Over the long President’s Day weekend, when we were visiting my brother, we drove up to Hoodoo ski area to do a snowshoe. This huge sno-park has a solid network of ski and snowshoe trails to choose from. We chose a kid-friendly trail to one of the warming huts – the North Loop Trail. We started our hike mid-morning, just as a spitting snow was tapering off. I realized I had left my phone at my brother’s, which gave me a strange bit of panic, even though everyone else had phones, too. The worst part was that I wouldn’t be able to track my hike. We also realized that I hadn’t grabbed Annika’s snow boots; she was wearing her Bogs, and she said she thought they’d be fine to hike in.
Off we went northward along the North Loop Trail. The area had gotten fresh snow, and though someone had laid a ski track, we were forging our own snowshoe track in the deep powder. The teens went first, using their abundant energy to follow the path. After only about 10 minutes, my snowshoe suddenly slipped off my foot. I was borrowing a pair of different snowshoes that a friend had loaned me, and they were pretty old. The heel strap cracked completely through. After thinking a little bit, and not wanting to turn back so soon, I cannibalized a different strap from the snowshoe and put it into place. I figured that if more straps broke, I did have parachute cord with me I could use to tie the things to my boots. So, we kept going onward.
It wasn’t long before Gabe started complaining about being tried and wanting to go back. We had gone about halfway to the warming hut, and everyone else wanted to continue. I asked Gabe if he was hungry, but he said no. He wasn’t in pain, wasn’t cold and wasn’t thirsty. I thought he should be able to do this hike, so we convinced him to go on, though we let someone else break trail. The snow had stopped, and it was calm and gorgeous as the trail wound around through the trees.
The North Loop Trail meandered up and down as it worked its way steadily north. Occasional side trails branched off, but we stuck to the most direct route. Close to the hut, the trail goes through an area burned by a forest fire in the past.
Views started to open up to surrounding mountains. Finally we made it to the North Blowout Shelter.
This roomy shelter is like a log cabin with a wood stove in the middle of it. There are benches all around the perimeter inside, and abundant firewood stored between the benches and the walls. A heavy fabric door keeps the snow out. We took off our snowshoes outside and gratefully settled in to the shelter to eat our lunches.
There were a few people already in the hut, and they were working on getting the wood stove going. They were having trouble, so my brother stepped in to help. I got out my pocket knife, and he whittled some smaller kindling off the wood. We poured some hand sanitizer on the paper to act as an accelerant. We realized later that the draft was closed, so it needed to be open to let more air in. One of the other guys had a lighter (I discovered I had taken mine out of my pack at some point and not replaced it!). In this way we were successful in getting a nice fire going in the hut.
Meanwhile, we ate our lunches. Gabe started feeling better, though he was still more tired than he should have been under the circumstances. I remembered, belatedly, that he sometimes struggles with low blood sugar while hiking, and when this happens, he never feels hungry. I talked about it with him, and apologized for not insisting he eat something at that first moment of fatigue. I should know better by now, and was kicking myself, but I also want him to learn to be more self-aware in these situations.
We ate and rehydrated, and adjusted our wardrobes. Annika had gotten too hot hiking in her snow pants, so I carried them and she hiked back in her warm winter athletic tights, which she had worn underneath. She was much more comfortable on the way back.
The view from around the shelter was gorgeous. We could see for miles, and Black Butte dominated the landscape. Fluffy white clouds blew quickly through the bluebird sky. Our hike back was mostly uneventful, though Annika and I had to stop often to catch our breath, delaying the progress of the stronger hikers. I was pleased that my snowshoes held up on the way back, with no more broken straps. Annika started getting blisters on her heels from her Bogs. Another not-so-proud mommy moment, since I was the one who had forgotten her snow boots. As we got back to the car, it started snowing heavily again; how did we get so lucky to complete our trip in between snow showers?
This was a fabulous trip, despite our setbacks and mistakes. I really wish we had trail networks like this closer to home. The warming hut was amazing. If I lived in that area, I’d be up there every weekend.
If You Go: The Ray Benson Sno-Park is located near Hoodoo Ski Area on Highway 26 at Santiam Pass. It’s about half an hour west of Sisters, OR. You’ll need an Oregon Sno-Park Pass to park. ($25 annual, $9 for a 3-day pass, $4 for a single day pass. Washington needs to imitate this pricing structure.) I highly recommend getting the paper map of the snowshoe and ski trails from a local retailer or forest service office. You can get some maps online, too: A color topo map with the routes in blue, or a black and white scan of the trail system. My brother has the Avenza app, and he was able to purchase a special map of the area for his phone for around $5. This was the best thing for us, as we could track our distance and see where we were on the trail system. This is a longer hike, so be sure you are prepared with the Ten Essentials, including ample food and water. If you go after a fresh snow, be aware that you might be breaking trail. Follow the blue diamonds. Snowshoers need to stay off to the side and create a separate track from the skiers; be sure not to tromp in their smooth tracks. If you go to the hut, I recommend bringing some dry paper, a lighter, and a knife for whittling off some smaller pieces to start the fire. We didn’t think we’d need sunscreen, because it was winter and mostly cloudy, but we ended up getting mild sunburns, and we were really glad we had our sunglasses.
I found out that you can replace all the straps on MSR snowshoes (scroll down to the bottom of that link; or check on Amazon). It’s a good thing to check your straps before a big trip to make sure they aren’t crumbling, especially on older models, or ones that have been in storage.
There are many other sno-parks and snowshoe areas in Central Oregon, if you want to check out other trails. I look forward to going back another time.