Tag Archives: Winter backpacking

Backpacking up the White River Glacier in the snow


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.

A Thanksgiving adventure – Backpacking Elk Meadows


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.


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.