Been doing a bit of outdoor exploring recently, skiing and hiking to places I have yet to visit. It hasn’t been Lewis and Clark epic, but it’s been really good fun. To me, even the smallest off-trail adventure feels special, especially in the winter after a good snow storm.
I’m diligently going through “Cross-Country Ski Routes: Oregon” with my red pen, adding new information as it comes available, and striking places that don’t exist anymore because they were once clear cuts and are now 25 year old fir farms or the trails simply washed away in floods. I’m on the hunt for different places. Special places. Winter treasures.
A friend and I recently visited the Wind River area of SW Washington looking for some good telemark skiing opportunities, a winter treasure unto itself. A storm had dumped about a foot of new snow down pretty low so we were hopeful. We drove up Wind River Road out of Carson to the Lookout Sno-Park, an ungroomed wide spot on the road that needed some gentle Subaru fender plowing and then 10 minutes of shovel work to get us safely out of the travel way.
Our objective was “Big Telemark Hill”, a 300-foot south-facing clear cut slope about two miles up FR 31. I checked it out on Google Earth before we left and it didn’t look promising. (I’m getting better at judging how old clear cuts are from the aerial photographs, but you never really know until you see it.) But we were still game to get out in the snow for some exercise and explore a new place. Plan B was to check out Termination Point.
Old Man Pass / Lone Butte is a popular nordic ski and snowmobiling area, but Lookout Sno-Park and FR 31 are apparently overlooked. It was clear that no one had been on the road for a long time; no buried ski track, no sled trail. Though cars and trucks passed us on Wind River Road, they were headed somewhere else. We had this place all to ourselves.
Breaking trail through the heavy new powder was exhausting. The sun poked out behind clouds that whipped over the tree tops above us. We peeled off layer after layer as we gently climbed, soon down to our base shirts despite the freezing temps and wind. We slogged to Big Telemark Hill and stopped briefly to double check the GPS and admire the dense thicket of alder and fir that was once a clear cut slope. There would be no turns today (or any day) on Big Telemark Hill. Continuing up FR 31, we came to a fork road that went through a clear cut to the base of Termination Point, a relatively small but imposing ridge.
We dove into the clear cut at the base of Termination Point and poked through the regrowth, eventually meeting up with the road that led to the Lower Quarry (gravel pit). The wind and snow picked up significantly as we arrived at the quarry, so after a quick look-see we shuffled back into the protection of the trees and hunkered down to drink tea and eat our lunch in the little maelstrom.
If we had more people to help break trail and if the weather was a little better, we would have picked our way up to the saddle of Termination Point and climbed to the viewpoint. Alas, we turned around and skied our track back down the road, making quick time back to the car.
Interestingly, when I was looking at this route on Google Earth, I noticed that we would come within reach of an odd-looking clear cut pattern.
If we had had the energy to plow through more of the heavy powder, it would have been interesting to ski into that particular site and check out the 2.5-acre “lifeboats” of habitat on that 32-acre harvest site. I learned that the Wind Rivers is an experimental forest and that this specific area is a test site for a forest regeneration strategy called green-tree retention, to see if aggregated pods of trees help improve habitat and biodiversity when the site is clear cut. This particular pattern is a “40% aggregated-retention treatment.”
There were other patterns that day, too. This migratory flock (about 100 birds) was on the front lawn of the Skamania County Courthouse in Downtown Stevenson.
A winter treasure, indeed.