OK, Central Oregon, you can officially stop praying for snow.
After 99 inches of snow fell in the mountains in a week, it might take the rest of the month for us to recover. My suggestion: Pray for more sunny days like Monday.
I had been itching to get out and play in our newfound embarrassment of snow riches, but canceled plans to go backcountry skiing after reading a warning about high avalanche risk over the weekend. With continued snowfall, low temps and high winds, it seemed an outing would entail more survival than pleasure.
But then came Monday, an oasis of sun amid two weeks of stormy weather. I piled skis and snowshoes in the car and headed for Edison Sno-park.
The sno-park, southeast of Mount Bachelor, doesn't get as much attention as those closer to Bend, but it's a favorite among snowshoers. The park has two warming shelters, Edison Shelter about a mile from the parking lot, and the AC/DC shelter, about three miles away.
Now that we are back in black on our snowfall, I opted for the farther destination, hoping that it wouldn't turn out to be a highway to hell. (OK, I promise, no more rock music references. All the trail names and shelters take their names from electric references, not rock bands.)
At the sno-park, I had a major decision to make — skis or snowshoes? I figured with the deep snow, I'd need some major flotation. There wasn't a lot of downhill along the route to make skis a clear favorite, but snowshoes aren't always a great option when snow is light and powdery.
I opted to start out on skis, knowing I could change my mind and return to the car for the snowshoes if conditions warranted.
The sno-park contains a network of interconnected trails that allow for trips of almost any length. I had some trouble at the start figuring out which trail was which, and ended up following signs for a snowshoe trail. The trail had clearly seen some traffic over the weekend — there was a 2-foot-deep, 2-foot-wide trench in the middle of the trail. The trench eliminated the need to break trail, but also provided limited space for my skis to maneuver, which proved somewhat challenging in the turns. I was wondering if I had chosen the wrong means of travel.
The process was slow-going, but in a little over an hour I reached a signed intersection with the Tesla Snowshoe Trail. My map of the sno-park listed no such trail. The sign indicated I had traveled a mile and a half from the parking lot, and that it was another mile to the Edison Shelter. The sign wasn't going to be much help.
I decided to stick to the trail I was on, continuing to follow the blue diamonds marking the path. If I was right, I had hit the junction of the Alternating Current and Direct Current trails, which form a loop heading out to the AC/DC shelter. The snowshoers, whose tracks I had been following, took a left turn here, so there was nothing but virgin snow straight ahead.
Given the conditions, and the fact that I was out there alone, I wasn't about to stray from the safety of the trail markers. I told myself that I'd only keep going to the shelter so long as I had the markers as confirmation. That proved to be a challenge.
Several times I could not locate a trail marker in front of me, and had to track back to the last marker and try a slightly different route. At times it was like the Highlights magazine games we used to play in the dentist's office, where you had to locate Abraham Lincoln's face in the bark of a tree. I'd stop and scan the trees for any hint of blue.
When that failed I played another of my favorite games, which I call, “If I was a trail, which way would I go?” On occasion, I'd guess right and find another marker quickly. Other times, I'd backtrack and start over again.
Eventually, the trail entered a broad corridor in the trees, which made navigation easier. The snow had settled into high mounds, adding complexity to the route. Eventually the trail emerged from the woods, and across a large open area I saw the shelter. It was topped with two feet of snow, making it look very much like a frosted gingerbread house.
The snow field that lay between me and the shelter was untouched, virgin snow. It seemed a shame to trample through it, so I skirted the edge of the field to get to the wooden structure. It was a hard-fought, two-hour slog to get to the shelter from the parking lot.
At the entrance, I released my ski bindings and, stepping off the skis onto the snow, promptly sunk in all the way to my hip. I can't recall ever experiencing snow that deep.
The view outside of the shelter was spectacular, with Mount Bachelor framed by a deep blue sky above the clean white patch of the snow beyond the shelter. It was the stuff of postcards.
The AC/DC shelter has a stove and plenty of firewood, but it seemed a waste to light a fire just for me. I had brought a small camp stove and promptly fired it up to make some soup.
As the soup simmered, I examined the contents of the shelter: an empty cardboard six-pack holder, the packaging from a 6-foot audio cable, a single glove and a boil-and-serve dinner.
After rehydrating, refueling and rewarming, I was ready to go.
I could follow my tracks back, eliminating the need to break trail or to pay attention to the trail markers, and I made quick work of the return trip. The temperature had risen and the trees had great fun at my expense, waiting for me to ski below their snow-laden branches, then dumping the entire load onto the back of my neck. Eventually, I learned to knock the snow off the lower branches with my ski poles before crossing below. But I got back to the trailhead wet from the snowmelt trickling down my neck.
It's about a six-mile round trip to the AC/DC shelter, with about 600 feet of elevation gain, not counting the extra up and down due to snow drifts.
After two months of waiting to play in the snow, my prayers had been answered.