Saturday, March 7, 2015

Todd Lake Loop Snow Shoe

The newly risen sun is shining bright and strong rising over the valley of the Deschutes river. The sky is bright blue with nary a cloud. The air outside is brisk, perhaps the temperature dropped below freezing last night. My partner and I are in Bend for a long weekend get away. It is the end of February and we are planning on a show shoe outing a little later on. We are going to drive up to Mount Bachelor and then brave the back woods on a little jaunt to Todd Lake.

We have been up here in the summer before. (In fact, we got married up here last June) We have mainly paddled on the Cascade Lakes. This will be our first adventure when the snow is still deep. Well, I say the snow is deep but this has been a very warm and strange winter. There was no snow to be seen on the ground, for instance, when we passed through Government Camp on Friday. I guess the tops of the mountains must have some snow but there is nothing down here in Bend. In Boston and the Northeast they have like 80 inches of snow..... in the Cities. We don't have that on our ski mountains. Bend had to drastically change their “winter carnival” because there just wasn't any snow to be had for the usual exhibitions. One person we talked to said that all of the snow parks on the way up the mountain are closed (well, they may be open, but there isn't any snow, and what is the point in that). Still Mount Bachelor is reporting 40 some inches on the Common Core trail to Todd Lake and we are going to go up to the Nordic center and check it out.

Sung to the tune of “let it snow”:

The weather outside is sunny
And the hills look kind of funny
What is brown should be white you know
There's no snow, there's no snow, there's no snow.

There are little snow parks lining the main road all of the way up to Mt. Bachelor. They were all closed. The mountain itself was white, but all around, at least on this side, was brown and green. The road was closed at the usual place right at the turn off for the Alpine ski center. There were some snow mobile guys making noise. We followed the road up to the center. The parking lot up there was also completely bare. But there was snow over by the Nordic Lodge so we bundled up for our trip. The wind was really whipping in that parking lot. Cold and Cold coming across from the mountain. Had to chase after a hat or two. We put on all of our layers and I think were even thinking about just calling it a day cause it was SO COLD. But the sun was shiny and maybe we would be OK once we got down into the tree line.

Common Corridor

Yield to Racers

To get to the Todd Lake trail we needed to get back out to the main road. To do that, we had to cross over some lands which I guess belong to Mt Bachelor. We would do this by hiking through the groomed cross country ski area on a path called the Common Corridor. You need a pass (like a lift ticket) to hike on the trail, but they give them out for free in the Nordic ski center. Not sure why you have to have one. They said that it was so the ski patrol doesn't give me grief, but if they are free and all.....

There were quite a few cross country ski types out on the slopes. From the lodge a trail the size of a 2 lane road goes down a bit of a hill and then breaks off into trails going every which way. We were told to stay to the side and stay off the groomed ski tracks. I sort of got the feeling that cross country skiers don't much like sharing the trail with us plodding snow show types. Had one guy sort of come up trying to get around me while ski patrol was checking my pass and when I went to move out of his way I stepped on his ski. He wasn't happy. Of course, skiing is so fraking hard to do that it would probably make just about anybody grouchy until they had some mastery of it. Saw quite a few parents trudging up the hill carrying their children's gear with said child trailing behind and grousing.

Anyway. Just a 10 minute walk and we were out of that territory and across the road into the barren wastes. Be careful here not to get run over by the snow mobiles. I take it that you can rent some log cabins a few miles down the (closed) road during the winter and you get there either by snow mobile or snow cat. That could be fun some day.

Today we are following the snow trail to Todd Lake. There are a lot of trails out there. They are marked with little metal flashes that have symbols of walkers or skiers. The trails (for skiers and snow shoes) crisscross back and forth across each other through the trees. I take it that usually the signs are right at eye level, but that is when there is 10 more feet of snow up there. Today you have to look way up in the trees and they are sometimes easy to miss. The snow is pretty well tromped down though, so we didn't think we were in too much danger of actually losing the trail.

See how they can raise the info board as the snow gets deeper?

Very lovely out there walking in the snow. And quiet once we got away from the road a bit. We had one nice place where we hiked off trail a bit to a open spot for a lovely view of Mt. Bachelor. The trees were doing a great job of keeping the wind off of us and the sun was almost warm. We were walking well and we took off a layer. I am a big believer in heat management when you are hiking in the cold. A human body generates a lot of heat when slugging through snow, especially up hill. If you let yourself get warm, you will sweat. If you sweat you will get wet and then if you stop you will get cold much too quickly and may not be able to get dry and warm again. So keep track and just start shedding layers before you get warm. I guess that means that I advocate to hike a little cold. If you are hiking up a steep hill you may find that no matter what you wear, you sweat. I have been out in the snow climbing a long steep hill in just a T-shirt and had sweat dripping down off my body. So I also like to carry a change of shirt and take off the wet thing at the top. (a plastic bag is nice too, so you don't get your other gear wet when you stow the wet shirt).


After a mile or so of pleasant hiking we came to an open area. In the summer this is a wetlands sort of zone with winding creek running through it that is the drainage for Todd lake. In the winter is is a big expanse of snow with a half frozen winding creek running through it. We followed the creek up to the Todd Lake road and thence to the lake.


Todd Lake
The lake was frozen over, of course. There were a few ski tracks going across the middle but most people were staying to the sides of the lake and not trusting this crazy warm weather we have been having. The picnic tables and such that were around were too covered with snow to use, so my partner found a nice shelter spot under some pines and we took off our snow shoes and sat down for our lunch.

We quickly had us some visitors. A little flock of Gray Jays quickly formed and would swoop down on any little tidbits we threw out for them. They would sit in the tree over our heads and must be going after the pretzel pieces before they even hit the snow. Swoosh, grab, Swoosh back to the tree.

Doesn't this look like something terrible happened here?

We had maybe 10 other snow walkers and sliders come by while were eating. Not a solitary hike is Todd Lake.

At this point we could have continued around the lake or taken some other trails but we were not on a major kill ourselves adventure. Using snow shoes uses different muscles than hiking or walking and we already knew that we were going to be sore in the morning. So we continued on the Todd Lake loop. Now, I am not sure exactly where we went wrong. I thought we were following all of the signs. But we did get off of the trail and ended up hiking back on the main alpine ski slope. My best guess is that we went awry at this one creek crossing.

We had a few creek crossings. I mean, we are in a mountainous area and there is a lot of melting water and such and so there are little creeks in the bottom of every little gully. Most places there would be a sort of snow bridge. I think a snow bridge is where someplace beneath the snow there is a actual wooden bridge that is piled 4 foot high with snow. But from the top it just looks like crossing a snow bridge with water running under it. Lots of people had crossed over before us, but the weather is getting warmer and there is less bridge and more creek every minute. We met some people coming the other way, they told us that the hardest part was right in front of us and they recommended taking off our snow shoes and climbing down into the creek bed to ford the ditch. We managed to cross with our snow shoes on and going very slowly, but it was a tricky thing.

When we started on the hike, we saw a little paper sign that said that the river crossing in one place was unsafe and that we should use the alpine ski bridge that was in that area and then cut back to the normal trail. The sign went on to say that the detour was marked with pink ribbons. We came out of the trees and there was a large meadow, and right there were the pink ribbons. How nice. They lead right up to this long snow covered bridge across a creek that looked a lot like my death. The wooden bridge, down there across the creek, was a good six feet wide and made of log slats. But there was 5 feet of snow on top of it and the width of the snow on the top was about 1 foot. A 1 foot wide snow bridge 5 feet in the air over a freezing creek. I could see how you might be able to slide across it on skis, but there was no way you could just walk across on snow shoes. Perhaps if you turned sideways you could scootch across. I came up to the thing once and realized I could was going to trip myself. I tried the sideways way. You know how when you get a little scared of heights that it freezes you and makes sure that you are going to fall? I could tell that that was what was going to happen to me. No way. I backed off and told my partner that I couldn't do it. I had to figure out something else. She thought she could do it. Perhaps she thought that if she showed me how that I would be able to do it. She ended up proving to me that I couldn't do it. She turned sideways and scootched across. About halfway the wind suddenly came up and whipped down the creek. My partner was telling me how she was doing. I was busy taking off my snow shoes and trying desperately not to communicate my trepidation for her to her.

It looks a lot further down from where she is, trust me
Better do some packing

I think I will just keep packing for a while longer

She made it across. She suggested I try something else. I climbed down the side to the exposed log bridge, walked across, and climbed back up. Easy Peasy. Just had to spend the time taking my gear off and tying it to my pack.

Back on the trail we immediately made a wrong turn and ended up going down a steep hill and meeting back up with the ski trail (as I had previously mentioned). The day stayed nice and we warmed ourselves as we climbed back up the hill to the road and the common corridor.


That is the Nordic Center, up on the right

All in all, this is a wonderful little hike. But the trails just go every which way, so it is important to have a map (and probably a compass). I can't wait to go back and try it one year when they have snow.....

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