Tag Archives: Backpacking

Backpacking the Twin Lakes of Mount Hood

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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.

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.