Backpacking up the White River Glacier in the snow

Standard

Friday and Saturday, 19 & 20-Feb-2021



Sometimes, I go on an adventure to get somewhere or to accomplish a specific goal.

More often though, I go to feel something or to experience something. You know, the whole “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” sort of thing? I enjoy that – the sense of exploration and experience, being able to be in the moment. Instead of chasing after a specific goal or location, chasing a feeling or an experience!

The goal of this adventure was to feel like an alpinist. An explorer from a bygone era, someone forging into the arctic unknown, battling the elements in the hope of being the first person to explore a new land.

Let me tell you, I found that feeling. The cold, the solitude, and the savage wilderness. Untouched snow, piled high for me to forge my way through… not that the trail was unwelcoming, more that it was testing me, to make sure that I really knew what it had in store for me.

See, this is what happens when I have a great time. I get poetic and junk.

It was beautiful, is the short version.




I drove up on Friday, in the late morning.

I didn’t rush my departure – the roads were in pretty good condition, but the longer that I let them bake in the sun, the less chance I’d need to stop on the side of the road to put the chains on the Mustang. I’d also get to sleep in a bit more, which is always a bonus too… so I combined the two and felt quite secure when I left the house around 11:30 or so.

The drive went smoothly, and my delayed departure paid off when I made it all the way to the far end of the parking lot without any concern about traction. I parked, coordinated my gear, chatted with the Boy Scout troop setting up camp next to me, and then forged forward on the trail.

The first mile or so was gloriously easy – the trail had been packed down beautifully by all the sledders, and I made quite good time. My crampons crunched, my poles poked, and the snow drifted lazily around me… just a simple and crisp walk in the woods.

As a side note – that’s one of the biggest things I’ve missed in the last few years. The crisp air; I think it’s the smell of ice, and possibly snow, that you smell when you walk outside for the first time on a cold morning. I hadn’t been snow camping in years, and now that I’m on my own I’ve been more times this winter than in the last four years… and I’ve finally rediscovered that beautiful smell of fresh snow and crisp air.

Anyways, I tramped onward, up the trail toward the Timberline trail.

Soon enough, the packed snow faltered and vanished as I walked past the last good sledding hill. There were a few cross country ski tracks, but trying to follow them was actually more challenging than just forging my own path – when I walked in their tracks, my feet would hold for a moment before breaking through the snow layer… which basically meant that I was doing step-ups the whole time, and then wading through the snow.

Instead, I opted to just wade through the knee-high snow straight away. Slow, plodding steps took me another mile and a half, give or take, before I called it a night. I needed time to set up camp, and trust be told I was exhausted. The powdery snow of the Cascades is definitely easier to push through than the concrete snow of some other mountains, but… it’s still tiring, man.

Once I found a suitable campsite, nicely sheltered in the lee of a small tree, I marked out a nice 10ft x 15ft pad, and then spent 30min or so trampling it down into a nice packed campsite. I had little walls around me to shelter the tent, and I even made a cute little cooking nook to plop the stove on. It was lovely, and I quickly set about pitching my tent and cooking up a nice dinner.

The rest of the evening was glorious – quietly watching the sunset, and then watching the lights from the nearby ski resort wink into brightness. Resting in the tent, then reading… all while nice and warm in my sleeping bag, listening to the snow fall on the tent before the wind scattered it back away.

I slept really well, to the surprise of absolutely no one.

I woke up to a beautiful green glow, as the sun started shining through the green plastic of the tent.

It was pretty well muted though, and I made sure to knock the accumulated snow down from the fly before I sallied forth to make breakfast (and coffee, of course). It was a beautiful day, and I had a great time (notice a theme, here?) sipping my steaming coffee and wolfing down some sausage and gravy breakfast… sharing some with the Gray Jays that somehow always find me whenever I’m on the mountain.

Fortified, I packed up camp, marked my gear, and then left it at the campsite while I headed upward toward the base of the glacier. I was half planning on going up to where I’d been back in mid-January. I made it pretty far, but didn’t venture up onto the glacier itself… as the day wore on, the snow was getting a bit more intense, and I wasn’t quite up for trying to go too high up without any heavier gear… or at least my ice axe to self-arrest in case I slipped.

That’s not to say it was snowy and bleak the whole time, though!

The sun absolutely peeked out quite a few times, and I was able to get some beautiful views of the trail and the snow every time it came out from behind a cloud. It was a reminder of just how variable the weather can be, and just how beautiful every day on the mountain can be. Ahhhhhhh I miss it, if you can’t tell. Sitting at home by the fire, sipping lemon water in my warm clothes… I love both places, but there’s always a special place in my heart for the snow.

I hiked, I headed back, grabbed my gear, and walked down to the Mustang.

There’s not much more to the story from here – the hike out was lovely, with views just as awesome as those when I was hiking up. Packing up the car went smoothly, especially since the Boy Scouts let me use their warming tent to change into my driving clothes. I put the chains on the car quickly and easily, and the drive was… well, not smooth thanks to all the folks having trouble with the road conditions… but it went easily.

The Mustang was fine with its chains, and I wasn’t in a hurry. I’d spent the last few days bashing my way through deep snow… an hour or three of sitting on a heated seat was a nice change of pace.

In which Ben takes a winter walk, and pretends to be a lumberjack

Standard

Friday and Saturday, 12 & 13-Feb-2021



Portland doesn’t really see much winter. Sure, there’s a dusting of snow once or twice. Every few years a bit of accumulation, maybe. But nothing that sticks around for very long, and temperatures almost never get below freezing. Wilsonville’s a bit further South, and farther from the river, so we see even less out here.

Less doesn’t mean none, though.

This time, we got ice. Not a little ice either, but quite a lot of ice. Tree-snapping, power-line breaking, road closing and car enshrouding ice. Multiple inches thick, solid accumulating ice.


It was quite a surprise, actually. I’ve gotten so used to the regular weather of Oregon (sun in the summer, rain in the winter) that I don’t really even look at the weather reports. If I bike in the summer, I don’t bring rain gear. If I bike in the winter, I wear the rain gear regardless. It’s simple and predictable.

When I heard trees starting to shatter on Thursday night… well, that’s not quite what I expected to hear on Thursday night.

When I got going in the morning, the first order of business was to sneak outside and assess the damage… mostly because I’m understandably paranoid about my freshly-repaired convertible… since everyone knows that Mustangs, while clearly the coolest thing on the road, aren’t particularly resilient to falling trees. You know, unarmored canvas tops and all.

Thankfully, while quite a few limbs had fallen nearby (or slid into the car, in some cases) no real damage was to be found. The real issue was the sidewalks – with so many trees and limbs down, most of the roads and sidewalks around my place were impassable.

The roads were out of my reach – the trees fallen across the roads were huge, and fell in ways that weren’t safe for me to try and remove without power tools and far more experience than I have.

The sidewalks, however… those were small enough branches that my axe and I could do some solid work. A quick breakfast was had, and then branches were hacked apart by the energized Ben. Partially energized by the breakfast, but mostly energized by finally having a chance to swing an axe for a good cause!

With all of that completed, I put all the tools away and set out for a bit of a winter wonderland walk.

With rain gear secured, and a helmet on my head to protect against the constant icefall from the trees, I headed out into the great Wilsonville arctic wilderness! My first stop was exploring the nearby park, though on the way I ran into a few other adventurous souls exploring around, and we even grouped up to pull a few of the larger branches out of the streets and off of the sidewalks… but overall, I saw almost no one on my wanderings – the park was beautifully quiet, though the ever present sound of icefall and snapping tree limbs did keep me pretty well focused on the present.

It was really nice, honestly, and quite helpful for keeping a present mind. Which makes sense, since… you know… falling tree limbs and such.

I wandered, explored, enjoyed taking photos, and greatly appreciated the chance to feel the cold. It’s been ages since it’s really felt like winter…

In Oregon, winter almost always stays in its little box up in the mountains, which can be nice when you’re commuting, but it definitely leaves me feeling a little sad and stuck. I’ve missed waking up to a snowstorm, to snow days, and to forging around town through the cold on a completely unnecessary quest to get some silly thing to cook for dinner. It’s not about the destination, but it’s about forging out into the cold, and feeling like an intrepid explorer!

Thanks to this unexpected ice storm, I got to relive a bit of that adventure – and even better, it was all melted away by the time I had to get in the car and drive to work on Monday morning.

I guess there can be some advantages to winter staying in its corner, after all.

A quick walk down to Ecola Point

Standard

Friday, 05-Feb-2021


Sometimes, I just need to get out of the house… Usually, I’ll head toward the snow and the cold, but thanks to a whole issue with the Mustang being in the shop for repairs, I wasn’t quite feeling confident enough to brave the snow and ice. As strange as it may sound to some, I trust the rear-wheel drive Mustang in the snow implicitly… partially because I’m used to driving it in Bostonian winters, and partially because it has all my emergency gear in the trunk – chains, self-jumpers, extra food, that sort of thing.

Without that safety net, I didn’t feel up to an artic adventure.

Instead, the coast called out to me. Clean, cool air, salt spray, sunsets, clouds, rain and wind.

The drive out was long… and frankly, pretty boring. The little EcoBoost that the shop had given me did fine, but the drive out to the coast has few views aside from some interesting forest scenes. Thankfully the drive went by fairly quickly with a liberal application of loud singalong music, and soon enough I was scrambling down the muddle slope toward the sea.


I’d never been to Ecola point, and it was actually my second choice for a destination – I was originally targetting Indian Beach, but unfortunately the recent wind storms (I think?) had closed the parking lot off… Or COVID restrictions had closed that parking lot? Or… possibly it’s seasonal?

Meh, doesn’t matter in the end. These days, there’s a thousand and one reasons a place may be closed. After parking, my only concern became how to best descend the slope; soon enough I was scrambling down the muddy trail, hand-over-hand down a climbing rope toward the rocky shore. It was amazing – the views were second to none, and the descent itself was worth the entire drive out there.

There was a trail, of course, but I use the term “trail” very loosely in this regard – it was more of a series of braided pathways leading in the same general direction, with a few trail markers strewn liberally about… possibly by rangers, but also possibly by the sea breeze. I… honestly couldn’t quite tell if they were intentionally place, or just detritus blown in on a storm.

The rope helped things, giving me a singular descent point (and peace of mind that, yes, this was an actual trail) to trend toward, and one place to keep an eye on as the tide came in.

I didn’t go too far offshore on the rocks, but I did spend quite a while sitting on the beach. I read, I watched the sun fly toward the horizon, and I just enjoyed the misty rain and the sound of the surf. It’s amazing and beautifully calming, and I was taken a little aback when I realized just how late in the day it had gotten.

A good day, by any metric.