- Date: January 15, 2017
- Location: Mount Hood
- Start: White River West Sno Park
- Distance: 5 miles (but we only did 4)
- Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes (breaks included)
- Elevation gain: 1800 feet
- Type: Out-and-back
- References: Oregon Hikers
After being cooped up in the house the previous weekend, Mack and I couldn’t wait to get out this past weekend. We’ve gotten so used to doing something outside nearly every Saturday and/or Sunday these past few months that it’s hard to skip even one weekend! Even though Portland got dumped with a foot of snow during the week, the freeways were basically clear by the weekend and the weather was shaping up to perfect. We left before sunrise on Sunday morning so we could take our time driving out of the metro area. It was a white-knuckle drive until we reached Mount Hood Highway, where road conditions improved significantly. We arrived at the sno park just after 9 am. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
A race course was being set up and marked when we arrived, so we decided to get a move on, hoping to make it further into our route as to not get caught up in the inevitable crowd. (The event, for those interested, was this one: http://www.xdogevents.com/whiteriver.html) However, as we started to near the ridge, my eyes kept glancing at the White River below, winding its way through untouched powder. It was too enticing. I convinced Mack to descend into the canyon so we could follow the river a little ways before heading back up. It was incredibly peaceful, especially since it deviated from the route that most people take. I kind of wish we’d continued along the river the entire way, but at the time, I thought it would be more sensible to stick to the route we’d already planned. By the time we made it out of the canyon, the snowshoe race/walk had begun and a throng of people were making their way up the same path.
Although the event looked like fun, as a bystander seeking some degree of solitude, it was a bit frustrating. In addition, Cassie is not a fan of large groups of people and refused to keep moving at times, making our progress even slower. We were able to cut our own path through the snow (parallel to the race course) after making it up the hill and into the trees. The turnaround point for the race came shortly after that. Phew! We breathed a sigh of relief when we realized the rest of our hike would not look like a giant ant trail. As we continued through this sparsely forested section, we only encountered one other group (of XC skiers). Finally some peace and quiet.
As we exited the forest, the path skirted the edge of the slope leading into the canyon. The river was now quite a ways below us and Mount Hood stood before us, majestic as always, completely unobscured. What a beautiful day to be outside. I was so happy we’d decided to hold off on our original plan to snowshoe to Tamanawas Falls, which wouldn’t have offered the expansive views we were getting now.
The final stretch to the upper viewpoint was a steep, but thankfully short, climb. While taking pictures of Mack and Cassie making their way up, I got distracted and forgot to activate the heel lifts on my snowshoes. Mack pointed this out once I caught up about 3/4 of the way up the hill. Oops. Even with the heel lifts, the hill was still tough to tackle. I just felt so clumsy walking in snowshoes! Changing direction on the switchbacks was an ordeal. At one point, we even tried front pointing to safely ascend the steepest section. Definitely wasn’t very effective in snowshoes. I thought about taking them off, but we were almost to the top and I didn’t have a means of strapping them to my pack anyway. I guess Mack and I need to work on our footwork.
When we reached the top, we were greeted by a relatively flat, mildly forested viewpoint. A perfect spot to stop and relax (and for future snow camping!). Cassie appeared pretty exhausted at this point. With the sun shining down on us the entire hike, I imagine she was maybe a little toasty, too. We gave her some water and treats before she plopped down in the snow and closed her eyes. The final viewpoint was still about a half mile up along the ridge, but we decided to turnaround at our current spot, especially since downclimbing the steep slope we’d just ascended was probably going to be slow. We rested a few minutes longer and took in the gorgeous view of Mount Hood from our snowy perch before getting up (also a struggle in snowshoes) and beginning the descent.
As anticipated, it took quite awhile to get down the hill. We were able to switchback some of it, but I ended up feeling more comfortable front pointing down. An ice axe would’ve been super helpful. It was difficult with Cassie on her leash, so we ended up just letting her go (leash still attached in case we needed to grab her) so she could descend at her own pace. She usually sat down and waited between us while we took our time climbing down. When we were closer to the bottom, I was able to plunge step the rest of the way. Mack tried glissading, but he kept getting stuck in the snow. It was still fun to watch him try, and Cassie seemed amused as she attempted to run beside him.
The number of people on the trail had definitely picked up now that it was after noon. We passed several groups of four or more as we descended the ridge back to the sno park. The last half mile or so was filled with people skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. There was even a group or two that appeared to be practicing their snow shelter building skills. Thank goodness we hadn’t started our trek this late in the day! We arrived back at the now very crowded parking lot feeling content with our morning adventure. Our third time snowshoeing was definitely one for the books. Next time we’re out in this particular spot we’ll have to try snow camping!