Category Archives: Winter Escape ’06

Paulina Peak to the end

December 22, 2006.

Paulina Peak is located within Newberry National Volcanic Monument, about 30 minutes south of Bend, Oregon.

In summer, Paulina Peak (7984′) is supposedly a walk-up. A drive-up, even, as the road goes straight to the summit. Winter is a different game, however, and it would be a round trip of 12 miles from the Sno-Park to reach the top. I hadn’t reached a summit in awhile so I figured I was about due.

At 8:45 I left my car behind with just one other at the 10-Mile Sno-Park. Today I had a map so I was ready to get moving and cover some real miles. I followed the well marked Ponderosa Rim xc ski trail 3 miles to the Lodge. There was hardly any snow on the ground and it was obviously well traveled so I didn’t bother with snowshoes for the first half mile or so. Walking here was monotonous. There were no views, the forest wasn’t all that pretty, and the snow was packed. There weren’t any cool animal signs, no little streams, no birds singing, nothing. I heard snowmobiles zooming around nearby and that was my wilderness experience. Soon I came across some restrooms and a snowed in parking area. A sign directed me to Paulina Falls.

Now finally I had something to get excited about. The falls were very pretty in the mid-morning sun. Ice glistened from the rocks and here, it seemed, the birds were starting to wake up. The stream rolled by and the forest just felt more inviting. Okay, what next?

I followed the snowmobile road to the lodge and wandered around to get a look at the maze of intersections and trail signs. None of the hiking trails were packed down so they were nearly impossible to find. After I oriented myself with map and compass I followed a snowmobile road that paralleled the hiker route for the first mile of the 3 mile ascent of the mountain. After a quick walk to the split I had a choice: follow the road, which was longer, but would be a very clear route to the top, or try to follow the trail, which was shorter, but wasn’t marked at all. The hike had been so boring today I decided to take the adventurous route and break out the trail.

For the first few tenths of a mile, the path was pretty easy to follow through the woods. It skirted the western edge of a bowl that made up the ridge to the top. At some point, the trail veered inward from the bowl but I stayed close to the edge to keep my bearings. That put me in a position of climbing some steep, slippery snow fields close to the very steep drops into the bowl. I could see what I figured was the summit of Paulina Peak very clearly, so with my eyes on the prize I suffered up the hill.

As I ascended, I thought there was no way in hell I was going back on this same route. One slip would leave me tumbling down the face of the ridge. But going down a different route could get me lost…

It didn’t matter much because the forest began to loosen its grip and spit me out onto some open fields illuminated by the bright, warm sun. Its glorious heat warmed me inside and out, and the indescribably awesome feeling of climbing a mountain pushed me further. I might not get to the top, but I’ll keep going til my 12:00 turnaround time 🙂

I reached one rocky spire, soaked in the views, and searched for something higher. There were bumps all over the top of this thing, which one was the summit? I scrutinized the map, trying to pinpoint my location and scouting out where a road might come in. I pressed on to another rocky outcrop and was again denied. But I stopped here for a few minutes to check the place out. Paulina Lake and East Lake lay below, with the snow-covered Big Obsidian Flow in plain view. Out to the Northwest, Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Three-Fingered Jack, Broken Top, Washington, and others I’m sure, dominated the horizon. The sky was blue and wind-free. The snow looked so strange, sparkling in the sunlight like fake glittery snow in the mall. There were no other signs of life up here, and it felt like I was on top of the world. Summit or no summit, this was my peak for the day.

It was noon. In a last ditch effort, I took a quick detour to investigate another bump and retreated when I found there was nothing there. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I just had to follow the ridge another tenth of a mile or so to find it. That’s okay. It was more important that I had time to find my way down and still have time to get to the High Desert Museum. After the views disappeared I left my old snowshoe prints behind and steered WNW hoping to possibly find the real route, and if not, a better way back to the road. A worst case scenario would lead me back to the road too soon, since the trail was bordered by the bowl on one side and the road on the other. There was really no way to get hopelessly lost.

Nevertheless, I gripped my map tightly and checked my compass often. Descent on the steep slopes went much quicker than coming up, and just when I thought I might be heading too far west, I came across the road. I picked it up at a pretty good spot, right before a bunch of sharp turns, so I could easily locate myself on the map. Not too bad for a map-and-compass rookie.

The rest of the hike was cake, since it was packed down all along the road and the 3 mile-long xc ski trail leading to my car. At the lodge, I encountered some snowmobilers and said hello. One more quick look at the falls brought a surprise: some dudes ice climbing. I soon lost interest in them since the climber was moving slow. But, these were the only folks I saw out there all day. What a wonderful experience. I just hope no poor fools ended up following my lousy route up the peak 🙂

It took only 2 hours to hike back to my car from the “top”; that was plenty of time to drive back to Bend and hit the museum before it closed. The following day, I took my last sightseeing stop at Smith Rock. It was a rainy, cold, windy, miserable morning so I took 2 pictures and went back to the warm car. After that I drove through rain, freezing rain, slush, and yuck for hours before reaching Portland and crashing in my apartment.

All in all, this was one incredible journey. Can’t wait for my next vacation!

Crater Lake

December 21, 2006.

Oregon has only one National Park and it surrounds Crater Lake. Located in Klamath County in southern Oregon, Crater Lake is the deepest in the country. It is famous for beautiful blue water and immense snowfall totals in the winter (average of over 530 inches per year).

At 9am on this mild, wet winter morning, I set out for Crater Lake along miles of winding, forested roads. As I approached the lake, snow piled higher and higher and eventually I was driving on the snow. There were hardly any people out so I could drive as slowly as I wanted, and I arrived at Rim Village unscathed some 45 minutes later. This is as far into the park as you can drive, because most of the roadways are unplowed in the winter and remain buried until June. I didn’t have a map, so I wouldn’t be adventurous today. I decided to hug the rim of the lake as best I could and turn back around noon so I’d have plenty of time to drive to clear roads and maybe make another stop. I find it’s a really good idea to stick to turnaround times, especially when alone, in iffy weather and/or in an unfamiliar place. Since I had all three of these elements today, my turnaround time was set in stone.

The upper layers of snow were fluffy and deep, so my snowshoes punched in a few inches before getting some purchase. There were no people tracks and barely any animal tracks so all I had in front of me was a gloomy lake, lots of white, and dark green trees. The cloudy skies above cast a gray hue over everything below. This wasn’t exactly the picture-perfect winter scene I had in mind, but it would do. I was just excited to get to play in the snow.

As I slogged along the edge of the lake, I stopped often to catch some views and brush off the interpretive signs. Occasionally I even came across pieces of the rim road, blown free of snow by the wind. There were always reminders in the woods that humans have been here.

I followed the landscape’s ups and downs. The ups sometimes led to views of dramatic cornices and steep drops to the lake. The downs were fun to blast through in snowshoes. There were many wide open tracts of snow so white it was nearly impossible to perceive the lay of the land. This led to some jarring steps down and surprisingly close hills. I was working up a sweat, yet I knew I’d hardly gone far. I think there’s a fire lookout just a couple of miles from the village, yet I didn’t catch sight of it at all. Around 11:30 I reached the top of a rock face that was impossible to downclimb and would take some time to navigate around, so I decided I’d gone far enough today.

As I wandered back, I started making new tracks in the snow just because that’s much more fun. But walking in old tracks is so much easier…I admit I cut back to my old path a few times just to catch my breath. The clouds at times looked like they would burst into a blizzard so I kept an eye on the sky as I moved back to the car.

Just up the road from the lot I ran into a couple of goofballs postholing in jeans and taking pictures of the lake. Didn’t look like fun to me!

I made a quick stop in the visitor’s center to pick up some maps and try to get some info on what is and is not closed in Central Oregon this time of year. The guy behind the desk didn’t have much of a clue so I planned on driving straight to Bend.

On the way out of the park I passed a big pickup truck stopped in the road. The driver was putting chains on the tires while his useless wife stood around taking pictures of him. Ugh. I blew by those folks in my little Scion, and the traction on the road was just fine! I guess it is true that Oregonians just don’t know how to drive in the snow 🙂 Along the way I got a wicked view of Mt. Thielsen, which must be spectacular to climb. This is definitely an area to return to someday.

Unique, weird southern Oregon

December 20, 2006.
Oregon Caves

Located just north of the California-Oregon border, Oregon Caves National Monument is located within the Siskiyou mountains.

I packed up camp in the freezing cold morning and drove up to Oregon Caves, which I found to be closed for the season. I parked in the lot and walked up to the buildings where people were milling about, packing up cars and taking care of ranger business. I asked one guy about the trails and he said it would be wise to bring snowshoes, so I ran back to the car and geared up for a more serious hike.

I’d planned to do the Big Tree Loop, a mere 3.3 miles altogether. There wasn’t a whole lot of snow at the trailhead but since the trail gains 1000 feet or so, I suppose that could change. I quickly began climbing through some open forest where the wind whipped through the trees and I could feel the cold on my red face. I’d dressed very warmly today, which would cause me to overheat on the ascent. The snow was imprinted with a variety of different animal tracks, which I stopped to admire. I imagined cute little forest creatures tromping through the snow much like I was now, a peaceful and lovely scene. Shortly, however, I came across these big paw prints which I assume are mountain lion. My fairytale vision shattered as I started picturing bloodthirsty, big cats stalking a tasty lone hiker like myself. I debated whether or not to turn back, but soon the prints disappeared, my blood pressure returned to normal and I continued on.

The snow on the trail was soft and never too deep. The clouds covered much of the sky, and the trail wasn’t incredibly impressive. But I was enjoying what little white stuff there was, and the fact that there were no human footprints to be found. In most places the trail route was very clear. In fact, it appeared that several animals follow the summer hiking path in winter as well. I was hoping those deer prints wouldn’t lead me astray.

I wiped the snow off the “Big Tree” sign, looked at how big the tree was, and went on my way. Soon, the trail thankfully started to drop in elevation and my body temperature moderated a bit. Almost back at the trailhead, I reached a junction with a nature trail that only added another few tenths of a mile to the trip so I checked it out. Almost immediately I got amazing views of the Siskiyou range and there were several informative signs telling of the geology, geography and biology of the place that I enjoyed very much.

I also got to pass by the outside of the actual Oregon Caves, which was covered in giant icicles. As I retreated to the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of three deer that quickly bounded out of view. Even without getting a chance to explore the caves, I had a great experience here.

Before proceeding with my journey, I stopped to put snow chains on my car just to see how they worked. It turns out I wouldn’t need to use them on this trip, but driving in Oregon in the winter can be quite dangerous, so I’m sure I’ll need to use them one of these days. Rather than trying to figure it out for the first time in a blustery snowstorm, I did it in the relative comfort of an empty parking lot.

Frost cover

Driving along, I suddenly became distracted by the amazing beauty of several miles of road that seemed to have dropped in from another planet. Everything was tipped in white, from fenceposts to houses to trees and flowers. I drove slowly, taking in the subtle whites and grays that seemed to cover everything. I took a short detour following signs for Table Rock (the one near Medford) and stopped at a wayside to take some pictures and really get a good look at the frost. It was surreal.

Joseph H. Stewart N.R.A.

I was headed for Union Creek, where I had secured a place for the night. As I continued along the Rogue River on this scenic byway, I encountered many options for exploration. I noticed a large body of water and decided to pull off into the park here, which was technically closed for the season but ungated.

I was greeted by a couple of deer grazing in the field near the reservoir. I quietly walked past them towards the water to check out the views. This place was also very bizarre. The ground changed from grass to sand to a spongy, red soil. The soil was littered with volcanic rock, tree stumps and debris. The reservoir was perfectly motionless and seemingly out of place, just like everything else. I walked out to the edge of the land, which dropped steeply to the water below.

I’m not sure what strikes me about these places, why they feel so unusual. Perhaps I’m still not used to the terrain produced by volcanic activity. Perhaps places abandoned by people in wintertime are left with an unsettling feeling. Maybe I’d just spent too much time by myself on the road!

Rogue Elk Forest

My last scenic stop would be a waterfall tour. I had second thoughts about coming here because I’d seen so many damn waterfalls in the Gorge and in New Hampshire last year, so to drive out of my way to see another one seemed a bit inane. But they are irresistible, so I followed the little signs which led me to a parking area and short trail system. Weaving my way down the trails, passing innumerable unmarked herd paths and passing lots of interesting signs, I found two waterfalls within spitting distance of each other: Mill Creek Falls and Barr Creek Falls.

These falls were massive and fringed in ice on either side. Water plummets nearly 200 feet into the Rogue River from each waterfall. The viewing areas aren’t well developed at all, so I perched as carefully as I could on rocks that overhung a sheer drop to the bottom of the canyon. Tree cover blocks the views pretty well, too, so it’s not surprising that these falls aren’t well marked or often visited (I assume).

There were no signs leading back to the main road so I drove around a little before getting back in the right direction. I was left with lots of weird vibes today. And the place I’d stay at tonight was a room on the upper floor of a lodge where no one else was staying. The proprietors weren’t even there. But, it had a fridge and a microwave so I had a hot turkey and cheese sandwich and popcorn. That’s living!


December 19, 2006.

The California redwoods are contained within a web of National and State parks, each with their own regulations, styles and accommodations. The only one that appeared to have any buildings open was the Prairie Creek State Park.

I awoke early for another cold breakfast of Muesli and milk, accompanied with some minor stretching to alleviate the soreness from sleeping crumpled in the car. I drove several miles to the park’s visitor center for a map and hiking suggestions, only to find it closed. This wasn’t a complete disappointment, however. I always enjoy funny signs, and so I was highly amused to see a brown sign indicating what station I should tune my car radio to for “Elk Information.” How ridiculous. Not a minute later, I notice an elk chilling in someone’s front yard just behind the sign. Cool! My first elk sighting.

The route: John Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon to the beach, then returning via John Irvine, Clintonia and Miner’s Ridge.

The temperatures were cold, especially under the thick tree cover. I began the hike in a hat, gloves, and jacket, but the layers quickly came off once I started picking up the pace. The terrain was gently rolling, very minor ups and downs here and there as the path wove through the towering trees. It was next to impossible to exactly capture the essence of the place because everything was so gigantic. Picture Jurassic Park: large, cascading ferns, thick trees stretching their bare trunks up to the sky, faint beams of light passing through the canopy overhead. Just no dinosaurs that I could find.

Along the way I had to cross some particularly sketchy wooden bridges and platforms which had broken beams everywhere. I tried to stick to the edges where the boards were nailed together, hoping for more stability there. I imagined myself plunging through a rotten board, hanging by my fingertips above a 200 foot gorge, Indiana Jones-style, my legs flailing about and crocodiles snapping their jaws ferociously at the bottom. Lucky for me, most of the bridges were about 3 inches above shallow streams, so my chances of survival were pretty good. No chance of a handsome, wild explorer coming to my rescue however :). Aah, the mind does wander after days of traveling alone.

Near the end of the journey to the beach I came to the Fern Canyon junction, which would cover the last 0.5 miles. Canyons are always inviting to me so I gladly left the well-trodden John Irvine trail behind. Almost immediately I had to climb over significant blowdown and re-find the trail. I was loving it. I followed the trail down a short, steep slope that deposited me in the base of this narrow canyon. For awhile, I could follow the tread along the stream, but eventually it disappeared. I assumed that continuing along the canyon bottom would lead me to the ocean so I picked my way over the smooth rocks as I gawked at the fern-draped walls of basalt on either side of me. I could hear the booming sounds of waves getting louder, which reassured me that I was headed the right way.

In many places I happily splashed through ankle-deep water, confident that my footwear was watertight after my experiences yesterday. There were many twists and turns that ultimately brought me to a wide canyon and a link to the beach trailhead. Several cars were parked here but I didn’t run into any people.

I followed a herd path across the yellow grass towards the ocean. This brought me to an impassible channel of water that dumped into a large pond to my left. These bodies of water lay in between me and the beach. Damn. What now?

Not about to be thwarted by mere water, I trekked through the grass, following well worn deer and elk trails slong the water’s edge and around a few stands of trees. After a short while, I found my opening and crossed over from trees and grass to beach sand. Picking up the trail of a large wading bird I plopped my gear by some driftwood and yet again enjoyed the sights and sounds of the majestic Pacific Ocean. The warm sun felt especially nice after spending all that time in the dark, damp forest.

But all good things must come to an end, so I headed back through the grass where I unknowingly took a shortcut out to a road which led me back to the woods. Soon I encountered a few groups of hikers, including two guys who gave me nasty looks when I said hello. Wow. I so much prefer having the woods to myself. I took a slightly different route back to my car, hoping for some more interesting walking and less creepy people. This route had somewhat more blowdown to negotiate, which, oddly enough, makes me happy. And I didn’t come across any other humans which was a big bonus.

I was back at the car by early afternoon, so I drove to a nearby wayside to make a sandwich and gulp down some V8. The rest of my driving today would take place along scenic route 199, which was simply spectacular. This road follows the Smith River for quite a ways, which is the greenest river I’ve ever seen. The woman at the Info Center (who was surprised anyone was coming in to see her today!) said it is because of the serpentine present in the riverbed.

The Info lady also directed me to a 0.2 mile nature trail just up the road where one can view the Darlingtonia californicus,a carnivorous plant. This unusual species is found in a bog that is easily accessible from the road. I couldn’t believe how big these guys were! It was certainly an amazing place, but it was cold, and I had lodging to find.

I’d counted on staying at a state campground near Oregon Caves, but I found that (shockingly) both of the nearby places were closed. Driving back the way I came, I came across a motel/campground that was open and asked for a tent site. The woman in the office looked at me like I was nuts but with some pleading I managed to secure a site, for free, paying only $5 for a huge portion of firewood. I was psyched to be able to have a fire to warm up this chilly night and to make some hot food. After at least 30 minutes of fighting with frozen hands and frozen wood I got a roaring blaze going at my campsite.

Day 2: The Oregon Coast

December 18, 2006.


Oregon Dunes

A quick drive this morning led me to the John Dellenback trailhead south of Reedsport in the Oregon Dunes N.R.A. It was a 3 mile hike to the beach and 2 miles or so was in the dunes. Sweet.

It was a chilly start and the sands were covered in frost. I rapidly found my way out to the dunes where the trail all but disappears in a maze of interwoven footpaths. In the distance, wooden posts marked with blue paint supposedly lead the way. I kept the posts in sight as best I could, while first I followed prints and then ventured out on my own. It was much more fun making my own trail, and being on the dunes was like exploring another planet. It reminded me of walking along a rolling, snowy, treeless ridge if you substituted the sand for snow. Gorgeous.

A barricade of greenery divided the dunes from the ocean. I found my way through the increasingly wet landscape to the clearly marked path leading into the scrub. Before long, the scrub turned into a dark, muddy swamp. I couldn’t believe it. I’d expected a morning of easy walking along glistening, dry sand to a beautiful ocean view. Instead, I was pushing myself through the Everglades, the water getting deeper with every step.

My boots and gaiters kept me perfectly dry as I splashed through the near-frozen ponds that covered the trail. The vegetation on either side was so thick that bushwhacking around the water wasn’t possible. Besides, the rest of the forest was flooded too.

I got to a point where the water seemed to get about calf-deep, and I was not thrilled about having soggy socks and boots on the return trip so I braved the cold and went barefoot for the remainder of the trail.

Punching through ice and walking through bitterly cold water was really painful but I desperately wanted to get to the ocean! I knew I couldn’t be far. After what felt like forever, I finally reached a patch of dry land, which I immediately found was covered with a low-growing, needle-like plant. The needles embedded themselves into my feet, making standing on dry land uncomfortable too, so I briskly walked to the beach.

Here, the sun was shining and the sand seemed to stretch for eternity. I laid out my footwear to dry off and took a short walk on the beach. Plovers dashed up to the water’s edge with each receding wave and the wind blew ever so gently. It was another wonderful moment at the shore.

I managed to tear myself away after a half-hour of lollygagging and did the trip in reverse: wading through water, traversing the dunes on yet another route, and zipping through the trees to the car. I passed one older gentleman towards the trailhead who was amazed that I’d traveled “all the way to the beach!” Six miles down, and it was barely lunchtime.

Cape Blanco

This was a quick diversion, just an excuse to get out of the car and wander. There was a lighthouse here but it was closed today, of course. That would be the theme of this trip. I did manage to find a path down to the beach, where I poked around in the intertidal, harassing tiny fish and hermit crabs.

Cape Sebastian

After seeing such a glorious sunset over the ocean yesterday, I decided I needed to see another one, but I wanted to work for it. According to my sources, a 1.5 mile trail led through the woods to the beach at this small park. So I parked at the trailhead at about 4:30pm and barreled down the trail.

The hike was all downhill, and it took longer than I thought, so I wondered how far I’d actually gone. I never made it to the bottom, but stopped once I had a wide open view of the rocks and sea below. The sun was already in setting mode, so I didn’t want to go any further than I needed to. I found a comfy seat on the ground, took my camera out, and watched the waves, listened to their thundering crashes, and glowed in the brilliant pinks and oranges the sky was dressed in tonight. As the sky darkened, I put on my headlamp and trudged back up the trail.

I moved as quickly as I could without tripping, so as to exploit as much of the fading daylight as possible. Soon, the forest grew very dark and I switched on my lamp. First, on the lowest setting, then on the highest as being alone in the dark started to freak me out. I thought I saw another hiker on the trail ahead of me, a big guy in a dark jacket carrying something under his arm, but it turned out it was just some weird shadow and my inventive imagination. That put a little pep in my step and I couldn’t have gotten back to my car faster :).


I’d had a productive day, and planned to drive down to Redwoods CA to stay in a hostel there. Unfortunately, it is closed on random days throughout the winter so I was unable to spend the night there. Instead I drove on to the Prairie Creek campground within the park (after a very long and unproductive drive on some sketchy gravel roads) and slept in my car. I was too annoyed to bother with the tent. Winter sure does keep the people away, which is mostly good for me, but sometimes does cause problems.

Day 1: The Oregon Coast

December 17, 2006.

One of the benefits of being a teacher is the schedule. I have two weeks of vacation for the Winter Holidays, and I took full advantage of this by planning a week-long road trip in my new home state. I’d only seen the West coast on one occasion, so this was a good chance to check it out again.I left Portland before noon and drove out towards Tillamook on routes 26 and 6. By the time I left the metro area behind, I began to feel a wonderful tingling sensation throughout my body. Roadtrip euphoria, I like to call it. The feel of the open road, no schedule, and endless possibilities ahead… there’s just nothing like it. I wonder if it’s a documented psychological condition. I’ll have to Google it, right after I search for information on the biology of tickling.

My first stop was the Tillamook dairy plant, since I’d been told it is a must-see. It was Sunday, so nothing was running, and it was almost a complete waste of time. I did pick up a nice sandwich there for lunch and bought some local goodies to eat on my trip. A choir was singing Christmas carols in the lobby and the sun shone warmly through the big windows. It was very nice, but I was ready to move on.

Next stop: Yaquina Head. There weren’t any long hiking trails here so I combined a quick walk around the lighthouse, a short jaunt up Salal Hill and an exploratory trek through a man-made tidepool area just down the road. I stood in awe watching the huge waves pummel the rugged, rocky shoreline below me. I couldn’t believe how big everything was. The waves, the rocks, the beach, the seaweed…

The seaweed might have been my favorite discovery. As I walked down to the tidepool area I met a fellow traveler and we chatted a bit as we climbed up onto the rocks. “Oh, you’re from Massachusetts, my sister lives there, bla bla bla…” He was very nice and for the only time on my trip I had someone to take a picture of me. As we were talking I stopped in my tracks and my eyes grew huge at the sight of giant, spaghetti-like tangles of kelp strewn about the rocks. I kept a watchful eye on the impressive waves coming to shore as I checked out the decaying algae. Yes! Science! This is when my new companion seemed to grow tired of me and he headed back 🙂 I continued along the shore, stopping to pick up dead stuff and take pictures of things that had washed ashore. Come on, isn’t that a good time??

As I retreated to the car I saw a few surfers riding the waves. Insane. They were framed in a backdrop of pink and purple hues as the sun started to set over the ocean. It was a near perfect moment.

I continued the drive along the winding, coastal road (101) and stopped at a pullout just before sunset. I made my way down a steep, eroded path to the beach and walked across a vast sandflat to get to the water’s edge. It felt like I could see for miles, and not a soul was out there. As the sun set and the wind blew, I enjoyed the serenity and beauty of this place. In the distance, a couple of lighthouses marked the coastline. The ocean roared, drowning out the sounds of traffic on the road behind me.

At the end of the day, I set up camp at a state park just outside of Florence and wondered what adventures the next day would bring.