backpack: White River in the winter
I took two friends on their first winter backpacking trip at the White River SnoPark at Mount Hood. We spent one night and snowshoed up Boy Scout Ridge for great views.
We started at the White River SnoPark, which was full of people having fun in the snow, as usual. The skies were clear and it was 41 degrees when we started hiking in. I did the same trip two years ago under much colder conditions, so it was nice to have warmer temps. However, I was wearing one too many layers and sweated quite a bit on the way to the campsite. It’s easy to forget about the extra exertion required for snowshoeing with heavy winter boots and a fully loaded backpack (about 27 pounds) compared to just hiking or snowshoeing. The next time I backpack in these conditions, I’ll start with only one layer and no jacket.
We hiked in about 1.5 miles and chose a campsite area with fantastic views of the mountain, not far from Boy Scout Ridge. This trip was for testing gear and pitching tents in the snow, so we spent a lot of time prepping our campsites. We dug a base and began building walls on the sides for a wind block. I think we spent an hour and a half on this. A good shovel is a must. This was my first time using my Backcountry Access B-1 EXT Bomber avalanche shovel. It comes apart to make it easier to pack in, and only weighs 1.3 pounds.
Once we had the base area for our tents, we stomped all around it with our snowshoes to firm it up and prevent post-holing. We planned to build a camp kitchen, but by the time we each finished our tent sites, we were too hungry and tired to do any more digging. Instead, the walls around our tents became our kitchens.
We had a quick dinner, melting snow for water, and then it was already sunset. We went on a quick walk to warm up and get views of the mountain, then went to our tents at 6:00 pm.
The biggest concern for most people camping in the winter is staying warm. The overnight low was about 33 degrees, and I managed to stay quite toasty in my tent through the night. Having the right combination of tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pads and layers makes all the difference.
Shelter: I used my one person Tarptent Moment DW tent, swapping out the all mesh interior for the partial solid interior, and added the extra crossing pole for snow loads. I love this tent for backpacking in three seasons, and this was my first time using it in the winter. I had zero condensation, and while we didn’t have much wind, I didn’t feel any inside the tent when it did gust a bit overnight.
Sleep system: I used a Mountain Hardwear Phantasia 0 degree sleeping bag, and a Therm-a-Rest Ridgecrest closed cell foam pad under a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm inflatable sleeping pad. This combo worked well all night long. For hanging around camp at meal times, I wore Montbell Superior Down Pants that I bought the day before the trip. For only weighing 7 ounces, these are super warm and comfy! I started out wearing them to sleep in but ended up taking them off when I got too hot. I even spent part of the night with my sleeping bag unzipped.
I woke up around sunrise and got out to see a bit of color in the sky and to start melting snow again for water. I only brought one small fuel canister, which ran out while I was getting ready for breakfast. Fortunately, my friends brought bigger canisters and helped me out. Next time, I’m bringing at least one large canister or two small ones.
There was a snowshoe race scheduled at 10:00 am at the White River, with anticipated crowds of around 250 people. We had planned to get up early, pack up and hike out to avoid the crowds, but we decided to stay and snowshoe up Boy Scout Ridge instead. I’ve wanted to do this on previous snowshoe trips but hadn’t yet, so I was willing to give it a try. We took the steep trail up near the trees on the left on the ridge. I’ve never snowshoed up something this steep before, but the conditions were good for it (at least on the way up they were). At the top, we could look down at the White River Canyon and our camp area, and we decided to continue up the ridge to see if we could get better views. Mount Jefferson and the tops of the Three Sisters were visible to the south, and once we made it to the top of the ridge, we could see Timberline Lodge and the ski lifts.
Going back down Boy Scout Ridge was quite a challenge, for me at least. The snow was now a mix of slushy and slick + icy and slick. My friend started heading down before me and slipped right away, sliding down a short distance before stopping herself with her trekking pole. I have a big fear of falls and hate sliding, so this set me into a mini panic. However, there was nothing to do but deal with it, so I sat and butt-scooted for awhile, placing each snowshoe at a slant to secure a position before moving slowly down. Every so often, I stood up and did a side to side step down, until the slope was too steep for me to reach and feel secure, so I sat down again and butt-scooted off and on until the final section where it was easier to finish. My friends did not have as much trouble making it down and they stayed with me for my slow crawl.
Back at camp, we took down our tents and prepped for the short hike out. We never did see the snowshoe race or the crowds until we hiked out. While this was my third time backpacking in the snow, it was my first in a single person tent and now I know that I can backpack year round in comfort.
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