A New Years Delight: Snowshoeing and Snowcamping in Gifford-Pinchot National Forest

When my partner and I were discussing NYE plans, I brought up snowcamping almost as a joke because I thought she would refuse.  To my delight, her eyes lit up and she agreed that would be a fantastic idea.  A couple more friends joined and we were off to Old Man Pass Snow Park.

Word to the wise:  Washington State Dept of Fish and Wildlife were at the parking lot, checking for snow park passes.  You need this outrageously expensive pass ($20 per day or $40 per season) to park in a snow-park parking lot.  The officer was handing out tickets and hanging out, waiting for others to arrive and check for passes.  The closest place to get a pass is back in Carson, WA, nearly 45 minutes away due to bad road conditions.  Passes this expensive keep the working class out and reserve snow parks for those that can afford these pricey passes.  By comparison, Oregon snow-park passes are $4 per day and $25 per season.

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I went here roughly a year ago for my first legit snow camping trip.  Its ideal because there is a decent spot only 1.5 miles down the trail.  This gives you plenty of time to set up camp and do chores needed during the short-ass PNW winter days.  I thought this would also be ideal because I was the only one in our group of four that had gone snow camping before.  Better to make it easy on them so they want to do it again 🙂

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THe four of us stomped out a large area of snow so we could take of our snowshoes and walk around in our boots.  I dug out a shitload of snow to make a fire pit on top of nearly 3 feet of packed snow. We collected a bunch of dead branches and fresh boughs as a base for our fire.  We drug in dry firewood on the sled and the resulting fire really made the night.

 

Using snow anchors that I scored for $5, we set up our REI Passage 2 using the tarp and groundsheet only, giving us a lot of extra room inside.  Additional tie out points were anchored using sticks as dead men.

 

We also dug out a nice dining area from the snow.  By digging two parallel ditches, we had places to sit with a “table” to cook on in between the two ditches.

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We celebrated with champagne, whiskey, and spiked hot chocolate.  As the night wore on, it snowed more and more.  We woke up to about 8-10 inches of powder, and in more open areas more like a foot.  Our tents took the weight like champs.  It was still snowing like  a bitch so we decided to pack up pretty quick and get out, not knowing how bad the roads would be.

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We left our chains on the car and proceeded back on the unplowed road with more snow piling up by the minute.  As we proceeded uphill, we kept losing traction and got stuck.  We had thrown a chain somehow.  Our buddy on skis went all the way back down to find it.  Turns out we threw the chain in the parking lot as we started off and we had no idea.  In the meantime we struggled to push the car uphill until some guys helped us out.

I walked back downhill, for 20 minutes in driving snow to meet my buddy skiing back up form the other parking lot.  He had the chains, thank god.  It took 20 minutes to get back up to where the car was.  Finally, we were on our way, but not without some more pulling over and puking.  We celebrated in Carson with pizza and returned home.

Snow camping needn’t be intimidating or scary, it just takes a little more knowledge and skills that are no big deal to learn.  The rewards are immense, as you get to enjoy this paradise in the beautiful snow in the total absence of crowds.

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