Who are the Mazamas, you may ask? And what’s BCEP, you may enquire? Well, let me fill you in dear reader. When I first moved to Oregon, I pretty quickly heard about a mountaineering group in town called The Mazamas.
Similar to the AMC back in Boston, they teach classes and do conservation outreach projects. Over the years, I’d interacted with them tangentially – attending a few classes, volunteering with a few groups, but I’d never been able to actually take a course officially. I’d applied to their Advanced Rock climbing class, but wasn’t accepted for one reason or another.
Now, nearly seven years after first moving to Oregon, I was trying again. This time beginning at the bottom – while you may notice that I’m not quite a beginner when it comes to the outdoors, I was tired. These last few years haven’t been easy, and I was just tired of fighting… the chance to just sit back and meet new people while enjoying a few group hikes was more than worth the price of admission.
Friday and Saturday, 08-Apr-2022 and 09-Apr-2022
Do you know how long it’s been since I went camping in the snow?
It’s weird to think about… in 2021, I was out constantly – maybe not every weekend, but I’d gotten quite a few backpacking trips under my belt by this time last year. Most, if not all, of them on snow.
This year, I hadn’t. Even before starting BCEP and (happily) sacrificing my weekends to the altar of training hikes, I hadn’t felt the drive to get outside and into the snow. I mean… I’d wanted to! Don’t get me wrong – I adore being out in the blizzards, forging my way through the snow drifts and setting up camp like the intrepid arctic (couch) explorer that I am! But… I just hadn’t quite had the same drive as I did in 2021.
Regardless, I found myself packed up for a winter adventure, front of the car aimed at the base of Mt. Hood. Not my usual destination of Timberline Lodge, or the White River Glacier, or even Elk Meadows though… instead, I’d be visiting a new lodge for the first time… the Mazama’s lodge!
A quick note: I’m stubborn. It was beautiful in Wilsonville, so I had the top down on the car. I wanted to roll up to the parking lot with the top down, just because it would be fun… you know? So when it started drizzling, I didn’t pull over. I was driving fast enough, the rain wouldn’t get in.
Then it started raining… but the same logic applied.
Once the hail came… I couldn’t keep that logic going. Hail hurts, man, and the passenger’s seat was quickly filling up with hailstones…
Anyways, I stopped, and soon enough I was heading to the Mazama’s Lodge, with the top up.
Now, I almost feel like I was cheating on the NUHOC Loj, here. I mean, the Brown Memorial Loj will always hold a place in my memory… but it’s long gone now – burned down in a fire back around 2014. It’s being rebuilt, of course, but… the challenges of our modern society (modern litigious society, specifically) have made that pretty bad.
So allow me a bit of melancholy when I say that the Mazamas Lodge was amazing, and that it happily reminds me of the place that helped forge me into the outdoors lover that I am today.
My first view of the NUHOC Loj was walking up in the fall, and seeing the warm light of the kitchen shining out from the hillside. Appropriate, then, that my first view of the Mazamas Lodge was the same – though in the early evening, with the light shining out across the snowy hillside.
We camped outside of the Lodge that night, so that people unaccustomed to the snow could have a chance to practice setting up a tent in the snow… and more importantly, sleeping in the snow and wind and cold.
Just because we were camping, though, didn’t mean we didn’t hang out in the Lodge itself.
Dinner was Chili, with cornbread and salad, and it was simply amazing. After dinner was equally amazing – We relaxed and chatted and I explored the Lodge a bit. It’s three stories, instead of the Loj’s two, but it’s a very similar floorplan. Bunkrooms up top, kitchen and social area below, mudroom in the basement.
We did a quick avalanche rescue scenario after we ate, as an intro to using Avalanche Beacons, wands, and shovels… but overarchingly we just relaxed before the day of snow practice ahead of us. We talked, traded stories, and had a grand old time before retiring out to the windy, snowy, glorious evening.
Saturday morning, I was up and mobile nice and early.
The coffee in the Lodge was calling – as was the cereal, fruits, and… egg quiche, I think? I mean, we’re not talking a full “pancakes and bacon” situation, but… man. Just as good as anything I make while backpacking, and a heck of a lot easier.
Once fed, I finished packing up my bag – just in time to head out with the group for our adventure of the day – Snow School!
Now, I’ve had a fair number of experiences in the snow… but I freely admit, Glacier travel is not my strong suit. Crevasse navigation isn’t a major skill of mine, and while I know vaguely how to place a picket… well, I was very much looking forward to this class. Lots of new skills, and lots of chances to practice rarely-used techniques.
The weather obliged us with an absolutely stunning vista – Unfortunately though, my stalwart phone was betrayed by my bad memory and died just as we arrived… after having survived the entire morning on 1%, making it just long enough to make sure I’d woken up on time. Thankfully, it lasted just long enough to get a few shots of the beautiful wind-blown snowfields that were our playground for the day…
What adventures did we get up to?
Well! The amazing assistants set up a whole slew of courses for us to practice! We got to:
– Rappel on a snow anchor!
– Glissade (slide) down a hill!
– Ascent a rope in the snow!
– Travel on a rope team in the snow! I even got to (poorly) set pickets, thanks to the teachers letting me take the lead! Turns out – a lot more complicated and time consuming than I realized.
– Self Arrest! (Where you catch yourself when you fall, using an ice axe)
– And probably others that I’m forgetting!
Throughout the whole adventure, everyone was in amazing spirits – The snow wasn’t consistent, so we kept getting glimpses of sky and sun through the flurries… the only real consistency was how quickly the weather would change, and how much fun I was having playing in the snow.
Because, at the end of the day, let’s be real here. Yeah, I was learning and practicing and being serious… but the whole time was also blatantly playing in the snow. I love things like this, and I had an absolute blast every second of the adventure.
Soon enough, though, it was time to pack it in and move it out. I got the chance to help pack some of the gear up, but we were all pretty quickly heading down the road and out of the snow, toward a glorious BBQ dinner a little ways down into the foothills.