Three of us arrived in Ashland from Portland to pick up our Southern Oregon correspondent Elliot, who would be helping me lead this adventure weekend. We squeezed him into our already “packed to the gills” sedan and jumped back on the highway headed towards Mt. Ashland. Just a few miles north of the California border, Mt Ashland stands at 7533’ and is the tallest peak in the Siskiyou Mountains. The landscape is breathtaking here, and as our little car drove up the mountain, every switchback was inviting us to another inspiring view of the area.
Eventually we found our turn off the main road that lead to our cabin. It was a snowy road that had been plowed, but I wouldn’t call it clear. We had three miles to go along this windy, snowy road, with a huge drop on the other side; slowly moving forward, three miles takes a long time, but we got to our mountain house safely.
Upon arriving at our weekend lodging, the owner/caretaker came out to greet us, showed us how to work the woodstove and where to get more wood etc. She offered to show us around, but we graciously declined because exploring and discovering is half the fun! Once she left, we were awe-struck at this place. Exposed wood everywhere, an awesome kitchen, old books and cozy seating in every direction.
Shortly after we arrived, our last participant, who was driving from the south joined us. Collectively we giggled with delight. After giving our own tour of the house, we sat around the woodstove while Elliot grabbed his maps and he talked us through our options for hiking and snowshoeing for the next day. While Southern Oregon had not seen much snow this winter, it had been dumping the past two weeks and hiking without snowshoes was not an option any longer! We came up with our plan and then gathered at the dining table for a meal of burgers/veggie burger, fries, greens and salad.
Once dinner was over, we cleared the table and played “Telestrations” (a game combining Telephone & Pictionary), laughed our heads off, and then set up a projector to watch my favorite Melissa McCarthy movie “Spy”. After the movie, we all said goodnight and nestled in our beds.
The next morning, we had a breakfast feast of tofu scramble, eggs, waffles, morning potatoes and coffee, and then gathered our gear for our upcoming adventure. With packed lunches and snowshoes in hand, we piled into a SUV. Up the scary road we went again, this time all the way to Mt. Ashland’s skiing area, which had not opened for the season until very recently when all the snow hit. The parking lot was bustling with eager skiers & snowboarders. We parked at the further end by the trailhead, strapped our snowshoes to our packs and headed to the trail that would lead us around the backside of Mt. Ashland.
In the summer, this trail is a forest road, which makes it wide and mostly flat. It was also hardpacked after all the recent usage which means we did not need to put on our snowshoes quite yet. Our goal was a shelter called Grouse Gap, a few miles away. We continued down this road/trail for a while until we reached the south side of Mt. Ashland. Here the trail split, and it was like stepping down from a solid surface into water. We knew this was the place to strap on our snowshoes.
Snowshoes attached, we entered the deep snow. Snowshoeing is hard work, especially when the person in front is breaking through the snow and making a packed down trail for the rest of us behind. Almost immediately after we stepped down into the soft snow, an extremely fast change of weather came upon us and we found ourselves in a wind-whipping blizzard. Costume changes came quickly: coats zipping up, hoods utilized, mittens and gloves back on and we moved forward - now anxious to get to the shelter. Thankfully, the blizzard left us after 20 minutes and once gone, the views opened up again.
We eventually made it to the shelter, which was a two-wall structure with a ceiling and a fireplace, surrounded by deep, deep snow. We quickly unloaded the wood we had brought with us and Elliot made a fire while the rest of us devoured our lunches. The fire was warm and exciting, but it was still cold and we collectively decided we wouldn’t linger long.
As I looked out across our view at untouched snow, in the opposite direction from which we came, I could see the road/trail where we had originally put our snowshoes on. I saw ski tracks yonder. Could we could bushwhack across the landscape making our journey a loop?! If we could get there, those tracks would lead us back to the road. We said good-bye to our fire (a few other folks showed up who were happy to take over our fire!) and shelter and headed across the open snowy landscape to the edge of the woods. The snow was deep and powdery. We switched backed along our way, crossing this way and that, finding our own path, and eventually met up with the ski tracks I could see from back at the shelter. Once back to our original trail, we all agreed it was some of the best snowshoeing we had ever done.
It took us another 30 minutes on the road/trail to get back to the car. We loaded up and headed home. The fire in the woodstove was started again, and the house went silent as some took naps, others read, and one even busted out a puzzle. I looked outside at one point and saw three deer, hanging out in the backyard. This place! A few hours later, an incredible pasta dinner was made and we feasted reminiscing on parts of our adventurous day.
After dinner, I took out one of my favorite games “Forbidden Desert” a cooperative game in which a team works together to escape the desert on a flying machine. We had a blast – dying over and over again until we learned the intricacies of the game. After our epic first try (in which we died four times but kept playing), we tried again, this time determined to get our team to safety. And we did!
We attempted to watch another movie, but almost everyone fell asleep immediately from our big day.
The next morning, we rose and enjoyed another breakfast and decided to hang out at the house for our last few hours instead of hitting another trail. With our belongings and cars packed, we played one final round of Forbidden Desert.
The time had come to say goodbye. Photos were taken. Hugs were given. We loaded up and jumped on the highway back to Portland.
Oh Southern Oregon, I will be back!