Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ski to Tent (from 7300 foot elevation to 1800)

The Ski to Tent Event!

Blooming trillium poked from the ground. Varied thrush, back from the valleys, called once again from the forest floor, and the river rushed by gray with silt and the promise of spring on its back. Thirty miles up the road spring skiing was at its best. There are days in April that are simply too spectacular, too wonderful, too beautiful to go inside. A plan was needed. Soon, like so many things under the spring sun, one was hatched: The First Annual Ski to Tent Event. If the weather held, I would ski from 9-12 on Saturday, return home, grab my backpack and Wisdom (the dog not the smarts), and hit the trail by late afternoon for an overnight hike along the Salmon River. To merge skiing with backpacking seemed adventurous and a bit out of the ordinary for me. Typically, my seasonal sports do not associate. 

With a predicted overnight low of 40 degrees, I was reminded that it may be spring, and very well April, but it's still Oregon, and still Mt. Hood. A cold night would mean a long night, and with dry tinder and firewood hard to come by in the woods this time of year, Wisdom and I left the trailhead late Friday afternoon with two packs stuffed with firewood to cache along the trail somewhere.  

Guess who got to carry them both? 
Let's just say Wisdom isn't named Wisdom for nothing. 

We hiked in a couple of miles, exchanged pleasantries with a few day hikers, and didn't spot a single backpacker. Pleased at the possibility of being the only ones out there the following night, I unloaded and hid the wood in a tree hollow near where I hoped to camp. There's something about giving a wave to the last of the day hikers that excites me. When their packs disappear down the path for the final time, things, somehow, become wilder yet more peaceful; solitary, yet more connected. You understand that the old growth trees know this in the way things like this are known. As do the fish following ancient waterways in the river below. You understand it's you who must relearn the rhythms of the forest.  

Much to Wisdom's disappointment, we didn't stay out very long. It was back to the car to go home, sort gear for both skiing and backpacking, and get to bed early for the first ever Ski to Tent Event!

The following morning, arguing crows outside my window woke me before my alarm. A bluebird sky stretched in all directions. Directions like down to my toes and out to my fingertips. You know the kind of excitement I mean. I downed some yogurt and a banana, threw my ski equipment in the car, and told Wisdom to rest up for later. The day was underway.

Mt. Hood from the parking lot at Meadows Ski Resort

On the lift for first tracks

With spring skiing, you never know what you're going to get. The conditions are variable, just like the weather. The first few runs were like skiing on concrete, but the snow was amazing once it softened. The black and double black runs kept my quads burning and skis turning. From about 10:30 until 11:15, Heather Canyon had some of the best skiing of the season. The snow was forgiving and fun. The kind of snow that makes you feel like a hero banging out turn after beautiful turn down the empty canyon walls.

The morning, and the ski, of the Ski to Tent Event sped by, and before I knew it, I was back at the car. Instead of my skis turning, it was my mind turning now. Driving home, I ran through my checklist several times for backpacking. Mainly I wondered if I packed enough (and the correct) layers for spring camping. Having never camped so early in the season in the mountains before, the truth was, I didn't know.   

After lunch and a quick dip in the hot tub, Wisdom and I were at the trail head ready for the next leg. 

 Note the t-shirt and overall warm weather look

Now note that the days may grow longer in April, but spring itself still sets early. It wasn't long before I broke into the cached firewood, and the extra clothing too. 

By the time the sun set, I had on wool socks, wool long underwear, soft shell pants, a t-shirt, two long-sleeved wool shirts, and a wool hat. Before crawling into my sleeping bag a few hours later, I added fleece pants, a down jacket, and lightweight gloves. However, the gloves made me hot. I got a kick out of that. All this down, fleece, and wool, but it was the cotton gloves that tipped my internal thermometer. Once I took them off, I was the perfect temperature for a night in the woods in April. You know the problem though? Eventually, I would have to emerge from my warm little cocoon.

When that inevitable moment arrived the following morning, I went straight to my trusty alcohol stove and got some water boiling for tea before anything else.

I would proceed to drink three cups before even thinking about breakfast or a fire. However, I found that a little chill when drinking tea at the river's edge with your dog at your side is actually quite tolerable.  

(Speaking of the dog and for those of you wondering, I checked on Wisdom throughout the night to be sure she was warm enough. Each time I woke up, she was either making happy dog noises or sleeping soundly. No problem there.)

The morning was cold, but pretty. Wisdom and I went for a wildflower walk and spotted wild calla, glacier lilies, trillium, western buttercup, and many other early bloomers that I can't name. Sunlight flowed downstream into our camp. 

After awhile, the Ski to Tent Event came to its natural closing. I slowly packed up camp happy to have gotten out so early in the season and pleased to have completed the goal, although I didn't feel as accomplished as I thought I would. I think it's because the event wasn't as challenging as I anticipated. I'm already thinking about next year and what to do to increase the difficulty. Certainly, we had a good time though, and I can tell you that someone definitely didn't want to come home.