After my friend Mike headed out, I went up to the mountain!
The storm hadn’t fully receded yet, but it had definitely calmed down quite a bit. And, more importantly, traffic was pretty much non-existant. I mean, in comparison to the usual traffic on this road, that is. For some reason, the drive to Mt. Hood just… it just takes so much longer than it logically should. I mean, it’s 70 miles. Mostly on highways. Why does it take 2 hours???
Anyways. Drive looked good, I had newly waxed cross country skiis, and I was feeling energetic after having some good socialization time. Tossed the gear in the car, filled my coffee thermos with some hot drink, and headed into the blizzard!
Now I know what you’re thinking.
“Ben! How could you take pictures while driving in the snow???”
“Well, other-Ben, As you can see there’s quite a bit of space between me and the next car… that’s because traffic was moving at approximately 20mph, and had pretty frequent stops. Thankfully this was only for a short distance, but those stops gave me just enough time to snap a picture while waiting to make sure the car in front of me didn’t backslide into my sweet snow-stang”
Yeah. The drive was… not as bad as it could have been, thankfully. But it was still slow once we got to the snow.
Thankfully, traffic petered out pretty quickly after one initial slowdown, and I was able to make it to the trailhead without much difficulty. I should clarify – I didn’t go to the originally-planned trailhead.
See, I love Elk Meadows, so that was my original plan. I had my hiking ski boots on (ski boots that are crampon compatible, and comfortable for ascending in), crampons, and everything ready for some vertical movement… but the roads and conditions were getting pretty bad as I passed the pullout for the Timberline Lodge. I probably could have made it, but I wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous or risky today.
Instead, I stopped at Trillium Lake – usually jam-packed with people, but thanks to the snow it was only packed. I was able to find a pretty safe parking spot without much difficulty, geared up, and headed in!
The trail was beautiful and fun – Deep snow, clear going, and nicely downhill pretty much the whole way.
Then I made a mistake.
I went off-trail, excited that I had newly-waxed skis that I thought could take me anywhere. And they could! Anywhere that was downhill.
When I hit a river and decided to turn back, I learned the mistake I’d made. Remember how I mentioned that the skis were newly-waxed? Well… the folks that had waxed them put a nice, thick layer on… just like you’d do for downhill skis. But Cross Country skis have little scales on the bottom to grip the snow, giving you traction when you push off. Scales that are small, and easily covered by a thick layer of wax…
Going into the adventure, I hadn’t noticed that the scales were covered up. Downhill I’d just glided beautifully, no issue and no hassle.
When I tried to climb back uphill though, I was stuck. I stepped forward, and the ski slid backward. I actually made negative progress for a little while.
I tried taking the skis off and just hiking out. No dice – the snow was 3+ ft deep, not something I could crawl through.
I tried going sideways. No dice – the trees were thick, and I didn’t quite have the room to manouver.
I legitimately got scared for a while – I had the safety gear to be okay, of course, and even call for help if absolutely necessary… but I really didn’t want to have to send up a satellite beacon because my skis were slippery.
After quite a bit of sliding and falling and being frustrated (okay, maybe like 20min, max) I was able to struggle my way out of the low-ground. It was mostly a lot of creative switchbacks, using poles and trees for leverage, and more pizza-walking than I ever expected to do on a pair of cross country skis.
With my escape made, I seriously considered just turning back and heading home. I was tired, and had walked quite a bit in the last few days… and after nearly getting stuck in the deep powder, you can’t blame me for wanting a bit of an escape from my escape into the woods, right?
So I rested a bit, had a bite to eat, and drank some water from my unfrozen water bottle. I even chatted with some other skiers who, ironically, were having the opposite problem than I was! Their skis were sticking quite a bit on the heavy snow, and they were having just as rough of a time making headway as I was.
With my spirits buoyed by the snacks, and knowing I wasn’t along in my struggles, I forged onward. Instead of turning around, I stuck to the groomed trail for the rest of the trek – gliding pretty easily, though still being quite frustrated every so often by the backsliding that my skis were doing.
After a while though, it seems like the thickest part of the wax rubbed off enough that I could almost get traction! This gave me enough speed to make it all the way to the lake, where I got some… well, not views, really. but I did see the lake! Sort of.
Since there weren’t really any views, and the lake was completely exposed to the driving snow and biting wind, I headed back into tree cover. Ate a quick bite of lunch in a conveniently placed shelter, and took the chance to relax and enjoy the sheer simple quiet that fresh falling snow gives.
I think that’s one of my favorite parts about the winter. The simple quiet of the world… It was cold, sure, but I had the right gear to keep myself warm. And in that simple comfort, the entire world seemed completely still and utterly serene… not a single sound aside from those I made myself.
I rested a while, and even took the chance to patch up some holes in my snow pants, since I was warm enough without them. But daylight waits for no one, not even as intrepid an adventurer as I am, so I did have a timeline to keep. I ate a few more slices of brie, rearmored myself in the snow layers, packed the warmth layers into my backpack, and headed back toward the car.
I’ll admit – I was worried about the way back. My skis were getting a bit better traction, sure, but it still wasn’t optimal… and if you recall, the route from the car was mostly downhill. I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to get enough traction to get up the trail easily.
In the end, my concern was well founded. My skis didn’t cut it, but that’s where having backup plans come into play – I just took them off and hiked out in my boots. No hassle, no mess, and no forging through deep snow, thanks to the groomed trail. Soon enough, I was back to the car and warming myself up for the long trafficy slog home…