After snowshoeing for the first time a few weeks back, Mack and I made it a goal to try our hand at winter backpacking this season. And what better time to give it a shot than the first of the year? After splurging on some new four season sleeping bags (with some much needed help from a Columbia Sportswear employee pass) and a winter coat for Cassie, we made plans to drive out to Bend, snowshoe to Tumalo Falls and continue along Tumalo Creek, then set up camp in Happy Valley. As per usual, we scrambled to get stuff together the night before and, with lots of packing still to do in the morning, decided to adjust our trip to something shorter and closer: Trillium Lake on Mount Hood.
Day 1: Trillium Lake Sno Park to south end of Trillium Lake (2.8 miles; 1 hour 50 minutes, all breaks included)
After altering our original trip at 10 pm the previous night, we got a pretty late start in the morning, arriving at the sno park just in time to snag one of the last parking spots in the lot. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, so naturally the crowds were comparable to a summer weekend at Disneyland. I can’t remember the last time we saw so many people (and dogs!) on the trail. Fortunately, the road was wide enough to accommodate everyone that showed up to enjoy a wintry New Year’s Eve. The snow was packed down enough from heavy usage that snowshoes weren’t even necessary for the most part, but we kept them on to avoid adding extra weight to our packs.
We got our first clear view of Hood about a mile or so into the hike at Summit Meadows. Aside from a couple of freshly made tracks crisscrossing the meadows, much of the snow here was untouched. To get away from the crowds (and to get a nicer shot of the mountain, which would be the last until reaching the lake), I blazed my own trail through the deep powder. Finally made use of the snowshoes!
After the meadows, we were back in the forest, passing by several cozy looking rental cabins along the way. We’d put some distance between us and some of the bigger groups (who stopped to enjoy the meadows) at this point and got to enjoy some short lived solitude.
The lake seemed to appear suddenly as we rounded the bend out of the forest. Skies were still completely clear and Mount Hood could be seen once again in all her grandeur. Of course, in addition to the incredible view was the inevitable crowd. There were people lounging in the deep snow on the shore, traversing the frozen lake, and there was even one guy ice fishing. Before doing any further exploring of our own, we decided it would be best to set up the tent.
We found a nice little spot on the shore with a fantastic view of the lake and the mountain. Yes! Now to dig and smooth out a platform. Easier said than done. Because of the relatively fresh powder, we had to dig pretty deep before we were able to stamp out a firm, stable platform. By the time we got the tent up, it had been nearly an hour. Even with her jacket on, Cassie was shivering like crazy, so I wrapped her in a towel while we finished carving out boot boxes. Clouds started to move in as well, and I kicked myself for not getting a picture of the landscape while it had been completely clear. I pulled out my camera for a few quick shots.
We set up Cassie in the tent first. Mack wrapped her in his puffy down jacket so she could warm up faster. We’ll definitely need to work on setting up more quickly in the future so our poor pup doesn’t freeze to death! We unfurled our sleeping pads and new bags first, then piled in with all the rest of our gear. It didn’t feel that cold outside (especially since we’d been moving for the last hour and a half setting up camp), but it sure felt nice to remove my snow covered boots and curl up in a comfy bag. Mack went straight to work boiling water for hot toddies. Surprisingly, this was the first time we’d carried an alcoholic beverage into the backcountry. It definitely needs to happen more often.
Now that it was after 3 pm and the clouds had completely obscured Hood, we were finally getting our much awaited solitude. Of course, the temperature had dropped a bit (or at least it felt like it now that we were all warm and snugly in the tent) with the sun gone/hidden. Neither of us felt like getting up to put on our boots, gaiters, and snowshoes to walk around the lake. Cassie was already sound asleep, too! Aside from a couple reluctant bathroom breaks, we stayed in the tent the remainder of the afternoon.
Our New Year’s Eve consisted of more hot toddies, munching on cheese puffs, tortillas, and jelly beans, watching Gilmore Girls on Mack’s phone, saying “hello” and “happy new year” to the occasional skiers that passed by, hitting snow (that was now falling pretty heavily) off the tent fly, and nearly jumping out of our skins when the fireworks went off at Timberline Lodge. All in all, I’d say it was a damn perfect way to close out 2016.
Day 2: Trillium Lake to Trillium Lake Sno Park loop completion (2 miles; 1 hour, all breaks included)
I opened my tent door the next morning to find my boot box, which had been nearly a foot and a half deep the day before, almost completely filled with new snow. And snow was still falling. Mack and I decided we should take turns packing up so one of us could keep Cassie warm. I offered to go first. After rolling up my sleeping bag and pad, I shoved everything into my pack, pulled on my rain pants, gaiters, and boots, then stepped out into waist deep powder, wading through several yards until I reached the trail, where the snow was far less deep. So much effort for a morning bathroom break. The lake was deserted save for one hiker and his small dog making their way down the forest road leading back to the sno park. A cold, yet serene, start to 2017.
While Mack packed up his things inside the tent, I made myself useful by scooping massive amounts of snow off the fly and breaking trail around Mack’s entrance so he wouldn’t have to swim through the snow like I’d practically had to. Thankfully, aside from having to dig out the stakes and parts of the fly, taking down the tent was much easier than setting it up. We were done in minutes and Cassie had yet to begin shivering!
Since we didn’t make the time or effort the day before to walk out on the lake, we made sure to do just that before we headed back up the road. The new snow had completely covered all the tracks from the day before, so we got to lay down some fresh ones.
The trek back to the car was pretty uneventful. Both of us were feeling a little dazed and dehydrated, so we were eager to get back. Despite the weather, we passed by quite a few people heading out to visit the lake. Most of them commented on how cute Cassie looked in her jacket and Pawz dog boots and gasped in amazement when they found out we’d camped in the snow the night before. The half mile slog up the final (and only) hill felt like forever. When we finally made it up, we couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. As expected, my car needed to be dug out, defrosted, and armed with AutoSocks. As Cassie lay comfortably inside, Mack and I slaved away shoveling snow. Setting up the tent and digging out the car are officially the most tedious aspects of winter backpacking. After an hour, we hit the road and rewarded ourselves with not one, but TWO trips to Dairy Queen for fries and, ironically, an Oreo blizzard. First winter backpacking trip completed and in the books! Bring on the next one!