Ahead of time, I described this trip as “it could really suck, or it could be really awesome.” The end result was a bit of both, but having learned a few lessons, I plan to return.
This is where I stayed. My plan was to arrive at the parking area Friday afternoon and ski in with some of my gear in a backpack & some on a sled I’d tow behind me. I’ve never skied with a sled, and I’ve only skied with a relatively light backpack (under 15 pounds). I really really should have tested out skiing with a sled & a heavier pack ahead of time. Alas, although I made this reservation in the fall, I failed to do much more planning until shortly before the trip. That was a mistake.
I arrived later than I’d planned on Friday. It was close to sundown. By the time I got everything loaded & ready to go, it was already getting a little bit dark. With skis on my feet & the backpack on, I fell, and it was fairly difficult to get back up. At that point, I recognized that attempting to ski in under these conditions – in the dark, with untested gear, not being familiar with the area – was a fairly bad idea. I decided to head back home for the night & give it another go in the morning. Perhaps living into my fifth decade has given me some wisdom.
Because the backpack was too heavy, I left it home & decided I’d snowshoe in, carrying a fair amount in my hydration pack and carrying the skis & most of my gear on the sled. This was another stupid idea. The sled was an absolute disaster. When I do this again, I’ll have a sled designed to carry gear behind a skier/snowshoer, not a sled designed to hurtle its human driver down a snowy slope.
And along came some trail magic: Wesley, the owner of one of the cabins in the area, took pity on my plight. He’d come in by snowmobile the night before, and offered to get his gear sled & haul my gear up to the cabin. This saved my weekend, as I was debating going home again to retrieve my backpack & start all over on Sunday. I snowshoed the rest of the way to the cabin.
I’m also very glad I arrived at the cabin in daylight, as that gave me time to get settled in before dark. I started a fire in the woodstove and set up my lantern & the cabin’s propane stove. The interior of the cabin is quite dark, as the logs are unfinished & the windows are (understandably) small. There were still a few hours until sunset, but I decided against going out to explore more. I had a hearty dinner of chicken tortilla soup (from Winco’s bulk section – it’s great for backpacking & camping, especially if you have a stove that will simmer) and went to bed early.
Even with the woodstove dampered down, it still needed tending during the night. (Based on my prior experience, I’d hoped to be able to put a stout log in at night & have it burn through until morning.) By the morning, there were just coals left, despite my having put another log in in the early morning hours. The cabin was comfortable, though.
I woke around 5:30, got the fire in the woodstove going again, and learned that plain instant oatmeal doesn’t have any added salt in it. (OMG – I don’t care what wonderful things you add to it, if it’s not salted oatmeal tastes like goo.) I busied myself with trying to attach the sled to my skis in the hopes it would make a sturdier sled. My plan was to hike back to the truck to retrieve my phone charger, and this would give me a chance to test out Sled 2.0 by hauling out some stuff I decided I could live without. Sled 2.0 was only marginally less disastrous than Sled 1.0. I stopped by Wesley’s to again prevail upon his kindness & ask if he’d be willing to haul my gear out on Monday. He said yes, and I promised to have it to him well before his planned departure time on Monday. And then I resumed by trudging back to the truck.
On my way to the truck, I noticed another forest road that hadn’t been trod by humans since prior to the last storm. I thought about snowshoeing up it on my way back to the cabin, but I decided a smarter choice would be to get back to the cabin, eat some lunch, and then switch to the skis.
Going back to the cabin also gave me the chance to try to get the woodshed unlocked again. The last time I’d been at the woodshed, I hadn’t ensured the key was lined up properly in the lock when I removed the key. I figured I had enough wood to take the worst of the chill off over night. (The propane lantern gives off heat, and my sleeping bag unzips at the feet so that I can wear it while walking around.) But I really wanted to futz with this during daylight, and if I got the woodshed open again I would split more wood & replenish the kindling box. Fortunately, I’d brought along a candle lantern, and that did the trick. By warming up both the lock & key, I was able to coax the lock into releasing. I decided against re-locking the cabin until I was leaving it for the last time.
Belly replenished, wood split, and kindling box restocked, I still had several hours of daylight left. I headed back out on the skis. It was snowing lightly when I started – the kind of snow I’ve heard referred to as “corn snow” (tiny spheres of snow, like Styrofoam) – but soon it started snowing more heavily. I was surprised, as the forecast called for “chance of snow showers” all weekend, and this was coming down pretty heavily. As I expected, I was breaking trail on the road. It was really slow going, but with the skis on I only sank into the snow up to my boot tops. I’d hoped to explore more, but I also wanted to get back to the cabin with a bit of daylight left.
Dinner was another backpacking meal: chicken & dumplings. Yes, I make chicken & dumplings while backpacking. It’s one of the reasons I’m fat. 😀 I’d started the chicken & vegetables rehydrating in the morning, and once I was settled back in at the cabin I put the pot on to simmer. I wasn’t sure how well this dish would work on the cabin’s propane stove. It doesn’t really have a ‘simmer’ setting: it’s more of a ‘somewhat less aggressive than a full-on boil’ setting. Once the chicken & veggies had simmered a bit, I stirred in a packet of chicken gravy mix and let that simmer some more. (I’ve decided I need to find something other than the gravy mix. It’s just too salty, and it overpowers the other flavors.) Once that’s thickened up, it was time for the dumplings. I decided the safest way to cook the dumplings was to make a double boiler & simmer dinner over the boiling water. That worked like a champ – almost enough to make me carry two pots while backpacking!
I awoke a little later Sunday morning than I had on Saturday, but with plenty of time to get my gear to Wesley’s cabin before his anticipated 9:30 departure time. With less gear, the sled wasn’t quite as top-heavy and it functioned much better. I briefly considered hauling it out by myself, but quickly jettisoned that idea as having the sled fail & then having to deal with it by myself would have made for a miserable end to my weekend. Back at the cabin, I loaded up my hydration pack with what was left of my gear & strapped my snowshoes onto the pack. My plan was to ski, but some places I’m more comfortable with snowshoes. This way, I was ready regardless.
I didn’t do much adventuring. My legs were a bit weary from the previous day’s work, and I was only carrying about 300 calories worth of food. (There was food in the truck. I just didn’t want to risk tanking a few miles from that food.) The day was gorgeous, and I only encountered four other humans – two on snowmobiles, two on snowshoes. The snow quality wasn’t great, and at times it was almost bad – that reined in my enthusiasm, as well. I made it back to the truck in the early afternoon, and headed back to chores & work.
There are at least a half-dozen cabins in the area, and Wesley’s was the only one in use. None of the others had been visited since the previous weekend’s snowstorm. This was evident by lack of tracks into the cabins.
Here are some other pictures of the cabin I stayed in. Staying there for a weekend gave me an appreciation for how much work it would require to have lived there. While I split wood for the woodstove, someone else cut those rounds to size & delivered them to the woodshed. I carried in mostly dehydrated food; the original inhabitant would have been living off canned food (much heavier to carry in), beans (take much longer to cook, thus burning more fuel that has to be carried in), or food he’d gathered/hunted/fished in the surrounding area (burning calories to get calories). I had the relative luxury of a Forest Service vault toilet. While they cannot keep mice out of the cabin, because there’s no food stored in it it’s not overrun by mice.
I’d definitely stay here again. It’s very difficult to get a reservation, so it’s unlikely I’d be able to go back there this winter. I’ll be better prepared for my next winter trip there. (I will have a proper sled!) It’s available during the summer. The Forest Service says camping is not allowed on the grounds around the cabin, but there are hammock-appropriate trees nearby. The cabin is right on the road, so it may not be a quite place to camp. For $40 a night, though, it’s a gem.