For my birthday weekend, we went snow camping. Apparently I’m into physical challenges for my birthday celebrations (see last year’s cycling in Bend adventure), balanced out with a healthy number of doughnuts. (Obviously, we stopped at Joe’s Donuts in Sandy on the way to the trailhead and tucked away a sweet treat to enjoy at our campsite. Best decision we’ve ever made.)
We weren’t really sure what to expect, snow-wise, since temperatures had been in the 80’s in Portland (hot dog, y’all!), and in the 70’s on Mount Hood. What we got was lots and lots of snow. We absolutely should have rented snowshoes.
We did this hike last summer on a glorious camping trip to Twin Lakes, where we floated on the water in the sweet, sweet sunshine, and I almost passed out when I got a stick shoved under my toenail. (See that post and enjoy the comparison of scenery.) See that photo above? That’s a frozen lake covered in snow. The same lake we floated around in July.
This time around, our plan was to hike the 5 miles up to Palmateer Point and set up camp overlooking Mount Hood. I vaguely remembered the trail being well-marked, although it’s hard to say for sure, since summer trails are easily navigable without marks on the trees. In the snow, however, the trail is quite a bit trickier. And that’s why a 5-mile hike to our campsite turned into a 9-mile hike. Through the snow.
Hiking in the snow is hard. Especially when this happens every few feet:
It was funny the first few times we plunged through the snow, but it got old pretty quickly, especially as our shoes and socks filled with snow.
Somehow, we missed the turn that should have taken us up to Palmateer Point. So we wound up taking the loooonnnngggg way around, adding a few miles and a few hours to our hike. This was the first time I can remember thinking that I might not be able to finish a hike, especially when there was no end in sight. After about 20 rounds of, “We must be almost there,” I really thought we were going to have to turn around, follow our footprints back down, and drive home. We were both so exhausted from falling into the snow and having to pull ourselves out (imagine basically climbing stairs for 9 miles, thanks to the step up from mid-thigh snow) that the final 50 yards probably took me 15 minutes to climb.
But once we finally made it to the top, it was pretty spectacular.
This was our first snow camping experience, and as people who hate crowds more than the average humans, it was pretty perfect for us. Zero crowds. No other humans past the trailhead. Dreamy, right? We set up our hammock and stared at that cloudless blue sky. AND we got to have a campfire, since it’s not summertime drought season! Perfect for attempting to dry your soaking wet socks and accidentally burning a hole through the sole. Whoops.
We finally bought some sleeping pads after having many, many, many freezing cold nights camping in the mountains, and I have to say that they made a huge difference. Obviously, we were sleeping on top of a lot of snow, but we were surprisingly comfortable. Unfortunately, it was insanely windy (much like our last camping trip on Mount Hood), and we forgot our earplugs, so we spent most of the night awake, hoping our tent wouldn’t blow off the side of the mountain. I tried to convince myself that the wind was just like the sound of the ocean, but apparently I don’t find that particularly soothing either…
We hoped to wake up to a beautiful sunrise, but were met with some pretty intense fog, instead. It made for a pretty dramatic morning as the fog burned off and the sky completely cleared.
If you’d like to check out Palmateer Point for yourself, start at the Frog Lake Sno-Park (follow Highway 26 east of Portland, about 7 miles east of Government Camp). Northwest Forest Pass required May-October. Sno-Park Pass required November-April. Bathrooms at the trailhead. The trail starts to the left of the bathrooms. Lower Twin Lake is 2 miles into the hike, with Upper Twin Lake another mile down the trail. Palmateer Point is 5 miles in, if you can find the right turn in the snow.