February 13-14, 2010
Gumjuwac Saddle Tr to Gumjuwac Saddle, Lookout Mountain summit and back | ~10 miles
On a damp, winter morning, two intrepid hikers and I left my car at a chain-up area along rt. 25 and started up the endless switchbacks heading for Gumjuwac Saddle. I thought back to the last time I was up here, a couple of winters ago, where the snowpack was piled high on the side of the road and we had to park in a plowed-out spot only big enough for two cars. Today the brown dirt and green shrubs were far more prominent than the small, isolated snowpatches. Clearly, it was a low snow year.
As we made our way up to the ridge, the wet snow piled on tree branches over our heads trickled down almost continuously. Occasionally we’d be surprised by a large “whump!” of a large load smacking into the earth. Slowly we started crunching through old snow and ultimately we had to put on our snowshoes. Once the trail became less obvious, we angled up the steep hillside until we reached the road leading to the saddle. There was a large clearing there that looked like a nice camp spot, so we dropped our overnight gear here, ate lunch, and then headed for the summit.
The road leads to an open meadow-like area which, on a good day, would offer up a lovely view of the surroundings. Today, however, clouds dominated the sky and shrouded the valley like a thick blanket. After passing through the meadow we followed the road a little longer and then made a beeline for the ridge. There would be no chance in following the actual trail, so we figured sticking to the ridge would be a safe bet for reaching the top. It was an unrelenting uphill assault. We went in and out of the trees, skirted around some rocky outcrops, and got an occasional non-view. The air was thick with moisture. Near the very top, the nebulous snow drifts and pervasive whiteness made it very difficult to judge the angle of the snow. I found myself poking around with my poles to try and figure out which way to go. The windblown snow and rime-coated trees created an otherworldly-looking backdrop for the top of the ridge.
At the summit, we bundled up, ate brownies, and watched Matt fly his kite. We didn’t get the killer views of Mt. Hood, as advertised, but it was still an enjoyable time. On the way back down, the clouds had parted somewhat, which allowed us to ogle the nearby slopes and ridges. I took my time getting down the steep sections, cursing my snowshoes, and before long we were back at camp. Much hilarity ensued as we dined by the camp stove, told stories, watched the stars come out, and listened to the intermittent thunder of snow bombs. Everything was soaking wet; there would be no fire tonight. But it was warm enough for us to be comfortable enough to kill time before retreating into the tent. I slept in a Gore-tex bivy for the first time ever. The 1/2 inch puddle behind my head and waterlogged raincoat in the morning meant I had some modifications to make for next time.
Rain had been pitter-pattering on top of us all night and into the morning. We rolled out of bed close to 9am and started packing up. I packed all my wet stuff into my backpack (forgot the garbage bags!) and stood around in my puffy eating bacon while the other two took down the tent. It continued to drizzle most of the time, but it was fairly warm, especially considering it was February.
Once we hit the trail again it was not long before we were back down at the road and piling into the car. We stopped at the Full Sail Brewery in Hood River for lunch. It was a great little trip with two new friends who I hope to hike with again sometime.