April 20, Tuesday: Jessica Larson, Trails Volunteer Coordinator for Deschutes NF, joined me at 0900 for a survey of Ray Benson Ski Trails. Santiam Pass still has 3-5′ of snow, but high temperatures and our freeze/thaw cycle have taken a toll. Tree wells are deepening and adding a challenge in some places. The North Loop was a bit icy at first and rutted by steady use, so we headed off trail onto smoother snow until we reached the PCT trail junction. By this time the snow had softened and trail skiing was easier, but ruts from heavy usage were still unpleasant.
Throughout the day we veered off trail into smoother, untracked snow whenever possible. We followed the North Loop to North Blowout Shelter and then took Circle Lake to Island Junction Shelter. Both shelters still have some firewood, but it was more comfortable to sit outside and enjoy lunch in the sun. We continued on Circle Lake to the junction with South Loop and Two Buttes, then zigzagged back to Ray Benson via Two Buttes, Claypool Buttes and finally the South Loop.
The trails would be pleasant skiing again with a little fresh snow, but right now skiing is better off trail in the Big Hoodoo thinning area that stretches from Ray Benson to the Santiam Wagon Rd. between Big Lake Rd. and the PCT. Enjoy some spring skiing while the snow lasts.
On April 18th, beautiful Sunday, the 5 of us decided to take advantage of a still solid snow pack in the mountains. We (Bob Y, Fiona C, Dayna S, Howard S, and Bianca K,) proceeded on a three lake tour; Summit, Martin, and Booth lake loop. When we started at 9:20 am from Santiam snow park the temp was already slightly above freezing. As the snow was beginning to soften up we had a decent grip ascending via Skyline trail to the ledge at the West side of the crater. By the time we got to the top of PCT, snow was soft but not sticky. After enjoying beautiful views we tackled the hardest part of the trip, finding a survivable way to Summit lake. It was not for the faint of heart, to put it lightly, and we managed:-). The snow melt seems to be more consequential on a steep slopes, making them steeper. There was lots of debris in the trees and the tree wells were deep.
Once we descended to the Summit lake we enjoyed well earned lunch and the downhill reprieve. We could see turquoise water under the snow on Martin lake and Booth lake. We linger around unnamed, lovely turquoise lake partially melted and took our time going back with many beautiful views of the Cascades jewels.
Sunday Dave Dietrich and I headed out from Potato Hill snopark so I could make another attempt to reach the top of the Red Cinder cones just north of Sand Mountain, a destination that has been on my list for a number of years. There was about 1/2″ of new snow on a very solid base and very few people headed that way. We took the lower half of the Hash Brown loop to the road that drops into snowmobile territory and took their tracks out to the old Santiam Wagon Road. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze. My suspicion that the south facing slopes of the cinder cones had lost a lot of snow were confirmed but there was still enough to find a path around brush and stick mainly to clear areas to make our way to the top of the east and middle cones. The views were fantastic but the stiff cold wind at the top quickly drove us off after getting some nice photos and panoramics. The crater was cool to look down into but too many trees to ski into. I also confirmed that a circumnavigation of the cones would get into some densely trees areas. I got in a few good turns on the way down but it was tricky due to the angle and obstacles. With more snow it would be a blast. I think the effort for the climb and descent were well worth it. We retraced our tracks and other than the shady areas being fast and the sunny spot causing face plant stops it was a pretty easy return.
The Willamette Chapter has an active volunteer program assisting the Forest Service with ski trail clearing and marking as well as shelter construction, maintenance and firewood stocking. Thank you volunteers! Please call Mark Olson (503x559x0728) or Jim Todd (503x378x7003) for more information about our club’s volunteer program.
During the ski season Willamette Chapter members help the Forest Service maintain and improve ski trails by reporting trail and shelter conditions. Please help the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests use their limited resources efficiently by sending a Nordic Trail Report when you ski their marked trails. Contact Mark or Jim about trail or Sno-Park conditions and they will forward the information to the appropriate Forest Service office.
Once the snow melts our volunteers survey ski trails to record conditions and then begin clearing brush, removing saplings and downed trees and placing more blue diamonds in preparation for next season. Please sign up with Cascade Volunteers https://cascadevols.org/ so you can help us.
Willamette National Forest and Cascade Volunteers are offering a great opportunity for volunteers to obtain training and certification in chainsaw and crosscut saw use on volunteer trail projects. Chainsaw classes are May 8-9 and Crosscut classes May 22-23, at Fish Lake Guard Station. These classes are free, but do require students to sign up as Willamette National Forest volunteers through Cascade Volunteers. First Aid/CPR certification is also required, but Cascade Volunteers is offering comprehensive Wilderness First Aid classes on May 7 and May 21, for only $25.
I will be taking the classes May 21-23, and would be happy to answer questions about them and about the Forest Service volunteer programs, if you phone me at 503x378x7003. You can also obtain more information by visiting the Cascade Volunteers website at https://cascadevols.org/ or by emailing Beth Dayton, Cascade Volunteers Saw Program Coordinator at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
I parked at the 801 road at 8:30: 26°, clear, calm. Snowpack icy, 10” less than a week ago. I skinned east to the storage area, SW to the PCT-North Loop junction, then continued on the North Loop and Circle Lake trails to Circle Lake. Just north of the lake, I entered the unsigned north leg of the Cottonwood trail and turned east.
This trail was created about 15 years ago, following the 2003 B&B burn; eight years ago when I last traveled the trail the terrain was still quite open. as soon as the trail descended into the first valley, it became clear, new lodgepole growth was more than I’d anticipated. I was able to skirt most of it fairly easily by keeping to higher ground to the north, and the view from the ridge where the trail turned south was well worth the trip.
Below and to the east was a pond I hadn’t noticed on previous trips. As I turned south, it became clear that the entire valley through, which the east leg of the trail passed, was mostly filled with thickets of lodgepole 6-8’ above snow level, with shallow but close-spaced tree wells, which, in combination with interlacing branches above, made progress a slow affair—with near-zero visibility of the route ahead. After some trial and error, I found better conditions by following a series of low ridges to the west of the original trail: these ridges had less tree cover presumably due to drier conditions than in the valleys.
As I neared the 500 road, I left the post-burn area and entered a relatively open hemlock forest to reach the low point of the tour at the 500 (or Fireline) road. Conditions remained quite icy. I met a couple of skiers at the 500-Circle Lake trail junction who’d come down the Circle Lake trail and were about to return the same way. After lunch at the shelter, I followed their tracks back on the Circle Lake trail, removing skins at the Cascade crest on the North Loop for good spring skiing the rest of the way back to the 801 road.
My track log showed 8.2 mi, 510’ elevation gain. The original route of the Cottonwood trail after it turns south is so overgrown that it wouldn’t make much sense to revive it. Re-establishing a spur trail out to the expansive views from the ridge just before the turn south could be worthwhile—and is quite possible even now for those who feel comfortable with a little off-trail travel. Distance out is .8 mi with 100’ elevation loss
March 30, Tuesday: when Frank and I met at Ray Benson we found sunshine and a 3″ layer of almost-powder on a solid base–nearly perfect conditions. Continuing our recent rambles, Frank planned a route that avoided marked trails or groomed roads and we headed for another destination we had never visited: the lowest point on Santiam Pass. Say what? Yes, tucked into the triangle formed by Hoodoo, Big Lake and Sand Mountain lies a crater that is only 4475′ at the bottom; and it holds a tiny pond which, since we have now visited, we choose to name Low Lake.
The journey was a fine ski making tracks only a couple inches deep in pristine snow. Lodgepole thickets with tangled branches and tree wells did force us onto a groomed snowmobile route for a short distance, but 70% of the trip adhered to our goal of skiing untracked snow. The skiing was “interesting” and the views of Mt. Washington, Patjens Butte, Sand Mountain and Hayrick were great. You should add Low Lake to your skiing Life List, too.
But where is Low Lake and how do you get there? Well, Low Lake is at 44 degrees 23′ 1.8″ N and 121 degrees 54′ 5.1″ W. Consult topo maps and satellite views, grab a compass &/or GPS and navigate your own route to Low Lake. It will be rewarding.