Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Year's Eve Snow Shoe

Where have I been?
It is suddenly winter. Christmas is done. The last day of the 2014 is upon us.
My son says this is our last chance to do things this year.
Last chance to dance in the street (this year).
Last chance to adventure (this year).
Last chance to eat a Christmas Cookie (this year).

For the Active Adventure Team, last chance for ADVENTURE THIS YEAR !!.


So we are off to Mount Hood for the 5th annual Fire and Ice New Year's Extravaganza. Later tonight, my Partner (Action Adventure Girl) and I are going to meet with the rest of the AAT at White River Snow Park and hope that there is enough snow to do some snow shoeing off into the wilderness where we will have a little bonfire and ring in the new year. If we are lucky, we will see fireworks out over the mountain. Each of the different ski resorts evidently have them.

For now, a few families have rented a very nice ski cabin in Government Camp and we have the heat cranked up and are expecting a very cold night. We will cook dinner and eat and then start the bundling up process for tonight's frigid adventure. We are expecting temperatures around 16 degrees.

Now, for those of you who are internet anthropologists and are reading through this 200 years in the future, as you search through the terabytes of useless blog data that was generated by useless bloggers I will tell you a few things. At this time, we are still at the start of global warming and so there is still snow (pretty much all year) on the tops of the tallest volcano mountains in the Pacific Northwest. The city of Portland is still 60 miles away from the ocean and the metropolitan area of Seattle is still above sea level. The population of the planet had decided to stop using fossil fuels and switch to solar and solve the whole environment crisis problem but some idiot in the midwest inventing Fraking (the other kind) which led to gas prices dropping by 50% and now we would rather buy Ford F250 trucks and put off saving the planet for the next generation. Sorry about that.

Government Camp.
Called this from the …. well..... federal government camp that was established here during the depression to do various construction projects, notably Timberline Lodge. Now, though this is a really nice and fancy rental cabin we are staying at, it doesn't have internet, which means that I can't actually check the veracity of any of the facts I just typed. But I am sure they are true.

There is also a Government Camp in California. Copy Cats.

Hey, it turns out I was wrong, though I like my answer better. It was evidently called that because a bunch of wagons were abandoned there by the Army when they tried to move a bunch of supplies through to Oregon City a little too late in the season and their Oxen died.
I like my version better.

Mt Hood from Government Camp

Cold out tonight. In my partner's words “So Freaking Cold”. She took the first picture of the night as we drove out to the launch point at White River (West) Snow Park. 10 degrees. Brrr. But crystal clear glorious evening with a big bright moon (evidently obscuring a comet). We met at 9:30 in the very large snow park parking lot. There were 2 other groups of explorers but we looked to be the only ones with any intention of leaving the lot. One of the other groups had a camp fire going with their cars parked across it, smokey fumes of Washington wafting festively across the packed snow to us. Chip has been doing this Fire and Ice hike for 6 years now and he has his gear load well defined. He makes a sort of clam shell gear carrier out of a snow sled saucer and a portable fire ring. In the center goes wood and champagne and then he tows it up the hill. What a guy.

Freaking Cold (in the car)

These guys are showing me where a comet is. But you can see the sled back yonder;

The Intrepid explorer before he got out into the wind and put on two more layers. (Editor's note:
And the fireworks in the background)

Trudging up the hill in the moonlight and snow is one of those rare transcendental moments. No crowds, no cars, no noise. Well, no noise when you hold still. When you hold still you can hear the river running in the gully and the wind blowing softly through the trees. When you don't hold still all you can hear is the rather loud scrunching of the snow under your snow shoes. Scrunch Scrunch. Up the hill we went. Usually I worry about getting too hot when going up hill, but not tonight. Weather bug is telling us it is -3, apparently with the slight breeze. We really need to find a place to get out of the wind before we stop. We will be too cold to stop otherwise.

About 30 minutes up the hill we get to a little sled bowl. During the day time this entire area will be full of little kids on little plastic sleds. Each tearing down the hill at questionable rates. That Hill over there will have 10 individual sled paths, each with a parent at the bottom of the glide to stop their kids from careening out into the main walking area. But tonight all is quiet, and we find a place on the other side of a ridge to duck out of the wind. The place we chose had been a little smashed down by some previous group, but we stomped around some more and then dug a little ditch for our foot rest and sat right down and got the fire going.

Out of the wind, with the fire lit, the cold wasn't too unbearable. Not sure I could ever warm up to the idea of bringing a tent out to someplace like this and spending the night. I would certainly need a better sleeping bag and a thicker mattress. One of the things I have learned about on coming to Oregon (and the mountains) is this idea of needing insulation from the ground in order to be able to keep yourself warm in the winter. There is an insulation rating system for these things (or course). I was very surprised to find out that a normal air mattress, even one of those great big nice areo-bed things, is only an insulation quotient of 1. This is essentially the same as sleeping on the ground. Since the weight of your body crushes the down in you bag to nothing, if you only have a 1 insulation between you and the ground (or the snow) then you will not be able to generate enough heat during the night to keep yourself warm. You need a trapped air mattress. There are a lot of them on the market these days that range around greatly in portability and cost. One of those egg shell foam mattresses that you see boy scouts carrying strapped to the outside of their packs is one of the cheapest (and perhaps most comfortable). Those ring in at around 2-3. The self inflating but compressible foam mattresses are little better (and much easier to pack) at 3-4. They also have the ultra expensive super hiking models, I see them in the 5-6 range. If you want things much warmer than that, you get into the big heavy can't really carry on your back sort of thing. But hey, the R ratings are additive, so you can bring along two mattresses, perhaps a closed cell and a self-inflating. Give you a R of around 6, and you could use the foam as a sled in a pinch.

It is very beautiful and serene to sit around in the freezing cold in front of a roaring fire, that is until the wind shifts and you get hot ash blowing sparks on your expensive Gortex jacket and plastic pants. The last thing I want is little holes burned in my tech stuff. But when you jump up to put yourself out and move to a safe place on the other side of the fire, you remember why you were wearning snow shoes and why Chip advised you not to take them off because you post hole down do your thighs in the snow.

So we had a little champagne and some s'mores and then put out the fire and packed it all back down the snowy river embankment to the parking lot.

Editor's note:  The female adventurers were cold once we stopped.  Not just a little cold, but oh my god, get out the emergency hand warmers and wait frantically until they started working cold.  And if your knee hurts, and you decide that laying in the snow is a good idea, so you can elevate it (the PT always says elevate and ice after exercise, but my god, it's 10 degrees out in the snow, so we'll skip the ice), then don't think you can just walk over there and lay down.  'Cause Jon is right, you'll sink right up to your hip in the snow.  Which will make your already sore knee very mad at you, and might make you a little grouchy with the rest of the AAT.  Just sayin.  

Just as a foot note: The next afternoon my partner and I returned with various parts of our families for a warmer sunny day outing. We had some snow shoes and some sleds and some cross country skiis and everyone just did stuff with the snow for a few hours. White River is definitely a great place for this kind of outing. Lots of parking. Lots of people. Some good sledding hills for kids, but also it is pretty easy to get off into the trees for a little snow shoe or some cross country skiing. Check it out.


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