Category Archives: Oregon

Otter Bench

January 10, 2018.

9.3 mi. | 1060′ ele. gain | 3:30 hr. | All the trails at Otter Bench

It can be difficult to find new and interesting things to do in the winter when all you want to do is go for a hike. The snow makes access to high places difficult and sometimes dangerous. Bare ground is at a minimum. After much snooping around I came across a trail description for Otter Bench, just a stone’s throw from Bend. I checked the forecast, packed a bag and headed out.

It felt weird, pulling up to a trailhead in basically a neighborhood development. But there it was. The hardest part of the whole day was just figuring out exactly where to go from the parking lot, since there were trails and user paths going every which way.

My goal was to hike all the trails today in order to get the most out of my visit. I began on the Lone Pine Trail, which led steeply down to the river bottom from the parking area. The trail just kind of petered out, so I admired the river and the golden winter foliage before trekking back up.

Back at the parking lot I took the Horny Hollow Trail (which was open this time of year) to the junction with the Pink trail, another spur down to the river. This was a beautiful trail with great views of the Crooked River Canyon. I imagined this place would be insufferably hot in the summertime and was grateful for the cold, wet winter weather I had this morning.

After a quick jaunt down the Pink Trail I returned to the main pathway and continued north. The Opal Canyon Loop formed a lollipop shape as it looped up along the river and then cut inland to return. The riverside walk was lovely. Before turning back I stopped to eat my lunch. I had a great viewpoint overlooking the deep canyon. Far below, the Crooked River rushed by. No one else was out here today.

The hike back was across the broad, flat, high desert plateau. It was less scenic and interesting than the hike in, so I moved a bit more quickly. Occasionally I’d stop to photograph the interesting forms made by dormant winter plants. Their twisted stalks, geometric seed heads and striking colors made me curious.

One more trail to go: the Otter Bench trail. It was just as boring and mundane as the one before. I don’t think I’d go back here in the spring or summer, when access is restricted to this trail. Besides the heat, there just wouldn’t be much to look at.

Grateful for three and a half hours of solitude!

Paulina Peak winter hike

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.

Diablo Peak

October 28, 2017.

Photos here

In my quest to tick off the summits in Barbara Bond’s “75 Scrambles in Oregon” book, I organized a Cascades Mountaineers outing to Diablo Peak.

In May.

A sudden case of norovirus (tip: never, ever, get norovirus) knocked me on my butt the night before the hike, so I had to cancel it. Undeterred, I decided to reschedule, but it would have to wait for cooler fall weather.

And so our team of seven set out from Bend at 7:30 am for the 2-hour drive to the middle of nowhere. Following the excellent directions from Bond’s book we arrived to a particular dirt road on BLM land that would serve as our trailhead.

It was a sunny day that could only get warmer. I was thrilled to be starting the hike in short sleeves in what was practically November. Our cheery crew had a delightful 2-mile walk across the “sand dunes” to the base of the first hill. We picked our way up the hill, dropped down to an old jeep road and carried on hiking up a wash.

The desert was warm, dry, and quiet. There was hardly a sign of human activity, save for the occasional bootprint. Most of the tracks and droppings were left by animals. We used the GPS waypoints and route description to navigate towards the summit (which we couldn’t see yet).

The sun was absolutely roasting. This was not the best day to try out my new pair of black hiking pants. I was sweating like crazy. But the scenery was magnificent and the companionship was quite lovely, so the sweat I’d just have to deal with.

Across the wash, up some rolling sagebrush slopes and to a lunch spot. We were getting pretty hungry. The group paused to sit on some rocks, wolf down some food and chat about the weather. Such a nice day, have I mentioned that yet?

We picked our way up to what appeared to be the top of the rim and then, finally, we could see our peak. Across a broad, flat plain there was a little bump: Diablo Peak.

The route description mentioned scrambling up the “south ridge,” but that ridge turned out to be a fairly broad hillside. Not very ridgy. Pretty, though. The Diablo Rim was impressive, with deep grooves carved out of its east-facing side. The desert lay sprawled out in front of us, in all directions. We could see the massive Winter Rim, Summer Lake, Hart Mountain and lots of brown, featureless landscape in between. The scale was hard to wrap my head around. Fortunately, all we had to do now was gaze out at the vista, soak up the sunlight and eat Mystery Oreos. It was turning out to be a pretty killer day.

On the way back, I handed over the reins to a couple of team members so they could practice their navigation skills. They did a pretty good job of keeping us on track. At points of confusion a few people shared ideas until they came up with a plan. I really enjoy having team members who want to be part of the process, not just show up and follow the leader.

The afternoon sun really highlighted the texture on the old dunes. We stopped several times to admire the changing shadows, bumps, lines and ridges on the ground beneath our feet.

After the hike we took a 30-minute detour to Summer Lake Hot Springs for a soak. It was pretty packed, but we all squeezed into the main pool and even sneaked over to the outdoor pools once the crowds began to head out. What a fantastic way to end a day of hiking.

We said goodbye to four team members and three of us stayed behind to enjoy some camping and Sunday shenanigans. I checked Diablo off my list, but I’d do it again. It’s remoteness and quiet appeal to my need for solitude while hiking. I’d be curious to go back up in the spring to see the desert in bloom.

Steens Mountain high country rambling

July 21-23, 2017.

Google photo album

I’ve had the Steens Mountain on my mind since the first time I stepped foot into the region. Literally, one foot. I had just undergone ACL reconstruction surgery 3 weeks prior to my first visit. Needless to say, I couldn’t walk very far. So I spent my days wistfully looking up the mountain and dreaming of the day I could stand on its summit. Since then I’d taken a few trips to the area, but always in winter. During those winter trips, snow blocked entry to most of the vast mountain wilderness, leaving me to explore only the low canyons and streams.

We drove from Bend to Frenchglen on a Friday afternoon. From Frenchglen we started up the south side of the Steens Loop Road, hoping to score a campite at South Steens campground. Luckily it was hardly even half-full, so we were able to get a shady site near a dry creekbed.

Big Indian Gorge

After a satisfying camp breakfast we headed for the Big Indian Gorge trailhead, located at the east edge of the campground. We walked through what Sullivan called a “juniper woodland” for nearly 2 miles. It felt, however, like an open, African plain. The sun drilled deep down into my soul as we trudged along in search of this canyon. Eventually, the trail entered a small, shady grove near Big Indian Creek. The water was low and easy to cross in Crocs.

Several miles later, after walking through dry brush in the blazing sun, I decided I just wasn’t feeling it. Apart from the stunning Mariposa lilies, there was nothing special about this hike. It wasn’t what I wanted out of the Steens. We could have been anywhere. There was no perspective, no feeling of being up high. We took a rest break and re-fueled for the walk back. It was time for plan B.

The scenic drive

Back at the car, we hit the road and drove up the narrow, winding switchbacks towards the summit parking area. Along the way, we stopped at a few roadside pull-outs that began to make me feel like we were at the Steens. These epic viewpoints provided a broader overview of this special landscape. We could clearly see the large, U-shaped glacial valleys that were carved by ice millions of years ago. It was dramatic.

Wildhorse Lake

Around 3:30, we set off from the summit parking area to Wildhorse Lake. This short, steep trail followed a zigzag of switchbacks down a hillside to a pretty lake basin. The hills were painted with a surprising variety of wildflowers: buckwheat, paintbrush, thistle, penstemon, clover and many more I couldn’t identify.

We took our time ambling down the trail, trying to capture photos of all the delicate alpine flowers. As we approached the lake, we noticed patches of monkeyflower, which likes to grow in moist ground. Then, tall stands of false hellebore with another surprise: it was flowering! I’d never seen this distinctive plant in flower before.

Once we reached the lake, we found a small, sandy beach. The water was cold, but it felt so good to jump in and wash off the grime and sweat. We killed some time here just enjoying the gentle breeze, pretty flowers and sunshine glistening off the lake. Up next we’d have a grueling bushwhack up the south side of the mountain.

Our route took us along the bubbling creek streaming out of the snowfield that was still clinging to the upper mountain. We began by pushing through thick vegetation, which quickly diminished as we climbed higher. Scrambling up the slippery rocks and scree we made our way to the base of the summit. The cliffs looked impenetrable from a distance but we found an easy way to get all the way up. We stood below the radio towers at the top and looked over the rim to the desert below. A quick and easy 0.4 mile road walk brought us back to the car.

Camping

I didn’t want to leave this alpine paradise. On our way to the summit we’d scouted a few possible camp locations and so we drove back to our first choice. With a few gear shuttles from the car we set up a sweet campsite on a flat, gravel patch that was surrounded by boulders, meadows and snow. The sunset was spectacular. We ate chicken and veggies cooked on the camp stove, played ice cream soccer, and sunk into the tent for a well-deserved night of rest.

Ramblin’

We packed up camp and headed off on some cross-country rambles. Our travels covered less than 4 miles, but I felt like we were transported to another universe. Walking across high alpine meadows, crossing snow-melt streams and scrambling over gravelly lava rock, we were explorers. Our journey consisted of arriving at one jaw-dropping viewpoint after another. Along the way, we found new wildflowers that I hadn’t seen at Wildhorse Lake: alpine marsh-marigold, Oregon campion, orange hawkweed and so many more.

The Steens just screams for exploration. There are only a handful of trails that span this massive wilderness landscape. It would take many, many trips to even begin to see what this mountain has to offer. With 7 huge gorges, several high alpine ridgelines and numerous smaller canyons and gorges, you could wander around here for a lifetime and still not know it all. While I am grateful that we did some backcountry hiking on this trip, I am now hungry to get deeper into the mountain’s secret spaces.

On the drive down, we stopped anywhere that looked interesting: two more viewpoints (that were much prettier than the summit itself), a couple of campgrounds and random pullouts overlooking impossibly beautiful wildflower meadows. The whole trip was a delight for all the senses, from the fresh mountain air to the colorful blooms, cold snow melt and textured rock. After ten years in Oregon I am still finding surprises tucked in every corner of the state.

Monkey Face, West Face Direct – Monkey off my Back

June 22, 2017.

Photo album here.

In almost ten years of climbing at Smith Rock, I’d never gotten on Monkey Face. One of the most recognizable features at Smith, Monkey Face is a 350 foot tall spire with multiple climbing routes leading to its summit.  Today, my climbing partner Keen and I decided to go for it.

We hiked up and over Misery Ridge to get to the base of the west face. From here we’d follow West Face Direct (5.8), a 2-pitch trad route that followed a few crack systems to reach a large ledge. I geared up for the first lead.

Still brushing off the cobwebs after several years of climbing little to no trad, I struggled to get past the first 20 feet or so, wriggling up an awkward chimney. Eventually I figured it out and got up to some easier climbing. But since I’d loaded up the crack with several pieces of gear, I had heinous rope drag that prevented me from climbing further. I set a piece and downclimbed back to the top of the hard section to clean a few pieces and help the rope move freely. Then I climbed back up and finished the pitch.

From my nice belay ledge, I belayed my partner up, traded gear, and he set out on the second lead. I watched him climb across a sloping ramp with lots of huecos to a crack/dihedral that disappeared out of sight. Once he finished, I followed the second pitch up to Bohn Street, where we’d sort out gear for the famous bolt ladder.

 

Keen had done tons of aid climbing but I had done effectively zero. So I watched a few videos on aid technique and he talked me through the first few clips. Then, I was on my way. I learned that aid climbing was all about getting into a routine and moving methodically. This was easy aid: I had no pieces to place, I just had to clip bolts. The only difficulty was in the bolts that were reachy for me, and also getting over the lip into the cave. There was a lot of yanking on gear, which I am not used to doing, and it was actually much more strenuous than I’d imagined. It was an awesome learning experience and it was fun to problem-solve and get up in the cave.

Once we were both securely in the cave we sorted gear again. Keen needed some quickdraws for the final 5.9 pitch to the summit. Everything else went in the backpack, which I would carry up with me.

The exit of the cave is called Panic Point, and for good reason. You’ve got to step out of the cozy cave onto the face of the rock, with nothing but air below your feet. There are good handholds and foot placements, so most climbers are capable of doing this route. While it is technically moderate, it is mentally challenging. Here, the wind blows, you’re fatigued, excited, and totally exposed. Hikers watch in awe from the trails all around you. And, I had a backpack constantly trying to pull me off the wall into the void.

Lucky for me, my partner led the route so I was on toprope. I fought my way up the last pitch and was delighted to reach the belay station. I scrambled up to the summit, took the pack off, and enjoyed the endless views from on top. One of the ladies on the trail nearby yelled “woooo!” and threw up her arms in excitement, as if to say “nice job, you made it!” That was cool. 🙂

But the climb wasn’t over yet. We still had to get down. At the rappel station, we carefully tied our two ropes together and I set up the first rappel. After the first section, the rock became overhanging, leaving me dangling a couple hundred feet off the ground. The wind pushed me in a gentle spiral and I took in the 360-degree views all around me. What a fun ride down! I landed as another pair of climbers was heading up the Pioneer Route, then my partner descended to the ground.

We walked around to the base of the route and sorted gear in the shade. While most of our climb was in the shadow of the towering rocks, our hike out would almost entirely be in the sun. On a hot day like today, the sun can drain the energy right out of you.

We took the long way back along the river. The Crooked River flowed by swiftly. The vegetation on either side of the river looked impossibly lush and green. We stopped a few times to look back at the Monkey and watch the other party make their way up towards the top. Along the hike, we saw several different varieties of wildflowers and shrubs. Several people were out hiking today, which was crazy considering the high temperature and the fact that it was a weekday. Smith Rock is popular almost any day, any time, no matter what the conditions are.

I was happy to have completed a climb on Monkey Face, finally… The route was varied, enjoyable, and just challenging enough. It required a wide range of skills: traditional, sport, aid, and multipitch climbing all rolled into one experience.

Three little hikes east of Bend

March 15, 2017.

I was ready to get out of the snow. I grabbed my friend Sarah and we drove east in search of new places and dry ground.

Dry River Channel

Sullivan’s Eastern Oregon hiking book mentions a short hike in the Badlands that follows an old river bed. I hadn’t seen it before, so we decided to make this our starting place. Following the directions we walked on a trail that took us to a narrow channel of short rock walls where we searched for Native American petroglyphs. Sarah and I investigated the rocks and looked for animal signs while her dog Ruby explored the top of the cliffs.

We looped back to the car and piled in to drive to our next stop.

Juniper Woodlands

The Juniper Woodlands Recreation Area is managed by the BLM and is located just north of the Oregon Badlands WIlderness. When we arrived at the trailhead we were greeted by a signboard with a map. Based on the map we put together a roughly 5.7 mile loop and started walking.

The trails were named and color coded on the map. Once we started hiking we noticed that the trail junctions were marked, however, with numbers. We did our best to stay on our route.

The terrain was terribly monotonous. It was flat and dry, with sage and juniper dominating the vegetation. The sky overhead was thick and gray. We were not inspired. Occasionally we’d stumble across an interesting sight. A large pile of old, rusted cans. Three attached vertebrae. Hundreds of purple juniper berries strewn beneath a large tree.

We couldn’t have reached the trailhead soon enough. It was time for one more hike.

Reynolds Pond

As luck would have it, we saved the best for last.

Reynolds Pond was stunning. We could hardly believe our eyes. Underneath moody clouds we saw bright yellow and orange leaves that seemed to defy the desert’s color palette. Beneath the water we could look down to the bottom of the pond. There was something to look at in all directions. My only disappointment was that the trail looping the pond was only a mile long. We wouldn’t have much of a walk here.

But, it felt great to walk on dry ground and feel that cool desert air on my face. I really enjoyed checking out some new places at a time where I thought I’d seen it all. No matter how much I explore there is always something new to discover.

Cone Peak winter training

March 12, 2017.

I was itching to get a winter outing on the Cascades Mountaineers schedule. Something that would be accessible for people who wanted to practice their snow travel skills. Having done this type of event on Cone Peak before, it was the natural choice.

I had three people show up at the appointed time so off we went. It was already warm and sunny at 9 am. We immediately put our snowshoes on to help us walk across the deep, wet snow. I fell into a rhythm as I hiked this familiar trail through the woods to the first open meadow. From there we were treated to views of beautiful cloud formations and our conical destination.

We found the path of least resistance through the trees at the far end of the meadows and began going uphill. Partway up we swapped our snowshoes and poles for crampons and ice ax since that was the whole point of the trip.

Everyone got a chance to practice fiddling with gear and walking up steep snow. One of the participants was nervous about the snow so she kept veering towards a rock rib to our left. I yelled at her to come back and face that snow slope head on. She complied and got a great lesson in trusting her feet in the snow.

Up and up we went. Once we hit the ridge we strolled happily to the highpoint on the far end. It was windy up there, so we hung out long enough to snap a picture and then doubled back to hide in the lee of a small rock outcrop to eat lunch.

The return hike provided an opportunity to practice downclimbing a steep, wet snowslope, which presented different challenges than going up. Once we got through the worst of it, we changed back into snowshoes and followed our tracks back out to the trail head.

Snow conditions are different from day to day and it never hurts to get more experience practicing snow travel. The more time I spend on snow the more I am able to anticipate what I’m in for and adjust my behavior to match the conditions. I can only hope that my group members gained a little more insight and experience so that the next time they get out they feel better prepared!

Maiden Peak Shelter winter backpacking

February 25-26, 2017.

My friend Kat was looking for an overnight adventure and I decided to join her. We hiked in to a place I’d been many times before: Maiden Peak Shelter. Although I’d been there several times for Thanksgiving, this would be my first February trip. I was excited to share this cool place with someone new and revisit this charming shelter.

We arrived at Gold Lake Sno-Park and packed up to go by 9:30 am. There was so much snow! I felt the weight of my heavy overnight pack on my back but was really psyched to do some snowshoeing. We crossed the highway and started up the approach road to the trail system.

Since we were on snowshoes, we had to put in our own tracks. Cross-country skiers had been through here, leaving their parallel lines in the deep snow. So we plodded ahead, one step at a time, through the heavy, fresh stuff. It was a lot of work.

The trail leading to the shelter had been tracked out by skiers, so we continued beside their line. At some point we lost the trail and began walking cross country, up some steep slopes, angling towards our destination. It took us 3 and a half hours to find it. What a relief! When we arrived, we unloaded and ate lunch.

After a nice rest break, we threw a few essentials into our much lighter packs and set out on the trail towards Maiden Peak. I knew we wouldn’t quite get to the top, but we both were looking to stretch our legs a bit before settling in for the night.

We hiked for a couple of hours in the silent woods. The skies were blue and the sun streamed through the treetops. A delightful day.

When we got back to the cabin, a new group had arrived. This cabin was a first-come, first-served kind of deal with no reservations. So I tried to push my past experiences aside and give this group a chance.

Wrong.

Of course they had a dog. Of course the dog was barking and nipping at us. Of course the dog’s owner said, “she’s never done that before!” Not once, but at least 10 times. Pro-tip, you can only use that line once. Then it doesn’t work anymore. I was pretty pissed off. Of course there was music and drinking and smoking and just basically being obnoxious humans. This seems to be what people do when they go to the woods. So much for a great day.

I went to bed just dreaming for sunrise and my chance to get out. In the morning, I felt rushed to pack. And in doing so I was careless about pouring boiling hot water into my water bladder and proceeded to pour it all over the back of my hand.

Sigh. There’s never a benefit to rushing. I set the pot down, took a breath and quickly reviewed what I knew about burns. I went outside and poured some cool water over the area and let the initial trauma settle down. Then, I covered it loosely with gauze to protect the burned skin and allow me to put a mitten on over my damaged hand. Stupid rushing. Stupid, stupid.

We had 5 miles of hiking to do in order to return to the car. In stark contrast from yesterday, the sky was completely overcast. We hiked out in a snowstorm, making pretty decent time, following the now well-tracked route to the road.

So while it wasn’t the most awesome trip, I learned some valuable lessons. First, never show up at a group shelter expecting solitude or polite behavior. Second, no matter what, TAKE YOUR TIME when performing camp chores. Working in a hurry almost always leads to mistakes, and mistakes cost time (and ego). It’s way more efficient to work more slowly and methodically in the long run. Plus, the job gets done better. And on the brighter side, I had a nice walk with Kat on both days. It wasn’t a total loss. And as I always say, a day in the woods is better than a day in the house!

Nordeen Long Loop

February 5, 2017.

4.75 mi. | 200′ ele. gain | 2:45 hr.

9 am Sunday morning. Swampy Sno-Park. One car in the parking lot. We’d struck gold. I’ve noticed that people tend to get a late start on Sundays. Not sure if it’s church, or partying hard Saturday night or sheer laziness or what. But I was happy to have some quiet time in the fresh snow, less than 30 minutes out of town.

Today I was joined by Abby and Aaron to snowshoe on a loop trail designed for snowshoers, not cross country skiers. So we wouldn’t have to worry about trampling their precious ski tracks or anything. A snowshoe trail, who knew?

We followed the well-marked trail through unbroken snow. It was a chilly morning. The sky was overcast, making it feel even colder outside. Without the warm sun rays breaking through the brisk air, we relied only on our trapped body heat to stay comfortable.

When the sky is gray and the snow is white, I feel a bit out of sorts. It’s difficult to distinguish the landscape vertically. Green tree branches helped to break up the monotonous tone. Occasionally the sun would poke through a break in the clouds, casting long shadows on the snow. I couldn’t imagine living in a more northern climate that has even shorter days than this. I’d lose my mind.

Arriving at the warming shelter, we sat down and pulled out our snacks. We took only a short break before moving on.

What little bit of sun appeared at the shelter sneaked back behind the curtain of gray for the reminder of our trip. Bundled up, we kept moving to stay warm. Aaron picked up the lead again and broke trail all the way back to the parking lot. By the time we got back, the trailhead was abuzz with activity. So many people were making preparations to snowshoe or ski into the backcountry. But for us, it was almost noon, so…it was time to head into town and eat some lunch.

Clear Lake and Snowy Waterfalls

February 1, 2017.

9.2 mi | 600′ ele. gain | 6.5 hr

This winter has been something else. Planning trips has been challenging due to the snow conditions on the roads and the trails. Plus, I’m still adjusting to my new home and figuring out where to go locally. Today’s trek brought me and a friend to Clear Lake, Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls. Looking through my maps and guidebooks, I patched together a route I thought would go.

We parked at the Ikenick Sno-Park and crossed the highway to the Clear Lake Resort. I knew there was a trail that went all the way around the lake. We decided to head south, along the lake’s western shore, to join up with the McKenzie River trail. There were only a few glimpses of the lake from the trail, which was somewhat disappointing. When we reached the southern outlet of the lake we picked up the new trail, crossed the road and headed towards the waterfalls.

A wooden footbridge crossed the McKenzie River. Snow was piled on top of the bridge to the height of the handrails. We moved carefully across on our snowshoes to the other side. This is where the real adventure began. The tracks all but disappeared and we set off in a dense, dark forest along the river. The snow covered the trail so we were sidehilling on a slippery surface, with drop-offs down to the raging river.

I breathed a sigh of relief when we made it to Carmen Reservoir. The footing was much more gentle and flat here. And on this side of the river the trail was broken out. At least we did the difficult half first. We ambled along the river, stopping to enjoy the tremendous views of the river and falls. Sahalie Falls was particularly memorable. The cold air had transformed the waterfall spray into magical ice formations. Frozen drops of water clung to the needles in the trees. Layers of frozen snow created abstract shapes near the river. It was a movie-set landscape, too good to be true. It was a nice place to stop and have some food. What a pretty sight.

We followed the trail back to Clear Lake. Suddenly, it wasn’t so clear where to go. We had to find the other segment of the trail, the part that went along the eastern shore. Wandering around, we stumbled across a sign and set off on the lake’s edge. This side of the trail was much more scenic than the other side. There were beautiful viewpoints over the lake. Neuron-like shapes were frozen into the lake’s surface. The air was so quiet.

As we wrapped around the north side of the lake, there was again a bit of confusion. Where would we cross the creeks? Were there bridges? Signs? Did we miss something? Would we have to cross on our own?

No, we just had to keep walking for another 5 minutes or so. The trail was right there.

On the final stretch back to the resort we came across two people taking a short jaunt from the cabin. We knew we were close then!

Winter presents its challenges, but not without its rewards. The extra hard work, uncertainty and routefinding enabled us to see a unique landscape covered in snow and ice. And solitude at Clear Lake? Unheard of. I won’t be back this summer, but perhaps I’ll venture out here the next time we’re in a deep freeze.