Friday, January 26, 2018

Todd Lake Winter Backpacking

Off the snowshoe route.
 It's strange, but once upon a time I considered winter the off season. No kidding. Back in the day when I was a Spokane local, the thought of backpacking in the snow never even occurred to me. In Arizona, the winter time was desert time. Down there I backpacked year round. Now that I'm in Bend backpacking year round would require a new set of gear and present a new set of challenges, which I would gladly take in lieu of an off season.

 Appropriately prepared with a winter kit, we set off for a local summer hot spot, Todd Lake. This lake, in summer, is always packed. Its parking lot choked with Subarus and Tacomas. A conveyor belt of hikers circling round and round the shoreline. Camping is not allowed in summer. However in winter, the lake is unreachable by automobile due to the closed mountain road. The hike is only a 3-mile jaunt through groomed snowshoe trails. It seemed like a logical first foray into the winter wilds of central Oregon.

Mount Bachelor
Dutchman Flats
The trail-head at Dutchman Flats was near capacity when we arrived at eight on Saturday morning. An unfortunate consequence of being the only snow park in the region with snow. City of Bend, population 90,000. All vying for a parking spot at Dutchman Flats. We set out under a clear blue sky anticipating the sun's appearance over the mountains. The only detraction the constant drone of snow machines. But not a drone as much as a wail. A rising and falling of machine noise. Constant crooning and cranking of so many machines.... In the woods.

In the woods the motors were less noticeable as we left the flats behind. Or maybe we had become used to them by then. The trail lost, we veered off the path navigating by common sense. The lake is that way. We most go that way. The forest became a pitter-patter orchestra by then. The sun melting the snow off the legion of conifers. A conifer concerto if you will.

What is Nate looking at?
 Todd Lake was ice. A cloud hovered just over the surface giving it a dream like appearance. The kind of dream you wake up and try to remember, but only recall bits and pieces. We walked over the ice along the edge toward Broken Top mountain and a suitable camp spot. We nestled in the trees near some streams flowing into the lake from distant mountain tops. The weather was perfect. The scenery amazing. The kind you see on postcards. Some skiers and hikers looped the lake, but otherwise traffic was minimal. No one bothered us save the buzzing of snowmobiles in the distance, and the reek of gasoline. Our constant companion. A constant annoyance. 

The jays were worse. Swooping down from the tree tops to snatch any edible bit left unattended. I've seen people feeding birds from their hands here before. When I've scolded people for doing so I've always been treated like I'm making a big deal out of something small. But it isn't small. Birds stealing your food. Nibbling on your gear. Unafraid of people. It's a big deal because birds, like all animals, naturally have a fear of man. Birds, like other animals, have evolved to feed themselves. Very efficiently I might add or their line would have ended long ago. Feeding birds and other animals is, simply put, unnatural. Some unnatural things we just shouldn't tolerate. Snowmobiles we can live with, because men love machines (it makes them feel manly). But animals need to feed themselves. By feeding them you are harming both the animal and any humans it will encounter in the future

Frozen Todd Lake with Bachelor in the background.
 We lit a fire on the snow and spent the evening watching it slowly sink through the layers. The jays had long ago fled to deeper reaches of the forest after I convincingly won a snowball war I waged on them (to be fair, their offense wasn't much, but boy could they juke a snowball). We made a bench where we watched the sunset. We were warm and content. We slept well. Probably one of the best night's sleep I've ever had while backpacking.

grey jay
Grey Jay

writer in the wild
Fire making

We awoke to the distant buzzing of snowmobiles at first light. We ignored their obnoxious overtures and began the morning routine. The hike back was much faster because we managed to stay on the trail. I think I'll go back. Not to Todd Lake, but further in, where hopefully I can leave the snow machines and spoiled birds behind. That said, I couldn't have asked for a better time.