Tag Archives: winter camping

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.

A Thanksgiving Adventure – Camping in Vantage, Washington

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A Thanksgiving adventure – Camping in Vantage, Washington

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...

From Sunday, 29-Nov-2020 through Monday, 30-Nov-2020



I am drunk, and I am happy.

It’s been ages since I’ve been camping in the desert, and even longer since I’ve sat out under the stars by a campfire. This one is well-earned too – scrounged firewood from the various other campers, who’d headed home to Portland and Seattle earlier in the day.

The drink was earned too – This was my second-to-last night before heading back to work, and the ending of my first Thanksgiving vacation alone… ever, in fact. I’d driven nearly five hours from my home in Wilsonville to get here, and the views of the stars that I have right now were worth every second on the road.




Sunday, late morning


The day started quietly… just like nearly every other day of this vacation.


I got up, had a bite to eat, and finished packing up my gear into the Mustang. Then I got onto the road – stopping for a latte and a bagel for the road first, of course, but mostly just cruising on the open road, listening to music and enjoying the serenity of having a destination still hours in the future.

That’s something that I discussed with my councilor, during and shortly after my breakup with Sarah, that’s stuck with me – Everyone needs their own form of meditation, and for ages I was missing mine. One of the best ways for me to meditate, it turns out, is long drives… something that I got regularly in Boston driving up into New Hampshire, and something that I got while living in Hood River, and driving out to Portland.

Unsurprisingly, commuting to and from work didn’t quite scratch that itch… and now that I’m aware of it, I can enjoy drives like this even more.

So I drove.

As the sun set down toward the horizon, I got further into Washington, and closer to camp. My plan for the evening was simply to set up camp, have a quick dinner, and then enjoy the quiet of the desert night. Maybe have a fire, if I could scavenge enough firewood that had been left behind by other campers over the weekend.

As you may have guessed from the into to this post, dear reader, I succeeded in all of those goals.


Firewood was found – not a lot, but easily enough to have a quiet little fire that needed minimal tending.

Dinner was cooked, and fairly quickly scarfed down under the open sky.

Relaxation, and whiskey, were both had while sitting by the fire in my fold-out camp chair, staring up at the stars as the moon rose over the cliffs.




Monday morning


It snowed overnight!

I love waking up to snow – really anytime that I don’t have to shovel it, but especially when I’m waking up in a tent, looking out over a snow covered field.

The sun was quickly melting everything it touched though, so I quickly got myself moving and made a lovely quick breakfast and cup of coffee, enjoying the smell of the snow, and the crisp air for as long as I could.


Of course, as the day wore on the air warmed up quite nicely, and soon enough I was hiking around in just a long sleeve shirt, exploring and enjoying the landscape. Normally when I’d drive up to Vantage, it would be to climb… but since I was solo this time I spent the time wandering around places that I hadn’t had reason to go to before – the trails around the clifftops, farther down the ridgeline, all of those neat places that I’d passed by previously.

There’s not too much to say about them, aside from that it was completely beautiful and excellently relaxing. No stress, no timeline, and no pressure. Just enjoying the views and playing photographer until the sun started to set.

As the sun got closer to the horizon, I headed back to camp to pack up and start the drive home.

As we get closer to the solstice, it definitely does stink that the days keep getting shorter and shorter… but as with everything there’s a definite silver lining to be had – I was able to photograph during golden hour, and was still on track to get home before 9pm!

That was, until I got back to camp and ran into a subtle delay in plans… As I walked back, I could see my car from quite a ways away. I noticed, though, that I couldn’t quite see my tent though…

As I got closer, it became very obvious that my tent was, in fact, not standing next to my car. Now, one advantage to camping is that it never even crossed my mind that someone could have stolen it. That’s literally unthinkable, thankfully. Instead, I noticed the gusting wind, blowing sand, and remembered just how windy is can get at Vantage during the day – especially in the campground.

I was starting to formulate search plans to find my wayward camping gear when I arrived back, and was pleasantly surprised at just how amazing people really are – someone had saved my gear! My tent, with sleeping bag and everything still rolled up inside, was packed tightly down under my car, secured with a few rocks from nearby.

I spent a bit of time cleaning it up and packing it fully into the car, before wandering off in search of my mysterious benefactor.

I asked a few folks around if they’d been the ones to help me, or if they’d seen the ones who’d saved my gear, with the goal of gifting them my bottle of scotch as a thank-you gift. Unfortunately no one had seen anything, but on the way back to my car I was able to return the favor when I found someone else’s tent in the same predicament that mine had been – their camp was strewn around, thankfully caught on a few bushes, with their tent maybe 200 yards downhill, in a small gully.

As a return of karma, I was able to pack their gear up, secure it with a few rocks, and hopefully make someone’s day just a little bit brighter than it would have been otherwise.

With that happy, karmically-balanced, ending point… I drove off. Back onto the main highway, through the hills, quickly rolling back the miles to home.

Visiting the Loj – a memoriam

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Visiting the Loj – a memoriam

31-March-15 through 01-April-15

 

The Loj was my home.

I’ve lived in many places over my life…  My childhood home is important to me, but a lot of the others begin to blend together.  My first apartment, my first dorm, this city of that town… they were places to live.

My home was the Loj.

Why was it a home, when the others weren’t?  I’d put time and love into that building.  I’d spent five years earning the right to the set of keys that I carry on my keychain.  I always have them, right by my car fob and my apartment keys.  They remind me that no matter what happens, I have a place that I can escape to; a place that I can run away and hide.  A place where I’ve spent countless weekends, limitless adventures, and created more memories than I could ever remember.  I felt safe in the Loj; warm and welcome, no matter where life took me.

 

And then, it was gone.

On January 15th I got an email saying that, the night before, there had been a fire.  The entire building was lost, though thankfully none of the people staying there had been majorly injured.  The general thought was that the propane refrigerator had sparked and caught the main structure ablaze.  By the time the two guys staying there were awakened by the choking smoke and shattering glass, no amount of fire extinguishers could have helped.  The building was lost, razed to the ground.

I was useless for the entire rest of that day.

I didn’t believe it.  I couldn’t believe it.

My home, my refuge… was gone?  Just like that, without any fight or battle?  There hadn’t been a drawn out “how can we save it?  What can we do?”

This wasn’t a damaged roof, or a cracked wall; The email I got told a story of complete destruction, with fires still smoldering days after the fact.

 

I wanted to go up immediately.  I made plans, and then plans fell through.  Then I was laid off from Artisan, and my life was thrown into turmoil.  I had nowhere to run away to, so I buried myself in work – applying to jobs, revising resumes, and spending an inordinate amount of time in the climbing gym.

But finally I’d had enough – I would not put it off any longer.  I cleared a few days.  I ignored the recruiters who called me incessantly.

Ben, you have no time to go camping when looking for work” they said.

Thank you for the advice… but actually, I do.  I’m already doing it.” I replied.

 

 

The visit itself was… anti-climactic.  I expected it to be… more?  Just more, somehow.  I wanted a sense of closure, of emotion and epic crashing waves.  I wanted to hear thunder and lightening.

But instead, it just… was.

There was a skyline, where there should have been a roof.  There was a view of the mountains where I should have seen a wall, and a pile of burnt-out tin roof tiles where there was a strawberry patch.  In place of the tool shed, with its chaotic piles of rope and tool and gizmos, there was a pit with blackened metal; the remnants of axes and paint cans.

But over it all, there was quiet.

It was honestly a beautiful day – warm for this time of year, and almost cloudless.  The sun was bright and the wind wasn’t too loud.

I poked around for hours – taking pictures, looking for trinkets that I remembered, and hoped against hope had somehow survived.  None of them had.

 

As night fell, I finished setting up my camp down by the river.  I couldn’t stand the thought of camping in the rubble – it was too high and exposed to the wind, for one… and it just didn’t seem right, somehow.  It was a gravesite, and staking out a tent there wasn’t an option.

So I ate, slept, and the temperatures dropped.

They had dropped a lot, by the time I woke up.  When I checked the temperature a few hours after getting moving, it was still only 12 Deg.F… but I still dutifully woke up, ate a nice oatmeal breakfast, and got myself moving to take some more pictures and do some more poking.  I took a hike up the Ledges, trying to warm up my muscles, but they were having none of that.

I called it a little bit after noon, when the day was finally at its warmest.  I couldn’t stay over night again – it wasn’t getting warmer, and if I stayed I’d probably have to leave a few toes behind.  So I packed up my tent, stuffed the sleeping bag into its compression sack, walked back down to the car, and pulled onto the highway.

 

I didn’t go straight home, of course… but I left the lodge grounds.  There still wasn’t the crashing sense of closure that I had been looking for… but packing the car and pulling back onto Route 2 seemed almost normal.

I could tell, somehow, that I’d be coming back soon enough.  This trip was special, but it wasn’t anything too far out of the ordinary.

This wasn’t an ending.  It just was.

 

 

 

 

Pictures of the Loj itself

 

 

Pictures of the surroundings