My relationship with winter is complicated. I want to delight in it, I want to feel its sting, I want to fear its ruthlessness, and ultimately I want to wish it on its way.
The room in La Pine had one window, electricity, heat, indoor plumbing, and 96 channels of cable TV for $46.50/night.
Hager Mtn. LO was a frozen shack with 13 windows, a woodstove, carpet, a shed stocked with wood (& snowdrifts), propane lights/stove, sundeck, snowy privy, and pee bucket, all at 7200’ in SE Oregon.
The firebox TV only got one channel, but the reception was good.
Price: $40/night, and a 4 mile/2000’ gain snowshoe approach. Bargain
I don't get enough winter in the Pacific NW. These rentals allow me a chance to wade hip deep in snow and cold. Lookouts in particular intensify the experience of sun, storm, and stars.
In the best of conditions it is a room with a view; in the worst it is refuge, but still just a step away from darkness, or light, as the world falls away at one's feet; and the sky with all it has to offer, beckons...
I got lucky on the hike in. Winter storms had been common and fierce in the weeks preceding my arrival, and indeed one was clearing on my arrival in Silver Lake; the drive from La Pine was on a drifted & desolate Rt. 28. A second day of driving gave me needed cushion considering the wintery conditions. I thought the additional time would afford me some local landscape exploration, but really it was confined to more “urban” subject matter.
Silver Lake lodging was more spartan and quaint, but certainly suiting my needs
A note on the motel-keeper’s modular home had a personal touch: “David, we’ve gone out to dinner so make yourself at home in room #2. The key is inside.” I was the only guest. Silver Lake was ambitiously platted at about 5 blocks by 8, but it held some interesting subject matter as the last of the storm blew itself out.
My hike-in day dawned clear and cold.Another Winter Storm Warning was issued for the following 2 days. It was a nine-mile drive to the trailhead on road 4-12, 3 of which were unplowed; 4wd got me there and sufficiently parked to the side.
After about 11 hours of driving from Bellingham, my task was finally before me; haul 93lbs of gear and supplies for nine days through snow-covered ponderosa and sage.
It was beautiful. It was hard. It took nearly 5 hours.
The pulk worked really well except for the 3 blowdowns I had to clamber over. Toward the end I could only go 20-30 feet at a time before having to catch my breath; load and altitude really slowed my drive-softened body.
I encountered a departing trio toward the top; they reported ferocious wind the day before, pinning them down inside the structure. Following their established track in the soft snow made hauling and navigation easier. Nonetheless I dumped the pulk pack in the last half-mile due to steep traverses causing the pulk to pull me sideways downslope; I returned for it after dropping the main pack at the LO.
Arrival was sweet. I unpacked for a long stay: clothing in drawers; food in cabinets; bags pulled to regain their loft. I also arranged the interior to my liking and started a fire
A brief nap set things right in mind and body; I was ready to take in my hard-won surroundings: nice bunks, double pane windows, area rug, propane lights/stove, thick insulated walls, a supply of dry wood, and the hallowed woodstove, already audibly ticking off the degrees of warmth in the dimming day.
Strangely it had no chairs. Fortunately I brought my mattress/pack chair; parked on top of the larger stool, it made a great fire lounger with the lightning stool as an ottoman.
The winter storms over the next 36 hours made a big impression. From the comfort of my toasty 14X14 backcountry penthouse I beheld gouts of snow, cold, and winds that bowed the windows like they were made of jiggling jello.
Many comments in the logbook mirrored a frightful thought in my head “What if one of these blows out?” Of course, that it was a long-standing concern was somewhat reassuring Meanwhile, the LO shuddered like an imagined Apollo capsule on re-entry and I limited my time outside to absolute necessity.
I had plenty of time to reflect on other’s accounts in the logbook describing stormy hikes to the LO. They shared stories of obliterated trail, whiteouts, frozen fingers & faces, snow-stung eyes, and desperate thoughts of spending the night on the slopes below. One couple recounted terrific winds & snow that forced them to take grateful refuge in the privy to thaw before blundering onward in search of the LO.
Of course, even with a dedicated pee bucket, my privy moment came the next morning as the storm still raged. Timing was everything in these matters; one must layer top to bottom: boots, fleece, windpants, gloves, hat, and gaiters, down, parka. It was a regular arctic expedition through blowing and drifting snow where the icy whip of winter found its mark. When I got to the shack there was a big drift blocking the door. Fortunately there was a shovel for the task lashed to a post. Hurry hurry, dig dig, hurry open the door… another drift inside. Dig, hurry, dig… then came the 10 degree seat and Venturi-effect vacuum drawing a cold hurricane through the portal. It was not a place to read the morning paper
The woodstove was a real joy; it was visible, audible, and tactile warmth It took very little wood to keep the place abundantly warm so I refined my ability to dampen the fire as low as it would go. Each evening I would revive it and tune in to the Firebox Channel.
Programming was limited but entertaining enough, especially for my feet. Bodhran took interest as well.
The wood chores were welcome activity in otherwise indolent LO life: hauling, stacking, fine splitting, and kindling work. Allowing the fire to die through the night allowed for a good sleeping temp, usually not much lower than freezing. I had a little trouble with the CO detectors until I realized it was from some live coals emptied into the ash bucket earlier in the morning
Mornings started with first light, beaming Venus on the horizon, and a new fire in the stove. I stretched and meditated with daybreak as cowboy coffee brewed and an orange pecan or mountain blueberry muffin warmed in the oven.
After partaking of the coffee and muffin sacraments there was plenty to read, lots to write, and always pictures to take.
The rimed hut constantly drew my attention through the shifting light. It was architecture at its natural best; great roofline gargoyles of ice, frost filigreed railings, and baroque portals.
Additionally I found the privy to be of such fine Grecian style that I kept returning to it for photos; sastrugi, frozen sage, and ice-cloaked alpine ponderosa provided endless texture and foreground interest.
As the first storms cleared I began to appreciate the Oregon high desert landscape; volcanic, but hold the ice. Without ice-age glaciers to clean up after them, volcanoes left their lava flows, craters, and buttes in evidence all over; igneous toys in a messy geologic playroom.
I also had enough time to take in the last full moon rising in 2012 before it dove into an upper deck of stratus.
A colder third storm rolled in from the east Friday night. It was a storm of crystalline flakes that sounded musical on the windows, like broken light bulb glass. Sunday afternoon heralded clearing from the top down with the cloud deck eventually resting peacefully below summit level; we were backstroking above the stratus by 3p.
I took in views of Shasta, Crater Lake, Steens, Mt Bachelor, Brokentop, The 3 Sisters, and Mt. Jefferson.
I found the winter housekeeper as restless as ever up there. She would not abide me even tracking up the path to the privy, nosiree!
It was all smoothed over by mid-day. In stronger fits she would re-arrange the figurative furniture so a body had nothin’ to do but bump into drifts that was yonder yesterday.
A fella couldn’t count on a clean line from one place to another in a place like that. I figured that’s why men invented winter hideaways, so’s they could smirk while lookin’ out the windows. I smirked some, but not much.
On clear nights I did tours with the camera to take in the moon, stars, and distant lights of Silver Lake and Burns. It was a bright & beautiful landscape; I stayed out as long as the camera and my fingers could take it.
Sleep was deep; as lights were dimmed the windows melted away, leaving a pearl snowscape, stars, Jupiter, and a blue-lit interior. Dreams came easily and stayed longer than usual.
Shoveling was a feature of every day to keep things cleared out: woodshed, privy, deck, both sets of stairs. Plenty of water up there; just apply heat. Some days required laundry and a bandana-bath to freshen up. Evenings wound down with a mug of rum-fortified hot gluhwein and a ramble outside to take in whatever sunset was in evidence; in any case it was an antidote to cold and stinging snow, and a great way to, as Shakspeare wrote, ...go greet the night.
Just being there, in whatever moment that shook my hand, became easier over the many days & nights. Leaving was surprisingly difficult despite my hankering for indoor plumbing and cotton clothing.
The last night, New Year’s eve, was perfectly contemplative and peaceful. Abundantly clear skies finally prevailed with the lights of civilization below, and a celestial display above. I had a long drive home the next day.
Upon turning out the lights at about 9p, I spotted a yellow flashing light on road 4-12 below. It looked as though the Lake County grader was plowing the 3 mile section to the TH. I went to sleep with one less concern on my mind.
This Hager Mtn. trip was a solitary time in a high frozen place. There were short days of winter storms and sun, long cold nights of stars, and snow that sounded like sand on the wind against the windows.
It was a treasured experience made cozy by a generously windowed shack and a woodstove in the SE corner. I was freed to marvel at the force of a frozen wind, delight in crystalline flakes, feel the weight of welcome silence, and capture a confluence of moon, snow, and vivid sunlight. It was a fabulous encounter in a fortunate life; the smile on my face will endure for some time as we ride the long night back toward the bright side of the season May the horizon of the new year lean away with promise...
Outstanding! You always do some cool trips & reports, but this one is particularly compelling for me. (Must be some of that Oregon blood in my veins. ) Oh yeah, I too, clicked on every photo and then again......Thanks for your effort and sharing, David.
-------------- "These are the places you will find me hiding'...These are the places I will always go."
(Down in the Valley by The Head and The Heart)
Beautiful - both the photos and the story. I was looking forward to your report and wondered how you managed. I loved last year's experience in the Blues but this really tops it. I agree - best report of the year.
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