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Monday, January 03, 2011

Riding out to a snowy cabin in the woods

One of the beautiful things about Portland and west-of-the-Cascades Northwest is while it rarely snows on the valley floor during the winter, it's very easy to get to snow. Elevation plays a key role in all this. While in the Midwest latitude is the key player in who sees snow and who doesn't, here in the Northwest an increase of elevation of 500 feet can mean the difference between rain and snow.

On Thursday April and I departed later than we should have for our trip to Stub Stewart State Park, some 30 miles NW of Portland. It was the usual stuff- we wanted to enjoy a good breakfast, there were a few things to pick up, etc etc. In any case we should have gotten off at the Hillsboro MAX station around 1 pm, but it was more like 3 when we got there. It was 22 miles to the cabin, and there was NO WAY we'd get there before dark at this point. Nothing to do but press on.

At this point I should mention the temperature had been hovering around freezing. The couple of days before this were quite wet. Snow had been predicted, but besides a passing flurry that lasted five minutes, nothing had been seen on the valley floor.

April encounters the goats on the way to Banks

We passed our halfway point of Banks around 4. We did a quick supply up at the local Thriftway, and got on the Banks-Vernonia Trail, a rail-trail that would bring us all the way to Stub Stewart. The first few miles were flat, but then the trail rises at about a 4% grade to get to the park, which sits at about 1100 feet in elevation. When the trail started to rise, we noticed that the bridges were getting icy. Uh oh.

Thankfully the trail remained dry, though it wasn't long before we saw a dusting of snow on the sides of the trail. At this point it was pretty dark, so we were using our helmet-mounted headlights, pointed on the road ahead in steely determination, watching out for ice. We did hit some snowy patches, but nothing much. Until Stub Stewart.

The steep access road into the park was covered with either packed snow, loose snow, or frozen over slush. A couple inches lined the side. Nothing else to do but walk. It took about 45 minutes to walk up to the cabins. On the way up we marveled at the starry dome above us. We actually got to see the milky way. It's hard to see that many stars in the city, and to see ANY stars during the winter is a rare treat.

And finally- the cabins! No tent to set up, a rare treat for us seasoned bicycle tourists. Camping in winter- ha! Of course, since it was over 3 months since our last trip, we forgot some basics, and some luxuries as well. And some surprises- my little cartridge fueled stove doesn't really like sub-freezing temps. Nor does our radio, which needed to thaw out before it started working. Par for the course. All April and I know is that we'll wake up tomorrow to an actual winter wonderland, and we'll go for a little hike before the big crüe comes out for New Year's.

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