Continuing in the theme of exploring new winter trails, Sunday saw Andy and I on a much needed date day. Bluebird and snowshoeing on Helens.

Helens in all her winter glory from the June Lake trail

As I've said before, winter trails are still relatively new to me, so figuring out the logistics- clothing, layering, where to go, comfort and stamina levels related to snow conditions, how to get my water not to freeze- all make for me feeling like a newbie hiker again. It's kinda fun.

I picked some trails off the Marble Mountain snopark on Helens simply because I knew with six inches of crystalline fluff on the ground and a bluebird day, Hood was going to be mobbed. Between skiing and snowshoeing, I've been up on Hood a lot lately, and I needed a break from the crowds. The drive to the snopark took longer than expected, courtesy of a nine mile solid layer of ice covering Road 83 from Cougar. We encountered no one until we reached the snopark, which was snowmobiler heaven. I knew that many of the forest service roads around Helens are a snowmobile recreational area in the winter, I just hadn't expected to see so many of them. That said, they were an extremely polite bunch, and I was more than happy to share the terrain with them.

The loop we were exploring was foot traffic only, though, and I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. In my desire to escape the crowds, I had picked this one out of hat. I'd done sections of this loop before in the summer and, for the most part, felt it was just ho-hum.

We started up the Swift Creek Trail, quickly shedding layers thanks to sunshine and movement, even though it was only 22°. The only sounds were the rhythmic shuffling of our snowshoes and the chiming of crystallized snow sloughing off of bowed branches.

I should have remembered how winter can completely transform a landscape.

The Swift Creek trail is the beginning of the winter climb route for Helens, and there are no views to be had until you suddenly bust out into the high alpine, around 2ish miles in. On this particular day we would bear right before any outstanding views happened, and traverse our way another 0.7 miles to the June Lake basin.

The character of the hike suddenly changed- no longer following an old road bed, we were on true trail now, winding our way up and down through gnarled, winter-beaten trees and snow-covered lava fields. It was incredibly, incredibly beautiful. 

it's like a game of "where's Waldo?" only with blue diamonds

This is where hikes always slow to crawl for me. I can spend hours outside in these kinds of conditions, meandering, photographing, and just generally frolicking like a toddler. Thank goodness my wonderful husband both adores and tolerates my antics.

an example of antics

Dropping down a ridge, following blue diamonds, we came across a wall of snow that I suddenly recognized to be the giant lava boulder field bordering June Lake's basin. Everything looks so different in its winter clothing.

wall o' snow

After a warm lunch on top of the boulder field, taking in the views all around, we shoed our way down to the lake. The frozen shoreline, icy waterfall and glassy reflections little resembled the frog-fest that is June Lake in summertime.

the lava fields just before June Lake


Reluctantly, we turned from the lake and began picking our way down the remaining 1.5 miles to the June Lake trailhead. I had to laugh upon arriving because it gave a quick reference for just how much snow is in the area right now: I'm usually reading this sign at eye level. Short, I may be, but not that short. 

marshmallow fields forever
normally I am reading this sign at eye level

From the trailhead, we turned on to the Pine Marten trail. As afternoon progressed towards evening, I was enamored by the cool, changing light and a myriad of trailside delights. I was pleased and surprised to find myself so charmed by this snowshoe given the fact that the area is one of my least favorite summertime hikes. I should have known better though. It never ceases to amaze me how some areas, dull in summer or unreachable in winter, simply come alive, manifesting a whole new personality, in a different season. Next time I'd like to continue up the Swift Creek trail to see if I can find any semblance of the Loowit trail, find some off-trail treasures and wanderings. This area holds a lot of potential as a winter stomping ground. 

Mount Saint Helens National Monument, Washington
~5.2 miles, ~1000 elevation gain

Getting back out there

Tiny, frozen details

My nursing program is officially over. My board exams studied for, completed and passed [insert WHOOP! here] have left me in the strange space of being unemployed for the first time since 1999. The stress of exams has been replaced by the new stress of hunting for an RN job in a city saturated with nursing programs. Contrary to popular belief, I am not always patient. Thus, this could get interesting.

That said, with time on my hands, I find myself able to revisit wilderness, which has been sorely missed this last year. December and the beginning of January have been cold...and wet. Snow levels have been low, which translates to literal feet of my favorite-physical-state-of-water getting dumped on the high country. 

Time for some fresh air. The kind of fresh air so cold it plasters your nostrils together when you get out of the car. Good stuff. [GRIN].

The first walk of the new year saw myself, Marut, and Marut's friend Diedre arriving at the Tamanawas Falls trailhead at roughly 10am on a Saturday morning. The drive through Hood River had occasionally buffeted my car like a ping pong ball, the snow level low enough that a storm was brewing big fat flakes in Hood River. I was slightly concerned since, with snow levels down at river level, I wasn't sure what we would find up on the mountain, and I'm not the biggest fan of route-finding in whiteout conditions. As it turns out, the walk to Tamanawas was sheltered by the giant, snow-burdened trees, and although a grey, viewless day, this walk wasn't about big open expanses. It was about the silence of the woods in deep snow.  


24°. About a foot of sugar. Perfect.

Diedre, a central California coast girl, was like a kindergartner stepping out of the car- giant grin plastered on her face as she saw snow for the first time in over a year.

It's been two years (almost to the day) since I visited this trail. Conditions were similar- low snow levels, snow too light to pack into snowballs, and frozen waterfall conditions. Snowshoeing is still relatively new for me, and I'm still exploring my comfort level, layering system, and finding trails. Tamanawas, beautiful and cool in the summer, is, in my opinion, simply spectacular in the winter.

Tamanawas Falls trail, January 2011

Similar conditions in 2013: East Fork of the Hood River

stop and smell the ice crystals
Cold Springs Creek

Marut & Deidre climbing through the most giant field of marshmallows, ever

bad ice conditions make it tough to get closer (photo by Marut)

note to self: snowshoes are not crampons (photo by Marut)

And to give you an idea of the beauty of the place, the following is a better photo than I would ever take. Andy took this picture of Tamanawas two years prior. It looked remarkably similar this day, only the light wasn't as good.

Tamanawas Falls January 2011 (photo by AJP)

I love how the winter changes the landscape. Familiar landmarks become almost unrecognizable. The creek raging a losing battle against continually dropping temperatures. Tiny, frozen details abound in an incredibly quiet world.  

It's good to be getting back out there.

Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
~4 miles, ~600 feet elevation gain