I think Sara's comment, when we finally got to the car, summed up this years trip best..."Well, that beats our last hiking fiasco."
We knew, going in, that we had a much longer trek to get into the fire lookout. Eight-ish miles this year compared to last years three-ish miles. Because of this, we started out before daybreak. An excellent idea, since the hike in took us 9.5 hours.
It was a climb of 3600 feet over those 8ish miles, with moderate steep parts between fairly flat parts. For the last 5 miles, there was enough new snow that getting the sled through the trenched trail required one of us pushing it and the other pulling. Needless to say, we were exhausted and extremely happy to see the tower by the time we arrived.
But a nearly 10 hour hike in? This got Sara worried about the trek out. And the weather report fed our concerns ...a storm was moving in and expected to drop a LOT of new snow.
Knowing we would be too tired to walk out the following day at the start of the storm, and not wanting to walk out during the storm, we decided to stay until out check out day...rest up as much as possible ...and hike out after the storm had passed.
We managed to relax and recharge, despite a unspoken and mutual sense of foreboding. We had downloaded a movie and TV shows to our iPods, brought in scrabble, books and a whiskey bar. We left the relative warmth and coziness of the fire lookout only once a day, spending our time doing the very simple tasks of providing for the days nourishment and then doing whatever amused us.
Because of the storm, there were no views to be seen from the copious windows. And once it blew in, the new direction of the wind resulted in a situation where the propane fire was blown out completely and repeatedly. It took between 3 and 20 minutes to get the pilot light re-lit each time and the drop in temperature inside keep us clad in our down coats. We truly delight in feeling our gear expenditures are wholly justified!
The storm passed, we were rested and our check-out day came. We struck out into what turned out to be over 30 inches of new powder. This is more fresh powder than I have inseam.
It took us 1.5 hours to go the first 0.25 mile, causing some grave concern. We retraced our path back to where we got cell phone reception and called the forest service to see if there was a person we could contact with a snowmobile to come get us. No luck. "Better get going" they told us.
Knowing the first two miles were going to be the worst, we made a plan and called my folks. Putting them on standby to call the sheriff should they not hear from us by 10pm. Then we buckled down, paced ourselves and just put one foot in front of the other.
We both marveled at the beauty, despite a sense of gravity. It was spectacular, the nicest day yet, dry and clear!
It took us 6 hours to do those first two miles. The pace was painfully slow due to the depth of the snow, below is a short video of Sara breaking trail.
I wish I had thought to video her when the snow was the deepest. This clip was taken when it was shallow enough she could break trail with her pack on. Before this she would drop her pack, break trail without it, stomp it down on the way back to get her pack as I pulled the sled through the trenched trail. We did this leap frog method nearly 3 hours, getting out of the deepest parts of snow.
When we completed the first two miles, I called my folks to tell them not to call the sheriff. We were sure we could make it out, now that we were past the hardest part. [Well, we were sure we could make it out IF nothing went wrong...] By our estimation, we should be back to the car by midnight.
And 15 hours later, after 6 hours of snowshoeing in the dark, and an hour earlier than our estimation, we made it to the car! AND the car started!! AND we didn't have to dig the car out to drive down the road, AND it made it over the downed trees (just like a monster truck) and, despite the 'check engine' light coming on, we made it off the mountain and into the Oakridge Best Western by 3am!
We asked for late check out, woke up at 8am, Sara got us free hotel breakfast of peaches, biscuits and gravy, hard-boiled egg, Fruitloops, muffins and coffee. We stuffed ourselves and immediately went back to sleep for 3 hours.
Highlights of the trek out?
1. The stars were amazing. Truly breathtaking. We stopped and turned off our headlamps to marvel at them.
2. We discovered we had more water than we thought! The water in the tube of our Camelbak had frozen, fooling us for a few hours.
3. For a while, a coyote broke trail for us...we never caught up to him, but I kept hoping we would.
4. We didn't argue or bicker at all, further validating that we work together in tense situations. We did take turns breaking down...prompting the other to rally and take charge.
5. We LOVE the Freshette. It is no fun to have to dip your buns in the snow.
7. And, yes, we have a distinct sense of accomplishment, luck, pride in emergency preparedness and competence....but, no, I don't think we will go back next year in similar seasonal conditions (winky smile emoticon)