Friday and Saturday, 16 & 17-Apr-2021
This was an interesting adventure.
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to go backpacking… not quite sure why, but this weekend just felt right, you know? It felt like it was time for me to get back into the wild, and to really enjoy the snow while it was still around.
Originally I’d planned on backpacking out to Mirror Lake – I’ve hiked that trail quite a few times, and I’ve always been intrigued by the small campsite right above the lake… It’s on the main trail, but off to the side just enough to be almost secluded… and nicely tamped out into a pretty solid little campsite.
But walking into work on Monday, I found a fortune cookie script on the ground. It said “Take the path less traveled, and you will be rewarded”. It’s not often that I’m given a sign from above, but… Well, the night before I’d read that Mirror Lake is one of the most popular trails in Oregon. And a fortune telling me not to take the path well traveled kind of gives a clear message, doesn’t it?
My plans pivotted.
A few coworkers had told me about Twin Lakes – I’d never heard of it before, but it was supposedly quite a nice hike. And looking into it a bit further, it also wasn’t particularly well traveled in the winter… which seemed like a rather fortuitous circumstance, considering the previously-mentioned fortune…
I changed my plans, packed my bags, and stuffed things into the car on Friday morning. Soon enough I was cruising down the highway, out of the budding spring and into the cool snowy fortress of winter…
Almost immediately after starting into the trail – after being quite happy with the near complete lack of other cars in the parking lot – I found my first good sign – a very pretty little yellow rock. Painted, and left by the trailhead.
Pretty quickly, I found my second good sign – someone had dropped a little spinner; a little plastic toy that you twirled, and it would make interesting shapes while sparkling in the sun.
The rest of the hike to the campsite went beautifully – I walked, I enjoyed the sun, and I appreciated the bright light filtering through the trees. The snow was surprisingly dirty, but not too bad to walk on… definitely just one more sign that spring has fully sprung, and that summer is just around the corner.
I’m really glad that I was able to get out and enjoy the snow again before the weather steams it all away – even with the light snow levels and strews leaves it’s gorgeous. And the smell of the snow was still beautifully in the air, following me around on the cool breezes that ruffled my shirt every once in a while.
I hiked onward and upward until I finally made Upper Twin Lake.
I’d stopped at Lower Twin for a quick snack and a reading break, of course, but my main goal of the evening was to forge upwards and get to spend as much time relaxing at my little camp as I could. I’d brought a good book, had some cocoa and extra snacks, and was aiming for a lovely relaxing time on the snow.
And with one rather frustrating exceptions, that’s exactly what happened. I rested, watched the sun set across the lake, and enjoyed the alpine glow on Mt. Hood.
What was that one exception, you ask?
Well… my fuel bottle.
Fuel is pretty important to backpacking, unsurprisingly. It’s also a pretty major risk point too though – it’s flammable, it melts plastic (and thus my nylon gear), it’s poisonous, and it’s wet. None of those things are good, especially when you’re far from the car… and I’m always extra paranoid about where I store my fuel, after reading a story about a team traversing Greenland who spilled their white gas into their food supply, and had to make the choice between starving quickly, or dying of toxic ingestion slightly less quickly.
Because of that paranoia, I always keep my fuel and my food well separated, and always store my fuel bottle on the outside of my pack.
I stand by that practice, but today it came with a new challenge – my fuel bottle had frozen shut.
Not… quite something I’d expected, and I’ll freely admit that I spent a bit of time stressing out and trying to brute-force the bottle open. Unfortunately it didn’t work, and I realized that I was more likely to hurt myself, or my tent, with my continued flailing at the stubborn bottle.
It wasn’t obvious that it was frozen… and to be honest, I don’t even know if it definitely was iced over. If it was just on too tight… well, the solution to both problems was the same, thankfully. Warm the bottle up, and let thermal energy do the work for me.
After a bit of time holding some handwarmers against the neck, and breathing onto the cap, it did finally come free… and after I breathed a nice sigh of relief, I set about heating up some dinner and enjoying the solitude of the lake and the quiet of the snow…
The next morning dawned bright and lovely, with not a single cloud in the sky and a whole flock of Grey Jay’s coming by to visit with me.
Even this far from the mountain itself, the birdies know to come find backpackers, it seems… and I made sure not to disappoint them, sharing some of my breakfast as they flittered around and visited with me. I did keep my food pouch well protected though, after that last incident where one of them tried to take a quick bird bath in my breakfast skillet…
I rested, woke up slowly, and enjoyed some coffee as I watched the sun rise over the lake.
After a bit of reading I stretched out, packed up my gear, and started the trek back to the car…
As I walked, I enjoyed the sun. It was a bit cooler today than it had been the day before… but maybe that was because it was earlier in the day? Either way, it was a nice shift in pace, and I very much appreciated the chance to experience just a bit more cool weather as I hiked out.
I stopped again at Lower Twin lake to relax some more, do some reading, and even did a little bit of yoga out on the frozen lake, a little ways from shore in the bright sunlight.
I finished sunning myself, turned back toward my pack, and fell through the ice.
A moment of panic.
Desperately clawing forward, trying to catch myself as the water rushed over my boots and through my clothes
It’s in every winter movie – falling through the ice, and getting trapped in a cold, blue landscape. Thankfully, I didn’t have anything even remotely as cinematic as that happen to me… I was close to shore, and so the water was at most two feet deep where I was.
I quickly scrambled onto firmer footing, and made my way back to my backpack.
Anyone who hikes in the winter, especially backpacking, knows what to do when you get wet – pull off the wet layers, and warm yourself up. Ideally, put on dry layers if you can, but most importantly get as much water away from your body as quickly as possible.
That was pretty easy – and since all of my gear is synthetic or wool, it was actually quite easy to wring out almost all of the water that had soaked in. My boots… well, they were a lost cause, unfortunately. But similar to my socks, they’re designed to stay warm even if they get wet… and since they were waterproof already, only a bit of water had rushed in around my ankle when my feet went under the ice.
It… wasn’t that bad, thankfully.
I rested and caught my breath for a bit, put some hand warmers onto my ankles just in case, and after fully wringing out my socks… I started back onto the trail. My footfalls a little squishier than I was planning, but… you know, all in all I wasn’t much worse for wear.
The day was still bright and early, warm and cloudless.
It was still a good day.