“They’re only calling for 4-6 inches tonight,” I confidently told my fiancée, Elise, as we pulled into Gold Lake Sno-park in the midst of a whiteout. Famous last words, right?
It was around 4:30 PM on a Friday when we got on the road headed south towards Eugene, Ore. After battling an I-5 closure due to an accident, we finally got on Rt. 58 in Eugene around 7:30 PM. We headed east pointed to the heart of the Cascades in Central Oregon. The rain turned to snow around 2000’ and the snow turned to squall-like conditions around 3000’. By the time we got to Willamette Pass, cutting through the blizzard felt as if I was sitting shotgun with Captain Picard in the Starship Enterprise going into Warp Speed.
As we pulled into our first night’s borrowed tract of land, we passed several eight to ten foot mounds of snow, which we could only assume were buried vehicles. The snow was getting deep for Hank, it was time to put him to the test. We were in it deep, a foot of snow and ice had us slow to a stop and we put the beefy F-150 into 4L. The Titanic would have been jealous of our abilities to cut through the frozen landscape unscathed (too soon?).
“Try to find a flat piece of land, tucked away from main roads” Doré, from Wonderland Expeditions advised when she was giving us the rundown of how to camp, overland style. So we did, and easily plowed right through that foot of snow.
As avid backpackers and campers, this would be the part we dread: arriving hours later than anticipated, in the dark, in a snow storm, needing to still (somehow) gather fire wood and make camp for the night. Not with Hank. We unhooked the six exterior latches, hopped on in and popped the top. We cranked up the furnace and imbibed in some much needed libations before crawling into our queen-sized loft.
Good morning! We swung open the door and much to our surprise, it turned out those 4-6 inches “they” called for ended up being closer to 15”. Hank didn’t seem to mind. We cleared him off, and headed on our way, making way for those cars that were buried. Back on Rt. 58 East, our next stop was Crater Lake, and the route alone was absolutely stunning. We drove through flurries, clear blue skies, blizzards, more blue skies, and there we were, at the South entrance of Crater Lake National Park. The twenty-five foot walls of snow made us feel like ants in a bobsled track but yet again, Hank held strong on the snow-covered roads.
We strapped on our snowshoes, headed towards the trailhead, and on our way we stopped to chat with the ranger. “It’s only about a mile to the rim…” phew, not bad, we thought, with Garfield Peak looming over us, piercing through the low hanging clouds. “…And 750 feet of vertical, which all comes in the second half, there’s also a high risk of avalanche danger, so be careful and very aware of your surroundings,” he added.
Two other couples were already there, catching their breath and cheering us on as we finished our climb, just a few hundred yards from the Crater Lake Lodge. We made it and there she was, in all of her glory, Crater Lake. “You might be able to see across the lake or you might not see anything at all,” the ranger had told us before we started our climb. Luckily, the skies opened up for a few minutes and we were able to see Wizard Island, the pristine turquoise waters, and we could almost make out the other side.
“We’ve been hanging out here for about an hour or so and this is the most we’ve seen,” one of the couples said. We took our pictures and began our decent to ensure the second (or third, or fourth) system that came though didn’t bury Hank in the lot.
We started our climb down. Backcountry skiers flowed through the deep powder past us as we made our descent, spurring jealousy beyond belief that I didn’t bring my skins and backcountry gear to float through the pillows of pow as opposed to snowshoeing down. So nice to see you Hank! There he was, in the parking lot, unscathed by the massive amounts of snowfall that had accumulated since we had left him. Yet again, we loaded up our gear, fired him up, and left and just as easily as we got in. We were out of there and headed to our next destination.
We planned on continuing down Rt. 138 towards I-5 but decided on calling it a night at Toketee Lake, a campground about a mile down the road from Umpqua Hot Springs. “This is just too easy,” I told myself as I popped the roof, turned on the heater, put together a charcuterie board, and cracked open a tasty beverage. As we crawled into bed, we were already making plans to take Hank, or any of his siblings, out to enjoy the beauty the Oregon Coast has to offer. This truly is living. Rain, sleet, snow, and blue skies, we saw it all on this short weekend trip and Hank couldn’t have handled it better.