Hut-to-Hut Skiing in Patagonia

by Mike Myers

Patagonia has always been an elusive goal. Nearly halfway around the world, to make it worthwhile requires more than a week’s worth of vacation days. So when I saw a two-week window in my schedule open in early September, I called a buddy in Bend and we buried ourselves in Google searches.

I like to plan most of my tours myself, but when traveling abroad, I’ve found the bit of extra cost in using a guide service is well worth the time saved. Having someone familiar with the terrain, who speaks the language, and can get priority beds and service helps tilt the scales of adventure and vacation a bit more evenly. The downside is you may be paired with people you might not get along with, who don’t have a similar skill level, or have unknown risk tolerances. At the same time, it forces you to interact with people from different cultures you might otherwise miss which, besides skiing, is the best part of a hut-to-hut experience. I will remember some of the lines I skied during hut trips forever, but my notebook is just as prized. It’s filled with recommendations for trips in Norway, Japan, Alaska, Finland, and Italy along with names of guides in those areas--all gleaned from crazy stories told while drinking beer in a hut around a roaring wood stove. That’s one of the takeaways to love most about hut skiing and skiing in general--the commonality in spirit and adventure bringing everyone together.

We decided to book a guided tour through PowderQuest, a U.S.-based company with a lot of good reviews. There are a host of items to consider when picking a guide company. We focused on the guide to client ratio (we had a comfortable 1:3), the size of the group (ours was limited to 6), and the ground services provided. The PowderQuest trip included transit to and from the airport and transition shuttles at the park entry and exit; lodging before and after the trip for respite days; meals, bedding, and sleeping pads in the huts; IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association) or Argentine Mountain Guide Association (AAGM) certified, bilingual guides; and all entry fees and lift tickets. Most of the companies we reviewed required trip insurance which, when traveling with that much expensive gear, you should do anyway. I chose World Nomads. They have a decent policy that covers backcountry skiing and evacuation (something to check as some policies exclude what they consider “extreme sports”). One important thing we didn’t have on our checklist, or think to ask about (but everyone uses), was toilet paper. While the huts we chose (Frey and Jacob in Nahuel Huapi Park) have outhouses, they do not come with toilet paper, and napkins are handed out like currency. If you neglect to bring it, you better become paperback speed readers.

Once I locked in our trip reservations and flights, I learned researching weather and snow conditions was a much tougher task than in the States, particularly the PNW. Here we have a myriad of tools at our disposal to determine what conditions to anticipate: Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) reports, the NOAA website, Avalanche.org, Snow-Forecast.com, various blogs, and multiple ski resort reports. Researching these variables in South America proved to be more challenging. Resorts like Cerro Catedral provide basic information on new snow levels, and more popular spots like Tierra del Fuego have some accessible avy references, but the avalanche conditions in much of the backcountry were more opaque, particularly if you aren’t fluent in Spanish. What proved helpful was the real time beta we garnered from calling the ski shops in Bariloche, and eventually getting hold of a guide who’d recently been out in the area we planned to visit. Of course we packed all the standard avalanche gear (probe, shovel, beacon, snow saw, snow study kit, repair kit, 10 essentials, medical kits, crampons, ice axe, helmet, layers, etc), but we still weren’t sure what skis to bring. The forecast showed a big storm coming in from the south but, if it shifted, we could be stuck with our fatties on ice sheets. Thankfully, our B&B in Bariloche offered storage, so I packed two alpine touring (AT) alternatives, a pair of 178 cm Dynafit Manaslus that are 95 mm underfoot and some 178 cm DPS Lotuses that are 120 mm underfoot. Both are set-up with Dynafit TLT Radical ST tech bindings and fit to one boot, my Scarpa Maestrale RSs. With these two alternatives, I could handle hardpack or deep powder.

Our eight day journey started in Bariloche, Argentina. An old mission town, today Bariloche attracts tourists year round with its quaint streets lined with chocolate shops and serves as a popular jumping off point for climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. For those from the PNW, finding good beer in Argentina can be like finding a sunny day in Portland in February. So finally locating a brewery serving a decent IPA is worth noting. Pro tip: save some time in Bariloche and go straight to Berlina Brewery if you’re homesick for hops.

The weather on day one suggested the storm was going to stay south and miss us, calling for the Manaslus. A quick briefing in the morning, then we were off. To cut out 2,000 feet of elevation gain with a full pack, we began our trip to the first refugio, Frey Hut, via a single purchase lift pass at the Catedral ski resort. Since the huts come stocked with food, drink, and sleeping pads, you mainly pack layers, snacks, a sleeping bag, and safety gear. Not having a tent, food, or booze saves a lot of weight (note, the huts serve wine and beer for super cheap, $1.50 a beer and $6 US for a decent bottle of Argentinian wine), but a week’s worth of gear still adds up. My pack tipped the scales at a little over 45 lbs. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have packed so many snacks for the tour. Meals were hearty and the hut staff provided a bag lunch that sufficed for most of the daily caloric needs. At the end of the trip, I still had most of the bars and gels I’d packed in. Having that additional weight also made our first run of day one, down a 38 degree couloir, an interesting experiment in getting my legs back after not skiing for four months.

Arriving at Frey Hut (5,100 feet elevation), we encountered more weekenders than anticipated. Due to its close proximity to the resort, and open reservations during the winter, you roll the dice on there being anywhere from 12—60 people on any given night. Our first night there, we crapped out. People were sleeping on wooden benches in the outhouse, the floor of the kitchen, sandwiched next to one another in the two bunkhouses. Needless to say, you put that many sweaty bodies and wet ski boots in one place and it makes the rental shop at Timberline smell like a flower shop. As we all know from the Mazama Lodge, it only takes one heavy snorer to keep everyone up all night, so earplugs are a must. On the plus side, with that many people you’re forced into meeting a lot of cool, like-minded folks. I shared a few beers with a Canadian who was sailing from Vancouver to the southern tip of Chile and had arranged to meet up with his three buddies at the Frey Hut as a milestone party for his trek. It was hard not to chat it up with a group of Swedish guys in their 50’s who were pounding wine and laughing uncontrollably at themselves as they rattled off dirty jokes all night. A Norwegian ski guide tried to convince us to go on his annual sailing and ski trip through the Fjords. “You get a little wet here and there, sure, but imagine skiing during the day, then sailing to your next mountain. It’s pretty cool.” Hard to disagree with that.

All those weekend warriors jettisoned the next day and we had a bunkhouse to ourselves and room to spread out. Breakfast and dinner were prepared fresh each day, and by fresh I mean they baked the bread each morning, roasted the meats at night, and made everything from scratch. Replacing those Mountain House dinners with homestyle cooking and having a cold beer next to a wood-fired stove, all while watching the sun set out the window of the dining area, well, some might say that’s heaven. At night, when the wind died down, you could lounge on the Adirondack chairs outside the front door and watch the stars churn by. With stars from horizon to horizon, it brought back memories of a recent trip to Yosemite, but with the odd sense that these weren’t the same constellations I was used to seeing. Our guide told us stories of moonlit tours he’d done on prior outings when the sky was clear. He encouraged us to go explore, but after a long day of skiing, a hearty meal, and a few glasses of wine, zonking out comes early.

Each day we’d set out around 9:30 a.m. and ski till 4 or 5 p.m., all within the granite spires flanking the frozen lake outside the Frey Hut. Elevation ranged from around 3,000 feet at the valley floor to approximately 7,200 feet for most ridges. Daily elevation gains averaged around 5,000 feet, equating to two or three longer runs. Each day we’d eat breakfast, do a quick beacon and gear check, then head out. I was a bit shocked there wasn’t more of a snowpack discussion. Prodding our guide, Jorge, for tidbits of information about the risks of the day yielded very little. He told us he had been coming up to the hut nearly every day for the past three months, which I convinced myself translated into some comfort.

Most have heard Patagonia is famous for its ferocious wind. Frey Hut did not disappoint, in fact the wind blew my buddy’s puffy shoe off on the way to the outhouse on night one. Thankfully, with temps in the 20s, the wind wasn’t crushing and we had sufficient layers to stay warm. But, in addition to hijacking shoes, the high winds also made the skiing largely windswept hardpack. Most mornings required scribing lines up icy slopes with ski crampons. For the one splitboarder in our group, this did not bode well. Midway through the trip he just couldn’t get sufficient purchase on the long steep climbs with his soft boots, and by the end of the third day, with boots that weren’t fitting quite right, his shins were bloody and raw. A pow wow with the guide and a client who was also a doctor convinced him to turn back. That’s not to say the snow was all hard-packed and challenging. Jorge knew of a few stashes of corn on leeward aspects, and took us to some couloirs that held the corn pretty well. That’s when a guide is worth every penny.

After three days skiing from Frey Hut, we packed up and headed to Jacob Hut, a bit further into the park over two mountain passes. Jorge warned us, “Be prepared to do a lot of traversing and climbing today.” It was definitely a long eight hour day of skinning and survival skiing. Maneuvering between brush on the way out of a valley is one thing, but picking your way down a 30-plus degree slope through scrub can be quite another. After each ridge we encountered a frozen lake needing to be traversed. This may not sound that exciting but when you decide to have lunch in the middle of a frozen lake flanked by jagged peaks all around you, I could think of worse places to spend the afternoon.

Over the second ridge, we encountered a section eerily exposed to a few terrain traps: 40-plus foot cliffs within 100 yards down slope. Later, we discovered the couloirs those cliffs had created captured a wealth of corn that proved to be a lot of fun, offering a few air-catching opportunities off buried rocks. However, that was about 800 feet below. Just after the ridge crest it was nearly a sheet of ice. If you lost an edge you risked tumbling over the cliffs. That was the moment I wished I’d had leashes on my skis. They were on my other skis--I’d forgotten to switch them over. While I had ski brakes, if I bit it those wouldn’t stop a runaway ski from disappearing off the edge of the cliff. I don’t like to do it, but I locked my tech toes just in case I fell so my skis wouldn’t come off. With some intense concentration, everyone passed the danger zone with flying colors, and we were rewarded with corn-a-plenty. So pro tip number two: Put leashes on all your skis.

Due to the relative difficulty in getting to Jacob Hut, no one had been there yet this spring. The cooks had skinned in the day prior to our arrival to dig it out. While they were able to free the entrance to the hut, the outhouse was too buried; hence the quickly coined terms, “wee pee bucket” and “ye ole poo shovel.” The walls of Jacob Hut are lined with faded group photos from 50 plus years of skiing and hiking memories, labeled in a dozen languages, nearly all with exclamation points. The hut seeps with history, making you feel like part of a ritualistic tribe. It’s more rustic than the Frey Hut and with that comes more character. One cross beam is carved like a mermaid and the books along the windowsill are well worn--signs of down time after a long ski day or getting snowed in. The skiing around Jacob is similar to Frey, in that you tend to start the day skinning across the frozen lake to take your pick at a horseshoe of ridgelines. Topping any one of them takes away your breath and explains why people come to Patagonia --granite spires and steep angular pyramids as far as you can squint.
After three more days at Jacob we had two options for the route out. A shrub-dodging ski down to the riverbed followed by an eight mile hike out with skis on our back, or a half day skin up to a ridgeline that cuts a few miles off the hike. Unfortunately, my buddy blew out one of his Dynafit bindings the night before, and attempts to MacGyver it back to full functionality were not successful. Therefore, we opted for the longer, more conservative, route of hiking out. We went from 20 degree temperatures at the hut in the morning to close to 70 degrees at the tail end of the valley. Every couple hundred feet of elevation loss we’d shed a layer, then another, then another. By the end of the trail I had on a t-shirt and shorts drenched in sweat, and some mud-laden ski boots.

After an eight mile jaunt out in ski boots with a full pack, Bariloche quickly sets you straight with good wine and, quite honestly, the best steaks out there. At our farewell dinner the six people and two guides we’d spent the last week sharing meals and life stories with were like longtime friends. We’d come from different countries and achieved varying levels of success, but our shared foundation in skiing immediately leveled the playing field and left the complexities of our home lives behind us. And while we didn’t have the best snow, we caught a few epic lines I won’t soon forget, and had plenty of practice skiing in less than optimal conditions. As we were wrapping up dinner our guide told us Portillo, Chile caught the storm that cut south of us and received three feet of snow, while we battled the wind at Frey and Jacob. I guess I’ll have to put Portillo on the list for our next trip to Patagonia. And next time I’ll remember the toilet paper.


11 Tips for Having Fun With Your Dog in the Snow

by Kristie Perry
Adapted with permission from www.allgoodsk9adventures.com (February 15, 2015)

1. Protect their paws
“Protecting your dog’s paw pads is crucial to having a good day in the snow,” says Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa, who has logged more than 7,000 miles in the backcountry with numerous four-legged companions. Cracked or otherwise injured pads will end your outing early.
Long-haired dogs or those with webbed paws are especially prone to collecting snow between their toes. Body heat transforms that snow into little ice balls that grow larger over time and stretch the dog’s toes apart. This leads to cracking, bleeding, and hair-pulling. Dogs will respond to the pain by licking, which will cause even more ice build up. To prevent this, try Vaseline, Bag Balm, or Musher’s Secret.

Sometimes dogs need more protection than a topical application can provide, however, as Mazama member Pam Monheimer learned on an outing last year with her Vizsla, Tüz. Historically, Musher’s Secret and a fleece jacket were all Tüz needed to stay comfortable when romping through the snow. But last year, while snowshoeing around Trillium Lake on a day when the mercury barely made it into double-digits, “Tüz just tried to lay down on my feet,” she recounts. “He refused to get up. Trying to carry a 60-pound dog up a hill while in snowshoes wasn’t fun. That’s when I realized I needed to be more careful about winter conditions.” So Monheimer invested in a pair of Vibram-soled Ruffwear booties.

Dog bootie technology and availability has come a long way over the past 20 years. Dog booties come in a variety of materials, including latex, fleece, cordura nylon, neoprene, and rubber. They also come in various lengths, so if you want built-in gaiters (also known as high tops) for your dog, you’ll find them. Old dress or liner socks, worn under the booties, can also work as gaiters.

If possible, take your dog with you when buying his booties so he can try them on in the store. Just like a Salomon Women’s 8 isn’t a Lowa Women’s 8 isn’t an Asolo Women’s 8, makers of dog booties show quite a bit of variation (or perhaps imprecision) in their sizing charts.

Various dogs will tolerate booties to varying degrees. Practice putting the booties on your dog at home first. (And if you haven’t already seen the videos of dogs in booties high-stepping, prepare to laugh yourself silly.) You’ll want to make sure you can get the boots on and off easily and that your dog can’t.

One drawback of using booties on your dog in the snow: you’re taking away his built-in crampons by covering his toenails. If you’re going to be traveling in steep, hard snow try to make one of the topical applications work so your dog will have traction.

2. Keep them warm
Just like humans, dogs will remain warm in winter conditions while they’re on the move. But also like humans, dogs will feel chilled during breaks. If you have a short-haired dog or one that is cold weather-sensitive, get it a coat.

“The old line of ‘why does a dog need a coat, they have fur?’ might be true if you have a husky that lives in Alaska,” LaRuffa points out. “But I have a lab mix who spends most of his days in a nice warm house sleeping on the couch. So, yes, he gets cold in the winter.” While he is on the move, LaRuffa’s lab mix, Karluk, wears a winter jacket made specifically for dogs. During breaks and at night, LaRuffa wraps him in a human’s puffy.

While Monheimer happily dresses Tüz in a waterproof fleece jacket, Mazama member Matt Carter takes a different approach with his Golden Retriever, Lily: “My rule for Lily is that if it is so cold that her double coat is not adequate, it is too cold for me to be out hiking around.”

Even long-haired dogs are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. The ears, pads, and tail tips are the body parts most prone to frostbite, according to the veterinarians at VCA Animal Hospitals. If your dog starts shivering, it’s time to go home. Shivering is a signal that hypothermia may be close behind.

3. Drink plenty of fluids
Nothing dehydrates you more than a long day in cold air. “With each breath, you expel precious moisture,” notes LaRuffa. “Pair that with elevation and high levels of activity and you are setting you and your pup up for dehydration.” LaRuffa recommends bringing at least one quart of water for each of you for every five miles traveled.

Although many dogs can drink with impunity right out of most bodies of water encountered on the trail, many streams ice over or are under snow in the winter. “I think of winter like late summer when considering how much water to take for Lily,” Carter says.

In the winter, carry water for you and your dog inside your pack to prevent freezing. If you must carry bottles on the outside of your pack, make sure you use wide-mouth bottles and turn them upside down so that any ice that forms will float up instead of freezing the cap shut. If you prefer water bladders over bottles, use an insulation sleeve on the hose.

4. Eat!
Like you, your dog will burn more calories in cold weather. If you plan on snacking in the middle of your snowshoe, bring dog-friendly snacks for your pup, too. High-fat foods like peanut butter and cheese burn slowly for sustained heat and energy. Your dog’s regular dry kibble works well, too, and won’t make a mess in your pack.

“Because Lily won’t eat her breakfast if I am preparing to take her out, I end up packing it,” Carter says. He also brings treats for Lily, an endeavor that over the years morphed into an escalating competition with a hiking buddy. “One cold February day he pulled out an insulated bag with sliced pork roast kept warm with a gel pack. I conceded defeat.”

Multi-day trips call for a bit more thought. Kristin Hostetter, an editor at Backpacker Magazine, recommends a mix of 75 percent regular kibble with 25 percent puppy food. “Puppy food has added calories and protein, which will help boost your dog’s nutritional intake during big mile days,” she says.

LaRuffa swears by TurboPUP bars when he needs to watch the weight in his pack. TurboPUP is the brainchild of Kristina Guerrero, a backcountry skier who wanted to make sure the four-legged companion who accompanied her on her adventures had the nutrition he needed to keep his energy up.

Locally, TurboPUP can be found at Next Adventure, U.S. Outdoor Store, and various Petsmarts.

5. Keep your dog under control
What’s true in town is true in the backcountry, also: a well-trained dog that obeys commands is more enjoyable to be around—for everyone.

“Some dogs are simply aggressive by nature,” says retired veterinarian and Mazama member Don McCoy. “If your dog can’t be a good citizen, then it needs to stay home.”

Canine obedience training becomes even more important when freezing temperatures and snow are part of the adventure. More dogs are lost in winter than in any other season, according to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Be mindful of your terrain. You don’t want your dog running into a partially frozen body of water. Nor do you want them to engage wildlife.

Carter and Lily once encountered a coyote while hiking in the Deschutes National Forest between Christmas and New Year’s. “The coyote kept trying to engage Lily,” he recalls. “’Come play with me,’ was the message she was getting. Just out of sight was the pack of coyote friends who had dinner plans for her, instead.”

If your dog is the type who would engage with a coyote, it should be on a leash, veterinarian McCoy says.

Another reason to keep your dog close is traps. Trapping is allowed all year in Oregon and Washington. “The further away from you your dog is, the more likely it is to get caught,” Carter says. “The ‘improved’ leg hold and Conibear traps being marketed as ‘humane’ are more destructive than the old ones,” he opines. “More importantly, I think the new traps are much harder to release by hand. I carry Vise Grips to help.”

Finally, make sure your dog shows the same respect for steep snow that you do. “When you are traversing a trail that is benched out on a steep slope, you are entering a danger zone,” LaRuffa warns. “Allowing your dog to run loose above you or below heightens the risk of triggering an avalanche.”

6. Watch out for sharps
Ski edges, crampons, ice axes, and snowshoes are all potential hazards for your dog. So how do you prevent a bad accident?

Skiing: LaRuffa keeps his dog, Karluk, either directly ahead or behind him when ascending. “When we switch to downhill mode, I ski as fast as possible, keeping well in front of Karluk the whole time. I stop every few hundred yards so he can catch up, therefore preventing the risk of a cut from my ski edge.”

Snowshoeing: Train your dog to walk directly behind you when snowshoeing. That way, your dog can use your tracks (and not, say, the Nordic skiers’ tracks), and she avoids being stepped on or caught in a crampon. Don’t be surprised if you feel some extra weight in your shoes at the end of the day. Smart, tired dogs have been known to hitch a ride on the back of snowshoes to avoid having to slog through deep snow.

Mountaineering: This activity poses many risks, but the biggest one is impaling your dog with your crampon, “so being aware at all times where your foot placement is in relation to you dog is paramount,” LaRuffa says.

7. Bring a pad
A lightweight foam pad can be deployed on the snow during the day for you and your dog to rest on during a break, and then used at night in camp. Bonus: it’s warmer than an air mattress in the snow, and safer, “since it can’t pop and leave you shivering on the snow,” LaRuffa says.

8. Line your dog’s pack
Even in the snow, the gear in your dog’s pack can get wet. LaRuffa swears by turkey oven roasting bags because they are light, cheap, and strong.

9. Bring a rubber toy
Bring a toy to play with in camp. LaRuffa’s dog, Karluk, recommends orange rubber balls. They are bright and, therefore, easier to find in the snow. Plus, their rubber surface doesn’t soak up slobber and snowmelt.

10. Pay attention
“What seems to work best for Tüz, who has unlimited energy, is to go with his flow,” Monheimer says. “We go as long as he seems fine, and at the first sign of discomfort we turn back. This has put a damper on my ability to summit or reach a particular destination. But Tüz is my best buddy. My number one goal is for him to have a good and safe time.”

11. Have fun!
No explanation needed.


Getting Out of the Gorge

Winter Workout Hikes for the Intrepid

by Darrin Gunkel

Give Angel’s Rest a rest. Leave Eagle Creek to the tourists. Here are half a dozen training hikes that reliably offer a decent winter work out, with the added advantage of being close, lonely, or just a nice change of pace. They’re arranged by proximity to Portland (sorry everybody else!): Marquam and Powell in city, Salmon River and Dry Ridge an hour’s drive away, and Cape Lookout and Deschutes both clocking in at two hours. If those last drives seem far for a day hike, don’t worry. The campgrounds at each trailhead are lovely. Why not make an overnight of it and really savor the rainy season ambiance?

Hiking options in the West Hills are nearly limitless, and the biggest problem may be choosing one. If you’re after a quick, brisk workout, this is a good choice. . . it’s one of the fastest ways up to Council Crest. Starting at the Marquam Shelter on Sam Jackson Park Road, you can follow the Sunnyside or Shelter Loop Trails up to their junctions with the Marquam Trail, and then on to the summit. A thousand feet may not seem like much, but doing it in 2.5 miles is enough to get many a hiker’s pulse up. And besides, with all the time you’ve saved not driving out to Eagle Creek, there’s no reason not to do the trip twice! The prize, on the one clear day out of ten you do this in winter, is one of the most fabulous views from any city park, anywhere: the fair city of Portland, with its backdrop of four stratovolcanoes—not to mention the dozens of smaller volcanoes that make up the Boring Volcanic Field. One of them happens to be our next option.

Portland is the only major city in the U.S. with a volcano in its city limits—several, actually. One of them in particular, Powell Butte, is a great training ground. Most trail guides recommend the 5 mile perimeter loop around the park, but download the trail map and take a look. You can string together 10 miles of trail—more if you don’t mind covering some sections twice. To max out the elevation gain, start at the low points of the park. The north entrance (at S.E. 148th Ave. and Center) and the south entrance (off the Springwater trail just east of S.E. 145th Ave.) are both at about 250 feet elevation. The high point at Mountain Finder is 600 feet. Do a traverse over this summit from north to south and back and you’ve racked up 700 feet. Adding the Hawthorne—Cedar Grove—Douglas Fir Loop brings your total to a respectable 1,000 feet. With ups and downs around the perimeter, you can easily get 1,200 feet and nearly 9 miles. Walking here is the best of both worlds: mature second growth forest on the volcano’s flanks, and some of the widest skies west of the cascades in the summit meadow. Shifting views of volcanoes from Mt. St. Helens to Mt. Jefferson keep you entertained on clear days.

Tired of the crowds at Eagle Creek? Bored to death of I-84? Then follow the ski bums and snow borders out Route 26. Taking their leave at Salmon River Road in Welches, just 2.5 miles from the highway, you’ll find the first of several trailheads for the Old Salmon River Trail. The elevation is low enough here to support some truly giant old growth and stay snow-free pretty much the whole winter. Start at the first trailhead to max out mileage and get warmed up. After 2.5 miles of riverside pleasantness, the trail passes the Green Canyon Campground. This is where the workout begins. You can continue on up the Salmon River, gaining elevation slowly and steadily until you hit the snow line. If you’re lucky, and it’s melted out below 2,500 feet, you’ll reach the Salmon River Canyon, six miles from that first trailhead. Alternately, for a quicker day and to get the blood really moving, from the campground take off up Green Canyon Way, a steep route up to Hunchback Mountain and Devil’s Peak. You’re not likely to get anywhere near either of these in a normal snow year, but this route’s steep enough you may not care.

The Roaring River Wilderness is easy to overlook. It doesn’t have close up views of soaring peaks, and while the forest there is nice, it’s easily overshadowed by dozens of nearby stands. Most visitors to the Clackamas Canyon come for the river, anyway. A viewless trail that launches straight up from the trailhead? Not on many radars, even though it’s just over an hour from Portland. You can count on peace and quiet on Dry Ridge—and a good workout. The Roaring River Campground, where you’ll find parking for the trail, is at about 1,000 feet elevation. The first two miles gain 2,000 feet. If it’s a dry year, or later in the season, you’ll find on the upper section a steady grind that feels steeper than it actually is. The turnaround is a non-descript junction with the Grouse Point Trail. If you’ve made it this far, and still haven’t had enough, follow that one all the way down to the Roaring River, 2,500 feet and 2.5 miles below. Just remember, you’ll have to come back up.

Begin this hike at the trailhead most people use and it’s more like stretching your legs. Start down at the beach, though, and you add a solid workout to this rightfully famed coast hike. This alternate start lies at sea level, by the day use zone in Cape Lookout State Park, and not far from the car camp. The high point of the trail is actually at the main Cape Lookout Trail parking lot, 850 feet and just shy of 2.5 miles up from the beach. From here, you lose 400 feet on the way out to the end to the Cape Lookout: a basalt cliff jutting 2.5 miles into the north Pacific Ocean. This is the one stretch that might give you pause in the winter. While not exposed in a mountaineering sense, the way comes close enough to high, sheer cliffs, that on the rare icy day it’s probably not worth the risk. If that’s the case, from the upper parking lot, drop down in 2 miles to the south beach. You lose a mile in distance, but make up for it with an extra 400 feet elevation gain for the day.


So you’ve whetted your appetite for wide open skies on top of Powell Butte, but the constant clouds have left you feeling a bit starved. Head east! Provided the Gorge isn’t a tunnel of ice, Deschutes River State Recreation Area and a 50 percent chance of sunshine (beats the west side odds!) isn’t too far away. The trail here’s more about distance than elevation, but off-trail hiking on the canyon walls is straightforward. So, if you feel the need to feel the burn, find a route that speaks to you and head up. Just beware of private property signs—or more likely, unsigned barbed wire marking the limits of public land. The lower 2 miles of the trail is state land. Beyond, you’re in the realm of the BLM. In theory, you can walk all the way to Mack’s Canyon, 23 miles away at the end of the riverside road heading south from Oregon Route 216 near Tygh Valley. Setting up a car shuttle would make for a neat, but long, day.


Ski Mountaineering Traverse of Canadian Rockies’ Wapta Icefield

by Keith Daellenbach

In the February 2016, I found myself drawing short straw as the company I had worked at for nearly eight years continued on a path of downsizing and contraction and I was let go. Leaving an employer not on one’s own terms is not ideal but, as it was, it was a relief to move on and pursue new paths in my engineering career. While balancing my obligation to look for employment, my wife, Amy, encouraged me to not miss this opportunity to “get out there” and find ways to reconnect with friends in the outdoors where I’ve always found peace and a connection to a Creation much bigger than myself. My first foray was to the southern Oregon coast exploring the Coquille River and floating the wild and beautiful Sixes River. The winter steelhead run was at its peak and I met up with local Jim Clausen who over decades, and this is no put down – rather the opposite, has developed the brain of a steelhead. With Jim’s “happy meal” creation, I hooked, fought, and released a native buck steelhead in the pre-dawn light on a quiet stretch of solitude on the Coquille. I put other steelhead on the bank and if anything could clear my head and make me happy to be alive, that was it. Ski mountaineering would fit the bill too.

During this interregnum, my other main foray afield was with Chris Haagen, of Oakland, one of my favorite climbing and backcountry friends. Chris, a fellow engineer, is always a cheerful guy ready for an adventure, remarkably available on short notice. Without much discussion, we quickly settled upon a ski mountaineering traverse of the Wapta Icefield in the Canadian Rockies north of Lake Louise. Through a division of labor – Chris took on establishing GPS way-points for the route and I reserved hostel lodging in Lake Louise, Alpine Club of Canada (AAC) huts along the route, and van shuttle – we made quick work of the logistics. Two weeks later, Chris flew into PDX and we were underway driving north with nighttime departure. In a one 13-hour, 710-mile shot, we drove up through eastern Washington, crossing the border at Eastport, and made our way to our night’s lodging at Lake Louise. The hostel there is inexpensive and comfortable with skiers from all over North America. We sorted gear and settled in for the night.

After a hearty breakfast at the hostel the next morning, we made our last avalanche check (www.avalanche.ca), which indicated “High” danger so we carefully examined our route for likely steep, avalanche-prone slopes that would receive direct sun. There was no fresh snow to contend with. After this analysis, we convinced ourselves we could make the tour in relative safety with bail options from the Peyto and Bow huts.

We drove 10 miles to the Great Divide Lodge just east of Kicking Horse Pass on the Trans Canada Highway 1 where we met Jean, our shuttle van driver with Mountain Park Transportation. I left my Honda Civic there and she drove us up Highway 93, 45-minutes away to just north of Bow Summit. We departed in the blazing sunshine, saying “thank you” to Jean, and skied (well I hiked and skied) down a steep, switchback trail about 350 feet through the trees to the edge of Peyto Lake. When Amy and I explored the Canadian Rockies las summer with our son, Micah, we stopped at Bow Summit and gazed at this aquamarine lake from above; now we were skiing across its frozen surface in the frigid air. Having brought many layers suitable for ski mountaineering in the Cascades, I was somewhat concerned that my 32-pound pack would not contain the heavy duty warm weather clothing needed for the cold continental climate in the Rockies. In spite of this, the gear I brought was plenty adequate.

Chris and I skied across the frozen lake towards the far side, where the wall of the Canadian Rockies rose up. We worked up Peyto Creek, at one time jumping rock-to-rock across its low flow, and avoiding a steep-walled, skier’s-left gully, gained an old medial moraine on the right. Eventually, we topped over the moraine and skied above a small glaciology/meteorology field station and gained the northern lobe of the Peyto Glacier. We gave wide berth to the steep east flank of Peyto Peak upon which were small avalanches being triggered in the mid-day sun. We gained 2,200 feet from the Lake. Skiing up the Peyto Glacier was a dream of great snow and towering peaks all around. We reached the blue Peyto Hut (a.k.a., Peter and Catharine Whyte Hut) perched on a lower satellite ridge. We were greeted at the hut by a contingent of guided skiers including many from Portland. The hut sleeps 16 in winter, and like the other three huts on our traverse, are fully stocked with propane, stoves, pots, pans, cooking utensils, sleeping pads, and an outhouse. I knew some of the skiers and Chris and I talked to the guide long into the night by lantern light about other more remote ski mountaineering adventures in the Rockies we could pursue after this introductory traverse.

Day two of our ski traverse was a short 3.7-mile section that gains 770 feet and loses 1,100 feet. As the weather was perfect and the ski leg short, we added to that distance by climbing two Mt. Olive—North, roping up for a short section low on the ridge in an abundance of caution. And then Mt. Gordon across the south lobe of the Bow Glacier. From that summit, we had a 3,300 foot descent over a few miles to the Bow Hut. As we schussed the last section to the hut, the weather took a turn for the worse, as the leading edge of a storm overtook us. We entered the hut with snow trailing in behind us. This hut, ca. 1989, is the largest on the icefield (30 person capacity) with a hallway separating the dining area from the sleeping area complete with wood stoves in both. There we met an all-ladies crew guided by two women AAC guides. They had ascended to the hut via the Bow Lake start (Num-Ti-Jah Lodge) and we enjoyed their enthusiasm and sense of adventure.

We awoke to the third ski day with the storm in full throttle. We departed the hut and pushed up the Bow Glacier using our GPS track and compass, slowly working waypoint-to-waypoint in a near whiteout. Eventually we gained the col (9,520 feet) between Saint Nicholas Peak and Mt. Olive—North in the teeth of a full howling whiteout. From there we launched down the Vulture Glacier, being careful not to approach the crevassed and wind-scoured margins on either side. I led, snowplowing down the glacier, carefully consulting the GPS and compass as Chris kept an eye out for crevasses. At one point, concentrating so hard on progress with no visible landmark in the snow storm, I looked past my GPS and compass at my skis and noted I was not even moving even though it felt like I was! The whiteout was disorienting. Eventually, we made it down glacier and popped out below the cloud deck at about 8,500 feet recovering some visibility of the snow-covered landscape. We kept an eye out for crevasses and large wind scour traps as we headed made our way to the Balfour Hut (a.k.a. Rob J. Ritchie Hut).

We knew the next day would be the crux of the traverse, with a long ascending route up the Balfour Glacier to the Balfour High Col at 9,788 feet. From the hut, the route crosses some moraines near a large pass over the Rockies and then up what becomes essentially a ramp perched below steep slopes prone to avalanche with hanging glaciers on the east side of Mt. Balfour (10,735 feet) and a crevassed icefall below. In one section, the safe route snakes through a section maybe 40 yards wide. As we had studied the route carefully on Google Earth and examined the pictures in the Balfour Hut, we knew that having visibility in this crux would be imperative rather than relying solely on our GPS waypoints. Amazingly on the fourth day, in spite of poor predicted weather, the storm broke to a cold and clear blue bird day. We were up early and off like a shot heading for the col. We made steady progress and I led up through the crux to where the slope eases off above. The views were amazing with a sea of peaks, ridges, arêtes, glaciers, alpine faces surrounding us in the brilliant sunshine. Before arriving to the col, we broke off the route and climbed the east flank of the lower southeast ridge of Mt. Balfour. It got steep near the crest but I gained it and looked down the equally steep western flank. Above, the ridge was seemingly blocked by impenetrable rime ice-covered towers. We bailed on our feeble exploratory attempt at a climb of this citadel, returned to our skis, and made it to the col.

From the col is a long, sweeping ski out onto to the Daly Glacier, a section named the Waputik Icefield. We took care to make an arc down glacier staying near the spine of the Continental Divide rather than making a straight line to the Scott Duncan Hut. A straight-line ski to the hut from the col puts one at peril crossing through crevasse fields, whereas, the arc is essentially safe save for one small crevassed section that is easily negotiated.

The small hut itself is situated on a rock outcrop promontory below Mt. Daly and is perched above the glacier with fine views of the southern section of the traverse and we had it all to ourselves. With the relief of having the crux behind us, Chris lent me his DeLorme inReach SE satellite tracking device to send a short note back to Amy and Micah to let them know the coast was (well, essentially) clear. We arose again in twilight, packed gear, and headed out into falling snow with limited visibility expecting a long day. We skied off the southern lobe of the Daly Glacier, snuck across the east face of Mt. Niles and stayed above Niles Creek until we could drop down into Sherbrooke Creek. There were steep sections back-and-forth down the gully of the creek like a bobsled run but it eventually dropped out onto the frozen surface of Sherbrooke Lake. We skied the final stretch through the woods, following a trail that leads to Highway 1 and the Great Divide Lodge. The traverse was now complete.

We drove out and made a stop to see the beautiful Chateau Lake Louise and snowy winter scene with people enjoying themselves out ice skating on the frozen lake below stunning Mt. Victoria. I picked up a silver and aquamarine pendant for Amy in the village below and then we busted out of the Canadian Rockies and made the long drive home back to the States.

Postlog: A month and a half later, I was sitting at my desk starting a new job managing a group of talented engineers enjoying new engineering challenges and opportunity. I reveled in the traverse and the ski mountaineering adventure with friend Chris and with Amy who said “Go.” The tour is straightforward, accessible, and relatively inexpensive. It does require a combination of basic mountaineering and skiing skills, glacier navigation and crevasse rescue, and land navigation with map, compass, and GPS. It crosses the spectacular spine of the continent and should not be missed!


The Scheme to Sell Our Public Lands

by Adam Baylor, Mazamas Stewardship & Advocacy Manager

The scheme to sell off our public lands to the highest bidder is nothing new and the 115th Congress is about to push this devious plot to the next level. To help shed some light on this conspiracy, the following steps reveal how far along we are in a public lands heist.

Ever since the 1980s, elected officials have gradually destroyed our land management agencies’ budgets under the guise of wanting government to “do more with less.” As a result, nearly each unit of the U.S. Forest Service is underfunded and understaffed. Mt. Hood National Forest (NF) requires about 800 employees to properly manage the forest. Currently, Mt. Hood NF is operating on approximately 200 employees making it difficult to consistently manage all the demands on our natural resources.

In addition to dwindling agency budgets is the problem of wildfire funding. As fires in the West increase in size and duration, USFS and BLM budgets suffer the burden of wildfire fighting. That means federally managed recreation programs are slashed to cover costs and citizen complaints skyrocket.

This systematic decline in agency budgets coupled with wildfire funding problems leaves public lands in a precarious position. Multiuse demands do not go away just because Congress has failed to properly fund our land management agencies. At the end of the day, Congress created this problem so that one solution works: a public lands heist.

Wasting no time, the new House of Representatives voted to change the rules on how costs are calculated during federal land transfers to a state. The new rule says that there is no cost associated with the land transfer. By setting the value of our public lands to zero, Congress will have no obstacle in handing over control of millions of acres to state governments. Once this happens states would be responsible to manage the land or sell it.

During the next few years, Congress may decide to make broad cuts in all federal programs which will create a burden on state budgets. For example, healthcare or housing programs that receive federal funding may vanish. In doing so, states will need to pick up the slack in order to continue to provide services to citizens. Suddenly, the prospect of selling off newly transferred federal lands becomes a very appealing cash cow for states to balance their budgets

The reality is that the new Congress is pretty much like the old Congress. Last year, Republicans in the House and Senate voted unanimously in committee to begin the transfer of federal lands to states. We have also seen an increase in state legislatures or general assemblies attempting to pass legislation to accept federal land transfers. As they say in real estate, you must have a willing seller and a buyer. The good news is that the House of Representatives may pass a land transfer law but it most likely will be blocked in the Senate by a filibuster.

Some people think this step will not happen or that it’s at least 50 years down the road. Whatever the time frame, this is a very real possibility now. It’s important to remember that privatization is not necessarily the worry. Our government delivers goods and services to the people through private companies all the time. Contracting is part of privatization and while there is fraud, waste and abuse associated with this process, it’s been happening since the founding of the United States. Rather, the true worry is that federal lands could be sold into private ownership. Once that occurs, private landowners will have the right to put up No Trespassing signs as they see fit. That means we could lose a great deal of public access to our favorite places.

These are but a few of the consequences to selling off public lands. We know that the scheme is real and no longer in the dark. It’s out in the open and Mazamas can help stop it.

 The key to our success will be through recreation and political action. In addition to telling your Member of Congress or State Legislator to oppose the Public Lands Heist, make a commitment to get outside more and share that experience with everyone you know. 
We have joined the Outdoor Alliance to collectively fight this battle with other human-powered recreation groups. It will be up to us to rally the support of the mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, backpacking and hiking communities throughout Oregon and parts of Washington to stop the public lands heist.