Jan 07, 2013
Funny thing about predictions--they don't always come true. All summer and fall, I'd carefully tempered my usual seasonal anticipation of the coming winter with readings of the latest reports of El Niño and a dry, warm winter for the Northwest.

Funny thing about predictions--they don't always come true. All summer and fall, I'd carefully tempered my usual seasonal anticipation of the coming winter with readings of the latest reports of El Niño and a dry, warm winter for the Northwest. Instead of planning for elaborate backcountry ski trips, I planned winter fishing trips. Rather than wax and prep skis for the coming season, I replaced my old mt bike. Then it started snowing.

I've quickly shifted to embrace winter and seize the moment. That includes getting out to ski and explore the solitude of winter in some places that I don't ordinarily ski. On the last Sunday of the year, I made my way to Camp Sherman to explore the Metolius Preserve under a thick blanket of snow.  Arriving at the Camp Sherman to Suttle Lake trailhead around noon, I happily noted both well defined ski and snowshoe tracks, but not another vehicle in sight.

Kicking and gliding through a forest of old growth Ponderosa, the well set ski track made the mile and a half ski to the Preserve a quick one. Near the Preserve, I caught and passed a group of 5 women out exploring the forest on snowshoes. After a quick exchange of greetings, I skied ahead to the new kiosk along the North Fork of Lake Creek. Following the tracks west to the turn off for the new footbridge over the creek, I pondered my route. With a good track to ski, I contemplated whether to push all the way to Suttle Lake or loop over to the South Fork of Lake Creek and the rolling hills to the south? Plenty of light still, but how far west would the tracks run? With the tracks so inviting and only one way to find out, I continued west.

Gliding along, the silence periodically broken by the sound of mountain chickadees, I stopped frequently to lift the binoculars from my chest to try and catch their quick movements from tree to tree. Again, succumbing to anticipation, I scanned the dead snags looking for white headed woodpeckers, but found none. Skiing on, I began to notice just how many animal tracks crossed my own and wished I could identify the makers. Among the more obvious, were large and deep tracks of Roosevelt elk, which often winter on the Preserve.

Before long, I crossed from the thinned and open forest of the Preserve and into denser stands of mixed conifer on the National Forest. I followed an old road/trail along the creek, gradually climbing uphill. Though trail breaking slowed my pace, it helped me notice more of the forest around. And a good thing I did! I happened to be looking up when what I believe was a northern goshawk launched from a perch to my right, wheeled in front of me, before quickly disappearing into the dense canopy ahead.

Once I reached Forest Road 12, I crossed a bridge and followed the south bank of Lake Creek to an old logging road (2064). Breaking trail east through the forest, I soon picked up the road to the South Fork Kiosk, where I was pleased to find another set of ski tracks leading north across Lake Creek. Following the ski tracks north through the forest and open glades, I crossed the Middle Fork of Lake Creek and was confounded to see that the tracks left the old logging road/trail and dove into a thicket of forest along the creek. Preferring the open glades bisected by the logging road, I opted to break my own trail over the old road, following it north and then eastward.

After crossing a large number of elk tracks, I came to a halt where the old road crossed a marshy area, filled with standing water. It now was clear why the earlier set of tracks had left the road and cut through the forest. With my path blocked and daylight running out, I decided my best option was to follow a trail created by the elk and head north toward the North Fork of Lake Creek, which I could then ski along until I found the new bridge and could cross back to the main trail.  Following the elk path, I quickly reached the creek, but my pace was seriously slowed by the deadfall and dense forest along the creek.  After what seemed and endless series of obstacles, the footbridge appeared through an opening in the forest,  as did the ski tracks I should have followed in the first place. A short ski across the bridge took me back to the Camp Sherman to Suttle Lake trail and the way home.

With such a great start to the Winter, this could be an exceptional year for exploring and experiencing places in a way we wouldn't ordinarily experience them. For those looking to explore the Metolius Preserve this winter, keep in mind that trails and routes that are easy to find and follow during the summer are often difficult or impossible to find with a thick blanket of snow on the ground. Go with someone who knows the area, get an early start, and take the appropriate clothing and gear, and have fun!