep powder, wading through several yards until I reached the trail, where the snow was far less deep. So much effort for a morning bathroom break. The lake was deserted save for one hiker and his small dog making their way down the forest road leading back to the sno park. A cold, yet serene, start to 2017.

While Mack packed up his things inside the tent, I made myself useful by scooping massive amounts of snow off the fly and breaking trail around Mack’s entrance so he wouldn’t have to swim through the snow like I’d practically had to. Thankfully, aside from having to dig out the stakes and parts of the fly, taking down the tent was much easier than setting it up. We were done in minutes and Cassie had yet to begin shivering!

Before we dug it out

Since we didn’t make the time or effort the day before to walk out on the lake, we made sure to do just that before we headed back up the road. The new snow had completely covered all the tracks from the day before, so we got to lay down some fresh ones.

Walking on the frozen lake

The trek back to the car was pretty uneventful. Both of us were feeling a little dazed and dehydrated, so we were eager to get back. Despite the weather, we passed by quite a few people heading out to visit the lake. Most of them commented on how cute Cassie looked in her jacket and Pawz dog boots and gasped in amazement when they found out we’d camped in the snow the night before. The half mile slog up the final (and only) hill felt like forever. When we finally made it up, we couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. As expected, my car needed to be dug out, defrosted, and armed with AutoSocks. As Cassie lay comfortably inside, Mack and I slaved away shoveling snow. Setting up the tent and digging out the car are officially the most tedious aspects of winter backpacking. After an hour, we hit the road and rewarded ourselves with not one, but TWO trips to Dairy Queen for fries and, ironically, an Oreo blizzard. First winter backpacking trip completed and in the books! Bring on the next one!

Tilly Jane A-Frame

  • Date: December 10, 2016
  • Location: Mount Hood
  • Start: Tilly Jane Sno Park
  • Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 1920 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Outdoor Project

For the past few years, winter has been the time that our outdoor adventures take a backseat to local trail runs. It’s not that we don’t like winter conditions, but we’ve never been equipped to enjoy them. This month, as an early Christmas gift to me, Mack purchased each of us a pair of MSR Lightning Ascent showshoes so we could start exploring all the wintry landscapes we’ve been missing out on. Over the weekend, we set out for Mount Hood to try them out for the first time.

After a slow and cautious (2+ hour) drive up snow covered roads, we started up Tilly Jane Trail around 9:30 am. Although the forecast from the previous night predicted 100 percent chance of precipitation, we were greeted by sunshine and blue skies. So happy we didn’t back out like we initially considered. The first part of the trek takes place in the forest. We explored this same trail back in summer of 2014 when hiked up to Cooper Spur, but seeing it covered in snow was like being in an entirely different world. The knee deep powder and frosted evergreens filled me with a childlike wonder that I haven’t felt in a long time. Playing in the snow has that effect on me. It also seemed to have that effect on Cassie, who was romping around like a wide-eyed puppy and swimming through snowdrifts with her tongue hanging out.

The steeper climbing began once we reached the burnt forest. The heel lifts on our snowshoes were incredibly helpful for this section. Now that the land was completely open and exposed, the untouched snow on either side of the trail literally glittered beneath the sunlight. It was magical, and it kept me from thinking about my burning calves. Mack and I stopped often to take pictures and throw powdery snowballs for Cassie to chase. She definitely seemed to be enjoying her first time out in the snow (as you’ll see in the pictures below).

We continued along this open stretch, alternating between hills and flat terrain. Mount Hood appeared in all her glory as we gained elevation. It was quite a sight and pleasant surprise considering we’d expected it to be completely shrouded in clouds. Every once in a while, the peaceful silence was broken by the rumbling of an avalanche (or maybe rockfall?) on the mountain. It felt reassuring to be down low, but those sudden explosions were a good reminder/reality check of the power of nature and the importance of risk assessment when exploring the backcountry in the winter. The uphill became more of a trudge as we occasionally post-holed in the deep snow. Even Cassie, light-footed as she is, had trouble staying afloat. At this point, we knew we were approaching the A-frame because the non-burnt forest was now getting closer and closer. The wind began to pick up and clouds were starting to move in, so it was good that we were nearing some shelter.

The A-frame came into view as we ascended the final hill leading into the forest. Seeing it again brought back memories of our Cooper Spur hike, but, similar to my reminiscence at the beginning of our hike, it was so much more spectacular beneath mounds of glistening snow, a solitary refuge in the heart of a winter wonderland. We walked up a few more yards to an open shelter filled with empty bunks. It was the perfect spot to escape the blustery winds and cold temps. We had originally planned to continue on to Cooper Spur Shelter, but we started later than anticipated and wanted to get back to the city for dinner with my mom before it was too late in the evening. After a brief lunch in the shelter, we packed up our things and started the descent to the car.

Tilly Jane A-Frame

Now that we were going downhill and taking less pictures, we nearly doubled our pace. I was so happy when we re-entered the first stretch of forest that had me so enchanted at the beginning of our hike. As much as I loved seeing Mount Hood, I think walking beneath these snow-covered trees was my favorite part of the entire route. We got back to the car around 2 pm just as it started to snow. Perfect timing, especially since it only became heavier when we started driving. Despite the slow moving traffic we encountered as a result, all I kept thinking about was how incredible our first snowshoeing experience had been. I guess we have a lot more exploring to do this season!