Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winter Solstice Camp - December 2012

What on Earth is there to do in that sort of weather? I wouldn't even venture out of my sleeping bag.
Well, that's a damn good question...

Once again we find ourselves with the opportunity to venture into wilderness.
What better place to celebrate the coming of the Winter Solstice? And to herald the coming of the End of the World, as duly predicted by a lost civilization's great thinkers.

We ply wet roads that soon turn to snowy mess.  We climb moderately, our destination at just over 2000'.  
Halfway to the deep mountain camp, in wet thick snow that is scraping the bottom of the bus, Mark stops in the middle of lonely 46 Road, trudging to my door.

  "What could be wrong?", I fret.
  Mark eats nails and poops juniper fenceposts.

"Are you sure it's a GOOD idea to go so far back here with this weather?", he asks.

I think about it for a moment.  
"Ahh we're almost there."  Ok then.

Following these elephant paths gingerly through the falling snow we make our way up river.  "Almost there" is sure taking a while.  But my bus is surefooted in her new studded snow tires, gripping like a flabby sea otter through the ice and slush.  I spot the road into camp.  It is a snow-covered maze through heavy woods, plowing through ice covered puddles, wide and dark.  Ok then.

Cutting a new path through freshly fallen snow, we celebrate our arrival, eager to welcome in the new year.
Snow falls heavy and silent all around, bending firs into many monks.
There is only the sound of the creek in the air, and the distant flow of the Clackamas.

We notice a peculiar humming  in the air, like the universe about to split apart.  "What the hell IS that?" we both wonder.  
The humming seems to fade in and out, filling the air with a deep random OM.  It is completely out of place in the winter wilderness.
Finally, it dawns on me after entertaining many silly possibilities.  Power lines.

I wasn't happy about this uninvited guest into my solitude after so many city miles...POWERLINES in the wilderness?  But I soon got used to the hum and quickly forgot about it all together.  And guess what?  The sound eventually just faded away.

A deep and restful night sleep brings the last sun of the old year into the ancient forest. 

Soon the snow begins to melt in earnest, falling in a million drops, crashing as solid chunks.

Growing up in Chicago, I am no big fan of winter.  Too many blizzards and below zero winds to even count, cutting through layers of wool like a knife. The Northwest winters are tame in comparison, but they are unequaled in their ability evoke pallor and despair.  There are days (short days) when the house lights must be kept on continuously until an immediate night comes crashing down.  It doesn't help that the city-remedy Cascades are buried deep in their white coat for months at a time.  It is certainly a time for looking inward and chasing skeletons from deep dusty recesses of one's self - there is no escaping him in the winter, with distractions at a complete standstill.

But the wilderness is different.  There is something special, and very difficult to pin down exactly what it is that breathes in the untouched.  Simple things take on new meaning in this temple to infinity.

Soon the warming sun is causing a great soggy mess under unpredicted blue skies.  The whole world becomes a chapel.

  In an attempt to locate old trails, I am soon rewarded with soaked socks, pants, and coat.  Trees hang so heavy with wet snow that it becomes impossible to venture cross country without an icy bath.  

 an old blaze and signpost nails deep in the woods

end of the trail

Exalted by my new discoveries, I turn around and get rewarded with a big wet fir branch in the face, as ice crystals tumble down my neck.  And that is enough sodden archaeology for one day.

I'm pretty sure the trail used to go this way...

It is time to change my clothes and sit down.  There is nothing left to do, and this is not an easy decision.  I do not like to sit down.

ice crystal hanging by a filament, held by an unseen canopy hand

Soon Jasan arrives in a flurry, his clatter filling the camp.  I am amazed that he makes it without chains.

And then Suggo.

But what a day!  We are in fact a bit disappointed, hoping for a blizzard.  But the lovely blue is such a scarce visitor, who can complain?

filling the pie-hole

but as usual I can't forget that road out, taunting me.  I sure hope we can make it out...

Much too quickly the late morning sun begins to set on the eve of a new season and solar year.  The fog and smoke hang low in this ancient river bottom, haunting the camp like a cemetery.

Mark disappears into his heated outfitter's tent for long spells.  "Where's Mark?", and we just hear giggling.

Soon a Great Beast stumbles out of the gloom.

Startled, but it is only Randy - King of the Middle Clackamas

oh what a handsome bunch

The sun falls like a brick, time for one last walk before the end of the world.  Oh those Mayans.

 46 Road - barely

Not a sound in the air besides our crunchy footfalls.  Can you imagine the peace?

 I welcome the company of good friends and a roaring fire, as the camp glows and lights up the trees like a great stadium.  It feels almost cozy as the temperatures begin their descent into the new night.
"I sure hope the world really doesn't end tonight", I think.

It doesn't.  At least not yet.

Soaked, nervous and hungover, we pack and head out and upriver, back to the throes of society and the miracles of heat and hot water.  4 days in the winter Cascades and all I can think about is the miracle that springtime brings to this frozen and sterile world, with her high mountain meadows and mosquitoes. 

 Were it not for good friends I'm pretty sure a guy could go mad out there dodging winter drops, sitting in cold solitude.  I'm close enough as it is.

And I'm glad the world didn't end, really I am.


  1. Nice post Bob, It seems like a blast.
    I'm going to share this with some of the South East VW people.

  2. Thank you! I'm glad someone actually reads this stuff...
    We sure have a hoot out here, in spite of lousy weather.

  3. Well . . . maybe I would have left my sleeping bag for some soup. Nice pictures.

  4. Don't feel bad, Mark spent a LOT of time in his heated tent. That woodstove puts out a lot of heat, but I could only sit in there for a little bit. You start getting used to it...