Ski or showshoe in solitude of Mount Adams
Gifford Pinchot National Forest is worth the drive
The Columbian / Troy Wayrynen
Vancouver Columbian newspaper outdoors writer Al Thomas uses short snowshoes for a trek at Hole in the Ground Loop winter trail in the Mount Adams District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Trout Lake.
The Columbian / Al Thomas
A trio of cross-country skiers gets a good workout on the 3.7-mile Big Tree Loop out of Pineside Sno-Park near Trout Lake. The loop is rated easy by the Forest Service and is used as part of a 5-mile nordic ski race each year during the Trout Lake Cabin Fever Festival.
So, that's the downside.
But here are the benefits:
- Often it's sunny with blue skies this far east when the west side of the Cascades are locked in low clouds, fog and drizzle.
- The snow is better. While not the powder of central Oregon, the drier snow of the Trout Lake area is an improvement over the Cascade concrete found on western slopes. Skis actually perform more like they are designed to.
- The crowds are smaller. Well, actually, there are no crowds. It's likely on weekends you'll meet a few other skiers or snowshoers, but probably not on a weekday.
- The terrain is better. Pineside and SnowKing snow-parks, a few miles northeast of here, offer six connected loops. Two of the loops are rated easiest, two are intermediate and two are difficult.
- Justin Ewer of the Mount Adams Ranger District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest said the trails are groomed on about a weekly basis. More skiers than snowshoers use the trails, he said.
Elevation 2,770 feet, parking for 20 vehicles, toilets.
Big Tree Loop: This 3.7-mile loop is great for beginners. In fact, each year the Trout Lake Cabin Fever Festival uses the Big Tree Loop for a nordic ski race.
There is less than 100 feet total elevation change on Big Tree Loop. It has two gradual downhill stretches, just right for a new skier to get the feel of going down on cross-country skis yet not so fast as to fall.
The loop is best skied clockwise. Reaching this loop requires using part of Eagle Loop. The round trip is 4.9 miles.
Eagle Loop: Not a long loop at 3.3 miles, Eagle has some steep grades and tight turns (particularly on the northwest leg) to earn its "difficult" rating.
Hole in the Ground Loop: The Forest Service rates Hole in the Ground as a "most difficult" loop, an accurate assessment.
Except for well-skilled cross-country skiers, this loop is best enjoyed on snowshoes. As a snowshoe trip, Hole in the Ground Loop is no problem.
Hole in the Ground overlaps part of Big Tree Loop. Hole in the Ground is 4.5 miles. Adding in the approach mileage to and from Pineside, the round trip is 6.4 miles.
Hole in the Ground Loop is one of the few spots in the Pineside-SnowKing trail network where a skier or snowshoer can find partial views of Mount Adams.
Elevation 3,375 feet, parking for 25 vehicles, toilets.
Pipeline Loop: Another beginner, or perhaps easy intermediate, loop.
Pipeline Loop is 2.2 miles. But it is reached by skiing or trekking 0.9 mile from SnowKing on Road No. 101 via the Lava Loop. So, the round trip is 4 miles.
The Pipeline Loop is best skied counterclockwise, thus heading uphill on road No. 744 and down on road No. 110.
Lava Loop: This is a 4.7-mile intermediate loop. It does have some portions that boost the rating to "most difficult" if the snow is icy. It is best skied counterclockwise.
The initial 1.4 miles are easy, then it drops gently at first then more steeply to a crossing of road No. 82.
Lava Loop continues with ups and downs for 2 miles before returning to SnowKing Sno-Park.
By skiing this counterclockwise, the steepest of the grades south of road No. 82 are uphill stretches.
Princess Loop: An easy 1.5-mile loop that mostly circles through a former clearcut on the south side of Road No. 82.