November 18, 2017.
12 mi. | 2400′ ele. gain | 7 hrs.
The last time I hiked to the top of Paulina Peak in the winter I remember one thing: snowmobiles. It was late December, and snowmobile season was in full swing. We heard them, we saw them, and worst of all, we smelled them. It was awful. Ruined an almost perfect day.
So this year I put my thinking cap on. How early could I plan a trip up Paulina where there would be good snow for hiking but not enough snow to get the sleds out? Mid-November. I hoped. And then I put it on the schedule for the Cascades Mountaineers.
Eight people put their faith in my planning skills, so I REALLY hoped I had timed it right. We all met up in Bend and carpooled out to the trailhead on a cold and sunny November morning.
By 9:45 am we were all ready to start walking. There was a light coating of snow at the trailhead so we started with snowshoes strapped to our pack. It would take a couple miles of walking before we decided to strap them on our feet. We trekked into the viewpoint of Paulina Falls and took a nice rest break. Food, water, pictures. It wasn’t too long before we put our packs back on and started the climb up towards the peak.
I’ve been on this trail many times and each time the most difficult section is finding the summer trail from the road. There are blue diamonds on some trees that lure you into the woods, but then they seemingly disappear. I always end up walking on the road and off the trail for a while. So after a little bit of fussing around, that’s what we did.
Once the trail started climbing steeply uphill, the group separated a bit. The fastest hikers sped ahead and the slower hikers filtered towards the back. I prefer to lead from the back so I accompanied the latter group. It was such a lovely day and I was just so happy to be out there. It felt like we were the only group on the mountain.
After much trudging in the woods we eventually broke out to our first good viewpoint looking towards Paulina Peak’s cliff faces. It was beautiful. But we still had some ground to cover, so we didn’t dally long.
As we approached the upper trail sections we were careful to follow the blue diamonds. I have been led astray many times up here by following my gut instead of looking for the trail. In just a couple spots we stopped to assess our route. We mostly stayed on track.
That final push to the top couldn’t come soon enough. We burst out of the trees to a summit sign and an epic view over Paulina Lake. All the snowy volcanoes stood out on the distant horizon under deep blue skies. It was perfect timing, after all!
At the top we all got comfortable and dug into our food supplies. One of the hikers brought out his “instant fire” and we had a little warming station to stand around as we ate.
On the way down there was lots of chatter. The hard work was mostly done. We could now relax and enjoy the walk. Heading down the mountain through a gallery of rime-coated trees was just as magical today as it was the first time I wandered up here in 2006. As the sun began to set in the distance, we completed the final riverside walk to the parking lot. It was a glorious day. I was grateful to be able to share this experience with others and hopefully inspire them to plan their own winter adventures.