After a snow season that had such a strong finish, it was refreshing to head to the high country recently and feel only dirt under my feet.
A running partner and I sought an invigorating trail run — a change of scenery from our usual urban runs — and we wanted to be home by 11 a.m.
She suggested we charge up to Swede Ridge Shelter, a 5,600-foot-elevation shelter that has views of the Cascade Mountains in the distance and the Tumalo Creek valley below.
I assumed we would start at Swampy Lakes Sno-park off the Cascade Lakes Highway, but Lisa Husaby had a different trailhead in mind, one that the veteran trail runner and long-time local figured would be relatively snow-free for an early season run, and where we would see few, if any, other people.
She was right on both counts. We hoofed across only a couple of small patches of snow, and we saw only one lone mountain biker on our two-hour outing — a notable attribute considering this was midmorning on a weekend, only 10 miles from town.
From the Skyliner Trailhead, which starts 10 miles up Skyliners Road from Bend, we jogged westward on the Tumalo Creek Trail, which starts just behind a kiosk and trail map. The beginning of the trail, through a not-so-scenic, recently cut area, almost immediately crosses a gravel road (a driveway access to some private property). When crossing that road, you'll see two adjacent single-track dirt trails ahead. Take the trail on the left, and follow it less than a mile to a marker that points you left again, toward Meissner Sno-park. This is the Tumalo Ridge Trail. (The Tumalo Creek Trail goes right and leads to Tumalo Falls.)
The next four miles climbed steadily uphill through lush manzanitas and stands of fir and pine trees that emitted the fresh, wet, woodsy smell of mornings in the mountains.
The multiple-use Tumalo Ridge Trail was in great condition just over a week ago — hard packed, not muddy, not dusty. There are only a few rocky spots where you really need to watch your step. Some places along the way offered such lovely, expansive views of green rolling hills or the cliffs above Tumalo Creek that we had to stop moving altogether just to look around. In several spots, we climbed over blown-down trees, which was fine for us pedestrians but could possibly be more frustrating for a cyclist who has to heft a bike.
After a few switchbacks, about two-thirds of the way to the top, the trail widened into an old forest road, perfect for side-by-side social running. This is where we crossed a little bit of snow that I expect is gone by now.
Nearing the ridge, the Swede Ridge Shelter is tucked into some trees off to the left. It's a cozy warming hut in the winter, but more of a symbolic destination this time of year, since there's no weather to hide from, and the view is best from outside. Husaby stood on a stump in front of the shelter for a moment, soaking in the view of green hills that ended abruptly in a cloud bank that obscured what can be spectacular views of Broken Top. This was one of those dramatic, schizophrenic weather days that bounced between warm and sunny to cool and rainy. For a long, uphill run, the mild temperature was as perfect as the pool in an August heat wave.
I've skied to this shelter in the winter from Swampy Lakes Sno-park. Coming at it this way was like sneaking into a restaurant table through the back door. It felt different. Or maybe the novelty was part excitement from that first spring taste of what the rest of the summer has in store around here: easier-to-access alpine forests, big views and those breezes that have been filtered by glaciers and trees.
We turned around and went back down the way we came. Husaby guessed that making a longer loop out of it might have taken us through more snow. Round trip, my iPhone RunKeeper app said we ran 9.9 miles, but it's reliably inaccurate when it comes to terrain like that. A trail marker near the shelter said it was 4.6 miles to the trailhead, suggesting we covered 9.2 miles.
A day outing from this trailhead can take many forms — running, hiking or mountain biking. And from the Swede shelter, there are many options to extend the trip. The route connects with several other loops and trails. Take the Deschutes National Forest Tumalo Trail System map with you if you're so inclined: www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ centraloregon/recreation/recarea/?recid=38482.