I was going to title this story Our Snowy Adventures in the Cascades, but our last day in the mountains changed all that. So, let's get right down to it.
Our adventures started out early one morning - probably way too early - as we packed into the car at 5:00am and headed north. Our objective for the day - at least for us - was unusual. There was to be no off-road driving, no hiking to splendiferous overlooks. No, today was to be about sitting and then sliding, then sitting... and sliding again. We'd do it for as long as we could muster - our energy sure to wane before the day was through.
And it was a beautiful day.
We arrived just in time to grab some gear, get suited up, and get @mini.turbodb off to her lesson before our first episode of "sitting" for the day. Sure, we were a bit chilly and the chair we sat in wasn't the most comfortable, but by the time we were back on our feet, we were confident that it was worth it - the views both up and down the mountain were about as good as they get.
With 90 minutes of not-our-second-time-ever-skiing to enjoy, we lost no time in sliding our way down and then sitting our way to the top again as quickly as possible. Still, the 90 minutes was over in the blink of an eye and soon we were back down at the lodge, excited to pick up the kiddo and enjoy ourselves even more. She was too, and let us know that of course she wanted to do a few more runs before lunch, duh! So back up we all went!
Having skipped breakfast, it only took a few more runs until all of our stomachs were growling - so we grabbed our lunch out of the car and awkwardly ski-boot-clanked our way up three flights of stairs to the top floor of the lodge... the only level where peons - those who aren't buying $26 cheeseburgers from the resort - are allowed to eat.
Joke was on them though - this high up, we had the best view!
Lunch was a quick affair - all of us eager to do a bit more sitting and sliding - and just as everyone else was leaving the mountain for some $18 chili, we were headed back out to enjoy some of the least-crowded slopes we'd ever experienced.
Of course, through all of this, @mini.turbodb was confident that she was in a league of her own when it came to skiing - I mean, who were these two old people that were constantly cramping her style and that she always had to wait for at the very bottom of the hill? "I'm riding up the lift by myself," she informed us. And so she did.
By the end of the day - which for us was right around 3:30pm - we were all beat. Some of us because we're just old, others of us because we were holding a #yardsale several times per run. I don't think any of us would have changed anything.
Except maybe to edit out a few more of the falls in the resulting video...
As I think anyone who's ever skied before can attest to, one day is never enough. And, for the last few months, @mrs.turbodb has been on me to go cross country skiing with her, so we once again piled in the car and headed for what @mini.turbodb calls "bad skiing."
This time we were headed to a sleepy little town just north of Leavenworth, WA that may be familiar to some - Plain. This is the same Plain where NW Overland Rally is held each year, but during the winter it's a hot spot for cross-country skiing. With kilometer after kilometer of trail, there's plenty of room for everyone to get their fill of sliding along the snow, ski-hiking.
As with downhill, we arrived reasonably early - though, not as early - and got ourselves situated with gear before heading out. Interestingly to me, the way one is "measured" for cross-country ski length is by getting on a scale rather than by height. Perhaps this is so your skis are long enough to keep you from sinking too far into deep powdery snow? Or perhaps it's just to be different - I mean, the trails are measured in kilometers, and the ideal temperatures in Celsius, rather than Freedomheight
We tossed our skis and poles into the back of the truck and set out towards the trails. Now, normally I think we'd have been able to ski out the back door of the rental shop, but the weather had been so mild the last couple weeks that we had to drive a mile or so up the valley to find a bit more snow than was present in town. This, it turned out, was a good thing for us - for several reasons. First, it meant that we had another day of great weather to enjoy the outdoors; second, it meant that we had just a few fewer kilometers to travel - something we'd be glad about several hours later; lastly, it afforded us a more out-of-town-and-in-nature experience than we would have had otherwise - always a good thing.
Scooting along, we found our way - after one small detour - to a 9.4km trail that worked its way up the valley, and found a short, kilometer-long offshoot up an expert-rated trail to what we hoped would give us a stunning overview of the area. It probably would have 50 years ago, but all the trees have grown up again, so it was back down the mountain - a direction that is much harder in cross-country skis - and back onto our trail along the valley floor.
Eventually, we stopped for lunch at a snowed-in campground. Interestingly, though all the tables all standing on-end for the winter, and all the fire pits were under a couple feet of snow, there were still a few RVs parked there - and it appeared they'd been there for quite some time. Beyond the campground, we eventually figured it was time to turn around and head back the billions of kilometers (that's only a few freedom miles) to the truck, each of us looking forward to what we knew was going to be a great dinner at one of our favorite spots in Leavenworth - the Kingfisher Restaurant.
Kingfisher is special because it's essentially a fancy buffet, sort of. Really, it's all-you-can-eat of whatever the chef happens to make that night, and no matter what that is, it's always delicious. Over the years, we've gotten to know the chef, and he's gotten to know us - and that means that when we show up, a really nice steak is generally on the menu. And, like everything, it's all-you-can-eat.
So, I end up with a lot of plates that look like this. (Well, generally there are fewer potatoes, and more steak - but this is what the first plate looks like.)
Having enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, we soon found ourselves looking forward to the following day - a day we planned to spend exploring some of the backroads in the area, searching the mountains for those dramatic, snow-covered views. Little did we know that the day would be nothing like we planned.
Our bellies full from our tastylicious dinner, we got a slow start the next morning. No matter, it was to be a day of wonderful wandering anyway, no real destination - with the exception of "up in the snowy mountains" - in mind. By 11:00am, we were headed up Mountain Home Road - a road we'd been on once before as a reroute on the WABDR - to see how far we could get into the mountains.
From our position in the valley, the route looked reasonably dry but it turns out that the canopy was simply hiding the snow from view. As we transitioned from pavement to dirt, there was snow on the ground - though not a ton - from the get-go, and with our elevation climbing quickly, I wondered how far we were actually going to get. Before long, a small tree blocked our path.
The angle here is deceiving - we couldn't make it under this tree - but no matter. Though I'd left the chainsaw at home, I had my handy 10" Japanese pull saw and made quick work of the 8" trunk, giving us - and anyone coming through in the future - plenty of room to explore at will. Soon, we popped out of the trees for a moment and got to enjoy our first mountainous view of the day.
It was bittersweet - I mean, the view was sweet, but the amount of snow was...probably going to be limiting in our excursion.
Continuing to climb, we eventually crested the first ridge, passing by a small trail tunnel that we'd seen before and assumed was part of a now-defunct mining operation, though we really have no idea...
It was at this point that we started to wonder if we should turn around since there was plenty of room to do so. The snow on the road was about a foot deep, with the top 4-6" reasonably compacted, and the bottom 6-8" still very fluffy. That meant that as long as we didn't break through the top crust, we were totally fine, but breaking through would result in traction woes and probably some digging.
Several snow machines had clearly driven the road, and we could see one set of (highway-tire) vehicle tracks had gone before us, so we decided to push on - at least to the next turn around point. Or so we thought. Less than a quarter mile later, the snow depth on the road had increased to 18-24" (with the same 4-6" crust on top) and I figured I out to get out and evaluate the situation again. As a single vehicle, and without traction boards, I wanted to make sure we weren't being too... ambitious.
That's when I saw this. Well, almost - @mrs.turbodb wasn't yet out of the truck and chatting with Peter and Mauricio, but you get the idea, generally.
Turns out those highway tire tracks we'd seen not too far down the road stopped here, and Peter was busy trying to dig out the Jeep using a Samurai sword and an ice scraper. It'd been a long couple hours already, and they weren't any less stuck than they'd been when they slipped out of the compacted tracks and into the soft snow beside them.
Now, armed with my shovel, we started digging - well, Peter started digging and @mrs.turbodb and I pulled the truck forward and started spooling out the winch, since it was clearly going to be difficult for the tires on this Jeep to get any traction in the soft snow. Soon, we were setup and ready to go.
With the Tacoma winching and Peter trying to feature the Jeep in reverse, he made progress back, but not back onto the tracks. Looking back now, it might have been a good idea to switch drivers at this point, but I assumed that it was a traction issue rather than driver - so we stopped and re-evaluated. My goal here was to pull the Jeep six inches to the driver side, and so out came the Smittybuilt snatch block which we secured to a 10" diameter tree along the driver side of the road, to try again.
We were simply too far up the trunk of the tree for this to be successful - probably 10 feet or so from the base - and as I spooled in the winch line, neither vehicle budged an inch. The tree on the other hand leaned over further and further - there was no risk of it snapping, but I have no doubt it would have been laying on the ground if we'd kept on going. That wasn't going to work either.
It was about this time that I thought back to the last time it would have been nice to have traction boards. Our situation with the snow here was of course much less dire - with a shovel, it's just a matter of time when you're in the snow - but still, some Maxtrax or TREDs would have rectified this situation in mere minutes.
For us, it was time to dig again, and winch again. This time, with @mrs.turbodb manning the winch, and me giving much more forceful steering, braking, and forward/reverse direction than I had previously, the Jeep was finally back up on the packed snow and Peter and Mauricio seemed to think they were home free.
I knew they weren't. There was no way these guys were driving out in snow that had become a slushy mess in the 50°F spring day - no, we needed to get them turned around, and even then, I wasn't sure they could make it given their tire situation.
To give us a fighting chance, the next step was to dig out the 24" of snow on the side of the road that was big enough for a 3- or 5-point turn and line it with fir branches for more traction. I'd turn around first in the Tacoma, and then guide them backwards down the road the 150 feet so they could do the same.
Unfortunately, 150 feet, for someone who's not used to driving in reverse - not to mention reverse in the snow - is like running a marathon, and within about 20 feet, the Jeep was off track once again. More shoveling and winching by @mrs.turbodb and me, and we slowly made our way - 20 feet at a time - to the point I'd dug out for turning around.
I flipped the Tacoma around without issue and then it was time for the Jeep. Once again sure that they were pretty much home free, it was at this point that Peter mentioned that the day was, "Basically a Jeep commercial."
"No," I said laughing and with a wink as we all distributed evergreens for traction, "today is a Toyota commercial."
The first attempt at turning the Jeep around failed - as is often the case, operations were performed too slowly and the rear missed swinging into the turnaround. It was only at this point that I realized it might be better for me to be physically in the driver's seat, rather than instructing the driver on what to do - and sure enough, I got the Jeep correctly oriented and turned around in a few minutes.
Still, we weren't home free yet. The 4-6" crust of snow on the road had thinned dramatically over the course of the beautiful day, and we decided it'd be best for me to drive the Tacoma out first to test the conditions. Boy, was the road soft - we made it, but I knew the same wouldn't be true for the Jeep - no matter who drove it, staying in the track was going to be near impossible, and slipping off was going to mean more hours of digging.
I suggested that they leave the Jeep for the night, and come back in the morning when everything had frozen solid again to pick it up - at that point, they'd likely be able to just drive it right out. As expected, there was some hesitation to this plan, but having seen the Tacoma fishtail as we drove some of the sketchier sections of berm, they eventually relented and grabbed their stuff for a ride into town in the back to of the truck.
After unloading the greens - which we'd packed just in case we needed them for our exit - Peter and Mauricio climbed in and we set off down the hill. It was 4:15pm by this point and we were all ready for dry clothes and food after a long day of work. As we dropped the guys off, I asked them to text me when they got out and we shared handshakes, hugs, and thanks as we headed off.
The day hadn't gone the way any of us had expected, but it had sure been an adventure for us all. The next morning I got a text that they'd made it out - the cool night air helping road conditions immensely. Whew!