After getting back to the car from backpacking, I found myself with a bit of free time. It was still early in the day, and I had brought my cross country skis along for the ride… it’d be a shame to have stuffed them into the car, and to not use them at all. And hey – I also had some instant coffee that I hadn’t drank, so…
I decided that it was time for a short little trek to have some coffee.
I didn’t go far – seriously, I only skied for maybe 30min, max, until I came to the first of the river crossings before the steep section of the trail. The goal wasn’t to go far, but was instead just to find a nice quiet area… and interestingly enough, I saw a whole crew of snowboarders leaving a little picnic spot just as I was arriving.
Not one to question fortune, I made my way over to where they had been, unrolled by sleeping pad (to keep me from melting into the snow), and fired up the stove to make a quick cup of coffee.
It was… lovely.
No strong emotions, truth be told, just the calm serenity that comes from sitting by a stream, listening to the water as the snow around you muffles all other sound. The quiet hiss of the campstove, the sun shifting through the trees… it was lovely, and an excellent rest stop before starting the drive home.
I’d planned on hiking up to Elk Meadows again… since at this point Elk is basically my go-to locale whenever I don’t really know where to go.
I love that, by the way. I really enjoy having a “spot”, somewhere that I know I can just escape to, that doesn’t involve significant planning or thought. It’s just… “hey, I want to get out of town. How about I just go to the place, and do the thing? I can pack the stuff that I always pack!”
Anyways I didn’t go to Elk Meadows.
Since it’s winter, the main trailhead for Elk Meadows is a bit… snow covered. And by “a bit”, I mean that there’s roughly 6-8 ft of snow filling the little turnout that I’d normally go to. The last few times I hiked Elk, I parked at the Nordic Center for Mt. Hood Meadows, but that was just a single day… so to be paranoid, I’d called ahead to confirm that I could park overnight, and learned that overnight parking was absolutely not allowed.
I needed a new plan.
Thankfully, one of the Nordic Center folks who I spoke to recommended hiking the White River – I’d always just assumed that it was a small snow-park used for day sledding, but looking into it there was a nice trail that would connect me to the timberline trail… which would be perfect for the small outing that I was aiming for. I’d already had all the basics packed, so I was on the road as soon as the car was packed.
The ride out was pretty simple, and involved picking up a bagel sandwich for brunch… which turned out to be way more of a pastry than a sandwich, but… I’m not going to complain right before backpacking.
The hike in was beautiful – the parking lot was more full than I’d have seen at Elk, but the crowds were purely focused on sledding, and stayed within maybe a quarter mile of the parking lot. I didn’t see anyone after half a mile in, and was able to enjoy the cold and the quiet just as well as if I’d been heading toward my original destination.
By the time I was ready to set up camp I’d passed my intended turnout point, and instead found a perfect little campsite that had been set up by someone else sometime recently – a little flat spot partway up a steep hill in the trees, with a small area for cooking and a tent spot just the right size for my little shelter. I set up, hiked around a little bit, made dinner, and stared up at the sky as the sun set and the stars came out. Soon enough the air had that beautiful cutting edge to it, and so I curled into my sleeping bag and tucked myself in for some reading before drifting off to sleep.
The morning came bright and clear, with my Grey Jay friends (or family members of my friends) joining me for a light breakfast as I watched the sun light up the mountain.
People had started coming by pretty early in the morning, but even at the densest crowds, there were very few people this high up on the river – I think the most people I saw was a ski rescue group practicing avalanche testing… maybe 12 people or so?
I had a nice breakfast, relaxed, packed up, and then set off for what I’d planned on being a quick little walk up the glacier before heading back down.
Instead, I kept going as high as the snow would take me – extremely cautiously, though. Strangely, my concern wasn’t anything to do with crowds or avalanche or anything, but was instead the light. Not something you think about often in the winter, but with the bright sun and clean snow, the glare was intense. Really intense, intense enough that I was quite worried about sunburn or hurting my unshielded eyes.
Thankfully, some light clouds rolled in right before I was about to turn around, and the shade was enough that I was confident that continuing onward wouldn’t be any major risk. I mean, I was pretty sure I’d come out of it with a tan or light sunburn, but the bigger worry was my eyes, and since I kept checking in with myself every 10min or so, I felt pretty happy about forging upward.
It was worth it.
The views kept getting better as better as I ascended higher and higher – Realistically, I don’t think I got any higher than 5,000ft elevation, but the views were unparalleled as I looked North to the summit, and South to the rest of the cascade range. The sun shining through the fishscale clouds…
I met a few folks on the walk, but aside from the views there’s not really much to talk about. It was beautiful, I loved not carrying a pack (since I’d left it back at camp), and I felt amazing. You know how you can smell the cold, and how snow gives that crisp taste to the air? Well, this had that in abundance, and I loved every second of it.
After I got back to my gear, I hefted the pack and started back toward the car.
The crowds thickened as I got closer and closer to the parking lot, to the point that I masked up after a little bit, as people were becoming unavoidable. There were families sledding, grills set up, and just this massive sense of happiness and excitement from the yells of people sliding down the snow.
I saw a few back country skiers too, some having descended from where I was, and some from as far away as the Timberline Lodge. I was definitely a bit jealous, I admit, but I still loved the chance to be hiking on the snow.
The entirety of 2020… Can it even be summarized? How can I look back on a year that seems to have lasted a lifetime? More than a lifetime, even?
But here I am.
Typing my thoughts into a blog, thinking back on one of the most eventful and impactful years of my life. Even as I type that sentence, I question it… was this last year really that much different from the previous years? I’ve had major life shifts, sure, but… I’ve had those before. Leaving Medway to go to college, graduating college, even moving to a new state for an internship. Breaking my arm, then my leg, or stepping onto that plane that took me so far from home, when I first traveled to South America?
Those were all such huge events… but I feel like the difference is that they were planned. Expected. Part of the roadmap, so to speak. 2020… well, it didn’t have a roadmap. Even if it did, the track I followed sure wasn’t the same map that I started the year with…
Right now, I’m alternating between standing on my porch, overlooking an empty road, and sitting by my little gas fireplace, enjoying the warmth and the simplicity of the fake wood.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve alone.
And that’s okay.
That’s what 2020 became – a chance to be alone, and to settle back into myself. To recall who I truly am, what I can be, and where I want to be going. The whole world is changing, faster than I think any of us ever expected, and sometimes we’ve got to step back and appreciate the quiet solitude while we still can…
Let’s sit down together, and walk through the year together, shall we?
January – I started the year in Scotland. We watched as Australia burned, while lashing rain both torpedoed the family plans and also gave me some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen – the sun shining out over the Isle of Skye. We flew back to the United States, blissfully unaware of just how much the world was going to change over the next 12 months…
February – My Mom came out to visit Portland! Honestly, this seems so long ago that I can barely even remember it… which I definitely feel bad about! I ran a 5k, and although I didn’t do quite as well as the previous year I still stuck it out, grinding my way through the steps.
March – I started working from home. Something I’d wanted the option to do for years, but I didn’t ever expect that it would be caused by a pandemic like this… In March, I still felt like COVID was something almost normal, or that it at least wouldn’t lead to as much of an impact to my life as it did… Snow came to Portland, and I started settling into a slow trudge of another year.
April – The lockdown really came in earnest – We limited exposure to people, and I started trying to do better about staying fit while being stuck indoors. That lead to a new injury – Trying to do deadlifts at home led to me pulling a nerve in my back, which in turn led to some of the strongest pain medications I’ve had to take.
May – We started taking Ollie to my office on the weekends – I was going into work every other day, but was also stepping in for an hour or so on weekends to help with 3D printing face shields for COVID relief… which gave us some unique chances to get out of the house, and even out of our neighborhood, at least for a few short hours.
Flowers started blooming in the garden, adding a really nice touch of color to the ongoing pandemic…
June – June marked the end of my longest relationship, and was the closing of a hugely impactful chapter of my life. A relationship ended, and I was set back on the path of remembering who I actually am… slowly restarting the parts of myself that I’d shut down over the years. I went camping, and backpacking, and finally met my friend Mike down in California…
I also moved to a new town, cutting my daily commute from 90min down to 10, which would slowly reverberate through the rest of the year as extra time, energy, and focus.
July – My Birthday came and went, though I could barely tell you what happened. I was still settling into my new apartment, my new routine, and my new life. COVID restrictions were still in effect, but comparatively lax against what was to come.
I started going outside even more; hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing.
July also marked my newfound love of hiking Elk Meadows, which would become my new retreat from the insanity of the city…
August – August brought hiking and biking, but the biggest standout of the month was my first big solo backpacking trip in… well, I can’t remember how long. I took the week off from work, packed up the Mustang, and ground away the miles to far Eastern Oregon, to the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the near-legendary Ice Lake.
Ice Lake is supposedly one of the most picturesque backpacking trips in Oregon, it absolutely didn’t disappoint… and was a beautiful chance for me to escape into my own mind for a few days.
September – The wildfires on the West Coast are no joke, and September brought them in with a vengeance. Every year the fires seem to get worse and worse, and this year was no exception to that rule – my site was shut down for over a week due to hazardous air quality, and I didn’t leave the house without a respirator on for most of the month.
Almost scarier though, was one of the hikes I went on… when we got back to the trailhead, the whole state forest had been closed to hikers due to the imminent fire danger. I ended up accidentally leaving my boots at the trailhead in my rush to get out of the danger area.
I did get out of town once, though, in an escape to the cool temperatures and clean air of the Oregon coast!