Tag Archives: Snow

Backpacking the Twin Lakes of Mount Hood

Standard

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.

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.

Cross Country Skiing out to Elk Meadows – Saturday, 19-Dec-2020

Standard

Saturday, 19-Dec-2020



Elk Meadows really is my go-to destination for the second half of this year, isn’t it?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it does make quite a bit of sense, if you think about it… It’s quite close to home (compared to most other things), it’s fairly empty, and it’s not too long… with quite nice views at the top. It’s also nicely segmented – there’s the flat starting section, then the river crossing, then the steep section, and then the final flat section.

It’s exactly what I want these days – simplicity, consistency, and meeting expectations.

As always, Elk Meadows provided.



The hike started out a bit late, and a bit non-standard… the usual parking lot was snowed in, and so I had to park at the Mt. Hood Nordic Ski Center… not a bad thing, since it was mostly plowed, but it did lead to a slightly different start to the trail. It was a small variation though, and added a bit of interesting spice to the hike – so totally acceptable in my book.

The rest of the trail cruised by pretty much as normal – I skied the flat bits, carried them for the steeper bits, and took them completely off once I crossed the river and started up the really steep bit.

About a year ago I had bought a new pair of cross country ski boots… which is a weird thing to add to a blog, but bear with me. They were a bit more expensive than I’d planned, but they had the huge advantage that they were really hiking boots with ski clips. They were comfortable, warm, and had connection points for crampons, which is exactly what I needed for this hike.

Once I was over the river, the skis were strapped to my backpack, the crampons strapped to my feet, and up, up, up I went through the switchbacks. It went fairly quickly… but I’ll freely admit that it was much harder than I was expecting. The snow was a little deeper than usual, sure, but the real challenge was having these massive, six and a half foot long skis strapped to my back. I kept kicking them, or catching them on trees, and they’re heavier than you’d expect… at least heavier than I expected.

But it went. Slowly but surely, grinding up the trail ’till I made it to the last flat section.

Which turns out not to be flat, but to be slightly downhill… and thankfully, exactly the right amount of downhill that I was able to safely and happily slide my way nearly the whole way onto the Elk Meadows boundary trail. That’s where the beaten path ended, and the “normal” people would simply walk through the wood into a small part of the meadows, take a picture, and then go home. At least, or so the tracks showed me.

Which was awesome, because it meant I had completely untouched snow to ski on!

It was beautiful.

The snow had a nice crust of ice on top – not enough to be annoying or unpleasant, but just enough to help keep me from sinking completely into the powder below. It rasped beautifully; not loud enough to be frustrating, but just enough that it kept that excellent feel of winter exploration going.

I cruised through the meadow, stopping constantly to take pictures and say hi to my little feathered friends that I’ve gotten to know over the course of the year. They were as inquisitive (read: hungry) as always, and even came by to perch on my hand and ice axe a few times. They didn’t really ride along with me, unfortunately, but they were still awesome and fun to spend some time with.


I took a short break at the Elk Meadows shelter, which looked like it had been pulled straight out of a painting, and read a bit as the sun started dipping below the horizon. I enjoyed the quiet, relaxed, and got myself ready for the return trip…

When I forged out from the shelter the snow and wind had started whipping up and the sky was getting darker. It was gorgeous, and the falling snow gave the whole meadow an amazing arctic feeling. That sense was what I had ventured out looking for – the feeling of exploration, and of driving snow hammering down around me.

It was perfect, and the ski / hike out back to the car was exactly what I had been hoping for, and exactly what I needed to help me get myself psyched up for the week ahead.