Tumalo Mountain – Winter Backpacking Trip

April 1st, 2013 by Adrian Klein

By Adrian Klein

Zack did a post on his successful trip in this same area earlier this winter yet I thought I would share mine since it was a little different experience and imagery. I had been a handful of times over the last half dozen years with little success. The snow never stopped or overcast texture-less skies or little to no fresh snow. They were fun day or overnight trips yet little I was excited about photography wise. Seeing that my fellow Photo Cascadia team members Zack and Sean had success in this region I figured maybe I was due this year too. With a few days open and conditions looking promising a good friend of mine and I headed to Central Oregon.

You certainly can stay in warm cozy lodging in Bend to make a day trip out of it yet can mean a morning earlier than the baker at the local doughnut shop to drive and then snowshoe in for sunrise. We wanted more time up there; we opted for snow camping. Driving up to the bottom of the mountain the weather was storming away with a good dose of blowing snow and temps in the low 20’s without the wind chill (forecast said overnight low -3 for wind-chill). Fortunately for us the wind ceased during the night, more on that later.

We loaded up our packs, bundled up and snowshoed up 1000 ft and about 1.5 miles. It was not very far but always feels farther than it is in bad weather, uphill and full pack. After getting pretty close to the top of Tumalo Mountain we came down a little lower where the snow was not blowing as intensely (I learned that lesson on prior overnight trip in the area). After finding a nice spot to call home for the night we dropped the packs and started digging out a flat spot for our tent.

If you have never done this it’s akin to making mini crop circles with the circle stomping to get the ground as flat as possible. With this much fresh snow, warm sleeping bag and shelter from the wind it’s about as comfy as sleeping on my bed at home. Those that have never snow camped assume you must be cold. I certainly do my best to avoid that. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”  - Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Our sheltered camping spot for the night.

Our sheltered camping spot for the night.

After we had camp all setup and plenty of daylight to burn we decided to make a jaunt for the top in hopes the weather would break. Before we even got to the top we turned around. The wind was relentless. Mix that with the occasional falling snow and it was damn near whiteout conditions. On the way back to camp I saw the scene below. I was really drawn to it with the open empty minimalist feeling in this white abyss. I gave it a slight blue tint to reflect the ice cold windy conditions.

Into The White - Snow blows past me and quickly fills our tracks as I take a moment to capture this scene.

Snow blows past and quickly fills our tracks as I take a moment to capture this scene.

After arriving back at camp we made dinner our gourmet meal, a la freeze dried food in a bag and called it a night early since we would be rising by 5:00 am as it was. As a side note the late sunrise is one thing I love about winter. If it was summer and a hike to be somewhere for sunrise, sleeping until 5am is something you can only dream. Anyway, in the middle of the night I woke up to the sound of nothing, it was tranquil to say the least. I decided to get out for a peek and of course Mother Nature was calling. The wind had died to a gentle breeze that could hardly be felt, the cloud filled sky now had peep holes to the stars and the almost full moon was making occasional appearances as well. These trees towering over me felt like giant gentle friendly ghosts. It was an amazing feeling and reminder of the payoff being right where I was standing after a large storm was heading for the exit.

We woke up shortly before 5, strapped on our gear and headed for the top of Tumalo Mountain. Still cold as could be yet the wind was close to dead and the skies mostly clear. We could see the first glimpse of daylight as we made our way laying fresh tracks through at times fairly deep snow. Just before sunrise we arrived at the top. I expected the wind to be howling yet much to our delight it was light breezes with periods of calm. Fresh snow, calm winds and a luxury view for sunrise. Does it get much better? I doubt it.

We spent about an hour and a half on the summit capturing the following the scenes.

 

The sunrise alpenglow lights up the top of Mount Bachelor on a cold winter morning.

The sunrise alpenglow lights up the top of Mount Bachelor on a cold winter morning.

The sun making it's presence known to the the summit snow encrusted trees.

The sun making it’s presence known to the the summit snow encrusted trees.

The trees caked thick with snow and ice as the sun rises and beams right through.

The trees caked thick with snow and ice on the summit as the sun rises and beams through the branches for an amazingly surreal scene.

Looking out into Three Sisters Wilderness South Sister and Broken top peaks floating in and out of the clouds never fully appearing until much later in the morning. I chose B&W for this scene because of the drama wit the lights and clouds.

Looking out into Three Sisters Wilderness South Sister and Broken top peaks floating in and out of the clouds never fully appearing until much later in the morning.
I chose B&W for this scene because of the drama with the shadows/highlights, night cloud layers and lack of color in the scene.

If you plan to hike and camp into Tumalo Mountain or other near by wilderness in winter double check the snow removal days before you go. I believe there are one or two nights during the week that you cannot park your car overnight at Dutchman Flats parking lot because they need it open for snow removal. Should this be on your short list of upcoming destinations a quick Google search and you should find many plenty of info how to get to Tumalo Mountain in either winter or summer.

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  • photocascadia

    Sweet adventure Adrian. It is so much fun to be out in the weather and experience how it changes…and then to have the hard work pay off when the timing of all the elements (snow, wind, time of day, light) come together. The challenge of being in the right place at the right time is part of what makes outdoor photography so rewarding.