Going off the main trail to make a loop.
A narrow trail going down through timber can be a bit challenging on cross country skis. Even on my Altai Skis, which are more maneuverable because they’re only 4 feet long, I had some trouble. You can’t limit your speed by making short, braking turns if there’s no width to the trail. Perhaps that explains why I saw no tracks of anyone else taking this loop.
Barlow Pass Snopark
I had started out at the Barlow Pass snopark on Rt. 35 a couple miles short of Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses Rt 35 at that point, and then continues on up to Timberline Lodge before continuing north to Mt Rainier and Canada.
Frog Lake and Twin Lakes
Going south, it’s about 5 miles to Hwy 26 at Frog Lake. There’s also a short cutoff trail to Twin Lakes. But both of those options involve going straight back the way you came, and I was interested in making a loop, for more variety on the way back.
Before the cutoff to Twin Lakes, there’s another cutoff to Palmateer Viewpoint. I determined to take that route, and then bushwhack if necessary, to get down to Barlow Road so I could go back that way. The Barlow Road was part of the Oregon Trail. I had done that a few years ago, but actually bushwhacked the whole way, having lost the Palmateer Trail in the deep snow very quickly.
Wet snow day
It was Tuesday, Jan.7th, and I had left home in Sandy, OR before daylight. There were no other cars in the snopark at 7:45 AM, and it was barely light out, being cloudy and drizzly. The temp was about 36 degrees F.
The snow was wet and heavy. Our English Lab, Rosie, was with me.
But at least there was snow!
This had been a bad winter for cross country skiing or snowshoeing on the designated trails, which are mostly below 4000 feet. There had been more rain than snow, until the weekend of Jan.4th, and by Tuesday it was slowly starting to melt.
The PCT south goes gradually uphill through timber for the first mile, then crests out on a ridge before sloping downward toward the forks to Palmateer Viewpoint and Twin Lakes.
Blue diamond ski trail markers
Normally, designated cross country ski and snowshoe trails are marked with blue diamonds. Some places have yellow diamonds for easy trails and red diamonds for hard ones. Whoever nailed this marker (above) either had a ladder, or did it when the snow was at least 10 feet deep.
Cheap trail markers
This time, with the snow not so deep, I was able to find and stay on the Palmateer Trail. I was surprised to see some obvious trail markers made with blue paint instead of the standard blue diamond markers.
And then another surprise – I found a signpost for a junction with a trail called Half Acre Trail, which went on down to the Barlow Road. I had missed it completely the year I was bushwhacking. I noticed the post was new, and the bolt fasteners were new.
Someone must have lost or forgot their hat.
One mile downhill to Barlow Road
So I headed down the one mile to Barlow Road. I didn’t see any more trail markers, but most of the way the trail was visible – I only had trouble seeing which way it went a couple times.
There were two problems. One was that it was too steep in a few spots, and I got going too fast, even though my skishoes aren’t as fast as cross country skis, because the skishoes have some climbing skins on the bottom. I ran off the trail on purpose a few times, to bring my speed under control.
The trouble with warm weather and low snow pack
The second problem was that with the warm weather and low snow pack, I had to cross half a dozen little creeks.
Fortunately, they were small enough that I could just step over them with my skis on.
Getting down to the half acre meadow at the bottom, there were traces of old snowmobile tracks. Someone had run them down the Barlow Road and played around a little in the meadow. I caught a picture of Rosie running fast enough that her ears were flopping.
The loop back was all uphill on Barlow Road; about a mile. This was an uneventful slog until I got most of the way up and saw a pair of fresh snowshoe tracks.
They had taken the Barlow Butte Trail which branches off Barlow Road.
I also saw an unusual sight – a paper plate nailed to a tree. I wonder who…?
And I saw a very new sign marking the original Barlow Wagon Trail. The old sign under it is hard to read, but I think it says "Original Wagon Trail".
Someone in good shape could do this loop in an hour, but of course I took much longer, stopping to take many pictures and to do a few videos. Plus I’m not quite as fast as I used to be. (I’ll be 78 Jan.10th.)
This was an excellent use of my Altai Skis. They’re not just short and maneuverable. They also have steel edges, permanent climbing skins, and universal bindings. I ski in my hiking boots. Altai Skis, aka 'Hoks', 'skishoes', and 'fat skis', are almost 5” wide, so they ‘float’ high in deep snow.
You can buy a pair right HERE.
Here's a 7 minute video of this loop trip.