It has been the coldest and snowiest winter we have experienced since moving to the Yakima Valley and we love it! So much so that we leave the valley where they count snow accumulation in inches (video above) and head for the mountains where they have been counting it in FEET (video below)!
Sometimes, when we are in the midst of ambitiously road tripping through a region wide snowstorm to a storied lodge on the shoulder of Mount Hood or snowshoeing four miles to sleep in an off season fire lookout tower or trekking through the forest to spend the night in an old ski lodge, I forget that my wife is over six months pregnant. Yet there she is the whole time, riding shotgun, carrying gear, and bullshitting the night away with the rest of us, all while simultaneously creating a tiny human. What a BADASS.
Anyways, this blog post will recount the latest 7 day chapter in the chronicles of us. A seven days in which we did all of the aforementioned trips, and a little extra.
Similar to THIS RECENT ADVENTURE we exited the tiny house into single digit temperatures and began driving directly into a storm that was engulfing the Pacific Northwest. We are from Buffalo, the thought of which makes people shiver at old media memories of the ‘blizzard of 77’ and we now have a Subaru WRX with Blizzak tires in our road trip arsenal; driving in the snow is not a fear of ours. Unfortunately, our qualifications do not stop the other
clueless, errrr, seemingly ‘far less equipped and experienced’ individuals from creating some really hazardous scenarios.
We slowly crossed the Yakama Nation reservation and motored over Satus pass only to cautiously descend into a completely neglected Columbia gorge. We positioned our tires in the only two ruts that cut through a slushy 8 inches of snow and putted passed the 70 mph speed limit signs at a ferocious 35 mph. The going was slow and we yearned for our favorite breakfast spot in Hood River only to be confronted with a closure note upon arrival, thanks to the storm we were currently driving through. We found a breakfast sammie elsewhere and got back on the Mount Hood scenic byway where we retraced part of THE AMAZING MEANDER route back to Timberline Lodge. The trip from Yakima took six hours. It usually takes three.
We parked and made a break for the lodge passed others digging out their vehicles and fumbling to install tire chains, tasks made difficult by the frigid horizontal wind and snow. We found Brian and his son, Salish with the coloring books in the Barlow room and checked into our bunk room on the first floor. We made sure to stock the refrigerator, which is just outside the window, in the massive snow drifts that covered all of the bottom floor windows on this side of the lodge each winter. No natural light but plenty of natural refrigeration.
While waiting for the final two members of our group to arrive, we passed time with fondue and beverages from the Rams Head bar and restaurant on the 3rd floor mezzanine. This partial floor encircles the entire great room and provides fantastic views, both out the windows to Mount hood as well as down onto the other guests in the great room below and the lodges signature, massive chimney that boasts three fire places per floor. The hot tub offered a warm respite while the snowstorm picked up and snow accumulated on any non-submerged portions of of bodies. Eventually, we ended our evening at the Blue Ox Bar; a small cavernous space in the lodges underbelly that felt more like a subterranean speakeasy than a pizza spot; in a good way.
As for Brandon and Dudley, the two friends that were visiting from the East Coast and were running late on a horrendous route from Boise, ID…Well they told us they would arrive around six-o-clock, which they did. Six AM to be more precise. In a series of debaucherous occurrences confounded by the terrible weather and road closures, a drive that usually takes six hours, took eighteen and their two bunks sat empty all night. They had time for a 90 minutes of shut eye and a soak in the outdoor hot tub before checking out at 10:30 am for the next stage of the adventure.
If they were feeling tired from driving and lack of sleep, the impending four mile snowshoe did not make things better. We drove thirty minutes to the unplowed ‘sno-park’ trail head where we dug out parking spots before setting off on a snowmobile track in the direction of the fire tower. The semi-packed path from the snow machine was abruptly gone after we veered right and began breaking trail at the exact moment the elevation began increasing.
We arrived at our destination as the sun set; barely discernible through the thick, nearly opaque cloud cover that soon began producing more snowfall. We walked past the roof of what appeared to be an outhouse, and Brandon shortly went to work tunneling a path to its door, presumably with the highest kind of personal motivation. Once on the catwalk of the lookout tower we were confronted with a crystalline cube, coated on all sides with a layer of thick frost; the product of cloud cover and single digit temperatures.
That evening we lived forty feet above the ground. Our activities, our focus, our entire existence revolved around the wood burning stove in the corner while its warmth slowly thawed the windows of the translucent mid-winter rime ice. This was the end goal, nothing more. We worked our asses off to leave cell service behind and be present in front of that crackling fire. We drank beer and whiskey; recently a burden of weight and now a delightful libation. We read the logbooks cover to cover; the most interesting entries out loud. There were exaggerated stories of tiresome twelve hour access attempts full of wrong turns attributed to lack of preparation and due diligence before hand. There were marriage proposals and sisterly bonding and a whole lot of finding peace, enjoying the calm, and getting ones live re-centered. All common themes of fire lookout logbooks of times past. We slowly slide into the night, awakening every so often to throw a log on the fire, stepping over Dudley and under Brandon’s hammock bed each time.
We awoke in a snow globe. The thawed windows provided 360 degrees of snowfall as the storm continued to besiege the region. Hot beverages brought us to life and kicked off the slow morning ritual of packing up. We hide some small gifts and completed our own logbook entry, complete with breadcrumb poems to direct the following occupants to the hidden treasures. We carefully descended down the snow covered stairs. The old adage of ‘walking up hill both ways’ came to mind while we broke trail once again on the way back to the sno-park. It was now Tuesday morning and we bid farewell to Brandon and Dudley for the time being. They continued on their wildly ambitious, if not at times, treacherous road trip with the next stop being Portland, Oregon.
A few days later we converged on White Pass Ski area from opposite directions for a wild afternoon of powder runs on the best snow in recent history. This last claim you will just have to trust me though because the camera didn’t come out until after we grabbed last chair and hiked to one of my favorite (lift-served’ish) spots in the PNW to enjoy the last hour of daylight. Mountains and ridges stretch in every direction, the horizon punctuated by the cascade giants of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens.
Remembering the recent introduction of the #freshofftheslopes contest we snapped some fun photos and slow motion videos while enjoying the obligatory 6 pack of Field 41 Pale Ale.For those who live in the area and are not aware, Bale Breaker Brewing Company and White Pass Ski Area have teamed up again for a fun contest that benefits a good cause. By participating not only do you support two local businesses , you also help raise money for the White Pass Volunteer Ski Patrol‘s much needed new emergency first aid center! All you have to do is ski, drink a beer(s), and tag it with #freshofftheslopes!
We dropped in for one last epic sunset powder run back to the lodge punctuated by Dudley’s exclamation that it ‘was the best run of my life.’ And as an added bonus it turns out that one of those photos we snapped earned me a week 2 contest win and a shot at the grand prize this spring!
One more rest day before Saturday morning rolled around and we were packing up the Forester with all of the necessities for another winter overnight in the mountains. This time we were heading to an abandoned ski lodge with an important place in history spelled out on its walls. The American Ridge ski area was one of the first in Washington State and could claim to have been an influential part of the formation of downhill skiing in the region. The lodge exhibits trademark aspects of the C.C.C. federal works program era that led to its creation and the historic images on the walls compliment the period accurate repair work that help one truly connect with the history of such a place. First serving as a warming hut to those individuals adventurous enough to criss-cross the surrounding ridges and drop in on d.i.y. barrel stave ‘ski’s, a simple rope tow and two ski jumps were later installed to bring attention to the ski resort, but it was too little too late. The aforementioned White Pass highway and its namesake ski area opened to the demise and abandonment of the American Ridge ski area.
That six decade old demise gave us the opportunity to rediscover this amazing hidden gem for ourselves and re-inject love and laughter as we celebrated Craig’s 29th birthday. Certain experiences are richer than others and as our community becomes larger and the communal trips richer, it is harder and harder to capture the true essence, the aura that permeates these experiences. Everywhere I turned, there was another smiling friend. Some hiked up the nearby ridges and skied the same lines that the regions downhill pioneers skied. Some disappeared into the forest on snowshoes; others with sleds in hand. There was a continuous and lively conversation around the barrel stove in the lodge and the fire ring outside, fueled by libations and cherry wood. A piñata was broken open, card and board games played, and I kicked everyone’s butt in L-R-C (which is a dice game of pure luck). Best of all (unless you didn’t have ear plugs?) it culminated in a lodge wide slumber party.
It was one of those perfect weekends; full of authentic joy and appreciation and generosity. We had everything we needed, and nothing that we didn’t.