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View of Mt. Jefferson as I drove to Bend.

One of Tara’s summer classes this term was geology field camp. Oregon State University has a great geology program, and Tara has field trips as part of a class multiple times a year. But field camp is when the entire class is on location. This latest class was 5 weeks out in the desert of eastern Oregon, near a tiny town called Mitchell. OSU geology students have been going out to the field camp location for so long that locals in Mitchell refer to them as “dirt nerds.”

The students had only two days off during the entire class. In addition to those two days, once a week they did get what the professor called “free days,” which were not so much free, as a few mandatory field trip days. The professor felt these were days off because the material was not testable, but students were still expected to learn. On one of these field trip days, which would be around the Bend, Oregon area, I got permission from the professor to meet up with the group when they went out to Smith Rock.

It’s a 4 hour drive to Bend from my home. After I arrived I checked in with my AirBnb host and then got some coffee while I waited for Tara to let me know where they were. It was clear immediately that either I was in a very geology-friendly town, or PALATE is a geology-friendly coffee shop. In the bathroom I found this gorgeous giant rock with a note that said, “I thought the Bolivian Rose Quartz needed a friend.” Not sure if what I saw was the rose quartz, or if this rock is the companion. I got my coffee and took it outside to enjoy the sun, and saw that the entire courtyard was surrounded by rocks. There was a lot of obsidian – very common in this highly volcanic part of the US.

In the bathroom of the coffee shop.

Courtyard of the coffee shop.

Tara got in touch with me right away because the group had come into a zone with cell phone service (not at all commonplace out there in the desert). They said they were on a hike and expected to arrive at Smith Rock State Park around 4pm.

With hours to kill, I had time to play in Bend. I used my AllTrails app to find something quick and easy, and soon found myself walking along the Deschutes River South Canyon Trail. I walked first toward the center of town, along a very pretty waterfront walk, clearly a hit with summer tourists. The trail crossed the river and I headed back out of town for an unexpectedly great 3-mile loop back to my car.

Walking the Deschutes River Trail in Bend, Oregon.


desert blossom

As the trail got closer to the city center, there were murals and outdoor coffee shops and people using all kinds of wheeled contraptions on the paved trail.

I get a kick out of duck butts.

This is the bridge I used to cross the river and head back out of town.

The Deschutes River South Canyon Trail provides educational signboards along the way that taught me about the health of the river, the fish, the flora and fauna in the area, as well as some geological perspective. There are also name plates that identified trees and bushes. It was nice to see a lot of people on the trail enjoying the weather and the outdoors, but people do tend to visit Bend, Oregon for that reason.

Lots of people were in the water on this warm day.

Through the arches I could see a woman fishing on the other side of the river.

The trail is in good condition and hugs the river when possible.

View of the Deschutes River from the bridge at the far end of the loop trail. Clearly, at this point, I had left city boundaries.

Once I found my Jeep again, I drove out to Smith Rock State Park. I arrived before the kids and had time to relax in the shade while I waited. Soon the OSU vans showed up and I joined the group. I listened while the professor took them all to the ledge and pointed out stuff they should notice about the formations surrounding us.

If you’ve ever seen a photo of Smith Rock, you’ll recognize it. It’s a cliff formation surrounded by comparatively level ground, with the Crooked River winding its way through the base of of the cliffs. It’s the biggest, most eye-catching thing around. The tuff and basalt cliffs are famous for being the place where the sport of rock climbing began in the States. Trails for all levels of athletes wrap around the huge rocks on all sides. I’ve been on a lot of them in visits over the years.

The iconic shot of beautiful Smith Rock State Park, looking East.

This is a less commonly photographed angle, looking due North.

Tara spotted this shallow cave and had to climb inside to explore.

I was especially sad not have my good camera when we hiked down to the bottom of the valley, because we spotted this astonishing sight. Can you see it?

Yes, the black speck between the two peaks is exactly what you think it is.

Our visit to the State Park was very brief! The professor had been so excited to show the students so many things all day long that they were way behind schedule. They absolutely had to get back to Mitchell by a certain time, because they had reserved dinners at Tiger Town Brewing Company. When we were released we hurried down to the trails at river level.

Tara and I talked a blue streak because we hadn’t seen each other in weeks, and we barely had time to look around us when it was time to jog up the steep steep hill to get back up to the parked cars. Tara got permission to ride back to Mitchell with me, to our delight. We were able to continue our chatting and catching up during the hour and a half drive out to the desert again.

The students were clearly pleased to be at Tiger Town. I gather that most of the time they eat camp meals prepared on site (Tara said the food is good!), but once in a while there is a splurge and the class gets to eat dinner out. They had to buy their own beers from the seasonal selection of craft brews. I paid for my own meal (and my own beer. I opted for the Danger Melon.) and the great staff at Tiger Town agreed to put my order in with the kids.’ For the next hour I sat outside in the warm evening air and listened to the kids talk about what was on their minds, joke with each other and with their professor. After a while they decided I was ok, and they included me in their conversations. It was a treat to have this peek into Tara’s world that I usually don’t get to see. All too soon it was time to go and I hugged my goodbyes and made my way back to my Airbnb room.

Looking at volcanic peaks in the background, rising over the Crooked River.

The next morning I left early in order to get home early, but I simply was not able to drive past Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint without stopping. From the highway I could see the snowy peaks of volcanoes and wanted to pull the car over so I could get a photo. Early in the morning, I could access the parking lot, but the road to the cliff was still gated. I parked and walked through the dewy grass, fretting a little about the time I was wasting by stopping to look. But oh, it was worth it.

Sadly, the elevation of the Viewpoint was lower than the highway and it was not a good view of the volcanoes. However, there was an incredible view of the canyon.

Mt. Washington, Black Butte, and Three Fingered Jack are barely visible above the trees.

Train bridge over the canyon.

Looking into the rising sun over aptly named Crooked River High Bridge.

It was really time to get back on the road though, and I hustled back to the Jeep and headed north again on Highway 97. I snapped a few shots while driving (bad Crystal habit, do not try this at home), then I settled in and spent the rest of the day driving back to Rainier.

Mt. Jefferson peeks around a scenic bluff beside Highway 97.

I was about to enter the forest and leave the fabulous views behind, so I took one parting shot of Mt. Jefferson and then put the lens cap back on the camera.

Me, standing in front of a mural near where Tara works in Corvallis.

I took Will on some big adventures while he visited the Pacific Northwest, but we also went on a bunch of tiny adventures.

Revolving case of donuts at VooDoo Donuts.

We explored a lot around Portland. There is so much fun stuff to see and do in the city, as I am sure is true for any city. Portland has a great vibe and prides itself on being tolerant. The amount of kindness shown by strangers on the street in Portland far outshines any city I’ve ever lived in, and though we (like everyone) definitely need to improve our appreciation for people who are different, the effort that is made is noticeable. It’s a great small city.

We parked by a giant bronze elephant statue, visited the giant Powell’s bookstore, then walked to VooDoo Donuts, a famous portland donut shop that everyone wants to visit. Their pink and eclectic shop is entertaining while you wait (there is always a line) for a donut. We sat outside to eat our donuts and Will liked his so much that when he finished he let out a whoop and did a fist pump. A passing homeless man laughed and said it must have been a pretty good donut. 🙂

The woman is wondering if the guy at the counter is contemplating the deformed chandelier, or the giant donut on the ceiling (not shown in the photograph).

I pointed out wall art when we saw it. Portland has some great street art and murals.

Next we walked to Mill Ends Park, in the Guinness Book of World Records for world’s smallest city park, at 452.16 square inches. I thought for sure I had told the back story of Mill Ends Park in a previous blog about it, but I did not. Dick Fagan was a journalist whose office window looked onto the spot where a utility hole was prepared, but no pole ever erected. He imagined a park there, named it after the pieces cut off timber in a mill, and began writing about it in the paper. His dream came to life. This post will be long, so I’ll skip the full story to save space. The park has a sign now, but I liked it better without the sign because that made it feel more like a scavenger hunt to find it.

At Waterfront Park, beside the tiny park, we walked over and gazed at the Willamette River in the setting sun and I pointed out my favourite Portland bridge: the Hawthorne Bridge. Opened in 1910, it is the oldest vertical lift bridge in operation in the country, and on the US National Register of Historic Places.

Cyclist rides past Mill Ends Park. Vegetation is replaced periodically in the little park, to keep it looking fresh.

“Pose for a picture, eh?”

Crows were amassed in the tops of every tree near the Hawthorne Bridge, and the cries from a thousand crows were cacawphanous.

Waterfront buildings in Portland, beneath colourful skies filled with crows.

On another trip to the city, I took Will up to the Pittock Mansion grounds. We did not buy tickets to go into the mansion, but instead walked across the grounds to an overlook point across the city of Portland toward Mt. Hood in the distance. It felt like our own version of Seattle’s Kerry Park, as I mentioned in a recent post.

The view of Portland and Mt. Hood from Pittock Mansion.

The view reminded Will of the tram, so we returned to downtown to ride the tram. The tram takes people up to Pill Hill, so called because on the top of the hills of west Portland is a collection of medical facilities, including the very large Veterans Hospital and even larger Oregon Health & Science University, a teaching hospital (OHSU). The hilltop is so crowded with facilities that there isn’t much room left for parking. To encourage people to park at the bottom instead, a tram was installed. I have never used it to attend a doctor’s appointment, but I’ve taken it several times just for fun.

“Go by tram.” Sponsored by OHSU, teaching hospital.

Bicycle parking and tram heading into the station.

View of Mt. Hood and South Portland apartment towers from the tram station on top of the hill.

I want to see this sign on every single trail.

Bonfire erasing the signs of winter floods.

On another day, we went to see the much-visited Beaver Creek Falls, that I often take friends to because it’s close to home and because it’s the same creek that runs through my property. Will also helped me do some cleanup work on the property. My blogger people will know that I had some flooding over the winter. This dragged a bunch of sticks and logs and branches onto the grass. That stuff has to be cleaned up so I can mow without damaging the blades when the grass starts growing. We hauled brush and then had a bonfire.

Will at Beaver Creek Falls.

OSU Beaver

We took a short road-trip along the coast (separate blog post coming soon!) and returned through Corvallis so we could visit Tara and their partner. Tara’s a Junior at Oregon State University and working toward a degree in geology. While walking through campus, Will asked if the trees ahead of us were redwoods. “Oh yeah, probably,” Tara and I answered, and began discussing identifying features such as the way the needles fan out and the grooves in the bark.  Will then asked if I would take a picture of him beside the trees. “Huh?” I thought. Then I realized newcomers are excited about redwood trees not for the needles or the bark, but for their size!! ha ha ha ha. To Tara and I, having lived in the redwood forests of Northern California, these particular trees are not remarkable, and we hadn’t noticed their size at all.  After Tara’s tour of the OSU campus and then a look at the waterfront and downtown area of Corvallis, we went home. Will made dinner for everyone, and since it was St. Patrick’s Day, Tara made their famous St. Patrick’s Day chocolate cupcakes, that call for Guiness, Irish whiskey, AND Irish creme in the recipe.

Women’s Building on OSU campus is a beautiful building.

Inside one of the campus buildings, I noticed the light at the elevator was the Beaver logo. OSU is home of the Beavers.

Will gazes up at the redwood trees.

On another quick excursion, we went for an up-close look at Mt. Hood, featured in so many vistas of his trip so far. The mountain remains beautiful, even when you are standing on its slopes.

The least interesting city in Oregon

On the way there, we detoured into Boring, Oregon (sister cities are Dull, Scotland and Bland, Australia). Will really wanted to buy a T-shirt that said Boring. “It’s the only thing they’ve got going,” he reasoned. “Someone will be selling a Boring T-shirt.” But no!! We stopped and walked, and explored a convenience store, and looked for a gift shop that apparently no longer exists. No one was selling a Boring T-shirt. Entreprenuers, take note.

Deep snow at Timberline Lodge completely covers this window. That’s a hand-carved newel post cap in the foreground.

One of the best things about Mt. Hood is Timberline Lodge. The building is big, beautiful, and welcoming. There are historical displays all around, so it’s partly like a small museum, and almost all the windows open onto a spectacular view (unless they’re blocked by snow). It’s three stories high with a giant fireplace that rises up through those stories. There are two restaurants and a bar inside! The food and drinks are top notch. You can see shots of Timberline Lodge and the mountain in my blog post from last June. We did get neat photos of snow piled up against a window – something I did not see in June!

The first thing we did at Timberline Lodge was get a bite to eat. We sat at a table with this view of Mt. Jefferson to the south.

The view on the other side of the lodge, up toward the peak of Mt. Hood. The ski lift wasn’t running on this slope for some reason, but all the other lifts were busy.

I’ve been posting a lot this week because I have so many stories to tell, and also because I have several more stories coming up and I want to keep my posts somewhat in order and not get too far behind. There’s more on Will’s visit to the Pacific Northwest ahead. Then I’ll probably post about the Broadway show Aladdin that I’m seeing this week with Tara and their partner Brynnen. After that I’m going to a play with a girlfriend and former co-worker. And then I’m going to Ireland with T for a week. We are so excited!!! (also, super-psyched to travel in a country where I know the language…ha ha) Anyone who remembers Bone (the horse bone) will see him (or her) again because Bone is coming with us. 🙂

Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake

Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake

In December I hiked to Mirror Lake and Tom Dick and Harry Mountain for the first time. Though the whole region was sunny that day, there was a little microclimate engulfing our local volcano, Mt. Hood. Snow actually fell during the hike. At the summit of the mountain, I was told that it is typically one of the best views around. Instead of vistas, I entertained myself with close-range snow and fog shots as the weak sunlight made half-hearted attempts to break through and did not succeed. You can read that blog post here if you like.

I went back last week. And this time I found what I had been promised: incredible views!

Looking across the lake up to the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, my next destination.

Looking across the lake up to the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, my next destination.

Trying to capture the iceberg blue in the shadows, but it doesn't show up.

Trying to capture the iceberg blue in the shadows, but it doesn’t show up.

The snow at this point was easy to walk through.

The snow at this point was easy to walk through.

First I had to get there. While the trail was clear in December, this time it was snow-covered from beginning to end. The popularity of this particular trail helped me, since I was able to follow tracks all the way to the summit. My timing was excellent because of the old snow and the weather. I wore only my regular hiking boots that I’ve been wearing for a decade, but the snow was frozen enough that I was able to walk along the top of it.  The day was warm enough that the top inch of snow was soft, so I got some traction, and most of the time I wasn’t in danger of sliding down the mountain on the frozen snow. (did you notice how I used the word ‘most?’)

I walked all around the lovely Mirror Lake. I was glad I decided to hit the lake first and catch some sun. By the time I left the mountain, it was deep in shadow due to our short winter days.

Only a few inches deep at the trailhead, the snow on the trail above the lake was at least two feet deep, possibly three feet deep as it reached Tom Dick and Harry mountain. Others before me had used snow shoes, and I saw ski tracks beside the trail as well.

As I neared the summit, the trail was hard to find because wind had swept away most of the tracks. But I could see the rocks at the top, dry in the sunshine and calling me up. The snow was not as hard there, possibly because of the warmth of the day. My boots punched through and I sank above my knees every third step. Hiking in snow is a fabulous workout! I highly recommend it. You work your legs and your butt, you gulp in that fresh mountain air, your pay-off is an amazing view, and your cool down is to head back down the trail again.

After a last gasping (like I said: it’s a workout) push through the snow, I made it to the top!

The glorious sun had baked the rocks dry at the top.

The glorious sun had baked the rocks dry at the top.

The south side of Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake.

The south side of Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake.

I expected to see Mt. Hood, and there it was, right in front of me and gloriously snow-covered. The bright blue of that much snow is a sight that always stirs me. Reminiscent of the first blue glaciers I ever saw, the summer when I was 16 and went to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Soldotna, Alaska. Despite the fact that I’ve learned to expect that kind of blue, it is still a wonderful sight.

What I did not expect to see was a whole string of volcanoes. Mt. Jefferson to the south, and Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams. And since this day was spectacular for miles and miles, I could clearly see Mt. Rainier from all the way up in Seattle! That is a view of FIVE volcanoes from one spot. I think it’s my record.

I had no one to share my enthusiasm with, since it was a Wednesday afternoon and the trail was empty. But I had cell reception on top of Tom Dick and Harry, so I sent a few selfies to Tara and to my friends at work.

I had not hiked far. In the bottom left, you can see the curve of the highway. That spot is just a few feet from where I parked the Jeep.

I had not hiked far. In the bottom left, you can see the curve of the highway. That spot is just a few feet from where I parked the Jeep.

Here's the money shot! Click the image so you can see them all, left to right: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood. (Picture me jumping up and down with glee)

Here’s the money shot! Click the image so you can see them all, left to right: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood. (Picture me jumping up and down with glee)

I included a shot of this ridgeline in the December post. It looks different this time, with all the sunshine!

I included a shot of this ridgeline in the December post. Different this time, with all the sunshine!

Mt. Jefferson to the south, beyond hazy azure hills.

Mt. Jefferson to the south, beyond hazy indigo hills.

I passed the lake on the way back down, and caught the evening light.

I passed the lake on the way back down, and caught the evening light.

One last look back up at the mountain where I had stood in the sunshine. Then it was time to go Into The Woods, and head back to the Jeep.

One last look back up at the mountain where I had stood in the sunshine. Then it was time to go Into The Woods, and head back to the Jeep.

Me, gazing at the rolling waves of clouds breaking over the ridge of Mt. Jefferson.

Me, gazing at the rolling waves of clouds breaking over the ridge of Mt. Jefferson. In case you were wondering, yes, this is yet another fabulous Oregon volcano!

{Read my post from Day One here.}

Arno hung a thermometer in the tent and when we checked it in the morning, it read 30 degrees. Below freezing inside the tent.

The morning was cloudy and windy, which made us reluctant to get moving. But my knight left me snug in my down sleeping bag, and got up to make coffee. I had been mostly warm during the night. In our rush to pack, we had accidentally brought the summer tent, made primarily of mesh to encourage a brisk airflow. Though I had the extra-luxurious air mattress, it was not enough to block the freezing temperature of the snow from chilling any part of me touching the ground. One nice thing was that I had thought to bring my wet jacket into the bag with me and by morning it was dry. Voila!

We drank the first press pot (yes, coffee snobs must use a French press even while backpacking) and ate breakfast in our bags. While Arno was making the second pot, I finally emerged from the tent to see that the clouds were burning off and the sun was out! What a difference the sun makes when it’s so cold.

To our surprise, another backpacker came through camp around 9am on snowshoes. He had camped at Russell Lake, and was now exploring. Our plan for the day was to go exploring up toward Russell Lake. For the rest of the day, we saw his snow shoe tracks all over the place and I was glad we had met him, so I knew who to imagine when I spotted the wandering tracks.

Arno breaks trail where the snow shoes had only scuffed the surface.

Arno breaks trail where the snow shoes had only scuffed the surface.

We returned to the Pacific Crest Trail, and soon left behind the footprints of Saturday’s day hikers. For much of the day, we were breaking new trail, watching for the little triangle brand mounted on trees to mark the PCT.  I liked the idea that we might be helping a future hiker, so we tried to stay on the trail. Breaking the trail was hard work, but welcome effort, because it kept us warm. We took turns being in front, since the one following had an easier time of it.

Our earlier hiking was easier because the snow was more frozen and we didn’t sink in very far. As the day warmed the snow, we sunk deeper and deeper.  We passed lots of lakes. So many that they aren’t all named. Some frozen over, and the larger ones liquid and sparkling in the sunshine.

Around mid-day we found a snow-free zone beneath some trees, and we stopped for lunch. We had to carry our down coats and thickest gloves and hats for the stops, so that we didn’t freeze when we stopped plowing the snow. I was grateful that Arno thought of this ahead of time, and that way I stayed warm all day.

Arno pumping water at a tiny lake beneath Mt. Jefferson

Arno pumping water at a tiny lake beneath Mt. Jefferson

After lunch we punched a hole in a lake and pumped some water to fill our bladders and a spare Nalgene bottle, then went back to camp. Not quite ready to stop for the day, we continued past camp and circled around Scout Lake to the other side, and discovered some truly stunning views of the mountain across the lake.

Looking back across Scout Lake toward our camp, and the volcano behind.

Looking back across Scout Lake toward our camp, and the volcano behind.

The sun had dried some duff on the north side of the lake, and we went to the place to sit and rest in the failing daylight. It was obviously a campsite, cleared of nearly all human traces. Except for one sandwich-sized ziplock bag of a thick brown substance. “Looks like a bag of poo!” I said, in my delicate ladylike way. Now why would someone leave this? WHAT is this? Eew. I could just imagine the conversation of the people leaving camp.

One says to the other, “Don’t forget the bag of poo. I’m not carrying it.”

“I don’t want to carry the poo! Let’s bury it.”

“You can’t bury that, it’s plastic! Why did you put poo in the bag in the first place?”

Fall colours still visible in the snow

Fall colours reaching  up through the snow

DSC_0117 -1

We found a spot to sit and read the map, eat some trail mix, and talk about stuff. Arno and I can talk a blue streak. I complain sometimes that he talks too much, but I’m a total jabberbox too. We talked and stretched and took photos and laughed in the sun till there was almost no more sun. The moment the sunbeams left us, it got cold quick. It was time to go back.

But… there was still something that had to be dealt with. Arno shook the last of the trailmix into his mouth. “Hand me that bag,” I said. “I’ll put the poo in here.” And I did. And I carried it out. Bleh. People.

We spotted our trail down the steep hill from our camp to the lake

On the way back we spotted our trail down the steep hill from our camp to the lake

The hike back went pretty quickly and it was still early evening when we unloaded our gear at camp. We crawled into our bags in the tent and played a game of Yahtzee. Then ate sausage jambalaya for dinner. Yummy and filling.

Evening sun sets on Park Butte, where we had been sitting for the past couple hours.

Evening sun sets on Park Butte. The far shore is near where we had been sitting for the past couple of hours.

DSC_0178 -1Monday morning dawned brilliantly! Clear blue skies and sun, sun, sun. Diamonds sparkled across the snow and in the branches of the trees. We had our coffee outside, and ate orange cranberry muffins. We finally caved to the begging Whiskey Jacks and shared our crumbs. They were obviously used to people and came very close to us. One even hopped onto Arno’s boot, so we got out the camera and took a bunch of bird photos.

Look at this bold little guy

Look at this bold little guy

I'm sitting with the birds. (Look! It's so warm I'm not even wearing gloves!)

I’m sitting with the birds. (Look! It’s so warm I’m not even wearing gloves!)

The hike out was amazingly beautiful. So warm I took off my snow pants and just hiked in leggings. We counted people heading up and passed 16 of them! Only two had full packs, so the rest were just day hikers. I was doubly glad we had stomped the trail for them.

Sun through leaves near the trailhead

Sun through leaves near the trailhead

Mt. Jefferson in snow-capped loveliness

Mt. Jefferson in snow-capped loveliness, as we hiked out on Monday.

After the Goat Rocks hike, Arno asked me to pick a future weekend to squeeze in one last hike. My schedule is often full, and the first date that looked promising was Columbus Day weekend, which would be three days off due to the federal holiday. I planned not to work overtime, to give us three days in a row to play in the mountains.

Since then the government shut down, and though I had to continue working, the mandatory overtime policy was temporarily canceled. Shut downs don’t allow a holiday off, so we were all furloughed for one day on Monday. Ha, ha, the stuff the government comes up with in order to conform to its own silly structure. In any case, the weekend arrived with all three days still available.

We picked Jefferson Park as our destination, because Internet photos showed it to be beautiful, and because neither of us had been there. Jefferson Park includes the area surrounding a group of lakes at the base of Mt. Jefferson, Oregon. The hike from the trailhead is an easy climb – only 1800 feet – in 5.2 miles.

I assumed the weather would be cold.  The forecast was for a chance of rain/snow showers Saturday, then dry the next two days. With Arno’s help I have collected a decent amount of cold weather gear. He brought his super-duper winter sleepingbag for me. I indulged and brought the thick, full-length sleeping pad which is heavy & bulky for backpacking, but I expected it would be worth it to get myself off the cold ground.

Maybe I haven’t told you, but I am a fair-weather camper. I like hiking in shorts and a tank top. I like jumping into snowmelt lakes for a refreshing swim. However, to get fabulous fall foliage views, I was prepared to be be cold for a few days. As long as I was warm at night, I could take it. With a fire to warm my hands in the evening, even better!

This is the trail we followed to Scout Lake.

This is the trail we followed to Scout Lake. Click the image for the source.

Information boards and no available permits at the Whitewater Trailhead

Information boards and no available permits at the rainy Whitewater Trailhead

DSC_0199 -1It was raining when we arrived at the Whitewater Trailhead. I went to fill out a mandatory camping permit, but all the blank permits had been used and were jammed into the box for collection. I went to use the outhouse and there was no toilet paper. Seasoned traveler that I am, I noticed this the moment I stepped in the door, and went back to the truck for paper. Coming back to the outhouse, I noticed the sign on the door, which explained the source of the problems.

We reasoned that if Rangers had been furloughed, then no Ranger would be on the trails checking to see if we had a permit. After gearing up in the rain, we headed up the trail.

The trail was in good shape because it wound across mostly rocky areas and wasn’t muddy from the rain. In a short while, the rain switched to snain, and then full-on snow. We had one creek crossing that wasn’t too much trouble. I was not concerned about the snow falling. What caught my attention was that as we climbed higher, there was an increasing amount of snow already on the ground, from the previous week of heavy precipitation. Arno had hiked Mt. Hood the week before, and saw that snow level remained above 6000 feet, and we guessed that it would be the same here. We had guessed wrong.

Snow starts to come down hard as I realize our destination is a much higher elevation.

Snow starts to come down hard as I realize our destination is a much higher elevation.

We passed three women and an older couple coming out of the park after day hikes. They confirmed for us that there was a lot of snow around the lakes. The man said he sank up to his knees. It was still a little hard to imagine the depth of the snow they were describing, since I had my mind set on fall colours. Luckily we were well-dressed and stayed warm as we climbed higher.

Soon our trail merged with the Pacific Crest Trail, and we followed that famous border-to-border trail for the rest of our hike.

The first lake we spotted was Scout Lake. It was beautiful and inviting and I pressed Arno to leave the trail and investigate for signs of a place to camp. I was still sort of hoping for a clear patch, but gave up hope rather quickly.

The trail we made from the PCT to get to our camp.

The trail we made from the PCT to get to our camp.

We were the first people to leave the packed down PCT since the snow had fallen. It was about two feet deep at the point where we left the trail. Arno suggests 1 1/2 feet deep. Either way, it’s a lot to break trail through.

We found a beautiful spot on a hill above Scout Lake, with Park Butte to the north and Mt. Jefferson to our south. There was an area large enough for a tent, and Arno showed me how to tromp down the snow into a hard-packed surface so that we could pitch our tent on top of it. I have never camped ON snow before. I recalled hunting camp as a kid, when sometimes we’d wake in the morning to a couple fresh inches of snow on the tent. But this was an entirely new experience and I had some anxiety. I am finding that Arno pushes me outside my comfort zone on a pretty regular basis, but so far I’ve come away better each time, so it’s ok.

The snow had stopped, and as the darkness fell, the setting sun dropped below a cloud deck and struck beams out across the water for us to marvel at. (In case you’re wondering, the sunny photos from this post are from Monday, when we hiked out, since the first photos I took on grey, foggy, snowy Saturday are not as nice.)

Tent on snow. Brrr!

Tent on snow. Brrr! That is Scout Lake, and you can barely see Park Butte.

Arno began making dinner and I tromped through the snow gathering firewood. It was hard to find anything dry, since the previous week had been so very wet. I gathered the sticks with the most potential, and made a heap on top of the snow. I am the pyro of the family, and my record has been so far unblemished. But this time my skills failed me. The wood was sopping wet and I had nothing dry to start with. Even the lichen, that I typically use to get everything going, was soaking wet. I had brought a new box of matches, and thought to myself I will sacrifice the whole box of matches for the cause. The matches were dry wood, after all. I thought if I could hold a match flame up to a stick for a long enough time, it would have to dry it out enough to burn it. One after another match burned till I used the entire box, successfully burning the branches I aimed for, but nothing else. Then realized I now had a dry paper box to burn! I borrowed Arno’s lighter, carefully placed the cardboard matches box and pressed tiny branches all around it and burned the box to no avail. Every so often, I could eek out a couple minutes of flames, which would heat the nearby branches and burn them up, and set my hopes soaring. Like the effect of slot machines, those tiny near-victories kept me coming back. My competitive nature, my pyromania, my pride, kept me at it for 30 minutes. I just KNEW if only I could get a decent burst of flame, I could get it all going properly. But fuel…. I needed paper!

Before we left home, Arno had photocopied the big map to get just our trail onto one 8 1/2 x 11 sheet that I could carry while he had the big map. It was paper. But a little voice in my head squeaked Isn’t burning your map kind of crazy? I asked Arno, “Can I burn the map now?” He looked dubious, but agreed. We had found our destination, after all, and we had a second map. Again I carefully prepped it all, placed the driest lichen, the best tiny branches, and the paper charred and smoked and sparked a little, and burned up without doing me a bit of good. Then the lighter ran out of fluid. It had to be a sign. I quit for good. To help me resist the temptation to go after the last book of matches (Look, I’m not stupid enough to use up ALL our flame, ha ha), I carried away all the dry branches I had gathered and scattered them in the heaps of snow away from camp.

By this time, dinner was nearly ready. We were cold and the bacon carbonara with sun dried tomatoes was warm and delicious. Whiskey Jacks (grey jays) showed up to see if we had any food to share yet. We got to talking about the ingredients for mulled wine and got the idea to heat our evening’s wine on the stove. Brilliant! Hot wine in the snow: one more “first” to add to my list.

Before we went to sleep, the moon became visible in the clearing sky. I had not brought a tripod, so I leaned against a tree to get a few night shots of the mountain above us.

{Read my post for Day Two and Day Three here.}

The moon waxing over Mt. Jefferson, as viewed from camp.

The moon waxing over Mt. Jefferson, as viewed from camp.

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