I proudly pack ALL of my weekend adventuring gear and backpacking essentials into a 22L Columbia pack and wrangled tent poles through airport security with big plans for some backcountry backpacking in Oregon with Erin and Weez. After a day of wandering around Portland on my own it was time to explore the great outdoors. On Friday morning I carefully packed up my food and reassessed my layers. The weather was much chilly than forecasted but we had high hopes for rising temps as the world woke up.
By mid morning we’d packed everything into the car and headed southeast toward the Three Fingered Jack trailhead. Our game plan was to spend the next two days/nights backpacking the 20-24ish [depending upon which website you ask] loop around Three Fingered Jack. In our diluted minds we’d spend the days hiking and exploring than camp along the trail with rainy but bearable temperatures that *might* drop below 20 degrees. The closer we got to our destination the more “uh, we might die” talk swirled around the car. The thermometer in the car kept spitting out lower temperatures…by the time we got to the trailhead, at 2pm, it was reading 11 degrees. ELEVEN DEGREES! In the afternoon…on a very sunny day. Oh, and we were surrounded by heaping piles of snow. As in the trailhead was not accessible because it was buried under 2-3 feet of fresh snow. This was not going as planned…
Either the weather forecasters are complete idiots or we are not capable of reading a forecast. Or both. Needless to say…hiking was not going to happen. Even if we were delusional enough to attempt hiking in knee deep snow [we were…] there was no where to park the car so we truly had no choice but to punt to Plan B. Which presented itself via a plowed road near a “Suttle Lake Campground” sign. We crossed our fingers and followed the road…which eventually took us to a small plowed area next to an RV with a sign that read “Campground Hosts”. We tromped through more knee deep snow to read the camp signs when a dog and its owner showed up. They weren’t the camp hosts but they were friendly and gave us hope – there were yurts available for rent, just in case we didn’t want to risk it in elements. A quick stop by the “Campground Hosts” RV got us more information – each yurt was $40/night, cash only.
We were hesitant to commit – this would put a price on our nearly free weekend and take away from our “roughing it” bragging rights. Regardless of our final decision we’d need to make the 30 minute drive into Sisters, a nearby town, to get cash + firewood [everything, literally everything, was buried under the snow] so we got back on the highway and pointed the car SE. Like responsible adults we decided to discuss our options over coffee…while impulse purchasing trucker hats from Hop n Bean. The verdict? Cash for the yurts…it might not be exactly our plan but if we were going to stay near civilization we were at least going to be comfortable when the sun sank and the temperatures dropped!
Before officially calling it a night we stopped by the Mt Washington overlook for the sunset – Oregon may have been hating on us with cold weather but the sunset was stunning!
One huge perk of being all packed up for backpacking then staying in a yurt? It takes exactly one trip to get EVERYTHING into the yurt and you have plenty of space to spread out! I need to be implementing the “must fit everything in one backpack” rule more often! Weez immediately starting the fire while Erin and I began the process of making extra special hot chocolate with a little help from some heartwarming whiskey.
Dinner was cooked over fuel canisters and consumed in our sleeping bags. Hot chocolate was abandoned and whiskey was taken one pull at a time, directly from the bottle. Cabo, their dog, ran around in the snow returning to the yurt with majestic lady beard covered in ice. As the night wore on we loaded and reloaded the stove as our conversation became deep and soul searching. If you’re not sure about what the heck you’re doing with your life or how the hell you ended up where you are…grab a big bottle of whiskey and go camping with friends who will ask questions and listen to your thoughts, without judgment! You’ll learn more about yourself than you thought possible.
We arrived at the yurt around 4:30pm, were settled in by 5pm, had dinner before 6:30pm and were sound asleep before 10pm. Yup, we’re rockstars like that! Around 2am the fired died down and we took turn crawling out of our sleeping bags for quick bio breaks outside. One at a time we returned to the yurt saying “We would have died! Literally.”…it was cold, stupidly cold. Even in the yurt with a fire blazing we were hunkered down in our sleeping bags. There is no way we would have survived the night camping out in the elements, and I honestly do not feel like I’m exaggerating when I say that!
The next morning, Saturday, we took our time getting up and at ‘em…the yurt was warm, the great outdoors were definitely not warm! After breakfast we did a little exploring and found a stunning lake just a few hundred feet away. We may have been in a legit campground but it didn’t feel like it. We were the only people out and about, making fresh tracks in the snow. The morning was silent with the exception of a few birds on the lake that make quite a ruckus flying off when Cabo showed up. It wasn’t the backcountry…but it was darn close and equally beautiful!
Since we were not many miles into our backpacking trip around Three Fingered Jack we had an entire day to explore…anywhere. I suggested we make the drive down to Bend, grab lunch at a brewery and then take the long way back toward Portland in search of a place to spend the night. We got to Bend a bit early for lunch so we decided to hike up Pilot Butte for a short hike and 360 view of Bend and the surrounding mountains. The sky was nearly cloud free, the sun was shining, the snow was twinkling and the summit of Pilot Butte was covered with community art!
Our first stop was 10 Barrel Brewing for lunch which I had the most amazing brewery take on “nachos” ever invented! So. Freaking. Good. We saved just enough room for a trip to Crux Fermentation Project for dessert. When you’re in a brewery town you have to find excuses to visit as many as possible, right?! Up next…quality time on the road as we headed back toward Portland with a quick stop by Smith Rock. At Hop n Bean in Sisters we saw stunning photos of Smith Rock taken by a local photographer on the walls so when Erin said the “long way home” would take us by Smith Rock I played my tourist card and demanded we stop by. We had no plans to actually explore the trails or wander the area but the burnt orange rocks, crisp white snow and bright sun talked us into a short hike. It was worth every step – so stunningly beautiful!
After piling back into the car we half heartedly talked about finding a place to camp that night…but the nearby temperatures were forecasted in the low teens. Survivable temperatures but not exactly enjoyable temperatures. We decided to head north and hope for warmer weather as we neared Portland…but the thermometer in the car never crept above 30 degrees so we wimped out and back to their house in NW Portland. After a day of doing very little I was exhausted. Somehow the 4ish miles of hiking completely wiped me out – we got home around 7pm and I was showered and sound asleep before 8:30pm rolled around. Once again, a freaking party animal!
Since we gave up on our camping adventures a day early we had the entire day on Monday to explore Portland. On our agenda? A trail run at Forest Park, lunch at Bollywood Theater and dessert at Salt & Straw followed by a visit to the flagship Powell Books and finally a trip to the airport for my extra long flight home [with a layover in Vegas, yay?]. Forest Park was cold but beautiful…so green!
Bollywood Theater was interesting, not at all the food I’m used to but still tasty. And Salt & Straw? So many places have “must visit” ice cream shops that are “eh, okay”…Salt & Straw in NOT one of those places. Nope, it’s one of those “must visit” ice cream shops that is 110% worth the stop! Their ice cream is amazing, hands down better than anything I’ve had in Denver [including Sweet Cow and Little Man]. The combos sound terrible, like “Strawberry with Black Pepper” or “Sweet Potato Cassarole”, but oh. my. goodness. they are so delicious! Go there, preferably in the middle of the workweek when no one else is there…then try ALL of the flavors!
We had to skip our trip to the massive Powell Books store when I realized my flight out of Portland was delayed…by two hours. Somehow Southwest decided I’d be “just fine” with my connection even though my connecting flight would leave Vegas at 9:20pm and I’d be arriving at 9:40pm. I understand that math is hard…but reading a clock!? Their solution once I pointed out this oversight? Put me on a direct flight at 3:25pm…which sounded great, except for the fact I was 30 minutes from the airport at it was already 2:30pm! Erin was confident PDX was an easy enough airport to pull this off so we abandoned our parking spot near Powell Books and headed for the airport. Erin was right…it took me exactly 6 minutes to get from the curb outside the airport to my gate. Yup, I managed to print my ticket, get through security and hoof it to a far off gate in just 6 minutes. PDX is a crazy easy airport to get through! Or I just have crazy good luck because on my way to Portland I mastered parking my car, printing my ticket and getting through security at the DEN airport in just 12 minutes! Maybe I just rock at airports? I should probably travel more to test this theory…any suggestions for my next trip?!
tl;dr – if you get the chance to visit Portland or Bend or any part of Oregon in between the two cities?! Do it. Twice. I will be back, soonlyish!