Sunday, February 3, 2013

Budget backcountry

I'm undecided as to whether I should share the location of my most recent holiday with the Internet as it seems to be a largely undiscovered and excellent place... but a ginger-bearded man's livelihood somewhere in north-eastern Oregon depends on others like me renting his facilities, so perhaps I should reveal the full details. While I wrestle with that moral dilemma I'll write about the trip.

Every year (excluding the one we lived in China) I've been on some kind of backcountry hut trip. These have varied wildly in format, but have all been a great time. This year I was faced with a lack of funds, and without the privilege of visiting Lina in a mountain lodge, as these days she mostly works at the base of the mountain rather than at the top of it, literally rather than figuratively speaking. So, when Chris asked me if I was interested in some yurting in NE Oregon, I was keen as mince. I'm not sure that idiom is quite right... but I'm going with it.
Several things about this trip were perfect, including the chance to take the Amtrak Cascades train down to Olympia Washington which I've wanted to do for years. In fact I'm writing this on the train on the way home after catching up on my emails. Yes, Internet on a train... even better than snakes on a plane. One thing that wasn't exactly perfect was returning from a job interview in Boston at three AM, then packing and heading straight out to the station to catch my train at six. I'd better be offered that job or I'm going to make an extremely pouty face and possibly a rude sound, and nobody needs that to happen.

Despite my hectic travel schedule I arrived in Olympia and was able to slow down to west-coast time before Chris, Theo, and I drove eight hours out to Joseph Oregon. The morning of our ski into the Big Sheep camp, we met CB who runs the show and wears a fine beard. He also does a nice job of getting the ski stoke going with instructions like "North-west flow, baby. Can you spell c.h.a.m.p.a.g.n.e. p.o.w.d.e.r.? You're going to need your snorkel. Yeeeeaaaaah, etc. etc." But would the reality live up to the hype?

The ski into the camp was the most civilized approach I've ever done to a hut, with a level trail along an irrigation canal taking us straight there. We were able to use a borrowed plastic sled to haul in our food, which is a technique I'll hope to use again... much better than a huge pack.


The next two days we spent breaking trails and skiing some fantastic dry and cold snow in the trees above the camp. North-west flow indeed. The wind howls through the Wallowa mountains, so we had to pick our routes well and found very different layers in each pit we dug, so some care had to be taken, especially when the weather warmed up considerably for the second half of the trip and left the south-facing slopes pretty sticky and us a little suspicious of the stability. Fortunately the north-facing treed slopes were kind to us and with only three people, there was no danger of filling everything with tracks.



So our routine formed... get up (not too early) drink coffee, eat, walk out the door, ski, return, eat, chat, sleep. Repeat. The camp can hold ten, but with just the three of us we lived in the kitchen yurt which was lovely and warm with the wood stove burning.

I loved the skiing, the good company, and the restful atmosphere of the mountains, but the outcome of my interview nagged away at me and I felt some pangs of isolation from my email and the job offer, or rejection, that I imagined waiting for me there. If I wasn't so cheap and had a smartphone with US roaming I could have checked my email from the top of the hill, but that's just not how I roll so I had to wait.

We skied back out to the car on a beautiful sunny day and enjoyed the amenities of Joseph before heading back on the long drive to Olympia. This direction we drove into the sunset, which led to some really spectacular views before we descended into the night somewhere around Hood River.

Back in Olympia I finally checked my inbox to find that I will have to wait a little longer for the verdict on that job. Hopefully my three-day travel epic was not in vain... though sitting here on the train back to Vancouver I can't help but think one of the pleasures in travel is the journey home, which you could never make without first leaving.

And finally, this is where we were. And finally, err, finally... here's Chris slaying some (sick) Oregon pow (dude).

And now, like, SO finally. Here's my GPS plot of all the gnar-pow we shredded.