Sunday, February 05, 2006

Step Into Winter

Because I’ve lived most of my life in the pancake-like Midwest, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the fact that while out for a walk today in Southeast Portland, it would be possible to run across this early-blooming azalea, while yesterday—a mere 50 miles away—I was up to my keister in snow.

Snow on Barlow Road Trail

How is that possible? Elevation. Portland isn’t much above sea level and it hardly ever snows here. But it sure does in the Cascade Mountains just to the east, which means that if you feel like stepping into full-blast winter weather for a day e.g., swirling snow and blustery winds and temps in the upper 20s, you can, but when you’ve had enough you can just head back west to lower elevations and milder, almost spring-like weather. That is the perfect arrangement. If I never see black urban slush again that will be fine with me. Note to self: Then avoid visiting Chicago in winter.

So, yeah, yesterday, I got up early and piled in a van with 10 or so other people who, like me, had signed up for a backcountry snowshoeing trip offered through Portland Parks and Recreation. The weather deteriorated nicely as we drove higher and higher into the mountains. By the time we got to the trailhead at about 4,000 feet, there was probably six feet of snow on the ground, more snow was falling in a very businesslike fashion, and a chill wind was whipping up impressively large snow devils.

Look how burdened with snow the trees were and, I’m sure, still are, given that it was snowing pretty hard when we left yesterday.

Snow on Conifers

The highlight of the trip was finding five snow caves, built by some energetic Boy Scouts who’d spent the night in them. This is the largest one.

Snow Cave

As you can perhaps see, we couldn’t resist going in. You can sort of see someone’s butt (not mine) disappearing into the cave. It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, but the thing was amazingly spacious inside. There was room for 10 people in it. And cozy? You bet. I see why survival guides are always telling you to build yourself a snow cave if you get lost in a blizzard. These things totally keep the wind out. I must admit, though, that there was something a bit Blair Witch Project-ish about running across these snow caves out in the middle of nowhere. Look closely (click for a larger view). Do you see that spooky handprint above the entrance?

We weren’t too freaked out, really. We had crossed paths with the Boy Scouts earlier, and they told us they’d built the caves. Amusing anecdote: I acted as sweep (last person in the group) so that I could put some space between myself and the rest of the group—I don’t like being right on the heels of other snowshoers. At one point, I encountered a Boy Scout sitting in the snow looking cross. His dad/troop leader was approaching and the kid said sourly, “Dad, I’m fucked.” The kid was maybe 11 years old. I was pretty surprised—shocked actually. I never said “fuck” (or any variation of it) in front of my father until, like, last year. And this kid was a Boy Scout. Whatever happened to the famous Boy Scout Law?

A Boy Scout is:
* Trustworthy,
* Loyal,
* Helpful,
* Friendly,
* Courteous,
* Kind,
* Obedient,
* Cheerful,
* Thrifty,
* Brave,
* Clean,
* and Reverent.

Out the window (or down the shitter). Or so I thought until I recounted this anecdote to a friend today, and she suggested that maybe what he’d said was, “Dad, I’m stuck.”


Yeah, I guess it could have been that.

It is true that I had on my cold weather hat and a hood. And the wind was howling. And my snowshoes were shooshing over the snow, creating a certain amount of racket. Also, several members of our group had to be dug out when they sunk more than knee-deep into unstable snow. It’s just possible the same thing had happened to the Scout.

So let’s say I misheard and leave the reputation of the Boy Scouts unbesmirched.


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