Snow Camping in Upper Clackamas, Oregon

We began snowshoeing a little after 8 AM on Saturday in about 18 inches of snow. Our hike was about 3.5 miles uphill to 3,000 foot elevation near Shellrock Creek in the Upper Clackamas, Oregon. My brother-in-law Scott and I had been looking forward to this snow camping trip for a couple of weeks. The weather was calm with off-and-on snow showers and a temperature around 30°F. We chose this location for the relative solitude. Area map.

To our surprise, Road 58 that we were hiking on was groomed above Shellrock Creek Campground. This is the first year I have noticed this. It made the going much easier than snowshoeing through soft powder. We left our snowshoes on for the extra grip they provide on ascents, although we probably would have been fine without them. The freezing level had been fairly high the past couple days, so most of the snow had melted off the surrounding trees. We could see the snow line in the trees about 1,000 feet higher in elevation than where we were.

Road 58 in the Snow - Upper Clackams Oregon     Scott with Pulk Sleds

A little over half way through our hike, we found an old closed-off spur road and decided to take a short side hike to investigate. We left our pulk sleds and tromped off on our snowshoes through the untouched powder. The road lead downhill over snow-covered fallen trees a little over a quarter mile. At the end it opened up overlooking Shellrock Creek and the surrounding mountains. Just as we were heading back up the trail it began huge fluffy snowflakes began to fall. I love the beauty and solitude snowfall provides. It is just as mesmerizing as a blazing campfire.

We continued snowshoeing and pulling our pulk sleds up the groomed trail toward our intended snow camping destination. A group of four or five snowmobiles respectfully passed us, enjoying the groomed trail. We finally arrived a little over two hours after beginning our hike. We found a nice spot along High Rock Creek. The rushing water had a soothing effect and created the perfect backdrop for our snow camp. The scene reminded me of a black and white Ansel Adams photograph.

Snowing in the Mountains of Upper Clackams Oregon     High Rock Creek, Oregon

We quickly went to work setting up camp. While Scott chopped some firewood, I dug out the campfire pit. I found a hump in the snow approximately where I knew a fire pit existed from my camping trips the past summer. After shoveling a couple feet of snow with my Lifeline snow shovel, the fire ring appeared. Soon we were enjoying a crackling fire and lunch.

Scott Chopping Wood at Camp     Scott Eating Lunch Around Campfire

After first lunch we decided to go for a walk and look for a hill to sled down. We walked up the road and attempted to sled down, but the slope was not steep enough. Then we spied a steep powder-covered hill off the side of the road. We quickly hiked up the hill, often falling through pockets of snow around numerous bushes. The first run was a little slow as we packed down a trail. Subsequent runs were speedy and I even managed to catch some air before crashing and rolling out of my sled. After a handful of runs, we tired out and headed back to camp. Both our sleds held up well and I was pleasantly surprised how well my Pelican Snow Trek 60 sled worked as a downhill recreational sled.

Back at camp we cooked second lunch and relaxed around the campfire. It continued to snow off-and-on and the accumulation could now be seen as a light blanket on the trees. The sun went down and the temperature dipped into the mid- to upper twenties. We cooked dinner over the fire. I had Backcountry Loomis Potatoes and Scott enjoyed freeze-dried lasagna.

Cooking Second Lunch on Campfire     Cooking Backcountry Loomis Potatoes for Dinner

Earlier in the day Scott had constructed a simple tarp snow shelter to keep the snow off our sleeping bags. It held up fine in the light snow and served its intended purpose. I stayed comfortably warm in my High Peak Mt. Rainier mummy bag while Scott tested out his new bivy sack. After a comfortable 12 hours of sleep I woke up to the calls of a nearby crow. There were still a few coals left up in the fire as Scott and I had both woken up in the middle of the night and added more wood.

It had snowed an inch or two during the night and everything was covered in a layer of pure white snow. We enjoyed breakfast in front of the fire and then began packing up our gear for our trek back to the truck.

Simple Snow Shelter     Jason and Scott Around Campfire

The footman loops and straps that I added to my pulk sled worked flawlessly. The materials were purchased from a local Oregon company named Strapworks and arrived only two days after I placed my order. They offer many different colors of webbing, so I opted for orange in honor of my alma mater Oregon State University. Thank you Strapworks for your fantastic service and products!

On our way out we noticed coyote tracks (confirmed by scat discovered further along the trail) near our snow camp. They lead up to our site along the road and then abruptly doubled back. I suppose our presence startled the coyote and caused the course change.

Pulk Sled with Straps     Snow Covered Road with Coyote Tracks

We decided to hike back without snowshoes since the trail was mostly downhill the whole way. The snow continued to fall and total accumulation was around four inches. Our brisk hike brought us back to the truck in just under an hour. We were sad to leave, but there will be more winter camping to come!

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