The first days of spring 2012 bring forth a fury of winter weather, with deep snows in the mountains and to the Pacific. It is cold, white and unexpected after weeks of unusually soggy weather.
Nervously I scan the National Weather Service for updates. Warnings abound. Deep snow expected in the Cascades. Abandon all hope.
Let's go camping!
Loaded up in Portland
End of March camps have been a godsend for us Westside (of the Cascades) Oregonians. After a long and relentless winter coupled with short days, those who love the outdoors near madness as we sit cooped up like hens. GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!
Randy fueled and ready
From the Pacific Ocean to the sagebrush plateau of Central Oregon, the climate gradually changes from cool and moist rainforest to a sparse and beautiful land of juniper and sage. The prevailing weather is from the West, with storms losing their moisture in great quantities over the Coast Range Mountains, followed by the Willamette Valley, eventually losing steam over the rough and gentle peaks of the green Cascades. Remarkably, the west side of the Cascades has a completely different climate than the east, each ridge progressively drier as one treks eastward. Habitats and forest types often bear little resemblance to each other on each side of the Cascade Crest. It is very exciting country to explore, as you never know what you might find. Elevation also plays a major factor, with lingering snowpacks above and almost tropical growth below with gigantic firs and decadent moss.
This is all well and good. By the end of a Northwest winter, the salvation sun is on the tip of most lips. Most of the brave souls I know would camp in hypothermia just to get out there, but oh God where is the sun?
Usually by the end of March, the Eastside provides some respite.
Road above Little Badger
After a long and uneventful drive down Interstate 84 and up 197, I am fretting at the deepening snow dusting trees and roadside. A long cold climb into a Dalles sky brings snow, draping crops and piled along side the road. Past Tygh Valley, the snow is deep into the Mt. Hood National Forest but still passable.
And then I see the road down into camp. Nervous making in the summer with deep ruts and steep grade, it is absolutely terrifying hiding under thick snow.
What to do?
photo by Randy Matheny
After a long, slow, and careful deliberation we decide to press on and drive down into the canyon. "A bus can go anywhere" we reason. "Elves will help" we say.
True, my beloved bus has returned me safely from many insane adventures and I really can rely on it. But I grew up in Chicago and do not like driving in snow. It is dangerous and unpredictable. Chains help a lot, but I did not want to climb under a wet and snow caked vehicle to deal with it.
Down the chute! And it really wasn't so bad. My heart stopped racing only 4 hours later. But I was safely at camp. But where is Randy?
Stuck in a ditch. "Bald tires" he tells me with a smile.
Photo by Randy Matheny
We get her unstuck.
And then the thought: "how the HELL are we getting out of here?"
No matter. We have dropped into a white heaven on the edge of high desert. The aqua creek flows cold and fresh, clean enough to drink on this purest of days. There is a lot of snow down here...
It is time for a beer and to settle down. The snow falls all around us in polite bombs, dusting down as diamond jewels. A fire is wonderful.
Randy tries to catch a fish
very, very good
After the best sleep of my life, I am awakened by the most gorgeous sun a fellow could hope for, filtered through tall trees and dappled onto the rolling snow like bits of dancing flame.
It is time for breakfast and for life.
By noon it is hot enough to remove my shirt and expose pale salamander skin. It is pure heaven as the creek sings to me. The road is beginning to melt out. Our friends are due to arrive this evening and we worry about their safety.
The road is declared safe for travel by the Little Badger Highway and Beer Department
I hear helicopters and panzer tanks nearby, so I assume Jasan is arriving with his distinctive engine.
We warn him about the road, but he just smiles and rolls down into the slop.
We enjoy this incredible day and watch glowing day shift to night. Soon Gypsie and Mike and family arrive, wild eyed after braving the road into camp at night. All are safe despite it all, and enjoy the cold night.
After breakfast, we walk up the road again to reassure our jangled nerves. The snow is mostly gone, leaving deep and steep muddied ruts in places. But the day begins blue and dry.
Oaks, firs and pines together in one place.
Little Badger has been around for a while. It was probably built in the 1930s along the now defunct "North South Road". In that era, a trail once connected the campground with the rest of the forest. In the 1950s came other roads, and the trail was abandoned for about a mile to the wilderness boundary nearby. Although it skirts a road, the old trail is still there, blazed and somewhat easy to follow in this dry country and following the creek in it's entirety. You just never know where you'll find a piece of history.
"National Forest Land" something something on this old sign
A very old fire ring and camp along the trail. Who slept here over the years?
Mike checking out the old route
Back at camp, we settle down for a cold and graying evening. Luckily there is plentiful food and good times.
We collaborate on a pineapple upside down peach cinnamon cake in a dutch oven.
It was the best cake I ever ate and should have taken a photo instead of stuffing it down. Just imagine...
The night falls in a thump. It is time for one last stumble of the evening. It is time for warm beds and good sleep. It is time for unfounded worries about horrible roads, and the loving embrace of those we miss on the other shores of this Earth lying locked in cities instead of forest.
Absolutely and completely insane.