Tag Archives: Backpacking

Backpacking up the White River Glacier in the snow

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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.

Backpacking the White River, 15 & 16-Jan-2021

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Friday and Saturday, January 15th and 16th, 2021



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…

<muah>. Perfect.

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.

Absolutely worth every step.

A Thanksgiving adventure – Backpacking Elk Meadows

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A Thanksgiving adventure – Backpacking Elk Meadows

Thanksgiving is going to be different this year. This is my first year being single in half a decade, and thanks to the COVID Pandemic it’s also the first year that I can’t travel, and don’t have any friends still in town. I’m flying solo, have a ton of vacation to burn, and am feeling energetic...


Monday and Tuesday, 23 & 24-Nov-2020


This… looks really similar to the previous post. Which is because it was, in fact, very similar!

Instead of hiking Elk Meadows as a day-hike though, I went as an overnighter – Nothing too intense, but an excellent chance to get out of the house, out of the city, and out of the insanity of what the entire year has become. Instead, I could get into the woods, the quiet, and the calm crisp air of winter.



Ohh man, did I succeed.

It was beautiful, cold, and amazing. I started out late in the day, similar to when I’d hiked… with the advantage that I didn’t have to make my way back to the car after I got to the meadows. In trade, I had the downside of schlepping my pack along with me… and since it was winter camping, it was a solid 45lbs, food and water included. But, thanks to good boots, poles, and fairly consistent time on the stairmaster, I was able to cruise up to the meadows pretty much as quickly as I’d done the previous time… It took a little longer, but not as much as I’d expected.

Once I was there… ohh man. Not much more snow had fallen, it seemed, but getting to watch the sun set over Mt. Hood while I was cooking up dinner was truly sublime.

The rest of the night was just spent… being quiet. I can’t really describe exactly what I got up to… It wasn’t really anything, truthfully. I read a little, but mostly I just took the chance to be. To be quiet, to be under the stars, and to feel the cold slowly seeping into me. I know that sounds like a negative thing… but believe me, it wasn’t. It’s something I hadn’t realized quite how much I’ve missed, living in Oregon, but I love the feeling of camping in the snow, and feeling the cold slowly engulf you.

It’s calm, and quiet. It’s beautifully relaxing, and it makes worming my way into the sleeping bag that much better afterward.



The next morning, I awoke to the comforting sound of cannon fire, ringing out across the mountain.



Wait.



Yeah, that… that was definitely cannon fire.



Well, I was camped sort of near the ski area? So… that’s probably what it was?

I was worried for a few moments. I couldn’t imagine anyone triggering an avalanche anywhere near where I was, and I know that I’d camped in a quite safe spot (off to the side of the meadow in the trees, far away from any high-angle snow) but it was still definitely a disconcerting way to wake up.

Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures from the day… I’d turned my phone off overnight to save battery, but I’d left it in the pocket of the tent. Which, as it turned out, got extremely cold… cold enough to nearly kill the battery completely. I had a portable charger back at the car, of course, but that wasn’t going to help me out on the trail. Since my camera is also my phone, which is one of my pieces of safety equipment, I wasn’t going to risk it just to get a few extra pictures.

So accept my apologies, and enjoy the few pictures that did snap, before I realized just how low the battery had gotten.

As has become tradition at Elk Meadows, I breakfasted with a family of small birds – Gray Jays I believe – who flittered around and kept me company. Or, more accurately, constantly tried to literally jump inside my cup of coffee. It’s warm, I guess, and seemed to make a good change of pace from trying to jump inside my breakfast.

Freaking birds are lucky that they’re cute.

The rest of the day went beautifully. I kept the theme going, pretending to be an intrepid explorer by breaking new trails, exploring the meadow, and appreciating the crisp air of the mountain.

Elk Meadows is at roughly 5,200ft elevation… so not quite as high as Denver, but definitely a noticeable increase from Wilsonville’s 150ft elevation. It’s enough that I noticed it, but not enough that I was really winded while breaking trail… Combined with the cool air and snow, and it made for an amazing experience.

When I got back to camp, ready to pack up, I was happily tired out, and ready for the quick snack I had before heading down the trail back to the car. Packing the tent was a bit interesting, since the day’s sun had melted a lot of snow on the trees… leading to my tent getting completely soaked from the constant drip of meltwater. But that’s why I carry a spare (clean) trashbag with me, and soon enough I was heading back to the car – with the plan to hang my tent up as soon as I got home.