I was at the Club’s lodge recently for the annual holiday party, first featuring a 3 mile hike into a nearby large park, followed by lunch, the price being bringing a pair of socks for one of the local charities.

Later, back at the lodge, I spoke to a past president of the Club. He was originally from the UP, the upper peninsula of Michigan, and told me about his canoeing the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior. I’ve never been out there, although I’ve read a lot about the area. I told him about my time on Isle Royale National Park out on the Big Lake in 2006, when I had a wolf in my campsite, and how I always wanted to go back to the park that had the highest percentage of return visitors. Unfortunately, I never have. Still, I have fond memories of for several days one May being one of maybe a dozen people on an island 45 miles long and 9 miles wide.

Isle Royale 2006

“I had some medical issues this past year,” the past president said, “and while I was dealing with them, I realized if I never got a chance to go back out on the trail, I still had many good memories and saw many places.”

I had seen him hiking near the top of Spencer Butte a couple weeks ago on our Wednesday conditioning hike, so he was getting back out. I hope he leads a winter snowshoe this year.

I can relate to his comments. In 2009, I wasn’t sure how I was ever going to be able to travel again to places I wanted to see, but I got better. I remember fondly my three day hikes in Yosemite, while my wife was at a radiology conference nearby, the one and perhaps the only time I will be there. I hiked close to 40 miles in those days, all solo, and was thrilled to be out there in snow, but with nearby wildflowers, alive in the beautiful Yosemite backcountry.

Later that summer, I decided to get another national park under my belt, and I traveled to California’s Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park, hiking up Brokeoff Mountain, 7.5 miles round trip with 2600 feet of elevation gain. I was thrilled to do it. That was the hike where I encountered an 80 year-old at the summit wearing running shoes, no pack, gave him a soda, which he drank and then threw the can on the ground.

Mt. Lassen from Brokeoff Mt.  2009

I picked it up. There are men who hike in the outdoors, and then there are outdoorsmen who hike. They two don’t always share the same values.

We ended our conversation by discussing the Boundary Waters, where I have taken 69 trips into four districts over nearly 40 years now. Where did the time go?

Newton Lake 2018

Having arrived at three score and ten, I don’t have many hikes or canoe trips left, although in my wildest dreams, I can hope for another decade. One of my patients, on his 80th birthday, hiked up Mt. Wrightston, my favorite hike in Arizona, 4000 feet of elevation gain and about 11 miles round trip. I have climbed Wrightston many times and camped up there twice as well. Another elderly man I knew hiked up Wasson Peak in the Tucson Mountains over a thousand times. For years, I ran up it on my birthday, trying to match my age to the number of minutes it took me to go up 3 miles and 1800 vertical feet. I just missed on my 41st. I made it thereafter.

But there are no guarantees, ever. I go when I can.

While we have struggled with a drought and mountain fires the past year, this autumn, there was enough mountain snow that I checked out the Sno-Tel automatic weather stations up near Willamette Pass. It’s great to be able to access data showing snow depth and snow-water equivalent. After learning there were 9 inches of snow at Salt Creek Falls, the lowest of the stations I was interested in, I thought it might be adequate to snowshoe. The weather forecast showed no precipitation, the roads were open with no chain requirement, and I decided I was going up there, not the following week, not “some time,” not whenever but TOMORROW. A few days of warm rain could melt everything, and a two month thaw, like too many of the past winters, could end all possible trips. The ski area at Willamette Pass was open, taking advantage of low snow conditions to try to eke out a season, after last year’s three day bust.

Each of the past two years, I have taken a chance on the remaining snow and snowshoed in late April and early May. Nobody was on the trails either time, the snow conditions were excellent, and I have pleasant memories of traveling in the quiet Willamette National Forest under my own power.

I expected heavy ski traffic on the road up and had none. I arrived at the Sno-Park, my vehicle the only one there, cold and windy, temperature in the low 20s. I was dressed warmly and carried my snowshoes back up the entry road to the Sno-Park, across Highway 58, to the snow covered road leading up to Fuji Shelter, 3.7 miles further and 1400 feet higher. The snow at the base was deep enough, with one prior set of snowshoe tracks.

I felt like the luckiest guy in the world. I was sheltered from the wind, on the trail, nobody in sight, and no matter what happened tomorrow or many tomorrows, I was going to get a snowshoe in. The road stretched out before me, a snow-covered track ascending through the woods. It felt good having to break trail, but not working excessively hard to do so. I knew the trail but had my GPS running. It remained quiet, the snow’s muffling traffic back on the highway. Eventually, I got far enough away that I heard almost no sound except occasional snow coming off the trees and an occasional crow calling in the distance. The filtered sunlight reflected off the snow like diamonds. It was magical.

I took a break about half way up to get a drink and eat something. My snowshoes felt fine. I had checked them the previous day at home to make sure nothing had deteriorated over the summer. I have had snowshoes where the rubber fell apart, noting it at the beginning of a hike, which is a big problem. I got through that hike, soberly learning a lesson in preventive maintenance.

Finally, I reached the junction of the trail to the shelter and broke fresh snow for about a third of a mile. The shelter was full of wood, had a stove, and its three sided design was open to a splendid view of Diamond Peak right in front of me. I kept my shoes on for lunch, sat down on a log, and spent time looking around the shelter.

When I left to, I first stopped by one of the frozen lakes near the trail. I then retraced my tracks and descended, much faster, occasionally walking in unbroken snow just to do it. I recrossed the highway and went over to see Salt Creek Falls, the second highest in Oregon. Sure, it’s a tourist spot, but it’s really pretty, and besides, I was the only visitor.

I’m not sure when I will get to snowshoe again, but the important matter was I got out and did it.

Snow diamonds

Fuji Shelter

Fuji Shelter

Salt Creek Falls

Diamond Peak

One Response to “NEW AND OLD MEMORIES”

  1. Denise Helmkay Says:

    am still waiting on my own snowshoe experience.

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