Monday, February 1, 2016

Government Camp Snowshoe "Crosstown Trail"

Government Camp Snowshoe "Crosstown Trail"

Government Camp is a little almost ski town up on the South Western slope of Mount Hood. Perhaps you could call it the gateway to Timberline Lodge. My Partner and I like to stay there when we are going to Bend for a long weekend and manage to escape early on a Friday and get a few hours out of town before dark.

On this occasion, we have found a nice vacation rental chalet just off the main road and we packed up our family of grown children and took them off for a post Christmas week in the snow.

The big surprise is that there WAS snow. 3-5 feet of the clean white fluffy stuff. Last season there pretty much wasn't any snow (see our Bachelor Mountain trip for confirmation (link)). And this is the first big snow of the season, so everyone is wanting to get up the mountain. Good thing we booked our chalet in Edelweiss Village back in September. Edelweiss is just up the hill from the center of town (only a 5 minute walk from the Govy store) and is a little collection of privately owned condos, some of which are rented out through Mt Hood Vacation Rentals. We stayed in Edelweiss 3. This unit is somewhat hidden in the back a little down the hill. The first thing we were amused by is that the entire first floor was very dark because it was covered in snow. We had to walk down a dark snow tunnel to get to our front door. What fun. The unit has a master bedroom downstairs and a couple of rooms upstairs filled with beds for the kids/young adults. It also has a great fireplace that came with lots of wood. We kept the fire burning most of the time we were there because it was COLD outside.

Entrance to our Chalet
Although this was meant as a family fun week, my partner and I also had plans on getting away from the family. Our plan was to go for a snow shoe everyday.

Government Camp sits on a part of the old Oregon Trail called the Barlow Road (through the Barlow Pass). This road was used by settlers coming down the Columbia river when they wanted an alternative to taking their wagons and stock down the treacherous rapids and falls of the Columbia right at the start of the Columbia Gorge. The area itself was named Government Camp by some settlers that found a number of army wagons abandoned near the spot by the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen. You would think there would be more to it than that, but I sure can't find it. When I first heard the name “Government Camp” I assumed it was like an old army base. Nope. Government Camp sits at around 4000 feet, which is usually safe into the snow zone in December and there are many ski lodges and vacation homes up the hill behind the main street. In fact, skiers up at Timberline can ski for the day and then take a side trail down the mountain right into the snow covered side streets of the Govy camp area.

Looking down on the Snowy roads of Govy from a plowed bank
Highway 26 runs from the coast through Portland up to Mount Hood and is the only decent way to get from the city up to the ski resorts. For most of the way up it is a 4 lane highway. But shortly after going through Sandy (make sure and stop at Joe's Donut Shop for Raspberry Bearclaws -and your snow park pass if you forgot one of those) the road shifts to 2 lanes and heads steeply up the mountain. This is the area where you need to make a decision on whether or not to put on chains. Usually, the road to Government Camp is so well traveled that the road is good enough to do without chains. But I have seen a few cars off the road and into the side of the hill (backwards and sideways) so be careful. Pretty much at the summit of Highway 26 (that is, Barlow Pass) there is a set of side roads that take you down the main street of Government Camp itself. This road is also plowed, but the street is still covered with snow. The snow is pushed off to the side but there is still enough snow on the street itself that people can sled or ski down the main road and the local guy can run his 1 horse open sleigh rides through town. This means it can be rather slippery getting around town either on foot or by car. I recommend a Subaru.

My Partner and I found a nice map of the Govy camp area in our Rental on a bookshelf. It showed the Crosstown Trail, that stretched from a snow park at the west end (the bottom) of the town up around all of the cabins to the little chair lift at the East end (the top) of town. There were also a number of side connectors including one that went up to Timberline Lodge. Since the drive to the lodge is a long, steep one, I am guess that the walk is equally grueling. More than we want on our little 2 hour getaways. We would walk through town and follow the roads up to the trail access points and go see what what going on.

I want to talk a little about snow shoe and ice hiking gear. I don't do any dangerous or technical climbing. I sure don't do ice climbing or what not. But I do hike in places where the altitude changes enough that the bottom of the trail can be water and the top of the trail can harbor snow or ice. And I do not like slippery. I do not like finding myself laying in the snow staring at the sky and wondering what in the hell just happened and is my leg broke? So this season I have been experimenting with some anti-slip and thus not break your leg gear. I picked out 2 reasonable sets of snow/ice shoe covers at REI and tried them out. These things are sort of like tire chains for your hiking boots. They are stretchy rubber bands covered with metal rings or sprockets. They pull over the soles of your boots and supply a surprising amount of traction on ice and compressed snow. I tried out the Icetrekers and the Yaktrak Pro systems. Both of these products work great. The Icetrekers are a little more expensive, but they also seem to be a little better made. They are easier to put on than the Yaktrak and they stay on better also. But either kind are a great addition to winter hiking gear. My partner and I had them on when walking the streets of Govy on our way up the hill. They really make a difference.

Snow Chains for your Boots

And then you need Snow Shoes. You can get some really expensive ones at REI or other outfitters, but my partner and I have been pretty happy with the $65 ones you can get every October for a couple of weeks at Costco. These are the Tube and Canvas variety. They go on pretty easy and are usually larger than many other kinds you might get at REI. Larger means they hold you up better in deep snow, but it also means they are hard to walk in and may be overkill for walking on well defined paths. They also may not have the ice traction that some of the cool hightech ones have. (Can you hear me convincing myself to splurge next winter?). I am also getting a little suspicious that the kind of bindings on the cheap snow shoes may hurt your feet more than they need to. Are the expensive ones less..... painful? I will get back to you on that.

Before you go out, figure out how to attach your snowshoes to your pack. Perhaps get some special straps or a piece of line. It is nice to be able to take off your snowshoes and attach them to your back when you are walking that last half mile on packed snow.

Sometimes, the Snow Shoes come off

And, of course, as with any cold weather hiking, dress in layers and carry dry gear. I get so hot when I am hiking up hill, in pretty much any temperature weather. And walking in Snow Shoes is about twice the effort of normal walking.

So. The sun is out. The snow is deep. It is time to get out there. We put on our shoe chains, shouldered our packs and went walking up the hill in Govy Camp. Once you get off of the main road you are in a winter wonderland. A very expensive looking winter wonderland. The hills are steep and snowy. In many places kids (and their adults) are sledding right down the road. Buried in the snow on either slide of the little street are some very nice houses (cabins? chalets?). Here are some pictures.


We got to the top of the street where the trail access started. It was little late in the day already when we did our first outing and right off the bat a number of cross country and even downhill skiers went shooting past us and into the street (at least one face first). I assume these were people that had traveled down from the ski hills of Timberline.

We were starting out right in the middle of town, which we hiked up just a little ways before we found an intersection of roads going in any number of directions. The first day we elected to take the loop east up hill toward the little ski and now tubing hill at the top end of town. The snow was 3 or 4 feet deep, and though it was pretty well packed on the trail itself, if you had taken your snowshoes off you would have sunk down to your thighs in the stuff. I know this because I could see the holes where someone had done just that. This sort of activity is called “Post-Holing” and is high amusement for anyone that is still wearing their snowshoes (and so standing both Morally and Physically above the post-holer).

This trail is a mixed snowshoe and cross country ski trail. There are signs around that instruct snow shoe people to be kind (i.e. Not an idiot) and stay out of the groomed crosscountry tracks and in their own second rate citizen snow shoe tracks. However, in practice it is usually not possible to discern exactly where these so called cross country tracks might be and so people just step willy nilly.

Once you get good and warmed up and have your breathing pattern going, it is all kinds of fun to step off the trail and go tromping through the deep virgin snow. The First Person Ever to go there !!. Get a picture !!. Just go tromping. But don't go too close to the trunks of big trees. Because of the shelter of the trees there can be big holes there (that is, no snow underneath) that is hidden by a little snow above). Just tromp around the perimeter.


The deep snow in the pine forest, with the winter sun slanting through the snow covered bows is a rare and beautiful sight. The big pines have folded their limbs, like umbrellas, under the weight of the snow and the thick softness eats up the normal noise of the outdoors making for a silent and softened nature. The loudest sound is the crunch crunch crunch of the snow under your feet.

My Son came out with me one day

My partner and I have a great time when we get out in the snow. It was nice to be staying in Government Camp where we could escape right out our door for a couple of hours walk everyday without having to do a 2 hour drive up the mountain (and back down). We are thinking about getting out soon for an escape to Bend. We want to try Mount Bachelor again on a year where there is a lot of snow.

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