I’ve known for a long time that I didn’t want to live anywhere in the U.S. other than the Pacific Northwest; whether that is Oregon or Washington. I just needed Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge to make that decision. But what I didn’t know was that there was a huge National Forest practically right next door that I hadn’t known to explore: The Gifford Pinchot National Forest. So naturally I had to explore when I got the chance.
When that time came, I drove to the Thomas Lake trailhead which would take me into the Indian Heaven Wilderness. I had planned for a one night backpacking trip and ended up going alone, unfortunately. My wife wasn’t able to join me this time. On the drive up Forest Road 65 it began to snow, which I had not expected. As I filled out my wilderness tag at the trailhead, I saw only one other filled out tag. The last person before me to walk the trail walked it a week prior. Needless to say, I was pretty excited for a raw wilderness experience.
The snow continued to fall as I hiked into the wilderness, passing multiple lakes early in the day. Due to large patches of old frozen snow, I lost the trail and ended up taking lunch. Still having not found the trail and after some map and compass work, I figured if I’d just climb a steep hill before me I should hit the trail again. So I did just that. It was actually steeper than it looked but I cleared it to find that it flattened out a bit on top. I soon left the dense trees and walked out into a damp opening.
The trail I was looking for was nowhere to be found, so naturally, I continued on (but not after turning around to find a defining characteristic of the location). After crossing the saturated clearing, I found a trail and took it north. The snow began to fall thicker and denser. There came a point where I had lost the trail altogether but was following old frozen tracks of the previous hiker. Soon, this became too difficult as I lost that trail as well which forced me to turn around. The snow hadn’t stopped falling which had me worried I might screw myself if I kept going like that. Instead, I began looking for a suitable place to set up camp. I ended up camping near Rock Lake.
I enjoyed the rest of my day exploring around my camp and even managed to find dry materials to use as tinder to start a fire. Drying my boots and pants was just what I needed.
As night began to fall, I retired to my tent to get some much welcomed sleep. When I woke up, I heard the sound of snow still falling on my tent. I poked my head out to see what there was to see, and learned that it had snowed all night. Talk about a winter wonderland!
Packing my gear proved to be a little challenging with all the snow, but once that was finished. I started on my way back. I’m glad I’d chosen to turn back when I’d lost the trail. The amount of snow easily would have covered my tracks to the point of potentially getting lost. When I finally made it back to my car, it was covered entirely. After some excavating and tire chain installing, I made my way back home after a successful outing!
It has never been clearer that I don’t want to leave the Pacific Northwest. Gaining access to work in this marvelous forest has reinvigorated that sense of place for me in this truly unique landscape that I call home. I plan on returning to the Indian Heaven Wilderness with my wife soon, I hope she enjoys it as much as I did!