“We need to get into the trees,” I yelled to my brother as an arctic blast momentarily froze my eyes shut.
“We are in the trees,” he hollered back.
Three of us were gliding through a tree-framed corridor along the Todd Lake Trail on cross-country skis, sideways gales giving us cold snow facials.
I had felt a bit bad bringing my out-of-town guests up to the Mt. Bachelor parking lot on Sunday, as I had already heard about sno-park lots packed throughout Christmas weekend. My original plan had been to find something more secluded for our outing.
But the sleet that had wet my hair as we loaded the car in town changed my mind. To find good snow we would need to go high.
I needn't have worried. As we dropped off the main corridor, which leads to the U.S. Forest Service's ski and snowshoe trails, from the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center, we were suddenly alone.
It felt like a revelation: A benefit to the wind coursing through the Deschutes National Forest was that even on a holiday weekend, we had escaped the crowds.
The cross-country ski trails that depart from both the Nordic Center and Dutchman Sno-park are good destinations during such blustery conditions.
They are well used, so rarely did we break trail this day even as our gaiters were frosted in fluffy snow.
The Forest Service also leaves maps at the entry points (which conscientious recreationists should return) and posts signs at multiple points throughout the forest.
If you stick to the trails it would be hard to get lost. Yet with the hardy weather and less populated forest, it still felt like a ski adventure.
“Is this the lake?” asked Allison Mouch, my other holiday visitor. We stood at the edge of a large opening, fog and wind and swirling snow making it seem like the gray abyss ahead.
We soldiered on, no snow depression that looked like Todd Lake in sight.
Not long after that, the Forest Service made clear with a few more signs (including one barely peeking from the snow asking us not to disturb frogs and tadpoles) that the lake was actually due ahead.
The Forest Service recommends circling the lake clockwise. We missed the turn and did it counterclockwise — it had no perceivable difference in elevation gain, but on a busy day guiding traffic in one direction would make the flow go smoothly.
The trail disappeared at the far end of the lake and the wind rapidly filled in our tracks as we gave Todd Lake's apparent shoreline a wide berth.
Then, it was time for our journey back to civilization. After consulting our map we opted to make a loop out of it, climbing up the Water Tower Trail to rejoin the Todd Lake Trail only when we were almost back at the Nordic Center.
The Water Tower Trail flows through large, widely spaced hemlocks, some coated on one side with moss. For the first time during our ski, the wind ebbed and we brought our collective gaze up to appreciate the frosty giants.
A mild descent back toward the juncture brought on the weather again. But I didn't mind.
It made the nachos and beer at the end seem that much more deserved.
If You Go
What: Todd Lake and Water Tower trails, part of the Dutchman Flat Area Nordic Trails.
Getting there: Take the Cascade Lakes Highway out of Bend, about 17 miles to Mt. Bachelor's main parking lot.
Cost: Free if you park by the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center. Those who park at Dutchman Sno-park must pay. It's $25 for an annual sno-park pass, $9 for a three-day consecutive permit and $4 for a daily permit.
Contact: www.fs.fed.us/r6/centraloregon/recreation/winter/images/dutchman-nordic.pdf or 541-388-5664.