Category Archives: Oregon

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.

Steelhead Falls in winter

January 31, 2017.

This was my second visit to Steelhead Falls this winter and in this lifetime. This winter has brought snow down upon all the land. I was delighted to see this popular swimming hole in a quiet time of year.

The trail was absolutely treacherous, as old footprints turned the fluffy snow into sloping death ice. We were grateful for our Yaktrax but wished we had better traction on our feet. My hiking buddy Amanda asked, “What would you do if I slid into the river?” That led into an interesting conversation about decision-making, the ten essentials and when/how to call for help. I think she was only partly joking when she asked.

The trail continues for a ways beyond the falls, although this was clearly where most people turned around. We had plenty of time so we kept walking, exploring the beautiful canyon country.

We hiked off-trail to investigate some interesting rock pillars upslope. Birds swirled overhead. It was so peaceful and lovely.

As we meandered back around the pillars, searching for a way back to the trail, we stumbled upon THIS:

Simultaneously the coolest thing ever and the freakiest thing ever. I’m pretty sure Amanda said something about cougars. I just wanted to check this carcass out from all angles. I’d never seen one that intact before, with fur and soft tissue and blood. So interesting.

The remainder of the walk was way less exciting than that. We made it back to the car without having to retrieve anyone from the river and all was well. A great winter destination!

Chimney Rock

January 27, 2017.

4 mi. | 700′ ele. gain | 2:15 hr.

Hiking is mostly viewed as a seasonal activity. It’s what you do when the summer rolls around, the ski lifts are closed and the fallen trees are cleared. But to me, hiking is one of the most basic human expressions that can be enjoyed any time of year. Just because a hiking trail isn’t maintained for year-round travel doesn’t mean you can’t figure out how to travel on it in a safe and enjoyable manner.

This was my first time visiting Chimney Rock. I had done a bit of research online, but there were no maps of the route. It was only 2 miles long so, really, how difficult could it be?

There was a trail marker at the parking lot and a line of footprints that very quickly petered out. I was on my own. After a short while I saw no sign of a trail. The ground surface felt wrong. Every direction looked like it could be the right way. And I really had no idea where the rock even was.

I took out my phone and pulled up Google Maps. Ahh, so that was the problem. I had headed north and west up to the top of a ridge. Chimney Rock was south and east from the trailhead. Basically I had covered no ground in the right direction, and I’d have to drop back down off this ridge to get back on track. Time to try Plan B!

I flipped myself around and started hiking along the ridgeline, scanning the terrain around me. Across the valley, I spotted a line of tracks that looked like a trail. Alright! At least I knew where I was headed, even if I did have to drop all the way down just to climb back up again. This was turning this wimpy 4-mile round trip into more of an adventure.

I kept my eyes on the tracks as I descended and then re-ascended up the other side of the valley. Once I got on the line of tracks I realized that deer, not humans, had left them. It still felt like maybe the deer were following the actual trail and that I was going in the right direction. There was only one way to find out.

Following the trail eventually became difficult. It clung to the edge of a steep and icy hillside that was in the shade. A slip here would be really bad. So I decided to kick steps in the snow, traveling directly up the hillside, to flatter ground. This plan worked out well. Once out of harm’s way, I noticed a soft indentation in the snow. The trail! I followed the indent until Chimney Rock burst into view. I was almost there.

At the base of the rock I wandered around looking for the perfect lunch spot. The views above the Crooked River were gorgeous. It was just me and the crows up here.

The sun shone brightly, cutting the chilly January air. If this place were just a little closer, I’d come out here more often. It was beautiful. Despite the screwy routefinding in the beginning I was really enjoying myself.

On the return hike I paid closer attention to the actual trail location. After following my deep, secure steps down the steep hillside I picked up the trail and followed it back to the car. As it turned out, I missed a big switchback right near the start of the trail, sending me way off track. Whoops.

Having some basic routefinding skills as well as being able to adapt your plans on the fly are really important when venturing out on a winter hike. No one’s there to mark the trails, plow the snow or clear the trees. It’s up to you to use your own resources and make your way safely. In a world where so much is done for me, for my own safety…it’s nice to have a pastime that requires a bit of brainpower and decision-making to take care of myself!

Gray Butte

January 26, 2017.

8.4 mi. | 2000′ ele. gain | 4:30 hr.

As it turned out, I had a lot of hikes to cover in January if I wanted to wrap up Hike366 this year. This was the sixth date on my list for the month and I still had two more to go. Not wanting to repeat anything, I landed on Gray Butte as a destination. I’d heard about people mountain biking around Gray Butte, but not as much about people hiking to the top. I figured it would be a decent close-to-town location on a snowy day.

I arrived at the Skull Hollow parking area at 8:30 am, hoping not to get my little rig stuck in the snow. As expected I was the only one at the trailhead. I started out across the snow-covered grassland towards the lumbering butte. My route would follow the trail that loops around the base and then meander my way up towards the summit.

It was kind of a crappy day. The cloud cover was so thick and soupy that everything looked the same. I felt disoriented, as if I was in a sensory deprivation tank. There was too much “sameness” to be able to enjoy my surroundings. Today would just be one of those get through it and get out days.

As I futzed my way up Gray Butte I eventually made it to an access road, which was easy to follow but had too many switchbacks. I cut straight up the hill to the delightful summit accoutrements, including a radio tower and some outbuildings. That’s what highpoints are for, I guess. I can’t recall how many times I’ve reached a mountaintop just to find it littered with these things. I think I’d like to learn more about what they do so I can appreciate them instead of get annoyed. I can only assume they’re very important.

After a very brief stay and look-around, I retraced my steps back down the hill, across the grassland and to my vehicle. I began to see some thin spots in the clouds where light was getting through. If only that sun had pushed through a little earlier…

Well, I checked the box today. Hike complete. It wasn’t a super memorable hike, but any day out on the trails is superior to a day at home. I’ll take it.

Deschutes River Trail Urban Snow Walk

January 18, 2017.

10 mi. | 250′ ele. gain | 3:30 hr.

“It never snows much in town,” they said.

And then the winter of 2017 came, burying Bend in all the snow. All of it. I have been shoveling and shoveling this snow that wasn’t supposed to fall at my house. Or, if it did, the sun would surely come out soon and melt it all away. They said.

Well this was a big, fat lie and I had finally decided to accept that I was now living in a snow globe. Today’s hike began from my front door and off into the wilds. It was an urban hike, similar to the one I did in the 2014 Corvallis Snowpocalypse.

It was a very overcast day. It was surely snowing at higher elevation so I was safest recreating down here. I packed a small bag, layered up underneath my rainshell and set off into the cool, morning air.

From midtown Bend I headed downtown and then to the Old Mill. Several businesses had chosen not to clear their sidewalks. But people had to get from A to B, so there were deep postholes in the heavy, wet snow. I was wearing my winter boots, gaiters and Yaktrax to minimize the misery.

From there I picked up the Deschutes River Trail and headed south. There’s sections of trail on both sides of the river, so I decided to stick to the side I was on and just keep walking. The warming temperature had turned the snow to slippery death slush and I did everything I could to keep upright. At one point I encountered this sign:

I assumed this meant there were snow bombs falling from trees overhead, but the wording sounded so much more sinister.

I continued along the slick trail, being mindful of airborne objects and breathing in the delicious winter air. I’d left the noise of the traffic behind and heard only the gentle flow of the river at my side.

At one point along the trail I passed a tree decorated with Christmas ornaments. The bright and shiny orbs brought some much welcomed color to the drab, gray scenery.

As much as I loved being out in a more wild environment I knew I had to turn back at some point. When I reached the foot bridge I returned the way I came, preparing to re-enter the civilized world.

One benefit of being in a commercialized area was: coffee shops. I ducked into a shop for a hot beverage to take back with me for the last stretch of my hike. I was starting to feel run down by the cold and wet air. The coffee helped.

But now I was back to posthole hell, working my way back to my neighborhood. Walking in the street was no better because there were massive puddles everywhere and my boots were only kind of water-resistant. I was just going to have to get my feet wet.

Rounding the corner onto my street was a bit of a relief! I knew I had a warm shower and dry clothes inside. I thoroughly enjoyed my city adventure, but I wished the weather would hurry up and get much warmer or much colder instead of hang out around the dreaded 32 degrees.

Vista Butte snowshoe

January 14, 2017

3 mi. | 700′ ele. gain | 2:30 hr.

Planning group outings in the winter is somewhat of a challenge. Each snow season is a little different than the one before and conditions can change day to day, hour to hour. I settled on a quick little snowshoe up Vista Butte with the Cascades Mountaineers today instead of sitting at home and letting a weekend go by.

I was joined by 4 other folks who were looking to get out. The pace varied tremendously from person to person so we took the pace of the slowest hiker. It was a perfect, bluebird day with plenty of fresh snow to plow through.

As best as we could, we followed the little blue markers to the top of the butte. We veered off course slightly to make a more direct line. At the top we enjoyed the views that we earned with just a moderate effort. On the way down, we stopped to ask questions about the animal tracks we noticed along the way. There were a couple of experts in the group that shared some knowledge about the type of animals and their possible behaviors. One of the fun parts about hiking in the snow is seeing so much animal sign that you otherwise miss in the summer. The tracks weave a story about what happened in the forest before you arrived.

Heading back, we made a much more direct line to the road. Bounding through deep, fresh snow on snowshoes it took no time at all to be within earshot of all the traffic headed up to Mt. Bachelor.

We were back to the car before lunchtime. Since I wished that the trip was longer, I decided it was time for me to do some more research about other snowshoe options in the area!

Smith Rock: A Wintry Walk

January 12, 2017.

4 mi. | 800′ ele. gain | 2:30 hr.

It’s been an epic snow winter here in Bend and I’ve been taking advantage of it. Normally snow-free areas have snow cover, which means new perspectives and no crowds.

That realization drew me out to Smith Rock, a place that often has way more visitors than parking spots. Today my friend Sarah and I packed our Yaxtrax and poles to tackle the well-known hiking loop up and over Misery Ridge.

When we arrived, it was like a ghost town. We were greeted by a warning sign letting us know that the trails may be icy and that we needed to be prepared for our chosen activity. Yes!

As we crossed the bridge and started hiking Misery Ridge I stared up at the huge rock faces. The dusting of snow on the rock brought out tiny details you’d never notice otherwise. The sheer rock walls looked so much more expressive in their winter coats. The steep, narrow track demanded most of my attention, though, and I was glad to have both traction and poles.

We crested over the top of the formation and headed down the other side. Low clouds hid away the tops of Gray Butte and other nearby hills. The Cascades were nowhere to be seen. These were not classic Smith Rock views. Monkey Face was covered in snow; there were no climbers to be seen today! Even the river was almost entirely beneath a layer of snow.

Winter brought a degree of solitude and quiet that I’d never before experienced at this highly popular state park. I was glad to have taken a chance on coming out here. And glad that Sarah was up for the challenge, too.

Dry River Gorge snowshoe

January 11, 2017.

5.2 mi. | 300′ ele. gain | 3 hr.

It was another bluebird day in Central Oregon and I needed to go for a hike. Well, need is a strong word, but that’s how I felt. I had an itch to add some variety to the Hike366 project list. I had already done a hike on January 11, but I didn’t have many great pictures or a really strong memory of what that hike was about. So, this date was on my “re-do” list. Plus, I had a hiking buddy lined up, great weather and fresh snow!

We drove east of Bend to the Dry River Canyon. This hike is closed half the year for raptor nesting. Since the birds don’t nest in the winter, it was the perfect time to visit.

Amanda’s little car was not going to make it to the actual trailhead, so we parked in a large, snow-covered gravel lot above the dirt road leading down to the trail.

It was cold, even in our layers. I could feel the brisk air on my bare skin. We crunched ahead in our snowshoes, following other tracks in the snow. The canyon was cool, dark and quiet. We chatted as we walked, enjoying each other’s company. Lately I’ve been doing a pretty 50/50 mix of going out alone and going with partners or groups. Both strategies have their value and their place in my life. If I do too much of one without the other, then it feels like something is out of balance.

After walking for a little over two and a half miles, we came to a jumble of large boulders. According to my route research, most people turn back here. It would be possible to pick up the trail again beyond the boulder field, but in these conditions that seemed like a really bad idea. Snow covered up the gaps between the rocks, making it very tricky to know what was solid and what was not. We decided to stop here and have a snack before turning around and returning to the car.

The adventure wasn’t over, however.

As we returned to the big gravel lot, I started veering towards some large, snow-covered hills. HOW COULD WE SKIP THE SUMMIT? I asked aloud. Mere gravel piles in summer, these were now precious snow objectives in winter. We pressed uphill.

Huffing and puffing, we made it to the top of the largest pile and celebrated. The fun part was going down.

Hooray for another great day on the trails! It will be interesting to see what this hike looks like with all the snow gone.