Are we lost? I was starting to wonder if we were on the correct rural road to take us to our specifically chosen middle of nowhere. All traces of modern civilization had been left behind two hours ago, and I could swear that I was hearing snatches of banjo music coming from the increasingly thick woods. Finally, we rounded a bend in the road and there it was. Our mountain. I grew up under the shadow of Mt. Shasta, literally, so when someone says ‘we’re hiking up a mountain’ I immediately think of glacier and snow covered peaks up in the 14,000’ range. So, while this particular peak was FAR less intimidating, clocking in at 7,195’ (thank goodness!), the idea of getting to the top of it still put butterflies in my stomach and an anticipatory ache in my hindquarters. However, we were determined to make it to the top.
When we plan a new adventure for GGitWild, we have one major criteria: a new challenge. Whether we are diving into a mountain sport, tackling some diverse camping conditions, or attacking a new physical trial, the idea is, we have to up our game in some way. This time we wanted to take advantage of the snow before we jumped into spring. While I do have a sense of adventure and my hubris tends to be pretty healthy, I really didn’t want to take my first official backpacking trip using snowshoes and have to sleep ON THE SNOW! I’ve never understood the allure of exploring winter landscapes, unless we’re talking about riding up a chairlift with a snowboard strapped to my feet. Emily, in a moment of pure genius, made a suggestion: a lookout tower! Still snowshoeing, still backpacking, but as long as we made it to the top, there would be a bed, a fireplace, four walls, and a roof! Hallelujah! E: And just in case you aren’t familiar with these little gems . . . They’re obviously in use during fire season, but the forest service rents them out in the off-season. Some are drive-up, some you have to hike to, but every one I’ve stayed in was clean and cozy, with some spectacular views, providing the weather cooperates!
Two quick facts you should know: Denita hates backpacks and Denita hates snow. Finally, I’m not the most hesitant and skeptical member of the group! In the weeks leading up to the trip, Denita bartered, bribed, and even flat out begged us to let her bring a snowmobile. Her trickery knew no bounds. In a moment of complete desperation, she offered our gear guru and editor Billy Brown cash money, plus the promise that she would ride it in a bikini the entire time. Our title is a tongue-in-cheek hint to Girls Gone Wild, not an attempt to follow in their bare skin ways. No snowmobile! D: One thing! I asked for one, teensy little thing!
On to gear! I have decided to up my gear game. Before now, my only experience with sleeping bags was grabbing something ‘that will work’ for a weekend in a remote winter cabin that ended up being devoid of any heater or extra blankets. The freezing, frosty night had me shaking so hard my body refused to sleep, likely from fear of death. After trying out a few top of the line bags in our 3×3 Sleeping Bag Review and seeing what a difference the right gear makes, I will never just grab an ‘it will work’ again. I am going to search, test and scrutinize until I find my perfect gear companion.
This is my first trip where the weight of all my supplies will be carried on my back. Um, crap. I should probably start listening to Emily’s ‘you cannot bring that camping’ rants now. E: Yep! My general rule is that you can bring anything you’d like, but any NEI’s (non-essential items) that I find in the gear pile, you’re carrying yourself! As for me, there’s nothing quite like that first sip of a cold beer after exerting myself for hours, so I happily carry that extra nectar-of-the-gods weight.
I borrowed a pack and got to work on my gear list. Layers are crucial, but there is a delicate balance to maintain. No sense ruining my whole weekend because my only shirt got wet, but I didn’t want to carry my closet around on my back either. For food prep, we packed up part of the MSR Flex 4 set. I still haven’t acquiesced to dehydrated food alternative. Since we were dealing with snow (and the very real possibility of getting stuck in it), my husband bought me a bivy, which is a body bag looking thing that slips over your sleeping bag and gives you extra warmth in an emergency. D: Exactly, it’s a body bag! However, we weren’t going to be dealing with negative temperatures, so instead for our ‘just in case’ we threw in the Big Agnes Down Comforter. A much more comfy companion, but it did add a little more in the weight department. And for dealing with the actual traversal of the snow covered ‘almost-mountain’, we wrangled up three pairs of differing snowshoes. D: It’s a mountain, read the title!
It took a bit of a car ride, and many wrong turns which I like to call scenic meanderings, but we finally made it to the snow! Unfortunately, the mountain was a quirky little bastard and as we started our ascent, snow seemed to come in patches. Dirt, then snow, then back to dirt, again snow . . . make up your mind already! The first hour of hiking was less hiking and more of a mental game called, “Do I take these snowshoes off or wait this dry patch out?”
Hiking tip: In the face of increasing inclines, inconsistent weather conditions, and general crankiness, it is important to keep spirits high. We took two breaks to this end. The first was to eat an apple. Sounds like a small thing, but fresh fruit, mid-hike can be a delicious, life affirming experience. Once the rejuvenation of the apple faded we did what any rational group of exhausted women would do . . . we had an impromptu trailside dance party! Special thanks to Emily’s Outdoor Tech Speaker. Not only did the thumping dubstep raise our spirits, it also had the added benefit of scaring off any potentially lurking mountain lions. D: POTENTIAL? The trail was littered with their giant cat paws! We TOLD you those were probably just bear tracks. D: HOW IS THAT BETTER???
At one point I may have mentioned something about wanting more snow on the trail, but I take no responsibility for what happened mere minutes after I uttered that phrase. I do not control the weather! If I did I would buy a cloak and make everyone call me Storm. At that point Denita was livid. Mad at the snow falling on top of her head, mad at me for conjuring it, and mad at the backpack digging into her shoulders. She was ready to explode. Emily and I let her take the lead and kept back, WAY back. We didn’t want to find out exactly what the wrath of a 5 foot 4 firecracker looks like in full fiery flame.
After a leg straining three and a half hours, the trees fell away, and the tower came into view. It existed, and we were all cheered by the fact that we wouldn’t freeze out here in the cold. One steep ass hill and we would be there. I even managed to outpace Denita and Emily on the final stretch which is abnormal as I tend to be the meandering, butterfly chasing type (maybe I’m getting the hang of this outdoorsy thing after all). The girls came up the steep hill with determination, poise and what sounded like a few choice words. Denita even broke into song, “I love this, I love this, I really, really love this.” Her tone and follow-up hand gesture was not entirely in keeping with the happy words. After a last embittered, but invigorating effort, we made it to the top. Once we got inside, we started a fire, and prepared to spend our first night home.
The wind howled throughout the night and the snow swirled around the windows and whipped over the railings. It was creepy. Not just gloomy dark creepy, but ‘the whitewalkers are coming’ creepy. Our visibility was about 30 feet. We went to bed excited to see the view in the morning when surely the storm would have moved on.
It didn’t move on. We were stuck in a box in a snow storm.
Somewhere around 3pm the snow started to let up. We quickly donned our warmest clothes, grabbed the snowshoes and escaped down the mountain for a little bit of mischief. The wind picked up and we were about to head back when suddenly sections of clouds opened up and we got glimpses of the vast landscapes beneath us. It was gorgeous, expansive and worth the wait. Unfortunately, it was a brief respite and the clouds quickly went back to obscuring our views and blotting out the little bit of sunshine that had snuck through. As the snow returned, we had no choice but to head inside our humble abode.
Our night was spent trying to put together an impossible puzzle. We gave Bev Doolittle a rather impolite middle name as we cursed her ability to make everything look identical. As Denita was displeased with the snow and the backpack, we were sure to bring her poison of choice. Vodka. We went with Snow Leopard; what else for a snowy mountain? D: YUMMY! As we sipped and shot our clear concoction the wind howled and the shack groaned.
Being shut in a cabin with these two is a riot, but we still had to venture outside for the essentials: melting snow for water and handling other business. We called the later making a peesicle because . . . well, you get it. For the former, I soon discovered that snow is dirty (hey, I’m new at this). I want to put my water into a purifier that comes out looking like Evian. Is that a thing? Billy, here do I get that?
The next morning we awoke above the clouds:
The wind was still howling and the temperature had dropped even further(!) , but there was sunshine and our line of sight had expanded from 30 feet to far reaching horizons. Emily, who was the most disappointed about the storm stealing our views, was giddy with excitement. E: Giddy like Christmas morning. I was up well before sunrise bargaining with the weather to cut us a break, scraping windows to make sure we had a clear view, and making sure the camera was ready for the money shot I was convinced we’d get. We spent most of the morning standing in awe as the sun rose over the vast expanse of clouds. Our little lookout was the only thing above the white fluff for miles and miles. Only mountains in the distance poked up in the far reaches of our vision. Amazing.
Our time in this particular middle of nowhere had come to a close. We bundled up and headed back down the mountain. Fresh snow (finally!) covered the trail completely, making our snowshoeing a bit easier. The trek down the hill was substantially quicker than up. We made it back to the car in under an hour. Soon the mountain was in our rearview. We felt exhausted but accomplished, and more importantly, ready for the next adventure. There was an amazing sense of liberation that came with such a remote and isolated location. I am starting to understand why people load up and hike into the wilderness. Solitude, beauty, freedom. . . experiencing places you can’t reach with a simple day hike. I LOVED having a structure to call home, but I think I might be ready to tackle something bigger and scarier. But first, we are going to learn to rock climb!
This is a post from the archives. To see the original post, click here.