There's an extra sense of adventure involved in a one-way cross-country ski trip that starts near Mount Bachelor and ends at a lower-elevation sno-park. It also requires an extra bit of planning. Namely, you need a car shuttle and a partner.
Planning note No. 1: Choose your partner wisely. You will be alone with this person for a long time in the woods where any number of things could go wrong. My partner of choice is not only a close friend and a competent backcountry skier, she's also a physician assistant in an urgent care clinic, which, in my book, is way better than any first-aid kit.
Casey Osborne-Rodhouse and I drove separate cars about 15 miles up Century Drive to Swampy Lakes Sno-park, where we left her car, transferred all her gear into mine and continued up the road.
Planning note No. 2: Remember you will need the key to get into the parked shuttle car when you ski back to it. More on this later.
About six miles later, we were at Dutchman Flat Sno-park, where we started our ski on the Dutchman Loop trail, at the base of Tumalo Mountain, abutting wide-open flats that reveal spectacular scenery. On our recent blue-sky day, Mount Bachelor towered behind us and the jagged summit of Broken Top was a dramatic distraction ahead.
Our destination was the Flagline Trail.
On a weekend, Dutchman Flat Sno-park can be a madhouse, packed with snowmobilers and cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Parking can be impossible. A skier could drive a little farther up the road, park at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center, and ski to the Flagline Trail from there instead.
In fact, I had originally planned this outing as a 15-mile ski from the nordic center to Virginia Meissner Sno-park. But Casey had a very important hair appointment scheduled that day so we couldn't leave town until 1 p.m. Considering that we were on the tail of a big storm which could have blown debris over the trails and adding the fact that it gets dark around 6:30 p.m., I figured we should shorten the route to be safe.
I had envisioned a long, slow downhill glissade. Dutchman Flat Sno-park starts at 6,350 feet elevation and Swampy Lakes Sno-park, where we ended, sits at 5,800 feet. How I was wrong.
For the first mile or three, as we skirted the flanks of Tumalo Mountain, it was a steady uphill climb. On that day, it was warm and the snow was soft, grabby and sticky. We stopped to unlayer a bit while we slogged step by step uphill, sweating and steaming up our sunglasses.
Not that we complained. We were ecstatic about the temperature and the visibility.
As the northward Flagline Access Trail intersected with the Flagline Trail and turned east, we cooled off in the shadow of Tumalo Mountain (and stopped to put our layers back on). At times, we were dwarfed by thick stands of enormous trees.
The well-marked trail meanders over rolling terrain, through perfectly spaced trees and in and out of small openings in the forest. There are some junctions to keep track of, which is easy if you grab some maps at the trailheads and keep the blue diamond marker signs in sight. This journey spans two different maps: the Dutchman Flat area and Vista Butte Sno-park nordic ski trail maps. (Maps can also be found here: www .glassmountains.com/ski_local.html.)
It was slow going, like a backcountry tour, not a kick-and-glide ride on a groomed trail. Just one spot felt at all tricky, where we had to pick through some trees while cruising downhill on a side-angled slope.
The ski is long enough to pass through different forest zones and to encounter changing snow conditions. Our venture lasted less than three hours, during which time we watched storm clouds roll in and eclipse the sun.
We stopped at the Swampy shelter mostly for ceremonial value. The first people we encountered since the trailhead, a gaggle of snowshoers, were gathered around a fire inside.
From our backpacks stuffed with food, water, extra clothes and assorted miscellany, I pulled out some Bushmills whiskey and we reflected on a fun ski.
We agreed that the distance turned out to be perfect. Just as we started to feel our legs and the hot spots on our feet, the shelter gave us an excuse to stop for a rest. Then, the final two miles on the Swampy Loop Trail were mostly downhill. Snow conditions were smoother and faster.
On that final downhill stretch, as I was feeling all warm and fuzzy, Casey froze midtrail and gave me a horrified look.
She was certain she had left her keys in my car. At Dutchman. Some seven-plus miles back. We were not willing to turn around. Maybe her shuttle car had a hide-a-key. Maybe not.
We laughed. This was not a life-threatening blunder. We could probably hitch a ride from someone in the parking lot. Or, we could tuck our tails between our legs and call my husband to pick us up and shuttle us back up to my car at Dutchman.
I hesitate to compromise Casey's vehicle security system and her pride by disclosing whether she found a key stashed on her car or in the backpack she had carried all along. Perhaps some of us are just prone to worry. Perhaps, lacking any other snags along our journey, we needed something to go wrong. Perhaps we needed an added element of adventure.
I will say, being the superprepared person that Casey is, we were doubly covered the whole time.