Sunday, March 17, 2024

Snowshoe: White River Canyon, Government Camp, OR

Getting There

I was already at the Mt Hood Meadows Nordic Center, so the White River West Sno-Park is just about 4 miles southwest on Hwy 35. The sno-park is 7 miles from Government Camp.

Surprisingly, the parking lot was pretty empty, especially for a bright, warm sunny Sunday. Back at the Nordic Center, the parking lots were about 80% full. I pulled up to a wide spot on the perimeter near the pit toilet and start of the trail.

The Hike

Length: 5.64 mi
Elev. gain: 1,627 ft
Moving time: 2:59:45
Avg pace: 31:54
Calories: 1,604
Total time: 3:52:15

The guided snowshoe at the Nordic park was just a warmup. I set my sights on the end of the trail in the White River Canyon, nearly 6,000 ft in elevation.

I delayed putting on my snowshoes as it seemed like plenty of other folks were faring okay without them to do their sledding and exploring. I quickly found that the warm weather was softening the snow-pack. I knew I could find my rhythm again with them on, rather than sink to my calves unexpectedly.

When I reached the first steep hill where the trail goes up into the trees or parallels the river, I had a decision to make. Some other people surveyed the river/meadow trail and opted to go up into the trees. The river crossing at that point didn't look possible but I saw footprints leading up close to the ridge on the left. I hoped that if I took this route, I wouldn't have to backtrack, possibly a long way.

I took the chance and followed those footprints. Fortunately, I was able to safely cross the river a ways up. 

The snow was pretty soft and even with snowshoes, I would occasionally sink in a couple of inches. It made progress slow at times. I had to stop every 100 yards or so to rest. The sun was so bright and I was completely exposed.

In hindsight, I was getting cooked. While most of my bare skin was covered, my face and hands were not. I got pretty burned on the cheeks and fingers and top part of my hands. Ooops.

I was hoping to encounter some other hikers/snowshoers but not many folks were up there. I eventually rounded the corner and I could no longer see Hwy 35 and the parking lot. In the distance, I could see a group of about 8 people near the foot of the ridge where I was headed. As I approached, they began their descent and detoured into the trees. I took note of how they went so I could do the same when I started back down.

The sun and warmth was great but I was getting pretty tired. My destination was far away and seemed like a long shot. I employed a technique that works for any tough task: breaking it down into incremental steps. Bear Grylls used a count of "20" when he crossed a ravine on the rope (Men vs Wild With Jake Gyllenhaal; S7E1). Climber Joe Simpson referred to this technique in his voiceover on Touching the Void when he was dragging himself across the glacier and moraine. Alan Watts says "You can’t eat the whole chicken at once. You have to bite it, you have to reduce it to bits".

Rather than just push for the top-end of the trail, I picked a feature in the near distance and reset my sights to the next point. Mine situation was not life-or-death but it still worked. Somehow, achieving those small "wins" helps the spirit and attitude. 

Reaching the end of the trail felt so good. I challenged myself and made it! While the distance and elevation gain was moderate compared to other hikes I've done, the sun, snow, and footwear added some difficulty, plus I had about 15 lbs in my backpack.

I enjoyed the view and silence for a little while. I still had about 2.8 miles to get back to the parking lot. After a half-mile, my feet started to hurt. I probably should have tightened my laces because it seemed like my toes were hitting the end of the boot. I also didn't use my Superfeet inserts (Trailblazer/Hike Support). That mistake and no using sunscreen, two "lemons".

I tried to ignore the discomfort and focus on externals: the views, the warmth, the silence beside the snow crunching under my feet.

To my relief, I finally made it the treeline. I marveled about how long it took to descend from the end of the trail and how I had conquered that section. (pats self on back).

It was nice to get some shade and meandering trail. I tried to shade my face with my balaclava but it was a bit tight and not comfortable. I passed some snowshoers on their way up to the edge of the treeline. I recalled the first time I snowshoed up here and snapped some photos with a disposable camera or inexpensive digital camera.

Such amazing views of Mt Hood covered in snow. Maybe I will be able to climb this mountain. I'm looking forward to another trip to the MSH summit and maybe I can reach the Mt Adams summit. Hmm.